Climb a hill called Shatrunjaya steps after steps until you reach the number 3500. So rise in a slightly mystical atmosphere and accompanied by hundreds of pilgrims, this is what the temples of Palitana , a jain sanctuary, have a offer the visitor a little curious about this state of Gujarat. But who are all these pilgrims?
Back to India then. Because in this particular art of my temporello-narrative incoherence, I have forgotten a country that is so dear to me. When one thinks that India has forever printed her name on this travel blog , this oversight is unseemly limit!
That year, I decided, after a long break, to go to India again for a trip to Gujarat . This trip had begun as it should in the chaos of old Delhi before sneaking to Gujarat, the Indian state so close to Rajasthan and yet a little too forgotten by tourists.
Palitana, one of Gujarat’s pearls
If I had to remember only one leg of this trip to Gujarat, it would probably be Palitana. This city sees a steady flow of visitors, but instead of tourists, they are pilgrims jain in search of better karma temples of Palitana, at the top of the hill Shatrunjaya.
Palitana has nothing of these sprawling Indian cities. Modest in size, it is not unique in itself. Few horns, but a lot of dust and cows , no doubt we are in India.
A certain air of rurality still reigns here, visible especially through the number of men wearing a traditional outfit made of pants at the top extremely bulging, like a kind of Turkish pants. Welcome to the fashion week.
The restaurants, exclusively vegetarian, because the city is vegetarian , are in fact rather big canteens dressed to provide for the needs of the pilgrims. It swarms a bit everywhere, but to come back every day to the same canteen, we quickly recognize this passer-by. I am greeted by this Indian smile accompanied by this slight nodding of the head, a marvel.
As in all the rest of Gujarat, the welcome can not be more warm. Watching a passerby is enough to make him win a salute and a smile. And if your camera hangs around your neck, these passersby will solicit you very quickly, eager to enter the box. Indians love pictures and India is the dream country for street photography.
But let us come to the facts, the concrete, the material, even the reason for my presence in Palitana. Because if I came here, maybe it’s not to admire the local cows, as holy as they are. If I came here, it is of course for the temples of Palitana. Shatrunjaya Hill is a few kilometers from the city, let’s go.
Obviously, when it comes to improving your karma, everyone will agree, a minimum of effort is required. It should not be that the first comer so easily accesses so many benefits by only lifting a finger. The entrance ticket has been fixed here at 3500 steps .
Also, let us classify the pilgrims to the conquest of Shatrunjaya and its temples into three categories :
- Whoever thinks that all these temples up there on the hill, it must be really nice . Not to mention the view, the air must be a little cleaner than in the dusty streets of the city. And at the sight of all these pilgrims in white clothes ready for dawn to climb, it should be a memorable day. And then he tells himself that he still climbed ten days earlier the 7000 steps that lead to the summit of Girnar Hill near Junagadh accompanied by his Indian bronchitis (in India, one is never alone). These 3500 steps, it should pass like a letter to the post office. I know, it’s not very polite, but I could not resist the temptation to start with me, egocentric tourist pilgrim, because yes, I’m talking about me here.
- The Jain pilgrims themselves (the real ones, not the tourists) go barefoot, wearing a simple white outfit on which hangs a ballet. The ballet is hardly any more than for the decoration, but it is supposed at the base to be used to sweep in front of you in order to be certain not to crush the slightest insect while walking. Jains have indeed pushed the art of respect for all life to its climax. They climb the hill on an empty stomach and, instead of going up the stairs one by one, after each step, they prostrate themselves in a sort of genuflection (the steps are sufficiently distant). As often before such acts, it is a mixture of misunderstanding, admiration and even if we can find it rather useless, with a certain respect.
- As already stated, for the number of steps, it is not negotiable. Except that it is well known, in India, everything is possible 1 in India everything is possible . So comes the category of feigners. The feigner, he is well aware that his karma would need a boost, but here he is pretending and opted for the dholi , the sedan chair. The feigner sometimes also has the unfortunate tendency to weigh as much as all his porters combined. And while his porters sweat blood and water, he is boogie, just to be sure not to turn the tide. It should be noted, however, that old people do not really have any other alternative than dholi , so the god of the jains can absolve them.
We can also notice that at the beginning of the ascent, some porters in search of work closely follow the pilgrims looking a little too clumsy. They say to themselves probably “you, my guy, you will not get there, you will crack en route for a dholi” .
A nap, because here it’s tiring. Sometimes the dolhi is indeed welcome.
And as three categories, that was not enough, there are always little clever people who want to distinguish themselves, who always want more, real karmic capitalists. They go back and forth all day, and who knows, maybe even for several days. In India, everything is possible .
The temples of Palitana
At the top of this hill, more than 800 temples . Shatrunjaya is indeed a sacred mountain. It is even the most sacred place of Jainism. And since jains are people who do not do things in half, impossible here to opt for the glass half empty, because temples in Palitana, the glass is full, to the brim.
Just as every Muslim must go at least once in his life on a pilgrimage to Mecca, all Jains must climb Shatrunjaya hill at least once to the temples to hope to reach nirvana one day.
The jains have said, that nay, the legs of the duck will not break, even if it has three.
Once at the top, this is where the strict vegetarianism that the jains indulge makes sense. This view while the sun still bathes in the mist, then all these temples, this marble, these sculptures! There would be enough to break thousands of paws with thousands of ducks, but that no, the jains have said that nay, the legs of the duck you will not break, even if he has three.
The person at the information desk at the foot of the hill had told me that once arrived at the top, I would face the most sumptuous site I have ever seen ! We will say that the love of his work had a little exalted the senses of this nice gentleman, but it still has a clear allure.
Palitana is one of those places in India where the rather incredible religious fervor that reigns there is not really indifferent. It does not equal the holy city of Varanasi, but it can be compared for example to Xiahe in the Tibetan region of Amdo in China.
Now, if you are part of a fourth category of pilgrims who intended to admire quietly in his sofa, the fingers in fans (yes, I see you) the pictures of the temples, know that you went astray. Inside the temples, the photos are simply forbidden. So you will not see any.
After a few hours frolicking sanctuary in the sanctuary in the midst of all these pilgrims, I go back so to speak carried by the joy. Decidedly, even if it’s far from my first trip to India , once again, this country, world champion of surprise on every corner, proves that it is not short of resources! This visit made me very happy, which should, no doubt, be most beneficial for my karma.
Back in town, the cows, these Indian cows that no one seems to be able to disturb are still there, impassive. When some people go soft in the middle of the road, others, others seem to indulge in a certain self-discipline queuing at the entrance of a store. Queuing, something so little Indian. Would they have lost their heads?
As for me, borrowing this freshly acquired karma, I try to drive a rickshaw . And in the evening, in a dream, I see myself as a great guru parading in the streets of Palitana. You were warned, India is a country that rarely leaves you indifferent, and in India everything is possible .
I converted to a rickshaw driver. And who knows, in 20 years in guru!
The foot of Shatrunjaya Hill is 3.5 km from the center of Palitana, easily accessible by autorickshaw. From there, it remains to go 3.5 km at the rate of these 3500 steps (500 m of altitude difference). Honestly, we are still far from the sporting challenge and the climb is widely accessible to the greatest number. Count 1:30 to 2 hours to reach the summit.
The site opens at 6:30 in the morning. I can not recommend too much to go there at the opening . You will be less hot for the ascent, and the light will be much more beautiful.
As already stated, it is strictly forbidden to take pictures once inside the temples at the top. There is no restriction along the trail that leads to it.
Respectful attire is required and shorts are prohibited . Jain Temple requires, the leather items (belt, bag) are also proscribed. It is forbidden to eat or drink in the temples.
Palitana or Girnar Hill
It would be a shame not to visit these two places of pilgrimage Jain, but if you really have to choose one of them, Palitana wins the palm of your hand for the splendor of its temples and the atmosphere that reigns during the ascent to the summit. Girnar Hill is more beautiful in terms of scenery and the climb is more sporting.
Hotel in Palitana
The choice is quickly made, since the city has only two hotels. I have opted for a room at 450 INR most basic, but gigantic, in the cheapest, the hotel Shravak facing the bus stop.
Go to Palitana
From Diu : There are unfortunately no direct buses. From Diu, you must first take a bus to Tajala (5 to 6 per day, 5 to 6 hours), then continue to Tajala with a bus to Palitana (one hour, 1 hour).
From Ahmedabad : Many direct buses (count one every hour). The trip takes about 5 hours.