Shatrunjaya, Gujarat, India

One of Jainism’s holiest pilgrimage sites, Shatrunjaya is an incredible hilltop sea of temples, built over 900 years. It is said that Adinath (also known as Rishabha), the founder of Jainism, meditated and gave his first sermon beneath the rayan tree at the summit. The temples are grouped into tunks (enclosures), each with a central temple and many minor ones. The 500m climb up 3300 steps to the temples adds to the extraordinary experience.

The steps start on the southwest edge of Palitana about 3.5km from the bus stand (₹20 by autorickshaw). Most days, hundreds of pilgrims make the 1½-hour climb; crowds swell into the thousands around Kartik Purnima, which marks the end of Chaturmas, a four-month period of spiritual retreat and material self-denial that coincides with the monsoon season.

As you near the top of the hill, the track forks. The main entrance, Ram Pole, is reached by bearing left, though the best views are to the right, where on a clear day you can see the Gulf of Cambay. Inside the Nav Tonk Gate, one path leads left to the Muslim shrine of Angar Pir – a Muslim saint who protected the temples from a Mughal attack; women who want children come here and make offerings of miniature cradles. To the right, the second tunk you reach is the Chaumukhji Tunk, containing the Chaumukh, built in 1618 by a wealthy Jain merchant. Images of Adinath, the first Jain tirthankar (believed to have attained enlightenment here), face the four cardinal directions.

You can easily spend a couple of hours wandering among the hundreds of temples up here. The biggest and one of the most splendid and important, with a fantastic wealth of detailed carving, is the Adinath Temple, on the highest point on the far (south) side.

Visit India Epic India Route © Monika Newbound

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