“So your going hours out of your way, to a grubby city which even the guidebooks struggle to find many positives about, which has a fort, but you’ve seen enough of those to last a life time and all to go another hour outside to visit a temple and you’ve declared how fed up you are of continuously seeing amazing temples! What has gotten into you?”
It was a question that I had been asked a surprising number of times and one that I could only offer the weakest of defenses. I had even begun to doubt my own rationale. None the less I made the trip to Bikaner arriving at 4am in the morning and comforted myself with Chai and an assortment of street food. One such food was a chili rapped in batter and complemented with a variety of spices. That was a surprising shock in the morning when I bit into that.
As it turns out the guidebooks were correct. Bikaner is a big Indian city without any sights. The Fort was nice, especially the interior but I have seen plenty of better forts since arriving in India. Other than that it is the traditional dirt filled, over congested, incredibly noisy city. If it had one thing going for it, it would be the friendliness of the population. There was no hassle and a barrage of people wanting to greet and talk without any motivation other than to be nice. It felt like a city which tourism had passed by. Everything was in Hindi and the people stared like no other place has starred so far. At one point I had around ten people crowded around my computer screen as I tried to read Facebook.
So why Bikaner? Well come the second day I was excited. I joined with a Canadian couple and we hopped onto a local bus to a place called Deshnok. Here there is a temple that looks like any other temple. You take your shoes off, admire the outside and the superb architecture and finally walk inside. There you find pictures of deities, beautiful carvings, places for donations and hundreds of disease infested rats. Yes for some inescapable reason Deshnok has built a temple dedicated to rats.
Within the walls rats are considered sacred. People come to leave food donations and pray that one will run over their feet as apparently, it brings good luck. It is considered auspicious to eat the food after the rats have finished. A maze of tunnels and holes in the walls leave hundreds of rats free to pop out throughout the different buildings. There is plenty of screaming and laughter as the rats jump out and catch people by surprise. However the thing that is most incredible about the temple is that it is an important pilgrimage sight. For us it was a place of humor and intrigue, for many it is a place of religious importance and part of their spiritual lives. I wasn’t sold on it but seeing rats in the kitchen area, climbing over each other and out of pots and pans to drink milk out of a bowl is just one of the many sights in that temple that I am not going to forget easily.
We left and ate at a street kitchen directly opposite. It was probably the first restaurant where you could be sure that there were no rats in the kitchen. This was based on the fact that they were so well looked after in the temple, even with the doors wide open, none seemed willing to leave.