A three-hour-plus uphill drive on winding roads from Udaipur, the 15th-century Jain Temple at Ranakpur is one of the most stunning examples of Jain temple architecture in the country. It is dedicated to Adinath, also called Rishabha, the first Jain Tirthankar (a holy person who has attained enlightenment and takes rebirth to pass on the knowledge to others), and is a less-crowded, more convenient, and perhaps more impressive alternative to Dilwara at Mount Abu.
This white marble temple complex, rising out of the forest, is simply breathtaking. Not surprisingly the temple took 65 years to build. after (legend has it) it appeared in a dream to a minister of the Mewar kings. One of the five holiest places for India's Jains, the three-story temple is surrounded by a three-story wall and contains 27 halls supported by 1,444 elaborately carved pillars—no two carvings are alike. The relief work is some of the best in all of India. Below the temple are underground chambers where statues of Jain saints were hidden to protect them from the Mughals. As you enter, look to the left for the pillar where the minister and the architect provided themselves with front-row seats for worship. On one of the pillars is a carving of the creator of the temple. Another pillar is intentionally warped, to separate human works from divine ones—the builders believed only gods could be perfect, so they intentionally added imperfections to some of the columns to avoid causing insult. Outside are two smaller Jain temples and a shrine adorned with erotic sculptures and dedicated to the sun god. There are a few priests around who speak a little English and who act as guides; in return, you should make a small donation. Leather items—shoes, belts, wallets, and more—are not allowed inside the temple. They request menstruating women not to enter (though many modern Jain women ignore this), and there are strict instructions about dress code. You can use a camera but they do not allow photographs of the deity. Although there are a couple of hotels in the vicinity, Ranakpur is best visited as a day -trip from Udaipur, maybe stopping at Kumbalgarh Fort, 32 km (20 miles) away en route since Ranakpur opens to tourists late in the day.
Ranakpur, Rajasthan, India