Amazed by the Scale and Beauty of the Jain Temple at Ranakpur
Mohinder Singh picked us up this morning at our hotel after having driven down from Jodhpur – arriving at 8:30 am in Udiapur meant that in order to carry us the six-hour journey back to his starting point, he left Jodhpur at 2:30 am. Today was our only long car trip of our journey but worthwhile for it gave us the chance to catch a glimpse of the Rajasthan people going about their lives in this somewhat arid but beautiful landscape. Our route carried us partly on highways and partly on secondary roads through crowded village centers and town squares. The roads here, regardless of their size, are used by all for very kind of vehicle or animal. The poor conditions of the roads in some places keeps speeds low which also probably keeps the fatalities lower as well.
For the first couple of hours, the road took us through some beautiful mountain areas covered with low lying grasses and a scattering of trees. The people of the this area are fascinating to watch – especially the older people who possess dark, weathered faces but who are cloaked in vibrantly colored turbans or iridescently colored skirts and veils. The clothing provides brilliant flashes of color against a landscape dominated by earth tones of browns and dark greens.
Agriculture is the dominant industry for most though cement and stone quarrying are also common. A predominant activity, especially among the women, was the gathering of firewood which was bundled in massive bunches and carried on their heads home. Tending to herds of goats, sheep, and cows also occupied the hours of many.
Our driver called our attention to some roosting trees for a couple of hundred fruit bats hanging in the sun, enveloped in their shiny black wings like long dangling chrysalises with auburn heads jutting out the bottom. Not sure why they chose these particular trees – they hang over the road and are among the people. It’s an amazing sight to see so many of these huge bats in one place.
A little further down the road, we pulled over to take a look at an oxen-powered irrigation system. Two cows, encouraged by a woman riding along on the apparatus, steadily plodded the circumference of a circle attached to a lever and gear set that rotated a waterwheel constructed of buckets that scooped water from low and emptied it into the through that led to the fields. Elegantly simplistic and seemingly quite effective.
Here's the pump in action
The highlight of a drive was our stop at the massive Jain temple at Ranakpur. I had to pause for a minute to adjust my American time scale of historical reference while considering the fact that the temple was completed in 1439. As impressive as it is on the outside, the marble interior is truly breathtaking. Legend has it that the design for the temple came in a vision to a local farmer having no previous architectural design experience. It was quite a vision – the interior of the temple includes 1440 individually carved pillars, five high vaulted intricately carved domes, and tens of thousands carvings adorning most of the structures surfaces.
Jainism is supposedly the second oldest religion in the world after Buddhism. It’s not a derivative of Hinduism – they don’t believe in all of the Hindu gods but instead honor 24 sacred prophets. The number 72 is significant to Jains being the age at which the author of their teachings, Mahavira, attained enlightenment. Accordingly, the temple is built on a pedestal measuring 72 square yards and contains 20x72 pillars, and ornately carved shrines within. The Jains firmly believe in “live and let live” and strive toward complete non-violence and the sanctity of all life. No leather products were allowed in the temple – my belt remained in the car. We were given a tour by one of the high priests of the temple, a young man who is the 14th generation of his family to serve in that role. It was a truly memorable visit. It's the kind of place where no matter how many attempts are made to capture the place with a camera, it couldn't be done. Here are a few of our attempts.
The remaining hours were spent on the road as the landscape flattened out and we wove in and out among the many trucks travelling one of the major east-west highway routes in the north of India. We arrived in Jodhpur around 7:30 pm and have settled in nicely to our B+B for the night. It’s off to the desert tomorrow. A few scenes from the road.
Indians are masters of maximizing their cargo loads