After calling the travel agency where I bought the ticket to complain, I found out later that this was a new bus route starting the NEXT night, and they never should’ve sold me that ticket. I’m still fighting with them for a refund. It’s not much ($5), but the principle of them avoiding my phone calls, after they realized they messed up, is driving it.
Anyway, I got to Bikaner and had a reservation at a guest house promising free pick-up from the bus or train station, so I called. While waiting, I got nagged to death by tuktuk drivers who wanted me to hire them. I actually had to shout at them to get them to shut up and let me hear what the guy on the phone was saying. It was incredible. A short ride later, though, I was at the Vinayak Guest House, not far from the fort in Bikaner.
It was still early in the morning, and I set out to explore before the heat got too crazy. Across from the fort, I came across this memorial to the ancient king, then went into the fort to explore on my own. I’d seen a few forts at this point, so I skipped the audio guide and personal guides offering services at the entrance.
Sleeping security guard.
The interior rooms of the fort were really impressive.
The multi-courtyard layout looks really impressive from the rooftop.
Weapons collection at the end of the tour and the former throne.
The personal plane of the last king of Bikaner!
I thought keeping & displaying the statistics was really interesting.
Back at the guest house, I talked to the owner about things I wanted to see around Bikaner. The most famous thing in the area is actually about 30 minutes away, in the town of Deshnoke – the Rat Temple. He recommended a tour with a driver who would take me to the Camel Research Center and then to the Rat Temple. I’m game!
The camel center was selling camel milk ice cream and stuff like that, but I didn’t try any. Interesting concept, though. I never thought of camels as a source for milk. They’re also a source of hair for blankets and clothes. There are 4 breeds of Asian camels, and different ones are used for milk, hair, pulling stuff, and racing. Who knew?!
Look how much hay they keep on hand for feeding!
After leaving the camel center, the next stop was Karni Mata Temple (the “Rat Temple”). Legend has it that a local woman’s son died, she prayed to the god of death (Yama) for him to be brought back, but Yama said he could only come back as a rat. After this, all of the men in the town are subject to reincarnation as rats, so the local people take care of the rats, feed them, protect them, etc. It might be your dad or brother!
There are approximately 20,000 rats living here. They’re not that big (smaller than my fist), but it’s still really strange. I had actually expected something like Indiana Jones, where you had to just slide your feet, because every inch of the floor was covered with rats, and you couldn’t actually “step.” It wasn’t like that. They mostly hang out in the corners, on the railings, etc. However, it was still uncomfortable. I’ve spent my whole life hearing that street rats carry disease, avoid them, etc. It’s hard to shake that and not freak out when one crosses your path.
There’s a giant bowl of food kept out for the rats, and I saw the rare/lucky/omen white one eating at the bowl upon entering. Supposedly, eating the food the rats have been nibbling on is lucky, but I definitely wasn’t interested. If you kill or injure one of the rats, you have to bring a rat made of pure silver to replace it. Intense!
No pictures allowed inside, but trust me that it was interesting. While sitting outside and talking to the driver about the history of the temple, I watched a Spanish couple argue and then the wife stay outside, while the husband went in to look around. I decided to keep an eye on her, and she started creeping toward the fence, trying to get a look, and then RAN the opposite direction, as soon as the saw the first rat behind the fence. It was great entertainment.
I had dinner at the guest house with a Swiss couple who had arrived, slept, and then had breakfast with the company of the owner’s 2 pugs the next morning.
After breakfast, I set off for a tuktuk tour of the old town. The train came through, and we had to stop at the barricade, but look how many people went under the barricade. No time for waiting, if the train is still a bit away!
In the old town, we went to where the super-rich have homes that take up an entire block each.
There’s a tradition in Bikaner that they have these tables every 2 blocks or so. If you’re tired, need to set down some heavy stuff, need to sit, want to meet people for a discussion, etc., use these tables!
More super rich houses.
Our last stop was this Jain temple. The monk living inside spoke really good English and talked to me about the temple, Jainism, and the history of why they chose this spot (hint: it’s at the top of the hill. That was easy!).
Exiting the old town and returning to the guest house, I got some falafel down the street for lunch and was delighted to get another newspaper pouch. These are so ingenious!
After another group dinner with the Swiss couple (who had done the camel/rat temple tour that night), I packed up for heading to the train station. It was a really interesting trip to Bikaner, full of lots of “never seen that before” experiences, cool history, and all packed into a short 2 days. I got my 11pm tuktuk and headed to the train station for the long trek to Amritsar, in Punjab state.
My train wasn’t until 2am, but tuktuks charge double after 11pm, so I went to the waiting room and napped for 2 hours before lining up on the platform to wait.
Thanks for the memories, Bikaner. “Interesting” would be an understatement!
Next stop: Amritsar, the holiest city of Sikhs and home of the famous Golden Temple.