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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 28.0199, 73.3176
Last night we slept in one of the old royal palaces of a Maharajah, the Hotel Basant Vihar Palace. It is another beautiful very old building, gated off and set far back from the crazily noisy, busy road. We heard nothing as we slept last night, not even the stealthy scurrying of the large cockroach I found dead on the bathroom floor this morning. Today my roommate and I plan on exploring this palace before we head out to Singjy's nephew's home for a Rajput family breakfast (vegan: vegetable oil will be used instead of ghee), one that we will help make. The first chappati or naan or roti is always fed to the cow; if a family does not have a cow, it is fed to whatever cow happens to be walking by at breakfast time, although some cows apparently know when to show up at the kitchen door. The second chappati or naan or roti is given to the dog. Only after the animals have been fed can people begin their meal.
Our bedroom here is also large, but not nearly the barn-sized room we slept in at Roopangarh Fort. What exceptional places VegVoyages has found for us to stay; except for the first and last days of our adventure journey here, I don't think we will stay at any generic hotels. Ancient palaces and forts (refitted with modern bathrooms) are so much more exciting and interesting. I had never slept in a fort or palace before coming to India!
Yesterday, on our way to Bikaner, we stopped at the Karni Mata Temple, more familiarly known as the Rat Temple. I was a little apprehensive, as Singjy told us there were 20,000 rats roaming freely throughout the temple, and that since shoes are removed when entering temples, we might want to wear socks that could be thrown away afterwards. Neither of us had brought socks, but Singjy said we could rent foot coverings if we liked, at the temple. Temples we've seen here are very different from the ornate, golden temples throughout Thailand; on our first day's village tour at Roopangarh our guide indicated that a little gated-off closet-sized space was a temple, so it seems they come in all sizes here. Also, here in India I have not seen temple rooftops with elephants trumpeting prayers to heaven, and, while the Rat Temple has many ornate carvings, its roof is flat; it is plain in comparison to other temples I have visited elsewhere. But no matter: this is a famous and auspicious temple that millions visit each year, and we were going to see it.
After arriving we handed our shoes over to the attendant and were given large foot coverings that I tied tightly over my bare feet in hopes that they would not fall off, then we walked on the painted white pathway leading us into the temple. Little rats were everywhere. Their size was a surprise to me, as before this I had only seen rats the size of large groundhogs when I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts near Harvard University and the Charles River. Those rats were frighteningly huge! These temple rats look more like well-fed mice. My instinct was to bend down and pet the furry rats, but luckily I suppressed that feeling before actually doing it. These little beings were cute, if one can use that adjective with a rat. The temple had been constructed with the comfort of rats foremost in mind, with mouse holes in the baseboard areas, and latticed iron gridwork sized so they could easily climb to all the levels of the temple. People bring food to feed the rats or buy from vendors outside the temple; large plates of milk are placed on the floor for thirsty rats. In an inner sanctum, which we were not permitted to enter, several Indian men sat eating out of bowls of food alongside rats; human and rodent shared the same plate. Over the courtyards were hung nets to try to keep the pigeons from eating the rats' food, but many managed to find their way inside; the fat pigeons were at least six or eight times as big as one little rat! So we walked around, trying to keep the booties on our feet; the temple floor had layers upon layers of rat poo. (Guano?) I would not have wanted to walk barefoot there, although most of the native Indians did, and stared openly at us and our white clad feet.
We never saw the white rat, who allegedly is the goddess for whom the temple was built; it is believed she lives there and brings good luck to those who see her. People kept offering grapes and other foods to the rats, handing it to them through the spaces in the gridwork. We watched, and looked for the white rat ourselves, but no luck. After removing our booties and using hand sanitizer (Why? I never did pet that rat.) we continued on our way to Bikaner. I wonder what new adventures and ancient wonders we'll see today. It is a magical, confusing land, a country that feeds its street roaming cows and dogs first before feeding its people. This is the India I am beginning to know.
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