We drove off on a cloudy morning towards Palitana – the temples on the Shatrunjaya hills had piqued our interest very much. On the way however, we decided to risk the location and instead take a detour to Lothal more as a tribute to our history text books that mentioned it as an ancient Indus flourishing trade site in Gujarat on the Gulf of Combay. It was a touch and go since we had a long drive ahead of us and even skipped the museum next door- it maybe a worth a visit.
However we walked around what’s left of the ruins of the dockyard (the earliest in the world),the warehouse ,the kitchens,and even the remains of the drain system which was a unique attribute of so ancient a civilization c. 3700 BCE. The acropolis and lower town demarcated the rulers from the common folk.
It was yet another of those moments that make you wish you had a time machine to just glance into the past to peek into the lives and times of the people in the era. For now it’s a beautiful green spot that the current winged residents seem to enjoy.
Despite running late, seeing directions for Uthelya and remembering having read of a palace there, led us to the village. It’s a quaint, sleepy village with large amounts of cowdung on its narrow streets- so we’d recommend watching where you step. Also if in a car, do park where possible since the alleys are very narrow at several points. When we finally happened on the palace, it turned out that it’s only opening up for visitors starting Oct 2018 and the gates locked. So well, that was a fail.
We drove on to Palitana to see the cluster of 1300 temples on the hilltop that painted quite a picture. It is also the most sacred pilgrimage place for the Jain community. We first reached a spot by the Shetrunji lake that’s quite a lovely stop to take a break from the drive.
A temple with steps leading to the lake is also under construction beside it. On asking a gentleman for directions he pointed to a hill in the distance with a few temples atop it as the place we needed to reach. However maps again failed to point us there despite different location inputs from us.
It was already 4:30pm when we reached there and we instead to try our luck asking for directions within the busier part of the town. The main street in the town is itself full of Jain temples (the city itself has 8316 temples) each competing with the other on the intricate artistry and craftsmanship on display. We randomly entered one that looked lovely and enquired with the security guard. His wasn’t sure of what we wanted but his unintentionally philosophical reply “A temple is a temple…what difference does it make which one you see.” 😀 However for the 2 of us who had driven more than 200 kms to get here – it wasn’t much consolation. We decided to make the most of where we were and wandered around the temple that only had 1 middle aged couple praying and the priest so it was quite a peaceful spot.
In a short while, the couple too finished their prayers. As it turned out, the temple we had entered actually belonged to the family of the kind couple – so we were lucky to meet someone who knew the area well too and we finally could stop wandering direction-less.
Take heed : What we were looking for, were rightly the temples atop the Shatrunjaya hills- however one had to climb up stairs a couple of hours to get to them and there was no driving path. We didn’t have much of a chance that day since it was already 5pm and the temples closed at 6pm. Lack of prior research had let us down this time.
Just as were about to leave, seeing our slightly dejected faces, the lady stopped to give us another option. There is a simpler replica of the temples atop the hill right at the end of the main street which is meant for people who aren’t able to make the climb. The temples also to some extent look similar. And there was the silver lining we grabbed and decided to head that way.
We headed to the cluster of temples each a short climb above the other. While the first one had groups of people engrossed in singing prayers, the next few were mostly bereft of people other than the priests so we were left to our devices to breathe in the serenity of the space as we admired the finesse of the work on the temples. We were also running out of daylight so just before heading out of town our last stop was this dome shaped temple that reminded us of the Shanti Stupa in Ladakh.
Note :The online maps were especially useless within Palitana. Every single spot was incorrectly tagged/labeled and only wasted a lot of our time. Even asking locals for directions isn’t fail-safe and they may not always be able to point you the right way since there a very large number of temples in the area.
While it had a few fiascos, in all, it wasn’t too bad a day that we ended by driving on and reaching the union territory of Diu.