30.07.2014 38 °C
Yesterday, we left Bhavnagar at the crack of dawn, so we could get to Palitana nice and early so Bill and Natalie could climb up to one of Jainisms's holiest pilgrim sites, which is called Shatrunjaya. It is a hilltop of an estimated nine hundred Jain temples (built over nine hundred years), and to get there you have to climb 3,400 steps.
It was an easy hour drive, we passed through villages waking up, with little traffic on the roads.We saw a beautiful rainbow in the sky, which Natalie and I felt was an omen for a good climb. We saw lots of wild boar and their piglets; our driver, Vijay, was telling us that the boars were owned by the people that are the street cleaners (who would have been the untouchables in years gone by). We got into Palitana about seven o'clock and as we headed for Shatrunjaya, we saw people walking towards the start of the climb and we noticed that they were not young people and lots of them struggled walking, but up to the temples they were going. As we rounded the final corner our car was literally surrounded by 'doli', who are the men who carry people up to the temples (in a chair like contraption, carried on sticks), there was easy fifty men surrounding the car, tapping on the windows, trying to get our attention, so we would pick one of them to carry us up to the temples. Several men really fixed eye contact with me and although it was really funny, they were a bit scary. Bill and Natalie were absolutely surrounded by the men when they got out of the car, but they managed to escape most of them.
I have written about Jainism before, but as a quick recap they do not believe in killing anything, so they are strict vegans, they do not eat root vegetables, in case worms and insects are hurt in getting the vegetable out of the ground. To put this in context of climbing Shatrunjaya, Bill and Natalie, were not allowed to wear any leather on the mountain and were not allowed any food. Jain people climbing the mountain, often stop at each step and do a 'poojah' (prayer) and to sweep any insects off the step, but they still skip up and down the mountain in super quick time. There are also a group of Jain people who do not wear clothes and we have seen several of them the last few days!
We left Bill and Natalie climbing and the driver and I went to our hotel; it was only about seven thirty and the owner was not expecting us so early, but they were very welcoming. The hotel is called Vijay Vilas and it is a 1906 palace and it is in the shadow of Shatrunjaya, you can see the temples at the top, from our balcony. Within minutes of getting to the hotel I was out on the balcony, sitting on the swinging chair, relaxing, reading my book. The hotel has had some bad reviews, which is disappointing, as it is not a five star hotel, but a beautiful old palace and should be viewed that way. The lady owner, proudly told us the history of her family and showed us paintings and pictures, including a couple of letters from the Duke of Edinburgh thanking her grandfather, for teaching him how to play polo.
It started to rain about eight o'clock, we were told this was the first rain they had had this year and everyone was extremely pleased. It was lovely hearing it fall and I felt very relaxed, but I realised Bill and Natalie were on their way up to the temples. The driver and I returned to Palitana a few hours later to pick Bill and Natalie up. It was quite a different journey to the one out to the hotel, the drive was now extremely muddy, we went through some very large puddles and springs were gushing across the roads. Waiting in the car at the bottom of Shatrunjaya, one of the doli's told us that they were on their way down.
Bill and Natalie came into view, absolutely soaked, but very pleased with themselves. They started their climb, followed by a group of doli's, who were hassling them to be carried and they continued to follow them for a third of the climb. Bill said they had only been climbing for about thirty minutes before the rain started, he said to say it was the heaviest downpour he had ever experienced, would be an understatement. The steps were a stream of water and at times they were wading in water and had to take their shoes off. As they climbed, they could see step wells, which were filling with water very fast. An archway marked the finish of the climb, but because of the deluge, they could hardly see it. They were both struggling to see things as they had glasses on which either had rain on them or were smeared by the rain. The mist and the rain, meant that they did not see many of the temples clearly and they spent a lot of time sheltering from the rain. It sounds to me that they had a bad time, but Bill says they had a brilliant time as it was an achievement and an exciting, unique experience and the rain left spiritual.
This morning we had a four hour drive to Gondal. It was a lovely journey, we were going through small towns and villagers and people waved as we went along. We stopped at a garage for petrol and quite a group of people came to stare at us, they told the driver that they had never seen 'foreigners' before. We are staying at Orchard Palace and I must say it is rather nice! We have a floor to ourselves, two balconies and a very large sitting room, with floor cushions. The young man, who showed us to our room, has gone in search of beer on the black market. Natalie said if he can find gin, she will never leave. Life is good.