March was especially travel-hectic. The primary motivation was that of work and involving quite a bit of alternating between Delhi and Mumbai.
A week in Dilli and things had cooled down (albeit for the weather, for my spoilt BengaLuru-body) to the extent that my presence would no longer be homicidally conspicuous. On this uneventful Holi weekend (Uneventful for me. Some snake-dance godman called IcchAdhAri bAbA was making hilariously entertaining news in the local channels for apparently running a prostitution racket right next door in Saket), I decided to "abscond" for a few to visit to my brother and his family in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Unlike previous visits, I had concrete motivations to do some travelling this time around.
Palitana is a Jain holy town in the district of Bhavanagar. Famous for the Shatrunjaya hills that harbours the unique grandeur of a huge count of Jain temples, it is a must-visit place for anybody who wishes to relate to the culture of Gujarat and it's influential Jain minority.
3,800 steps lead up the well paved path to the top of the hill where the final conglomerate of temples dedicated to Adinatha, the first Jain tIrthankara are built. The temple architecture closely resembles the Chalukyan flavor (as does the rest of Gujarat) and has seen continuous patronage for close to a millenium.
For the less able, there are literally swarms of options (careful about being ripped off to hitch a Doli-lift to the top. The ascent might take up to 3 hours or so for the average person and half that duration for the descent. There are free "water-stations" up along the way for the convenience of the pilgrims. Many temples are located along the way and are worth a look if you have the time.
You'll have nearly reached the top by when the Shatrunjaya river and the surrounding landscape comes into a panoramic view. The hills are sparsely wooded and depending on the time of year, the heat can be pretty bad. The mostly arid terrain, the distant but large by appearance river and the urban-seeming town of Palitana together forms a photo worthy landscape.
The grandeur of the final cluster of temples at the top is very unique. Although it was crowded, our darshanas happened in reasonably quick time. Although it is impossible to visit each of the temples in a limited time budget, we managed a few minutes worth of time at many of them before making the exit to descend. Passingly, I must mention that traditional attire is strongly recommended, at the risk of frowns and complaints otherwise.
Back downstairs, there are no dearth of places to savor traditional Gujarati / Kathiawari food, although it is highly recommended that you go for the temple food (coupons distributed along the way). Another regional speciality of sorts is the Jain-Bhel puri (Bhel Puri Minus Onions) available at numerous streetside joints. Going around the town or shopping is highly recommended, if you're the kind that likes to bargain.Modhera
Situated in the district of Mehsana, Modhera is famous for it's sun-temple. About 100KM in all from Amdavad, It takes a little more than an hour to reach and is one of the best examples of Solanki architecture in Gujarat.
A bit about the Solanki rulers of Gujarat: Although considered to be Suryavanshi Rajputs, the term "Solanki" itself is closely related to the chAlukya dynasty of Karnataka who ruled over Gujarat at one point. The sUryamandira itself is believed to have been built by Bhimadev - I.
The Sabha Mantapa and the Sanctum Sanctorum have intricate carvings, with the idol in the latter probably destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni during one of his invasions. Two lone pillars situated a few pace away from the temple also stand for it's past glory, overlooking the large sUrykunD tank facing the temple.
Although the surroundings are well maintained, both the sabhAmanTapa and the Sanctum-Sanctorum house a generous number of bats which also add to the characteristic merky odour of the stone structure.Patan
Up next was the district-proper Patan. There wasn't much to see here, excepting for some Jain temples. All of them photo-worthy all the same.Sidhpur
Rani Ka Wav: A glorious stepwell believed to have been constructed by mUlaraja sOLanki's queen. The well runs pretty deep and wide, many parts of which are sealed off from entry.
All along the walls are some intricate sculptures from Hindu scriptures with each of them being a sight photo worthy. Rani Ka Wav, was arguable the highlight of my entire Gujarat tour.
Sahasralinga Talav: Located next door to Rani Ka Wav, Sahasralinga Talav (literally, lake of a thousand lingas) is a water channel that mostly lies in ruins today. There wasn't much to see here, but for some Langur primates and a rare peacock sighting (rare for me, but common in Gujarat!).
Rudramahalaya, Sidhpur: Controversial, disputed site, currently in the court undergoing it's legal proceedings. Although it isn't closed to visitors, photography is strictly prohibited. Infact, camera-weilding as I did enter - I got a good talking-down by the security guard there who initially believed I was a government spy or something of that sort.
Located inside a mostly Muslim neighborhood, a Mosque stood here until the 1950s before one of it's walls gave away opening up the temple to the world. Ever since, the temple concealed inside has come open to the world and the mosque has given way to a court-stay on the monument as a place of worship. Although this is probably one of the few cases that have defied the "Once a Mosque, always a Mosque" axiom, it continues to remain a communally sensitive topic.
The temple itself still houses magnificient, albeit ruined pillars very similar to another monument "Torana" in Vadnagar. Believed to have been built by Sidhraj Jaisinh, a shiva linga still exists in the temple / mosque which has some rudimentary pUja offered to it by the security guard himself.
The Sanctum Sanctorum itself is still intact and various other structures lie about in the precincts, including a mutilated Nandi / sacred bull. I managed a few photographs after some sweet-talking with guard.
Bohra Muslim Haveli: An utterly posh neighborhood in the town with some absolutely palatial houses. Although I wouldn't have minded visiting one of them, I coudn't quite figure out who I had to contact in order to do that.
Muktidham: I casually enquired about other places I could visit only to be recommended about "Muktidham". While I assumed that it was possibly a Hindu / Jain temple, little did I realize that it was actually a crematorium ghat!
Although I didn't bother going inside, I later figured out that this place was of religious importance because the Ghat itself is believed to be on the banks of the (now dry) Sarasvati river or on of it's ancient tributaries.Taranga
More Jain temples here. I sat down to cool my heels inside one. The cool and serene atmosphere probably breathed some energy into me as I stared into Mahavira's statue seated in the lotus position. A while later, I was out again doing more photo logs of the magnificent temple.
Taranga is also known for it's hillside caves -- popularly known as Jogi Gufa - which probably gets it's name from Buddhist ascetics or Digambar Jains who inhabited it. The caves are an hour long trek from the temple and is difficult to reach on your own, unless you have time to explore. The locals here probably don't know about it themselves, so it might be hard to find a guide to go there.Vadnagar
Heading back south towards Amdavad, I passed by Vadnagar -- another district that harbors both Hindu and Jain temples.
Torana, Vadnagar: "tOraNa" in Sanskrit literally means "Arch". In coherence with that description, there exist two marvellously carved out arches here, which closely resemble the dilapidated pillars from Rudramahalaya. Although it is curious to note that both these are almost isolated from any other monument, it can be observed that a mosque is situated almost next door. It seems like an unwritten rule in post-Islamic India that no matter where you go, a mosque almost certainly exists in the vicinity of an ancient ruin.
The Torana is believed to be a monument built in the wake of a famous victory, probably by Mularaj Solanki.
Sharmishta Talav, Vadnagar: In Hindu mythology, sharmiShTa is the wife of yayAti - a king of the yadu clan and the mother of the famous king puru. The tank itself is believed to be an ancient Solanki construction, meant for water retainment.
There wasn't anything else noteworthy except for some women who along the task of washing clothes, went skinny dipping into the lake. Perhaps they weren't aware of my prying male eyes.
Hatakeshwar Temple, Vadnagar: The last monument I visited in Vadnagar was this temple dedicated to Shiva. The temple encompassed all tenets of typical Solanki architecture, apart from housing a number of people - probably the family of the temple's priest.Adalaj
Another magnificent stepwell, just about 18KM from Amdavad. It was late evening by the time I made it here, thanks to a rare traffic holdup in Gandhinagar.Places I missed
I left Gujarat with a lot of things still unticked. Palitana was supposed to be the first stop in a trip that was supposed to cover most places in Kathiawar, including Diu, Junagadh, Gir, Somanath and Dwaraka. Unfortunately, most of it had to be written off due to an ugly road accident we were involved in along the way.
Even within Ahmedabad, I still have many mosques in the Shahibaug area, Rani Sipri Masjid, Sabarmati Ashram et al still pending on my Todo list. Although it ranked first on my priority queue for a while, I had to skip visiting the ancient Indus / Sarasvati civilization town of Lothal as well, a mere 80KM from Amdavad.
Kutch remains the final frontier. As somebody with dying affinity for Bortle class I skies, I dream of observing or photographing from anywhere there, as do I yearn to visit Dholavira - yet another Indus / Sarasvati civilization town.