We visit the temple of the Rats, the biggest attraction in the city
Bikaner was our first stop in the province of Rajasthan. The city has more than half a million inhabitants and is located in the center-north of Rajasthan, in the heart of the Thar desert.
In the morning we arrived at Bikaner from Amritsar after 10 hours in a bed bus that cost us 1200 rupees. Just to get off the bus we were thrown over by a few Indians. They offered to take us to our hotel but also to make us a route through the city as if they were guides.
A boy who seemed quite clever began to say some phrases in Spanish and at the end we agreed to go with him as a guide and with his friend who drove the tuc-tuc. The deal was all day with him for 500 rupees plus the tip we would like to give.
We were running out of time so we didn’t plan to spend the night. We wanted to spend the day; see the city centre, the famous Temple of the Rats and at night take another bed bus to Jaisalmer.
Bikaner, the city of cows worth visiting
Our guide brought us to a hotel were we could left the backpacks in exchange to consume something. After breakfast we went out to discover the city.
Bikaner surprised us very pleasantly. Going around the city with the tuc-tuc we soon realized that the landscape had changed radically.
You could see a much drier and warmer place. We were also surprised by the number of cows that were released into the streets. Many more than normal.
The majority of the cows were of the Cebu breed, which is characterized by a large hump on its back and fallen ears. Zebus look much more corpulent than any cow I have ever seen before. They are used as a pack animal, their milk, skin and flesh are used. Of course, in India, it is a sacred animal and they only use its meat when the animal dies of old age.
What to see outside Bikaner?
The Temple of Rats
The Temple of Rats, or as it is really called, Karni Mata, is only 30 km from Bikaner, in the city of Deshnok. As its name indicates, the place is dedicated to Karni Mata.
Karni Mata was a famous mystic of her time considered the reincarnation of the warrior goddess Durga. She was worshipped in life and an example of this is that the marajás of Bikaner and Jodhpur asked her to place the first stones of their respective forts: Bikaner Fort and Mehrangarh Fort.
The temple myth tells that when Karni Mata’s son drowned in a pond, she begged the god Yama, the god of death, to revive him. Yama first refused, but eventually gave in… Though only half. Yama allowed Karni Mata’s son and all his descendants, in order to avoid death, to reincarnate as rats.
Currently, some 600 families of Deshnok claim to be descendants of Karni Mata. These people are convinced that the rats that walk through the temple are their own ancestors and treat them as such. They believe that when they die they will also reincarnate as a rat. And that when this rat dies, they will reincarnate into a person and so on in an infinite cycle.
The superstitions of the Temple of Rats
The temple is full of superstitions. In India, the most believers believe that if one of these rats passes over your foot it will bring you good luck.
Also, apart from bringing good fortune, it is considered an honor to eat the remains left by the rats.
Finally, it is said that white rats prowl around the temple. It is thought that they are the reincarnations of Karni Mata and his sons and that if you see any of them it is a sign of good omens.
Few people have seen them, among those few, of course, our guide. He told us that you have to go early in the morning to see them, but that it is not easy at all.
Walking among rats
The temple has a beautiful marble facade and is covered with a net so that the pigeons cannot eat the food of the rats. The rats walk freely everywhere. They are the queens of the place. They are fed both by those who believe themselves to be descendants of Karni Mata and by visitors. It is said that there are about 20,000 rats, although I wouldn’t say there are as many.
You have to go in barefoot so you might find it a bit disgusting (fortunately you can go with socks, even if you have to throw them out later). You’ll walk right next to a bunch of rats, stepping on rat shit and food scraps and surrounded by a pretty smelly atmosphere. If you are a hobbyist, I don’t advise you to visit this temple.
You have to be very careful not to damage any rat because for every rat you damage, depending on the damage caused, there are different types of fines. These fines can be in the hundreds of euros, but if you kill a white rat, much more.
Without a doubt, it is a temple that leaves no one indifferent. It is one of the most curious you can find in India, but surely also the most unpleasant.
What to see in Bikaner?
When returning to the city we pass in tuc-tuc in front of the Fort of Junagarh. Built in the 16th century, it is one of the best preserved forts in India and is right in the middle of the city. Entry costs 300 rupees. We say not to visit it as we were just in time.
Havelis de Bikaner: Rampuria and Dagger
Seguishly we visit the old quarter of Bikaner where there are two havelis: Rampuria and Dagger. The havelis are old mansions of rich merchants that stand out from the other buildings, more humble and simple. They have a characteristic red sandstone facade and beautiful architecture.
Then we walked to the spice market where, as always they do here, our guide took us to his friend’s store to see if we would buy anything. Before the end of the tour he would also take us to another store to see all kinds of fabrics.
They made a technique that after a few weeks here is known to us. First, they sit you down, then bring you something to drink and, while they give you a thousand explanations, they take out half a store in front of you, making you feel bad for all the work you’re doing. It’s their favorite tactic to make you buy something.
After 5 years in Asia I thought I’d seen it all in the art of haggling. Indians make you feel bad if you go into their store and don’t buy anything. By far, they’re the best dealers I’ve ever seen. That is, if, in the end, you end up so tired that you stop going into the shops to save yourself from getting upset.
Bhandasar Jain Temple
To finish the tour we visit the Bhandasar Jain Temple, a Jain temple dating from the 15th century. It is in the center of the city, near the spice market. It is a small temple but famous in the territory for its moral painting and detailed decoration.
What I liked most about this temple is that we were the only visitors. We were able to enjoy some moments of peace and tranquility that are so much missed from time to time in this country.
If you have time in Bikaner you can also do safaris in the Thar desert, although in our case, we decided to do the safari in Jaisalmer, our next destination.
A nation’s greatness can be judged by the way it treats its animals.
– Mahatma Gandhi –