India // Gujarat //

Mount Girnar

At more than 1100m, Mount Girnar (an auto-rickshaw costs Rs60), a steep-sided extinct volcano 4km east of Junagadh, is a major pilgrimage centre for Jains and Hindus, and has been considered sacred since before the third century BC. It’s best to start the ascent (at least two hours) well before 7am. The path of five thousand irregular steps climbs through eucalyptus forests before zigzagging across the sheer rock face; there are chai stalls along the way.

On a plateau below the summit, the picturesque huddle of Jain temples has been slightly renovated since its erection between 1128 and 1500. Neminath, the 22nd tirthankara who is said to have died on Mount Girnar after seven hundred years of meditation and asceticism, is depicted as a black figure sitting in the lotus position holding a conch in the marble Neminath temple, the first on the left as you enter the “temple city”. It’s well worth making the effort to climb the final two thousand steps to the summit of Mount Girnar; the views on the way are breathtaking. At the top, a temple dedicated to the Hindu goddess Amba Mata attracts both Hindu and Jain pilgrims. Steps lead down from this temple and then up again along a narrow ridge towards Gorakhnath Peak, where a small shrine covers what are supposedly the footprints of the pilgrim Gorakhnath, and further to a third peak where the imprints of Neminath’s feet are sheltered by a small canopy. At the most distant point of the ridge, a shrine dedicated to the fierce Hindu goddess Kalika, the eternal aspect of Durga, is a haunt for near-naked Aghora ascetics who express their absolute renunciation of the world by ritually enacting their own funerals.