Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Thirty Five Hundred Steps!

NB. A dohly is some kind of seat attached to two bamboo sticks for carrying one human via the use of two or four dohly-wallas!

It is 9.20pm. I have just had a freezing shower and crawled into bed. I am too tired to write, the day went something like this...

7am - Get out of bed, shower, pack.

8am - Get picked up by our driver, he did tell me his name but I promptly forgot it. Start the drive out of Ahmedabad and head towards Bhavnagar. Road conditions busy.

10am - Stop for chai. Well, our driver had chai, Michael and I had water and biscuits.

10.30am - Pass a really quite horrific motorbike accident, I really shouldn't have looked, I just hope they are both going to be ok.

11am - We are approaching Bhavnagar and we realise that our driver, who, incessantly doesn't speak much English, doesn't know where he is going, and he manages to communicate that it is is first time here. It's not too much of a problem as he stops numerous times to shout out of the window for directions.

11.45am - Find hotel and check in.

12.15pm - Set off again for Palitana.

1pm - Request more directions.

1.23pm - Request more directions.

1.37pm - Request yet more directions.

2.05pm - Arrive Palitana.

As the car pulls up it is swamped with boys and men peering in through the windows or just waiting for us to get out. It is a bit overwhelming to say the least, and I am a bit fearful. At the same time we are trying, and failing, to communicate with the driver. We have some questions about the climb ahead of us, and we need to arrange where to meet him; he can't help with our questions but we somehow communicate that we will call home when we get down if we can't find him. Michael opens his door and I climb out after him. The men are saying 'dolly' and shouting random amounts of rupees. I walk ahead, and free myself of the swarm, relieved I turn around to find Michael stuck a few feet back and completely surrounded. It's annoying that people only want to deal with the man here, but also advantageous on occasion. Into one of the kiosks selling snacks and drinks and the swarm is still with us, so much so that we have difficulty talking to each other. Frustrated and refusing the offer of the dolly for what feels like the 100th time we order something called bhel and most of the guys eventually wander outside. Snack eaten, fuel for the climb ahead, we grab some extra water and we are on our way.

Most of the guys peel away, but two of the dolly teams stick with us, persistently asking if we want a ride and telling us they will have us there in 5 minutes, we tell them no and that we are walking to the top, just as persistently. And eventually one of the teams pulls away. Michael is sure they are having bets as to whether we will make it to the top. The first 100 steps are easy, confidence is high. It is pretty hot and shade is sparse, I decide to count the steps to track our progress, but give up at 800 when Michael points out that the numbers are painted on the steps anyway at random intervals. The dolly guys are still with us. Still asking if we want to ride, we still keep saying no. If we stop for a rest, they stop, if we go, they follow. It is swinging from being amusing to just annoying, especially as we are getting hotter and more fatigued with every step. We stop regularly to catch our breath, and are overtaken by many a pilgrim being carried in their dolly. Step after step, higher and higher, it is not too busy but we get plenty of friendly hellos and namastes. Eventually the dolly carriers peal away, realising that we more stubborn than they are persistent. At one of the stops Michael accepts a cup of water that is handed him, reluctantly he takes it, too hot and thirsty to refuse. When he hands the cup back a request for payment is made and I joke that he has just paid for a bout of diarrhoea.

More steps, lots more steps, more rest stops and finally the temples are in sight. One final push to reach the top. 3500 steps in total. And we get to explore some of the 603 Jain temples. Intricate carved temples packed closely together and a few more people chat to us. We would have liked to have talked longer, but it is almost 5pm and the temples are closing and we have 3500 stairs to descend.

Thankfully it is cooler now, and we make faster progress going down. We are savouring the peacefulness and the stunning views of Palitana and the land beyond while the sun is starting to set behind us. Unsurprisingly the same dolly wallas are waiting for us and try to tempt one of us into their chair, finally realising that the are not getting a customer they decide to just ask for money instead.

Eventually the end is in sight, just a few 100 steps to go, when a man starts towards us shouting "photo photo", I know what he wants, but I am just too tired not to be irritated. My body aches and my legs are like jelly, I am a sweaty mess and I don't want to pose for a picture. But then I see his two daughters' sweet faces, smiling with excitement -- though it baffles me why. One practices her English, asking a few questions, so polite and sweet and happy. We say our goodbyes and stumble the rest of the way. Our driver is waiting eagerly, probably thinking about sending out a search party, as we are among the last few people coming down. A 15 rupee ice cold Fanta has never tasted so good.

A quick hotel meal of dhal and aloo gobi; it was expensive but so good and we were far too tired to look elsewhere anyway.

Finally into the room and all I want to do is jump under a warm shower to wash away the sweat and dust. Only we soon discover that there is no hot water; for some reason this hotel only provides hot water in the morning. A quick cold shower then bed to wait for poor Michael, who had to spend half an hour sitting at the reception on Skype to America.