My New Year’s resolution is to explore at least one location in and around the place I call hometown – Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu, whenever I visit. Since I was there during the New Year period, my resolution was under immediate pressure to turn words into deeds to set an early lead for the rest of the year.
I decided to check out a place which I have been postponing from visiting partly due to my laziness and partly because I wasn’t sure whether it would be worth the effort. It’s an ancient Jain temple at the top of a hill in a small village by name Chitharal which is only about 7 miles from my house.
It’s a place steeped in history, yet, remains strangely obscure for many locals. Ancient history doesn’t mean a thing for them and not many have ever bothered to climb the hill. So when I arrived at the base of the hillock I was expecting a neglected path, but to my surprise, the leading path is very well paved and armed with stone benches along the way for tired legs to rest.
These over-hanging green patches are only at the beginning of the path. The rest is exposed to open sky, so if anyone unwittingly choose to climb when the sun is at its full glory, just like I did, it will be an exhaustive climb. Belive me, it can get scorching hot.
20 minutes’ walk up the path took me to the summit of the hill and in vicinity of the temple. There’s a stone arch at the entrance and a narrow path in between two large boulders. Down the narrow cave-like path and a sharp cut to the left, there’s the monument – carved into a natural overhanging rock.
The arch way and the narrow path at the entrance.
Inside the narrow path
Carvings on the sides. This is the first view of the temple. Actually we enter the temple premises from behind, so you go round the side walls. For a perspective on how high the temple is perched, check out the valley below – that’s the normal ground level.
Another photo of the side
Unfortunately I do not have a better close-up photo of the front view
Interior. The man looks like the caretaker of the monument. Behind him, and behind the bars (!), is the main deity – a statue of Mahavir.
View from the other side
According to history (Wikipedia, of course!), the temple was built thousands of years ago by Jain monks belonging to the Digambara sect, but in 425 AD Hindus took over the temple. There are various references about the history of this monument in the Internet. Search term: Chitharal Jain Temple.
Not everything looks ancient though. I guess the government would have done a little bit of re-construction to bring the monument back to shape or as part of routine maintenance.
This is the most celebrated view of the temple – with the pool in the foreground
Not a glorious sky, but on a great ‘sky’ day, it should look great from here.
Some notes for anyone planning to visit:
1) The place is known as Malai Kovil in local parlance which means mountain temple. If you are confused about the sign boards leading to the place, ask for ‘Malai Kovil’ route. The local people are more than happy to guide you to the spot.
2) It can be extremely sunny from 9 o’clock in the morning till 5 in the evening. Ideal time to start your trek would be at 4:30 pm. The walk isn’t too difficult or too long, it’s just a gentle incline of 15 minutes’ walk.
3) There are no guides to explain you the history of the place, so refer Wiki before you go. Wiki is like the historian of our times – whether it is accurate or not is another matter, but you don’t have options.
4) There’s an eerie stillness about the place and it can be creepy sometimes as you may not find many people there, not even security guards. The place may look like a perfect hideout for criminals, but don’t be afraid, in my knowledge there’s no reported history of any criminal offence. But still I would advise you to climb down immediately after sunset, just in case…
5) Carry your camera, the view from the top is amazing.
It definitely is an interesting place and the view from the top is simply amazing. But sadly not many people seem to visit. I was there for about three hours and in that time the number of people I saw I could count on the fingers of one hand.
For me, as a writer and photographer, I got what I went for – a story and a handful of decent photographs. And, the place being so near to my house, it was like finding heaven in my own backyard.