Day Five: Bikaner, the Red City
I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be visiting a royal fort, camel research center slash farm, and RAT TEMPLE all in the same day.
We are staying at the Hotel Harasar Haveli in Bikaner, also known as the ‘Red City.’ Again, not a city that we ever heard of in our research back at home, but it was exciting to stop over a place with zero expectations. Thanks to our incredible driver Sono, we were able to get a discount on our room here. The beautiful hand-painted ceilings, archways and fort-like architecture are absolutely stunning and soulful.
Today felt like our first day in India to be honest – after getting past the initial heaviness of jetlag, our first bouts of food sickness, and long drives west, we were finally intentionally go out to see the city’s sights, beginning with Junagargh Fort.
The fort took over 350 years to fully construct, and it took 16 different rulers to get her done. To fully grasp the significance of such a fort, it’s helpful to think back to the history of warfare between two powerful clans– Rajputs (from Rajasthan) and Mughals (from the north, mainly Delhi). They were in constant warfare, but it was cool to learn that this particular fort was never conquered, so props to Bikaner (Rajasthan clan) for staying strong!
The fort was massive for the amount of people that lived there at any particular time – I think one ruler and his 3 daughters and their families lived there. Although we joined up with an Indian guide who would be speaking in both Hindi and English, it was almost next to impossible to understand. Luckily, the confusion all over our faces attracted an Indian girl and boy who asked if we wanted help with translation. God send.
The photos below capture the immensity and beauty of this fort.
After exploring the fort, we went back to the hotel to rest for a few hours.
Around 3:30p Sono drove us to the Camel Research Center, again a total treat and surprise. Upon arrival, we saw a sign selling all types of beverages, and camel milk was on the list. According to Sono, it is must tastier than cow’s milk, but given the sensitivity of our stomachs, we decided to use of our better judgment and live vicariously through Sono.
We entered the compound, which included separate enclosures for different camels – adults, pregnant moms, babies, and camels in feeding.
My favorite part was visiting the baby camels, which were only a few inches taller than me. They were closed in by a wired gate and were all staring in one direction as if they were performing some kind of choreography. We were told we could pet them. One camel in particular took a liking to my REI backpack, hence this photo below.
On the way out of the camel research center, we learned that such a center exists to study camel milk production for times of draught. The researchers hope to find ways to turn camel milk into antibodies to treat disease. Also, another cool thing about camels is the function of their humps, which is basically a collection of fat that converts to water and energy in cold arid conditions. Camels with two humps are the most hardcore.
From the Camel Research Center, Sono drove us to Karni Mata temple, also known as the Rat Temple – yes, a RAT temple. Essentially, these holy rodents are considered reincarnated souls of the lord of death, Yama. People take pilgrimages and bring offerings to this temple, where it’s believed to be good luck if a rat runs over your foot. They even have netting strewn along the tops of the temple to keep the pigeons from coming in to eat the rats. Bowls of milk are left out daily to keep these rats fed and happy.
Definitely one of the most bizarre experiences of my life, I did my best to appreciate it for what it was while it was happening. I believe we were the only tourists there, so it drew a lot of attention. Wylie in particular got the most attention by a group of men. As they split ways, I heard one of them say “very very beautiful.” Haha!
A musical group played live music while rats ran around them. One small rat nestled underneath what appeared to be a bass drum, likely soaking in the rhythmic vibrations and chanting.