The plan was to wake up before dawn, take a rickshaw to the pilgrim town, walk up the 3000 steps to the Jain temples of shatrunjaya in the cool morning air, walk back, do breakfast, take a rickshaw back to hotel and sleep.
So I set an alarm for 4 a.m. on my phone and hit the sack. Then I began getting a strange sense of deja vu. I had done this before. That time I had to catch an early flight, the early stop at a railway station I had to get off, that wedding muhurat I had to attend before dawn, the trek to Everest base camp that began at 3 am. My mind began running through every single time I had set an alarm for the wee hours of the morning and as it ran through all the different times I had done so, one common element united them all. I had never gotten any sleep.
And so it was this night as well. I kept tossing and turning expecting the alarm to ring thinking of completely random things, the time I had spoken rudely to a friend, Harsha Bhogle commentating on a cricket match between India and South Africa, the time I was too reticent to propose to a girlfriend only to end up losing her, the scene from Inside Llewyn Davis where the protagonist walks through a snow storm to meet a producer, the endless nights at Mehboob studio. And these thoughts seamlessly blended into each other as my subconscious waited for the clock to strike four.
I was wide awake when the alarm rang and I put it off. When the alarm turned off, I suddenly began feeling sleepy. So I thought I would snooze for 10 minutes to get a power nap and then go about the business for the day.
When I awoke, it was well past noon. I awoke only because someone was frantically ringing the door bell. When I opened the door to see who it was, it turned out to be the anxious looking manager. “Sorry sir”, he said, “Just checking to see if you’re okay. Are you all right?”
“Yes”, I said, wiping my groggy eyes.
“Sorry for disturbing you”, he said, “You said you were going to the temples early morning but when we didn’t see you go out we got worried.”
“I overslept”, I said, with a mixture of sadness and embarrassment, “I’ll get going now.”
“It’s too hot”, he said, “Early mornings are the best.”
“I know”, I said, angrily, “But I have to go when I can.”
So I quickly finished taking a shower, packed my camera into my daypack and ran down to a restaurant for breakfast.
Palitana town is the very opposite of a culinary paradise. I discovered this the hard way. There was a ramshackle dhaba style restaurant opposite the bus stand with dirt and mould and oil stains covering every inch of the surface. I sat there, impatiently hailed the waiter to my table and said, “Kya milega?”
He made a “what do I know” shrug in response.
“Menu?”, I asked, to which he gave me a cold, deep stare as if I had asked him to get me a Kohinoor diamond.
I saw another waiter delivering a plate of puris, oil dripping from the plate, and asked my friendly waiter to get me the same.
I got sick the moment I looked at my plate. There was a pool of dark oil surrounding a slimy pickle and the puri smelt of oil that must have been recycled since the middle ages. But I had to eat and so I did. As soon as I had finished half a puri my hands were greased with such a lot of oil that I could have fried another puri with it. That’s what you get for bargain basement 10 Rs. breakfast in some towns I thought.
Mercifully, there was a row of soda shops right next door and I helped myself to two icy glasses of masala lemon soda that somewhat alleviated the nausea.