Summary of India diary entries by Rob Shackleford
Diary Entry 6 – Across the Desert – Jodhpur to Bikaner
Read the other India Diary entries:
Start in Mumbai
Up & Down
Into the Desert
North to Rishikesh
Kathmandu and Home
In the narrow lanes of Jodhpur, we struggle with our luggage in the dark, nearly treading into the open sewer on a few occasions. We thought to be up so early would make it free for us to strap our bags to the bikes, but in the early light, local bikes are already passing with barely enough room. Because it is early, they refrain from the usual beeping. The path is irritatingly narrow.
We try to be silent as families sleep, difficult as the thump of our bike engines reverberates from the close walls. Threading through the alleys is challenging as they are so narrow and bikes are parked on either side. We pass a shrine where the devout already pray, then avoid the usual dogs and rubbish. All too soon we escape the narrow maze to the main road where we gratefully accelerate. Trucks clutter the roads while cars jostle, but of that we are now familiar.
It is early, so we make good time. The road is good and in the morning light the air cool. After 100km, as planned, we stop and breakfast on parathas and biryani. While awaiting our meal I phone Deb. She comments that I sound weary.
Too soon the sun rises and we ride through the heat. It is a true desert now, with occasional sand dunes along the highway, though most of the time the dunes are covered by a protective layer of scrub. This is the Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert Though we make great time, it is not without mishaps. For no reason, a speed bump appears and I hit it at speed which throws the bike, me and my baggage, into the air. Again, not so different to as we have experienced before, so we survive.
Occasionally a dead cow bloats in the sun. Though sacred, with the heavy trucks they will, on occasion, fall victim. What is strange is that nothing seems to eat them There are no crows, no vultures, in fact there are no bugs either. Advanced agriculture feeds millions, but appears to have killed the environment. Much of settled India is a rather dead place. We have seen no wildlife on our extensive ride, only domesticated animals. Aside from monkeys, of course.
Bikaner is our destination, once capital of a princely state. It is another picturesque walled city that sits in the hot sun of Rajasthan. It takes us ages to find our accommodation called Harsidhi Harvali, but the effort is worth it. Our lovely host, clad in a sari and speaking very fast, is welcoming and falls over herself to help. As we settle in, I snooze – which surprises me. As soon as I wake she calls a tuktuk to take us to a location we have long been looking forward to seeing; the Rat Temple.
The Karni Mata Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to the Hindu warrior sage Karni Mata at Deshnoke, 30 km from Bikaner. It is also known, for good reason, as the Temple of Rats.
The temple is famous for the approximately 25,000 black rats that live and are revered, in the temple. These holy rats are called kabbas and many worshipers travel great distances to pay their respects. Though not necessary seeking blessings, we join the visitors.
The temple is, like most temples in India, surrounded by stalls and appears rather decrepit. Even as we walk into the precinct, rats scurry and are ignored by all. In Australia, a single rat would have stallholders pursue with any number of potentially lethal weapons, but not here. On encouragement from one stall holder we decide to buy some noodles and sweet biscuits as rat food.
Kyle seemed to view the prospect of walking with rats with dread. “Can we catch a disease here?” he asks as we remove our shoes to walk barefoot, as obliged for every Hindu temple.
I looked to him and, because my son tends to be a hypochondriac, opted not to tell him about Leptospirosis that can be caught from walking in infected rat wee. “Not sure, but what are the chances?” I ask, for there are a few locals who visit. Their feet are bare. I don’t see any westerners though.
Hefting our rat food, we enter a strange place, for it is full of rats that scramble about, run over our feet with soft feet and furry bodies, and even ascend rails to hang and idly stare curiously down at us with drooping heads and ball-sacks. Our food turns out to be a useless investment as there are literally mounds of food all over the temple. Rats are everywhere – feeding from bowls of milk and grain, scurrying into and out of holes in walls, or just watching. Some worshipers stop to hand-feed the creatures or offer prayers. In one room, men bag bag mounds of food, mainly coconut and grain. Having seen evidence of hunger and inequality throughout India, I wonder at how religion always seems to take more than its fair share. I see it worldwide, where there is always the excuse to take money from the poor for Leer-Jets or Mega Churches and Temples, but never enough to stop inequality or world hunger.
When religion puts its money where its’ mouth is, I might listen.
“Eww. Gross!” exclaims Kyle in horror. He had been complaining at how gross a place this is.
“I just trod on one.”
“On what?” I replied? “A rat?”
“Yeah, I thought it was a banana,” he added.
“A banana! How did you think a rat was a banana?”
He turned to me, his eyes wide. “Oh man, it started thick and then went thin and skidded.”
“What! Is it dead?” I asked. This was beginning to be a decidedly odd conversation.
“Well it certainly looks like it” Kyle replied. “It was lying there all monged like,” he mimicked with his tongue sticking out and his body twisted. “Its tail was all straight out and shivering, like it was definitely on its way out, you know?”
“Oh man,” I replied in exasperation, but what he said had me laugh. “You can’t kill rats here. They’re sacred!” I looked around, but no-one seemed to notice. What a fate, to be killed for murdering one of their sacred rats. Time to go,” I added.
“Yep,” Kyle replied in relief.
We left our useless rat food on a post and, trying to avoid the throngs of furry creatures, made our way out.
With relief we donned our shoes, then bought a couple of apple fizzy drinks from a stall. It was so hot and we were tired of water. For some reason, a cow took an interest in us and began to scrounge. I poured some of the soft-drink into my hand and the cow lapped eagerly with a blue tongue. Suddenly its eyes went wide and it began to salivate – maybe from the sugar, or the fizzy bubbles, but the saliva poured like a curtain as its mouth worked. We just took off, making as much a distance between us and the dribbling creature. “That and this place have got to be one of the grossest experiences of India so far,” exclaimed Kyle as we carefully washed our hands.
Our hotel is really a guest house. Tonight we dine at 7.30 and the home-cooked food is fabulous. We eat in the dining room by ourselves as the family does their stuff around us.
Harsidhi Harvali is a terrific stay, with a wonderful shower and a good night’s sleep.
Day 14 – Bikaner
To make life easier, we agree to be driven around for the day by yesterday’s tuktuk driver. He takes us to a palace we opt not to see, for one can have their fill of palaces. In England it can be ABC – Another Bloody Church or Another Bloody Cathedral, or in the US – Another Bloody Canyon. No disrespect, but all places are overflowing with things that are simply amazing, but in profusion one grows weary of them.
We journey through the traffic to old Bikaner, where we stroll and grab some locally made cookies and a type of cream horn that, together, are quite nice. We then meet a man with an extremely long moustache. He claims he is famous for it. Typically Indian, his friendly manner has him stretch his moustache to under our noses as we pose for pictures.
We then look for a music shop, but that request is lost in translation. In the end we buy a computer hard-drive for our go-pro’s and cameras are filling with images and footage of amazing India.
We then visit the camel farm, which is more interesting than it sounds. There, baby camels get chewy on my hand, then we try a camel milk kulfi – the delicious traditional ice cream. These differ from the usual kulfi as the camel milk is salty.
As we visit th sights of Bikaner, Kyle and I discuss our future road. We are not sure whether we are jaded, tired, or that the ruthless nature of riding on Indian roads is getting to us, but we find we are becoming impatient with things. We are especially tired of nearly being run off the road a hundred times a day. Alas, it adds up. So, to add to the adventure we decide to depart Bikaner by train. We go to a lot of trouble and expense to have the bikes packaged for rail freight to Delhi, the only option as we are to ride to north to Rishikesh. We initially planned to avoid Delhi at all costs because of the insane traffic and terrible pollution, but this seems to be a road we are to travel.
After enduring the bureaucracy for the world’s largest employer, Indian Rail, we go through their machinations and have the bikes padded and packed in straw and cardboard by contractors, the paperwork completed, funds paid in cash and the bikes taken away. As they are wheeled away, we hope we see them again.
That evening, we wait for the train loaded down by bags and bike bags. Despite the apparent confusion at the station, where rail is the most used means of transportation for India’s massive population, we are impressed how well the system seems to operate and are soon installed into a sleeper cabin.
Now I’m not quite an Indian Rail virgin. I had the experience of travelling by rail with my partner, Deb, some years ago. Then, the sleeper was a private cabin, with four bunks, a door and the services of a rail employee. Now, Kyle and I are thrust into an arrangement that reminds me of what I have seen in submarines. All and sundry sleep on three tiers of bunks that face each other. The beds are benches one normally sits on and are rock hard. It beats sitting and trying to sleep, like on the long flight to India. As usual in India, everyone is polite and considerate of each other. Thank goodness I have my pillow.
While Kyle freezes and struggles, I sleep surprisingly well, considering I am using gear he once considered excessive. We are next to the toilet, which smells astonishingly putrid. Forced to use it, I think none want to flush as the water from the flusher squirts everywhere. Anything to minimize the reek. In another humanitarian gesture, I give Kyle my towel to keep warm. Ironically, the towel is another excess he accuses me of.
Amongst the hawking and spitting, the toilet reek and the gentle rock of the rail carriages, we sleep and are bound for Delhi.
Rob Shackleford is author of Traveller Inceptio, published by British publisher, Austin Macauley.
If you read Traveller Inceptio and like it – please place a review on Amazon and the Austin Macauley site Here
Kyle Shackleford is musician Milo Hunter Band and a Chef.