Eye of the beholder

Chelle arranged for a driver on Friday, and this morning we left Jodhpur with a final destination of Udaipur. She had her heart set on visiting two Jain temples somewhat off the main highway route. I reluctantly agreed as our cash flow was stunted by the continuing saga of long lines, or empty ATMs. Having a driver was the only viable option for getting where we wanted to visit but it was a spendy proposition. We had the Rs5500 (a shade under one hundred USD) to pay our driver. Additionally, we had a small amount of American currency. The first portion of the trip from Jodhpur was 162km or approximately 100 miles so I had sufficient time to ponder all the variables surrounding our cash options. I rarely say no to my wife mainly due to the fact that she is level headed with finances and she doesn’t ask for outlandish items.

When we arrived at Ranakpur we chatted with Vikrim mentioning that we had his payment but it would leave us without any Indian cash. I asked if he would accept one hundred dollars in our money. At the exchange rate we received at Western Union he would pocket an additional Rs500 but as a local his rate would be probably be better. He quickly agreed. 

Ranakpur is a Jain temple in the Pali district of Rajasthan. It is one of the most famous places to visit in the region. Jainism, like Buddhism and Hinduism originated in India. The central tenet is non-violence and love towards all beings. The Buddha was a Jain but found the ascetics too severe and instead chose a “middle way” between extreme self-discipline and indulgence. 

The architecture of Ranakpur is magnificent. The intricate carvings are masterful and delicate. Craftsmanship can be seen in whichever direction you turn.The scale of the massive marble pillars holding the equally exquisite dome carvings is impressive in modern terms, more so considering the period this was constructed. The columns rise up over fifteen feet from the base with over eighty columns in each hall, each one unique. 

Entrance dome

Column carvings

Our next stop was the Dilwara temple adjacent to Mount Abu, set on a high rocky plateau in the Aravalli range and surrounded by forest. Quite unlike any other area in Rajasthan. Dilwara was built between the 11th and 13th century. Unlike Ranakpur this temple strictly forbids any type of photography (all cameras and phones are stowed in a cloak room outside the temple). Chelle and I were awestruck by the first temple at Ranakpur but Dilwara was an incredible feat of craftsmanship that would have been nearly impossible to convey in a picture. The richly carved corridors, pillars, arches, and ‘mandaps’ or porticoes of the temple are simply astonishing. The ceilings feature engraved designs of lotus-buds, petals, flowers and scenes from Jain mythology. The depth of the carvings was flawless. The stone laying technique was exquisite. The following photographs are credited to the charitable trust that currently manages more than 1200 Jainian temples. 

Main hall
Ceiling dome

The main alter must be viewed from a distance unless a devotee. The inner sanctum is relatively plain, the Tirthankara figure is a highly polished black marble statue in a traditional seated posture. I was standing twenty yards or so looking into a dark room lit by a single small candle but the figure was striking. The white eyes gazing back into the temple was an imposing sight to behold. 

We wrapped up our visit as dusk was approaching and headed down back down the mountain. Vikrim was a skilled driver but the ride was hair-raising at times…vehicles passing on blind sharp corners. Additionally, I’m not sure I needed first hand experience but driving Indian highways at night was unnerving. The Indian national highway system is a four lane divided roadway that many would find similar to the US interstate system or the TransCanada route back home.

However, that was where the similarities ended. On several occasions vehicles approached us in the wrong direction. We passed motorcycles and rickshaws without brake lights, pedestrians walking on the shoulder, transport trucks hogging both lanes for which there seemed to be an inherent system of flashing high beams and honking. At one point a truck was stopped perpendicular to the road. As I indicated earlier Vik was excellent and we felt safe in his care.

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