Ranakpur


One of the delights of the trip was a visit to the Jain temple in Ranakpur. At the age of 12 I had read about the Jains, and I still admire them greatly. Jainism is an offshoot of Hinduism which preaches non-violence to all living things. The Jains are not only vegetarians, but don't eat potatoes, onions and garlic, since tilling the ground can kill creatures such as worms. The more religious Jains wear masks so that they don't accidentally breathe in bugs, and they carry brooms to sweep anything out of their path.

The thing I didn't realize at the time was that to be this way means avoiding certain jobs such as farming, and that the Jains have gone for more abstract jobs such as trade. Like the Jews, prohibitions on common jobs have propelled them into more prosperous ones. Though they represent a tiny percentage of the population, the Jains are highly influential.

The temple complex at Ranakpur is quite impressive, though somewhat remote. We traveled a long while, and there seemed not to be very much in the area at all. The road to the temple wind around and around a tall hill, with a good view of the valleys underneath. We arrived at the temple, a lively place, and were greeted by a number of large monkeys, who know a good thing when they see it.

After removing leather shoes, belts and wallets, we started with an all-you-can-eat lunch at the cafeteria, which as best I can remember, cost about 50 rupees. It was a simple lunch of bread, rice and dahl, lentils and okra, but after traveling since very early, it was a great thing. The hall was packed with people, sitting on one side of long, thin tables in rows. The servers came across the front side of each table, dishing the food on to the diner's circular, metal plate.

The food may have been all-you-can-eat, but with the next shift standing over you and staring, there's only so long you can sit. Being foreign, the staring made me particularly conscious of my table manners. First, all eating is done with the right hand, and that means no cheating with the left when you're tearing the bread. Second, not having done this all my life, I need 50% more bread to pick up my food. Finally, after picking up wet rice and dahl in my hand, I had to resist the temptation to dive for the napkins until the end.

I was actually very pleased with myself – until we got up, that is. A 10-year-old kid told me in front of his parents that my manners were bad, because you're supposed to pour water over the leftovers and then drink it. I had never heard of this rule, but it just goes to show that you can never please everyone.

I had read about the Jains, but had never seen a Jain temple before. They're really quite distinctive. They have long, thin spires like closed flowers. You can see where this design was picked up in Southeast Asia. On the outside the ornamentation is sparse, but on the inside, the decoration runs wild. I was told that this reflects the outer and inner life of the person: simple outwardly but rich on the inside.

In this temple there are 1,440 carved stone pillars, and an enormous amount of other intricate carvings in stone, which must have taken years of determined work. As I walked around I was met by a priest, who dotted my eyes and asked for a donation. Though at the time I thought this was a tad aggressive, I hadn't yet experienced any of the more aggressive Hindu priests. In any case, I milled around and looked, photographed some of the details and left.

One thing that I did notice was that not only was my admission ticket in Hindi, but there was a section that was written in Gujarati curious, since we were in Rajasthan. I asked one of the guards about this on the way out. It seems that many of the visitors are from Gujarat, Jainism is extremely popular there, and the current head of the temple is a Gujarati as well. 

In one of the side buildings I was approached yet again by Indian tourists who wanted to take my picture. I did them one better this time by taking theirs. I wonder now what percentage of tourists' pictures comprises pictures of other tourists.