Temple of the Rats

Trip Start Dec 18, 2013
Trip End Jan 03, 2014

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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Vegetarian Rats!
My main reason for this Bikaner stopover was for Karni Mata rat temple located 30km out of town in Deshnok. After stocking up on a hearty breakfast of onion stuffed fried bread with curry and chai, I embarked on the 1 hour autorickshaw ride along a heavy traffic highway.

Karni Mata turned out to be quite a sight, just as interesting as its story of the cursed Deshnok descendants reincarnating as rats. Although not entirely swarming with rodents, there is quite a substantial population of blackish rats residing in this temple. Hindu devotees would purchase small bags of seeds/grains and sprinkle over the scurrying gnawers at the designated area, raining them with food. These rodents, by the hundreds, must be thinking that they are in paradise. All very well fed and great vegetarian diet too

Got Milk?
Inside the temple shrine, there is an area where the rats help themselves to a large plate of milk. Since when rats drink milk at all? Very healthy rats, I say! Although not as squeamish as I had expected, the bit which I hated was when I stepped on tiny hard corn bits on the marble floor - yes, no shoes allowed in the temple. Some rodents were spotted snoozing on the steps under the sun or burrowed themselves into shoes like their nests. What rat race? I saw one dead rat though, looked like it was stepped on.
Master Splinter!
The visiting crowd was getting larger by the minute. Out of nowhere came this wave of excitement from the local devotees. They had spotted the crown rat whose pale light beige colour stood out in the blackish school of rats. Wherever it went, the excitement followed. It was as if a deity had appeared. According to tradition, this crown rat has some significant importance to Karni Mata temple, so I considered myself fortunate to meet Master Splinter!

Always About Money
Back at Bikaner, my rickshaw started haggling for extra rupees. He couldn't speak a word of English and he was trying to haggle with me in Hindi as though I understood him. It was getting really bothersome when we had already agreed on a fixed price. I even paid for his fuel midway to Deshnok. The constant haggling for money from these drivers was really wearing me down and slicing my patience even thinner. I gave him the extra money anyway, just so that I don't get further agitated. Cannot be bothered any more. 
Epic Human Clash at Boom Gates
Spent the afternoon navigating around Bikaner's old city. It is the least interesting city compared to other cities like Jaipur and Jodhpur which has truly classic bazaars. Bikaner however is a very populated city. At the rail crossing which cuts through the market streets, the boom gates came down for 2 train crossings. Traffic was menacingly building up with shouting motorists and pedestrians alike on both sides of the crossing. Even before the boom gates can go back up, the 2 warring sides had already came to an epic clash, resulting like a crazy scene of rugby scrummage but with impatient motorists and pedestrians hauling goods!

Fried Chickpea Cake Curry
Dinner at Heeralal restaurant was splendid if not too spicy and salty - a generous serve of mushroom fried rice served with a fried chickpea cake curry. It was so goooood. A bit rich though. The interesting thing was that everything I ate tonight was visually furthest from what I had expected when I first made the order. Even my pistachio ice-cream for dessert, turned out to be pink in colour! The default response in situations like this, is This is India! 
Freezing New Year's Eve
The night turned its air conditioning on and I got spooked by the chilliness. Quickly headed out to the market and bought myself a 450 Rs blanket for tonight's sleeper train, just in time before the stalls were closing. Even before I got to my train carriage at Bikaner Junction train station, I was relieved that I had this blanket on me,

My upper berth bed was in fact just a flat hard leather bench on the third uppermost tier. With no bag compartments or storage space, my sleeping area was vastly taken up by my 2 bags and my stinky shoes. As the train pulled out of the station at 10pm sharp, I was again counting my blessings for the new blanket. It was freaking cold! Draped myself entirely in the blanket, I quickly dozed off to the rumbling of the train track. 

Thankfully it was a less painful journey than I had expected. No chai walas or food walas came by, and I was knocked out till 430am before finally pulling into the Old Delhi train station at a foggy 6am. There was not even any announcement of arrival. The train came to a dead halt and most of the passengers had already buggered off. 

Hauled my bags out to the station exit gate and had rickshaw drivers fighting to get my business. 150 Rs later and lying on my bed exhausted at Cottage Yes Please, Paharganj - I felt like I had just completed a triathlon around Rajasthan. An uneventful new year countdown? Sure...but at least I was warm. Happy new year 2014!
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