It’s a blisteringly hot sunny day in Southern, India. Want to take on 763 steps up a steep bolder, barefoot? I’ll admit, this sight gave me serious pause.
Vindhyagiri hill is steep. So steep, it’s not recommended for elderly climbers. For around $2 Palanquin bearers stand nearby for those faint of heart. Papà is not faint of heart.
At 79 years old, he took one look at those steps and started climbing. I’m sure Papà wanted to see Lord Gommateshwara aka Bahubali the world’s largest free-standing, single stone, monolithic statue. A bigger part of me thinks, he wanted to prove to himself, he could.
Steps to Bahubali Statue (Gommateshwara) are Steep
Google “how many steps to Bhagawan Bahubali Statue (Gommateshwara)” and the results vary wildly from 600 to 1,000. Not a surprising result considering Vindhyagiri hill is about 470 feet tall and one solid piece of rock. It looks like a giant dropped it right beside Shravanabelagola village.
Two sets of long stride steps are carved into the side of the rock to the top. One set for going up, one for going down. Keeping count during a climb to the top is not easy. All I knew was if I lost count, I was not starting over.
To give you an idea, a fifth-floor walk up is about 50 feet tall. Climbing the steps caved into Vindhyagiri hill in Shravanabelagola to see Bahubali Statue, is like tackling 10 fifth-floor walk ups in a row. Except this is a giant rock in Southern India we’re talking. There’s not a single tree for shade, nor AC at the top. My best effort put the steps at 763.
Getting to Bahubali Statue With Elderly Parents
We were fortunate to visit in the offseason without too many tourists. Having the steps pretty much to ourselves meant there was no pressure to make the ascent quickly. A good thing for Papà, Mamma, and I. Paolo however bounded up like a mountain goat. In prime shape from a lifetime of running seven miles a day. We have Paolo’s energy to thank for the photos you’re about to see.
Knowing Papà struggles with vertigo on occasion, I decided to bring up the rear. Papà set a slow, steady pace. Scaling 15 steps at a time before pausing for increasingly epic views of Shravanabelagola village below.
Halfway up, I struggled through raspy breaths yet Papà kept his pace and I was determined to back him up. Another few pauses later and the glistening shimmer on Kalyani pond below was a siren song. No, up, up, up! Half an hour later, Papà rounded a curve and caught sight of a good resting spot.
Paolo and I took a few minutes to explore The Odegal Basti a unique triple shrine before checking back in on Mamma and Papà. The climb to the top had been steep but it wasn’t over. With rest, could Papà make it? We decided it was time for a scouting trip. There were less than 100 steps left. Papà wasn’t going to give up when he had come this far.
Paolo took the lead. Once again, I brought up the rear. The steps got steeper. The final section felt like climbing a sixth-floor NYC walkup. By the time Paolo had reached the landing at the top, Papà had started to slow. A bit worried and I hurried up to pull up beside him. I’m glad I did.
Papà stopped shy of the last five steps. I knew his legs had to be exhausted, a dull ache had set into mine. One step (he’s got this) two steps (man he’s determined) three steps (he looks like he’s hurting) four steps, his left foot caught, five steps his right foot caught.
Physically exhausted but seeing the end, Papà hadn’t waited to regain footing on his left foot before moving on to his right foot. He tripped on the last step. Everything went into slow-mo as Papà pushed his right foot forward again, hitting the face of the final step a second and third time.
Instinctively Papà’s arms flailed. Instinctively we all reached for him. Defying both age and gravity Papà recovered his footing. Collectively, we celebrated cheering loudly “Yes! Papà you made it! You made it!”
Photography of Steps to Bahubali Statue
The look on Papà’s face was so memorable, I had to put a little celebration slideshow together on this, the second anniversary of our trip.
Gommateshwara Statue on Vindhyagiri Hill
This next bit might make me seem immature but, when rounding the corner of the walls surrounding the 58-foot tall statue of Lord Gommateshwara, you’re immediately confronted with a very intimate view of a nude statue. I’d feel worse about my reaction except I watched as one by one Paolo, Mamma, and Papà all had the same reaction I did. Oh! Well. That’s. That’s a big statue now isn’t it. I’m sure you can guess but if you’d like a visual, see the slideshow above.
Once giggles subside, one is free to admire Bahubali statue. Recently cleaned for Mahamasthakabhisheka (an anointing ceremony performed every 12 years) Bahubali took on a supernatural glow in the falling sun. With a serene face and regal arched brows, curly hair, and long earlobes there is much to be admired in the smooth details and carvings. Broad shoulders stand tall free from support. Long arms and legs are decorated with twisting vines.
Bahubali is a captivating statue, which is a good thing. The longer we admired, the more time our legs had to recover. We still had to get off this rock! Thankfully the descent from Vindhyagiri hill while equally steep is far more enjoyable. Views stretch on endlessly giving a true sense of how high up the trek to Bahubali statue is.
Papà’s determination and zest for travel is an inspiration. With Paolo and I by their sides, Mamma and Papà show no signs of slowing down their annual trips. All that stands in their way right now is COVID-19. It might take a while, maybe even years but gods willing may we still have many more family trips ahead. Hopefully with fewer steps though, I still remember waking up with leg cramps the day after climbing 763 steps to the top of Vindhyagiri hill.