Ever since I got to Petra (above) and David, laid low in Israel with a particularly nasty case of the eleventh plague, didn’t, I’ve had a bad case of traveler’s guilt. He was, after all, the one who had the passion to go there. I was merely along for the ride – of course, until I saw it and felt a hundred times worse that I was there and he wasn’t. After hearing him wax rhapsodic about Palitana,
I began to view his desire to go there as Petra – India style. Piece of cake, I figured. What’s 3,700+ stairs to someone who race-walked the Boston Marathon route? Our Gujarat group’s guides diplomatically singled out which of us they thought should (strongly) consider the palanquin option. I felt their placing me in the ‘good to climb’ group was all the incentive I needed to pass on the chair lift option. Anyway, there was no way I was going to pay four men to carry both me and a heavy bamboo seating arrangement up to the top of a mountain.
David gallantly rented walking poles, which I assumed could be also used for instruments of prodding lest I flag in my enthusiasm at any point in the ascent. And off we went.
Almost immediately I was encouraged by the sight of 1,000 pound four-legged pilgrims daintily making the journey along with us. If cows could do it how hard could it be? David seemed a little concerned when he realized there was a pair of wide-spread pointed horns about to pass alongside him.
Apparently truly dedicated devotees make the round trip journey first thing in the morning before they go off to attend to the more secular aspect of their lives. We saw people of all ages flying past us in both directions. The younger members of our group along with those in Olympic fighting form (Patsy Chappell) took off at a quick clip. It didn’t take too long (1,000 steps +/-) for me to see that this wasn’t going to be any old walk in the park. I decided to pace myself to avoid crapping out with Nirvana in sight but not in hand.
There were folks carrying loads much more weighty than chocolate bars and bottles of water.
“Are we there yet?” I thought, but didn’t ask after the first hour. Segments of every few hundred or so steps were broken by flat, shady ramps lined with benches. David must have been doing secret training for this ascent. Not only was he not winded, he was in ebullient spirits the entire way, in fact getting more energized the closer to the top we got. While I’d like to say it was contagious, I lagged behind, wishing I knew the Hindi for “Are we there yet?” so I could ask people on their way down. Finally the end was in sight.
I trudged up the final run of stairs to find the others waiting for us. It was nice of them to say they’d only just arrived. Unfortunately we weren’t permitted to take any pictures of the temples. But trust me, it was quite magical. Hundreds of devotees chanting, making offerings, roses, marigolds, drums, and incense, brilliant colored saris and Jains in white robes. The view from the top was stunning in every direction.
Rested and fortified with chocolate we began the long march down. Halfway my calves began to cramp and my kneecaps began to quiver. My hips were grumbling. Any enlightenment I had attained by climbing up was soon replaced by the pain of descent. For days afterward my legs balked at the idea of any movement that involved even the most gentle downward slope. I’m happy to report that I wasn’t alone in my post-Palitana payback. Even Patsy admitted that her legs reminded her of the effort every time she had to walk downstairs.
Now that we’ve recovered I’m thinking that there’s always the Eiffel Tower. If you think to book ahead I understand a fine meal awaits there – and you can take pictures.