I arrive at Ranakpur Jain Temple at mid-afternoon, with no back-up plan. Either they put me up at the temple, or well, I don’t know what I’ll do. Maybe find something in town, if there is anything? It’s one of those chutzpah moments, when you just trust that if you ask, the universe will provide. By and large, this strategy has worked pretty well for me during my years of travel, notwithstanding one uncomfortable night spent at the Amsterdam train station, a long evening in the Singapore airport and a cold, achy night in line for Wimbledon tennis (Wow Place #187). Ugh.

I’ve come to Ranakpur for more than accommodation; I’m here to learn more about the Jains. One of the world’s oldest religions, originating in India at least 2,500 years, Jainism’s goal is to become liberated from the endless cycle of rebirth and to achieve an all-knowing state called moksha. Sounds like Buddhism, right? Well, the Jains take it a big step further. Their teachings include the lesson that the path to enlightenment is through nonviolence and reducing harm to living things (including plants and animals) as much as possible. Jains, for example, are not allowed to follow farming as a profession because of the harm to creatures in the soil. Not only do they not eat meat, fish or eggs, they also avoid foods whose product kills the plant, harms microscopic organisms, or destroys the germs of the future. Well before Covid 19, Jain monks were wearing masks on a regular basis to keep the hot air from their mouths from killing microorganisms! Think vegans on steroids (metaphorically speaking of course).

Thankfully, the monks of Ranakpur – who DO let me stay at the temple — don’t ask me to practice their rules and restrictions quite so observantly. Nevertheless, I find myself becoming very aware of the local bugs and creepy crawlers while I’m there. After all, who knows what might happen if I swat that mosquito on my shoulder or squish that ant crossing the road? You have to think that at a holy place like Ranakpur, karma is pretty much supercharged. One misstep and I could come back as a bug!

Apart from the fascinating religious practices of its congregation, Ranakpur Temple, itself, is a gorgeous structure. Spread out over 48,00 square feet, it features 1444 carved marble pillars, twenty-nine halls, eight domes and 426 columns. Legend has it that one of the pillars is incomplete and every time it’s built the next morning, the pillar breaks down again. I don’t know about all these legends. What I see in front of me is pretty spectacular, though — particularly the main hall, packed with ornately carved, white-marble pillars. That night, as I sit in the hall, eating the simple meal of lentils and rice that the temple provides (at a small fee), I’m dazzled by how the flickering candles reflect off the pillars, creating mysterious shadows at the corners of the room. It’s a moment of pure exoticism – one that only happens because I muster up the chutzpah to ask, “May I stay here?”

(What holds you back from asking for what you want? Chances are it’s either fear of rejection, or perhaps going deeper, a feeling of “I’m not worthy.” It’s the old Impostor Syndrome, ie. “Who am I to stay at a sacred temple like this?” There’s no quick solution for any of this. About all you do is work on yourself, slowly, over time, and gradually convince yourself that 1) All they can see is say no, and 2) there’s at least a chance that you have enough value to receive a yes.)