“I have a confession.” My friend Jaya sat on the bed, looking worried. “I was going to carry this to the grave, but I’m thinking I’ll tell you.”
We’d just checked into our hotel for the next stop on our India trip, and were doing our usual unpacking jobs.
- Janine: boil vast quantities of water so we can drink safely or—if we’re in an old movie—give birth.
- Barb: sort the vast quantities of food supplies we carry in case India runs out of edibles. (My favorite bag, for example, contains four boxes of Starbucks Via™ sachets, fourteen Costco chocolate-nut bars, and a box of indigestion relief tablets.)
- Jaya: check the weather, confirm times and locations for our itinerary, and inform the hotel staff we’ll be needing an extra cup/glass/spoon/soap/towel/ bed, and multiple bottles of water (which Janine will boil despite their assurance that it is “very good water, Madam”).
Things had been going pretty well for the past few days. I told you here about our foolproof way to get a hotel room upgrade, care of my hysterical rodent-phobia. As you might imagine, we were thrilled with our upgrade’s balcony, view, and numerous amenities. The only downside was the bathroom and its attached dressing room seemed a bit on the cold side because Jaya insisted on keeping those doors closed.
After the rodent-upgrade, we got on with touring Mount Abu, a site we’d missed on our first trip to Rajasthan. The first day we went up to Guru Shikhar, which at 5650 feet is the highest mountain peak in the Aravalli Range. We were headed for the ancient Dattatreya Swami Cave Temple, a steep 365-step climb from the parking lot. Our goal was first the temple at the midpoint, and then the wishing bell at the very top of the peak (where there is a tiny cave temple said to house the God’s footprint).
Perhaps it was our still-dubious health and general lack of sleep following the rodent-upgrade, but we were immediately surrounded by people offering to carry us up the mountain on little swings hanging from poles shouldered by a pair of men. But the men were on the small side and we were… not. We started climbing.
Thanks to my night spent in the bathroom in a dedicated attempt to evert my toes from the inside out, I didn’t make it all the way to the top. Clearly made of stronger stuff, Janine and Jaya continued the climb to ring the wish bell at the top. As we were descending the stairs, I asked what they’d wished for. Janine—probably hoping she could safely use our shared bathroom again at some point on our trip—said she’d wished I’d get better. Jaya was more vague, just saying she’d wished for “general good things”.
To our surprise both the roads and the temple, a popular destination, were practically deserted. As we got back to our hotel, we found that was because India was closed that day due to a general strike. We decided to go back to our beautiful hotel room for a quiet evening.
Early the next day, India was back and ready to par-tay! Music and shouting rang out from the town below in celebration of Republic Day. Mount Abu, a popular tourist destination, was packed. Our driver picked his way through throngs to reach the Dilwara Temples, built between the 11th and 13th centuries CE by followers of Jainism.
We had to surrender our phones and cameras at the entrance, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Go to the airport, take the next flight to India, and see these temples. There’s no other way for you to understand the impact of temple after temple of marble pillars and domes, their sedate exteriors hiding spectacular halls covered with exquisitely carved figures of Hindu deities, history, stories, elephants, horses, animals, and more. Thousands of artisans spent their lifetimes carving uncountable marble sculptures, while literally tons of gold, silver, and other metals went into ornamenting the main deities.
After hours spent exploring the temples, we were starving. Jaya spotted a temple-affiliated Jain restaurant nearby, so we headed there for lunch. The dim interior was almost bare, with long tables on a beautiful marble floor. We sat at narrow tables with chairs on one side, while a never-ending parade of young men ladled our plates with simply-prepared rice, veggies, curd, dal baati (a Rajasthan specialty—balls of dough deep-fried in ghee and served with dal), chapatis, and more. They seemed disappointed in us when we pushed away from the table and staggered for the doors.
By now, Mount Abu was packed with holiday visitors. But we’d been told that the incredible sunset from the eponymously-named Sunset Point was not to be missed so we headed out again. At the base of the walk, we were met by a crowd of vendors, skinny men with dozens of bright blue pushcarts, offering to push us up the “very steep hill, Madam, very hard climb” distance to the top, brightly decorated horses for adventurous sunset viewers, and crowds of tourists like us. The only hard thing about the climb turned out to be avoiding the racing blue carts, trotting horses, and er… surprisingly large amounts of what the horses left behind.
Corn was bought and consumed, the path to the top viewing area was safely negotiated, and the sun set duly on schedule.
We returned to the hotel, serenaded by Mount Abu celebrating Republic Day. As we finally went to sleep in our beautiful suite, Janine and I congratulated ourselves again on our lucky rodent-upgrade. Jaya said nothing, but maybe she was already asleep?
Next day we said goodbye to Mount Abu and headed for Patan and our new hotel. That’s when Jaya couldn’t hold back and started her confession. Our old hotel, she told us, claimed they never found the rodent that had terrified me in our old room.
There was a reason for that.
Minutes after we moved to the new suite, Jaya saw the rodent in the little attached dressing room. They regarded each other. Jaya thought about my rodent-hysteria and the fact that we were in a sold-out tourist town on a holiday weekend. We’re not sure what the rodent thought about, but apparently the two of them arrived at a mutual non-aggression pact of silence.
Jaya came out and told us the dressing room door should be kept closed to conserve heat in the main rooms. The remaining two days of our stay, she worried every time one of us went into the bathroom/dressing room area. Luckily, the rodent remained discreet and we never knew it was there.
“Do you remember when you asked what I wished at the wishing bell?” Jaya reminded me. “I wished you wouldn’t see that rat.”
Well, I’m feeling fine and we didn’t see the rat. Clearly, that wishing bell is the real deal.