Friday, December 14, 2007


We took a bumpy night train to Bikaner, a dusty desert town in Northern Rajastan. While not unknown to foreigners, it is somewhat off the main tourist trail, and the locals were absolutely fascinated by us. Walking around the old city we were bombarded with cries of "Hello!", inquiries regarding "Which country?" and requests for "One photo?". In Africa we had developed a strong suspicion of anyone who was overly friendly, but in India we have come across countless people who are genuinely curious about the strangers in their midst and it is a real pleasure to share a short conversation (or, when words fail, a game of charades) with those we meet.

Bikaner has an ancient fort, the Junagarh, and our tour around its lovely palace evoked a good sense of the majestic lives led by the Mughal emperors and Maharajahs who ruled here. Several rooms were preserved with as they had been at the time the palace was inhabited, decorated colorful paintings and ornately carved furniture, while others showcased collections of weaponry, costumes and jewellery. We were most impressed by the facial hair of the Maharajahs, with their bushy, up-turned mustaches and woolly side burns. They even used a special spoon to avoid dirtying their coiffed whiskers when slurping soup!

There are also some beautiful Jain temples in Bikaner, including one that was reputedly built with thousands of tons of ghee in the foundation. We cannot confirm the ghee, but the temple does have some colorful paintings, including a series depicting the punishments that be expected if one does not follow the so-called 12 vows. Live a chaste life, or you may be thrown naked into a swimming hole filled with serpents in the afterlife...

Gil also took a trip to Deshnok to see the Karni MataTemple, one of the more unusual temples in all of India. According to legend the rats at this temple are reincarnated story tellers from the 14th century. And, the place is indeed full of rats! This is not for the sqeemish. The rats are fed and cared for, and can be seen running all over the place, often near your bare feet (shoes must be removed at the temple entrance). Its also a very popular pilgrimage site. There was a line of devotees stretching out the door, waiting for their chance to enter the inner chamber, and be blessed among the many rats.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

OOOhhhh - the video definitely adds to this reading experience...and that's as close as my barefeet want to get! - Mom