Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Rats In Rajasthan

Things have been looking up since entering India (well, they haven't been going tits up anyway). I've made a beeline south to Rajasthan to be in time to meet an old Czech friend of mine before she heads back home (and give her a bunch of stuff to take back with her in the process). Generally I prefer to be thorough when visiting an area, but I plan to pass by again on my way back to Pakistan so I'll get another bite of the pie. Nevertheless I did get to see a couple of fascinating temples along the way which I've been meaning to see for some time.

The first is the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the holiest of sites for Sikhs. I like to make fun of my Sikh friends saying that they're all big and hairy just to tease them. Though, like all generalisations, there is more than a grain of truth to it and it's fascinating to be in a place full of tall, turbaned men with the bushiest of beards. It's not surprising to read that they were a military force to be reckoned with in their time. Luckily Sikhs are among the most friendly and scrupulously honest people I know. The temple is a large, pristinely white complex surrounding a holy pool containing the eponymous temple sitting in its centre, glinting in the sunlight. Sikhism is a very welcoming and egalitarian faith (if I wasn't such a religious sceptic I might be a Sikh, and I've got a good start already as I've got the beard) and allow everyone in to look around. But better than that, they give you a meal as well! Heaven for a budget traveller. But I get a guilty conscience far too quickly so I doubt I'll be taking advantage of their generosity too much. Seeing the massive dining halls filled with hundreds of people, young and old rich and poor, really gives a sense of community.

The other temple is the Karni Mata temple in northern Rajasthan, commonly known as the Rat Temple due to the thousands of rats that, not only live there, but are regarded as minor deities and are fed and protected in the temple grounds. I was expecting to see a seething carpet of furry bodies, but had to make do with a few scampering little rodents and a circle of squabbling beasties around a bowl of milk. But I still enjoyed myself immensely just watching the travails of the wee blighters, with their little squabbles and curious personalities (they would come right up to my feet and sniff my toes; and then quickly run away again before they were overcome by the smell!).

But now I am in the dessert town of Jaisalmer with my friend Hanka, catching up on the past year and a half since we last saw each other. We spent the day wandering the small streets that surround the imposing, sandstone fort that dominates the city and generally relaxing before we head off on a camel safari into the dessert tomorrow (Hanka is not altogether confident of our survival chances in the barren expanses and has been mentally preparing her last will and testament). But here it's no longer the two-humped Bactrian camel of western China, but single-humped dromedaries, so I'm not quite sure where one is supposed to sit, though I'm sure I'll find out tomorrow.


Mark said...

As King Rat you should be at home amongst "your" people. Say Hi to Hanka for me.

Yann said...

Hi Erik

I haven't read your posts since a long time and I was wondering where you were...in India ! I guess you will stay a big while in this country, as well you did in China. So you could find a bit of time anyway to buy some socks ! Or is the smell of your toes a part of your self-protection ?

I'll try to read your old posts that I've not received...to find some other ridiculous remarks I coud write...

How is the weather in India ? Here it will be colder and colder and tonight we will have the first snowfalls...

I think there's no better argument to drink some hot wines on the Christmas' markets !

Also prost !