21st July - A couple of weeks ago Ramesh took us to visit a temple like no other. In the dusty town of Deshnoke, outside Bikaner is the temple of Kani Mata. "Karni Mata, born in the 14th century, was an incarnation of Durga, the goddess of power and victory. During her lifetime she performed many miracles. When one of her clansmen died and she was unable to bring him back to life and she asked Yama, the god of death to bring him back to life. Yama could not because the clansman had already been reincarnated. Karni Mata made an agreement with Yama that from now on all of her tribespeople would be reborn as rats until they could be born back into the clan."
OK so that's the historical perspective. The reality is that there's a temple inhabited by a few olfactorally challenged devotees & approx 20,000 grey rats. And people go there for puja (devotion) or in our case to see how freaky it is. We fully respect their right to worship whoever & however they wish but to us this was the weirdest place we'd been since the roadside drowned-snake whisky sellers of northern Thailand.
The temple has a lovely black & white marble tiled floor & solid silver doors, there are lovely carvings on all the lintels. There are also rats everywhere, drinking from bowls of filthy water & milk, eating sweets in front of the shrine, curled up asleep in the corners. They're also running over my feet, did I mention it's a shoes-off temple? Hmmm. Supposedly good luck I allowed a couple to traverse my toes but when one looked longingly at the dead skin on my heel I moved on. C was feeling a little the worse for wear (think essence of rat and pigeon excrement combined with 40 degree heat) & dreaming of a long shower & a lie down but kept filming, trooper that she is.
After a circuit of the dank, dark corridor, stepping only on the white tiles as Ramesh had told us (& not on the rat shit as all other instincts suggested) we came back out to the main courtyard to some commotion. Ramesh had told us that to see a white rat here was especially fortuitous & that in 24yrs of regular visits he'd only seen 5 white "kaba". Despite our devout atheism we managed to conjure up not one but 2 white kaba during our hour long visit. Quite a feat & it was wonderful to see the childlike glee or religious fervor in Ramesh's smile. A lovely moment in a challenging environment.
So here, for thrillseekers & ratophiles (whatever the word is) is the documentary evidence of all the above. Best viewed after meals, not for the squeamish etc etc. And not a cat in sight. Now where's that foot bath…