coeur Mount Girnar is an undisputed must-see while you’re in Gujarat. Climbing the 9999 steps to its summit leaves an imperishable memory. The atmosphere is serene and friendly and the views are breathtaking.

Mount Girnar (Mount Neminath for the Jains) is in fact a cluster of hills and peaks about 4km from the town of Junagadh. Its summit, at 1118m, is the highest point in Gujarat.

Girnar is an important place of pilgrimage for Hindus and Jains alike, with temples of both religions.There are hermitages and ashrams dotted all around the hill.

A Pradakshina or circumambulation of the hill is held annually; it is considered a very holy ritual, like those at Mount Govardhan near Mathura and Arunachala in Tamil Nadu.

Bavnath temple at the foot of the hill is very old, and is famous for its Mahashivaratri festival when hundreds of naked Naga Sadhus gather.

 

The pilgrimage


The ascent starts at the Damodar Kund at Damodar temple (a kund is a bathing tank). It is best to start early, around 5am, to avoid the scorching afternoon heat.

Damodar Kund

Along the way you walk past the Bhavnath temple to Shiva, famous for its Mahashivaratri festival (see below).

The start of the pilgrimage

The steps begin after you have passed a porch and several small temples. You are walking by the light of your torch when the first glow of dawn appears and reveals the undulating outline of the hills. You climb. And you climb. 1000, 2000, 3000 … 4000 steps.

Group of 12th-16th-century Jain temples

At the 4000th step you reach a plateau with a number of very lovely 12th-16th-century Jain temples. The most famous is the 12th-century Neminath Temple. It is said that the 22nd Tirthankar (Jain saint) died here after 700 years of meditation.

Amba Mata

At the 6000th step, you see the Amba Mata Hindu temple. In fact both Hindus and Jains visit this temple, and newly-weds come here to have their union blessed.

The highest peak, Gorakhnath

Another 2000 steps take you to the highest peak, Gorakhnath. It is said that the footprints of the saint Gorakhnathji are imprinted here. Here you recover your breath and gaze in admiration at the panoramic view. With your legs beginning to show signs of fatigue, you still have to go down 1000 steps and, worst of all, up the final 999.

The Dattatraya peak

After three hours of effort you reach your destination at last. There, perched on the Dattatraya peak, you find a small temple with the padukas (sacred sandals) of Dattatraya, considered to be an avatar (incarnation) of the three Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, collectively known as Trimurti.

Naga saddhu on the way to the Dattatraya peak

A quick darshan of the temple (darshan: beholding of a saint or holy object) and then it’s off back the way you came.

Expect to take at least six hours to complete this pilgrimage.

[ Watch my Girnar Pilgrimage! 🙂 ]

 

Mahashivaratri Bhavnath Mela


Each year in February and March, the day before the new moon in the lunar month of Magha, ‘Mahashivaratri’ or the Great Night dedicated to Shiva is celebrated in Bhavnath temple. No fewer than a million pilgrims gather for the event.

Naga Sadhus

The Naga Sadhus (naked ascetics) come down from the Himalayas in vast numbers to attend the ceremony. There is a five-day fair during which you can hear many accomplished musicians play.

Naga Sadhus at the Bhavnath Mela

But the main attraction is the midnight Naga Bawa procession with hundreds of naked sadhus and sadhvis (women sadhus) taking part. The procession ends with a sacred bath in the Mrigi Kund, the bathing tank at Bhavnath temple, and a Maha Puja (great ceremony) at the temple’s Shiva Lingam.

 

Girnar Parikrama or Lili Parikrama


Parikrama, or Pradakshina, means “circling” or “circumambulation” in Sanskrit. Each year pilgrims set off to walk round Mount Girnar.

Girnar Parikrama

This 36km walk is considered deeply sacred. It is compared with the Parikrama at Govardhan, Krishna’s mountain near Mathura, and the one at Arunachala in Tamil Nadu.

Girnar Parikrama ends at Bhavnath temple

The walk starts from Girnar Parikrama Gate in Rupayatan and ends at Bhavnath temple. Pilgrims take about three days to walk round, stopping overnight at villages along the way.


Patan is a fortified town dating from the 8th century CE. It was the capital of Gujarat until 1411, when the sultan Ahmed Shah moved his capital to Ahmedabad. It now owes its fame to its magnificent Rani-Ki-Vav stepwell, a Unesco World Heritage site, built under the Solanki period. It is also renowned for making much-sought-after saris in hand-woven patola fabric.

 


Rani-Ki-Vav stepwell


The Rani-Ki-Vav (“queen’s well”) is said to have been commissioned by Queen Udayamati in 1050, in memory of her husband Bhimdev I (1022-1063 CE). He was the son of Mularaja, founder of the Solanki dynasty.


It was buried in silt after repeated floods from the nearby river Saraswati and was only rediscovered in 1960, by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Stepwells are a distinctive form of subterranean water resource and storage systems on the Indian subcontinent, and have been constructed since the 3rd millennium BC.


Rani-ki-Vav was built at the height of craftsmens’ ability in stepwell construction and the Maru-Gurjara architectural style, reflecting mastery of this complex technique and great beauty of detail and proportions.

Designed as an inverted temple highlighting the sanctity of water, it is divided into seven levels of stairs with sculptural panels of high artistic quality.

More than 500 principle sculptures and over a thousand minor ones combine religious, mythological and secular imagery, often referencing literary works.

The fourth level is the deepest and leads into a rectangular tank 9.5 m by 9.4 m, at a depth of 23 m. The well is located at the westernmost end of the property and consists of a shaft 10 m in diameter and 30 m deep. (source UNESCO)


Art of Patola


Patan’s other speciality is the art of patola. Patola is the term used in Gujarat for double ikat silk weaving.

Double ikat is produced by tie-dyeing both warp and weft threads with all the colours to be used in the design, at very precise intervals, so that when they are woven together the pattern emerges with all the right colours in the right places.

This method makes the cloth reversible, as it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the two sides.

For high end saris the dyes are made from natural pigments. The colour is said to last for more than 300 years.

Kirron Kher wearing a Patola sari of the designer Gaurang at the Lakme Fashion Week 2013

Because the technique is so complex, it can take six months to a year to make a double-ikat patola sari – which is why they are so expensive. The cheapest cost about 140 000 roupies (€2000).

Of the original 700 families of Patan patola weavers there are now only three who continue the traditional double-ikat technique. One of these families, the Salvi family, has built the Patan Patola Heritage Museum not far from the Rani-Ki-Vav. Their small workshop in the city centre also bears eloquent testimony to the beauty of the art.


Other places of interest


Sahasralingam tank: This is one of the many artificial reservoirs built in different parts Gujarat under the patronage of Siddhraj Jaisinh (1093-1143 CE). It is one of the largest. Sahasralingam tank takes its name from the many small temples containing Shiva lingams that once stood around it, though they were demolished at the end of the medieval period.

Panchasara Parsvanatha Jain temple – Patan has more than 100 Jain temples, reflecting the importance of Jainism in the Solanki period. One of the largest is the Panchasara Parsvanatha. It is dedicated to Parsvanath, the 23rd Tirthankar (Jain saint), who lived in the 9th century BCE. The temple was built in the 16th century CE and has several courtyards and a number of finely sculpted shrines.


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It is said that Kanchipuram gives eternal happiness to those who visit it. Located 65km from Madras on the banks of the river Vegavathy, Kanchipuram is known as the City of Gold or the City of a Thousand Temples. It is one of India’s seven most holy places, the Sapta Puri. Read More

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