Pavagadh Hill

After a couple days crammed in third-class train cars and racing through the sopping wet streets of Gujarat, I wound up at the base of Pavagadh Hill, two hours east of Vadodara. It was almost dark when I stepped out at the ruins of Champaner, sprawled at the foot of a massive "hill" rising alone from the plains. Its jungly face was covered in mist, the light from a string of bonfires faintly piercing through about halfway up. A shared jeep landed me there for the night, a huddle of temples, dharamshalas and a government-run hotel.

The next morning's ascent was several thousand steps of worn stone, through crumbling Rajput gateways, dozens of Hindu and Jain temples and some stunning viewpoints. The path ran was overrun with monsoon-fed rivers, and crowded at every turn with pilgrims, sitting for chai, breaking sacred coconuts or marching slowly to the top. An hour or so on I reached the high plateau scattered with old temples and rounded lakes, their far sides white with mist. The stairs finally ended at the white marble Makahali Temple, where a long line of pilgrims stood virtually still, each passing through to hand offerings to the priests and be blessed. Sporadic chants broke out from some of the older pilgrims, echoed by all the crowd, minus myself.

A couple young Gujaratis joined me for the descent, sharing a greasy thali and a motorbike lift all the way back to Vadodara. For the fist day since landing in Mumbai, it felt good to be back in India. 

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