Trip Start Jun 13, 2005
28Trip End Dec 05, 2005
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Mica left for Pushkar this morning and I came to spend a night in Bikaner before my next stint in Delhi. I came less for Bikaner itself than for Deshnok Village, 30km away, to which I've been looking forward ever since first reading about it.
I checked into a hotel and went straight out to find a Deshnok-bound bus. It left Bikaner and headed into a vast expanse of flat nothingness - desert right up to the horizon in every direction, dotted liberally with what looked like a single species of tree and the odd grazing beast. The Rajasthani women wear a different style of sari from those I'm used to seeing; the fabric is extremely bright and highly decorated with sequins and metallic embroidery. Dressed so colourfully, they stand beautifully against their desert backdrop as they walk down the roads, large clay water-pots balanced on their heads, goats and children trailing in their wake
In Deshnok I headed straight for the much-anticipated Karni Mata Temple. The creature of worship is the humble rat: legend has it that, as a result of some tiff between two gods, all storytellers were reincarnated as rats, and the rats are now revered here. Being such a rat-lover (yeah - joke all you like - I know it's figurative as well!), I found the place fantastic - rats everywhere, worshippers bringing them bowls of milk, coconut and ladoos (sweets made for temple offerings). They pick and choose their meals with all the fussiness of fat, bored little emperors - no scavenging for these guys! It's said to be very auspicious for a rat to run over your foot; unfortunately luck wasn't on my side today. I had a great time watching them though - well worth the visit.
Back in Bikaner, I didn't have quite as much fun. It's a large, bustling city which has seen hardly a tourist since last season ended, and the desperate touts came at me with force, there being only a handful of foreigners to victimise. I've also never had so many unsolicited comments from men as I had here in one afternoon (they received an equal number of choice words in reply); I ended the day moody and aggressive toward anyone who dared approach me. Fortunately I'm out of here tomorrow evening - from the frying pan into the fire of Pahar Ganj!
Sunday 28th August
I woke up this morning determined to enjoy Bikaner just a little bit before boarding tonight's train
I checked out at midday, left my bags in the luggage room and got an auto to drive me through the old city to the Jain Temple, which was built 50 years before the foundations of Bikaner were laid. The interior looks like the Jain answer to the Cistine Chapel - every inch covered with colourful scenes of gods and goddesses; angels on the ceiling smile down as they circle lotus flowers. I met the pandit (priest), who told me this is the only Jain temple in the world with a painted interior - usually they are plain or carved marble. I also learned that, since the city didn't exist when the temple was built, there was no water supply to the area. To save on water, none was used in the building; instead, 40 000kg of ghee (clarified butter) was mixed with the cement, and in mid-summer you can still see greasy spots on the ground outside when the ghee melts and rises to the surface!
On my way back through the old city I spotted, through a courtyard gate, some men standing around large, shallow pans of boiling milk.
"Dahi?" I asked, sure they were making curd.
But they were making rabri, a sweet dessert, and I was invited in to learn the process. It's a labour-intensive dish, but I can confirm that the result is delicious.
English spelling in India is always cause for hilarity: [I]restrents[/I] catering for tourists offer such dishes as [I]spegetti neplottin, cornflax[/I] and [I]banana filters[/I], along with a variety of light meals, otherwise known as [I]snakes[/I]. Today I saw a restaurant sign to beat them all. [Background: a kitty party is like a tea party, thrown by housewives for their female friends, and there is much competition and gossip over whose kitty parties are the best.] This sign read: [I]We undertake cattering for kitty parties[/I].
So I visited a unique temple, learned a new dish and laughed at a signboard - I had some fun in Bikaner after all.