438 feet above looks easy on paper, but as you climb up the steep and jagged stone steps carved out in the Vindhyagiri hillock, you slowly become more and more aware of each gasp of air (and how unfit you are!). As you stop for a minute, letting the eager devotees pass you by, you turn back to find some solace in how many steps you have traversed already. The gaze wanders over the green landscape of Shravanabelagola; dotted with cottages on the right, a kalyani (reservoir) right in the centre, the ancient structures atop the boulder strewn Chandragiri hillock in the front, and a traces of a couple of lakes on the left.
I was on my way to have a dekko at the Gomateshwara statue, one of the largest monolithic statues in the world. As a child, Amar Chitra Katha had introduced me to the story of how a powerful king, Bahubali, renounced his kingdom and became a Jain monk. During his penace, creepers grew all over his body and the statue reflects this period of his meditation.
The 57 feet tall statue dates back to 983 AD, and towers over the surrounding stone walled periphery wall, the exterior painted in alternating shades of red and white. Around the statue, on three sides of the sanctum are the intricately chiselled stone idols of various Jain tirthankaras. Outside the sanctum, one finds more hall shaped structures, the canopy supported by thick stone columns. As one walks to the edge of the boundary facing the valley below, the distant world seems an illusionary oasis of calm and peace.
How to get there? – Take Tumkur Road in Bangalore, and then get onto NH48. Drive straight down the highway for about 100 odd kilometres, then take a left to get onto SH47 for Shravanabelagola.
View from Vindhyagiri
Rock Carvings outside the walls of the sanctum
On one edge of Vindhyagiri
Many tourist buses on the way to Belur Halebidu temples have Shravanabelagola as a pit stop