It had been a while since I got to wander round a relatively old and large city, and so Mumbai (population according to the 2001 census: 18.7 million) provided many more distractions, despite the museums not opening until after ten in the morning (happily, just as the heat was starting to get uncomfortable).
I caught the overnight train to Ahmedabad (the ride was so comfortable that I would have slept through my station if it hadn’t been the terminus), and immediately jumped on a bus to Bhavnagar and then Palitana – home of the Jain temple complex known as Shatrunjaya (Place of Victory). This is a series of 863 temples, crowded precariously on a hilltop overlooking the Gulf of Cambay. From the bottom of the hill to the main gate is around 2 km (up 600 m and 3572 steps), and dholi-wallahs (chair carriers) do a brisk trade in carrying old, infirm, unfit or just plain lazy pilgrims. I elected to walk, which was the right decision – but it was a long, hot, arduous ascent made more uncomfortable by the ban on taking any food or drink (unpurified water was available, which I avoided). With the line of (mostly robe-clad and stick-wielding) people making their way up the hill I was reminded of Thulsa Doom’s lair in Conan the Barbarian, but there was no cannibalistic orgy at the top. What there was was a chaotic array of rooms, shrines and steps piled on top of each other and going off in every direction with no apparent pattern. No shoes were allowed (many pilgrms make the ascent and descent barefoot), which wouldn’t have been any problem except there was raw rice all over the floor from various offerings.
Back in Ahmedabad, I sampled the famous Gujarati unlimited thali, which isn’t all-you-can-eat so much as-all-we-can-get-you-to-take-in (eet’s only wahffer theen). Almost as soon as you’ve eaten a spoonful of curry or half a chapati, somebody will zip out of the kitchen with a pot or plate and give you a refill. At one point the food was piling up faster than I could eat it. Only when I’d refused refills three times and turned my rice dish upside down was I allowed to finish.
Heading north, away from the heat, I ended up in Delhi (where quite a lot of travellers find their way to, it seems) and spent a huge amount of time walking between places before locating the metro system. The Red Fort isn’t actually a fort (or palace) anymore, but you wouldn’t know it from the amount of anti-terrorism security. As you walk down the path to the entrance, you’re covered by an armoured car with a pintel-mounted machine gun, and there are three sandbag bunkers (also with machine gun-toting guards) just by the main gate. There is a Baha’i centre here too (as well as Kampala) – this one is built in the shape of a lotus, and I may have caused some offence by voicing my assumption that it was a bulb of garlic.
After the hustle and bustle of the main city, a delightfully peaceful afternoon was spent at Raj Ghat (possibly peaceful because hawkers aren’t allowed, but let’s not demean the tranquility). This is the area where Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were cremated, and there are incredibly tasteful monuments to them dotted around the park.