Dadu Aur Madak

Unless you are bent on visiting every fort in Rajasthan, there is not a great deal of reason to visit Bikaner. Bikaner is however becoming an alternative to Jaiselmer for tourists wanting to take a camel safari in the desert. It has become a more relaxing option than the often high pressure approach in Jaiselmer. We have all but quit stopping to take pictures of accidents along the way. If we were to stop for each one we would have to leave an hour earlier every day. We have seen as many as three single vehicle accidents in one day. This was one of the more spectacular. This poor guy had managed to destroy not only his truck, but four brand new farm tractors. We imagine he is contemplating what he will do for a living now.

The more frequent reason that many people take the significantly longer detour through Bikaner on the Jaipur-Pushkar-Jaiselmer-Johdpur circuit is to visit one of India's most unique temples in Deshnoke, a tiny village around 40 kilometers south of Bikaner.

The ornately carved marble Karni Mata Temple is one of India's most famous landmarks and draws tourists from far and wide to this tiny town.

It is not, however, the intricate detail of the ornate carved marble or even the solid silver doors to the temple complex. It is the temple's sacred inhabitants that are the draw here. Their presence here is no gimmick though, and their special place in Hindu lore is traced to the 15th century. Like all Hindu temples, it is required that one removes their shoes before entering. It is considered a great precursor of good fortune to have one of the rats run across your feet.

Non Hindus are only allowed inside the temple grounds, not inside the temple itself. They are, however, allowed to take photographs of the altar from the doorway. For believers it is even better good fortune to be able to eat one of the yellow sweets set out for the rats by the priests. This is only true though if one of the rats has nibbled at it first.

This unfortunate pilgrim was unable to attract the holy inhabitants, settling only for having her photo taken with the sacred kabas.

Having seen so many forts and palaces in recent weeks we were determined to give the one at Bikaner a pass, but a Brit couple staying at our hotel said they had felt the same, but really found this well run place to be worth it.  Too often you find yourself in these forts and palaces with little or no explanation of what you are looking at. There is all to seldom little evidence that any portion of your admission fee is being spent on preservation or upkeep. The palace at Bikaner inside the fort's walls however was well preserved and meticulously maintained, and the price of admission included a free guide.

You might notice certain similarities in these two photos above. The one at left is the throne room inside the fort's palace where royal dignitaries would be met. The photo at right is of the hotel lobby where we stayed. Our hotel was in an old haveli once owned by a local Maharaja. It was now being run by his grandson who has gone to great efforts to maintain its integrity. The wallpaper throughout the public areas is hand painted. The one pictured is painted in gold leaf.