We boarded our first train from Delhi at midnight, slightly apprehensive of what the journey would have in store. During our overnight journey we experienced all that Indian Railways has to offer, traveling in second class sleeper car, with 6 people to a compartment, bunk beds stacked two high and heavily starched bedsheets in brown paper bags. We followed the crowded, laid out our sheets, took off our shoes and socks, climbed into our bunks and were rocked to sleep. We woke up to see the sun rise over the Rajasthani desert landscape. As our estimated arrival time drew nearer we were a little flustered as there were no station announcements, and we had no idea which stations we had passed through, or how to identify our destination as the only platforms signs we could see were in Hindi. After asking a few fellow passengers and getting a few different answers we successfully disembarked at Bikaner Junction, where we found that our fears of missing our stop were unnecessary, as the train terminated here anyway!
Our plan for Bikaner was to venture into the desert on a camel safari, however, we never got round to this, instead distracted by a
Camel Milk Parlour - enjoying a camel milk chai masala
camel research centre, rat temple, three day trip to Shekhawati and Cel being ill with a chest infection.
The camel research centre was frankly boring but the Camel Milk Parlour added a little intrigue. The rat temple (Karni Mata), however, where Hindus come to worship thousands of rats (believed to be the reincarnated spirits of dead poets) was completely bonkers! We shuffled through the temple barefoot conscious we were grinding rat droppings into our soles, but also treading extremely carefully so we didn't step on any of the sacred, well fed rats, which would have been considered very rude. There were literally rats everywhere, crawling out of holes in the walls, climbing up the lattice work and covering the floor! It felt like something out of an Indiana Jones movie!
We went on a three day trip to Shekhawati, an area in northeastern Rajasthan famous for old havelis (frescoed mansions belonging to descendents of merchants who became rich from the silk trade route passing through the area) with our guesthouse owner Vijay and also a family from Delhi with a very cute 18month old daughter. We saw some stunning havelis, and also some that were not so spectacular,
The rats and Celina...
faded and run down and only a shade of their former glory. We picnicked at ancient water reservoirs with a tiffin box feast complete with several vegetarian curies, chapatis, rice, salad and Indian sweets. Our evenings were spent at our host's remote farmhouse around a log fire eating more homemade curries, chapatis and rice, all washed down with endless supplies of whiskey and rum! We also visited an ashram where we met some masked Jain nuns. We learnt that they sweep the floor with a broom at night to avoid stepping on any living creatures and mask their mouths to avoid inhaling any insects. They are strict vegetarians plus don't eat any vegetables grown underground and are prohibited from cooking and eating in the ashram so have to walk around the village collecting small amounts of food from each home they pass.
Unfortunately we didn't enjoy the last day of the trip as Cel was ill. However, she did get to experience the difference between UK and Indian primary care when the local GP visited her, cut her off in mid-sentence when describing her symptoms and proceeded to prescribe several courses of strong antibiotics, for what was basically a
Rats drinking some milk offered by pilgrims
very bad sore throat and cold. After a few days rest, she finally got her appetite back and was again able to enjoy the continuously refilling pots of curry and endless supply of hot puffed chapatis fresh off the stove from our guesthouse kitchen. With all of this food we had enough energy to visit our first fort, of what was to be many forts, in Rajasthan.
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