24 Mar - 31 Mar 2015 Bikaner

Among Camels and Rats...
Matt: Getting lost (without losing my bearings) inbetween the markets, temples and havelis of Bikaner's labyrinthine old city, enjoying chance encounters with highly gifted Sikh street dentists, Rajasthani horse shoers and untouchable gold panners, and visiting patriotic brown camels (Camelus dromedarius) and religious black rats (Rattus rattus) in their touristified breeding centres out-of-town.

“This wasn't a strange place; it was a new one.” 
(Paulo Coelho)

Matt: Exploring the narrow alleyways in the immediate neighbourhood of my convenient quarters, the recommendable Shanti House +919461159796, located in Bikaner's atmospheric but crumbling old city which is dotted with a rich array of quirky, early twentieth-century havelis whose idiosyncratic architecture demonstrates "…a fusion of indigenous sandstone carving with Art Nouveau and red-brick British municipal style…", enjoying innumerous very hot tasting sessions at Bikaner's exotic spice-and-pickles market and many similarly hot conversations with the beautiful local ladies at the sari bazaar about my attitude towards crossdressing.

Matt: Learning in Bikaner about some peculiar but interesting professions who still contribute to the contemporary Indian economy: (i) having my hiking sandals stitched up with a sewing awl and twine by a roadside cobbler, (ii) watching how a roadside farrier places pre-loved horseshoes on the hooves of a shaggy carthorse, (iii) asking an unlicensed street dentist who works his magic under the open sky for a fair quote, (iv) haggling with untouchable gold/silver panners who pan for lost bits of jewellery in the old city's open sewer drains in exactly the same way as the treasure-seekers of the legendary Californian gold rush of the 1850s, and (v) turning my back on the innumerous roadside ear cleaners aka kaan maeliye who scrape out dirt and gunk from clogged Indian ears with a very, very long needle…

Matt: Conquering the impressive, heavily guarded 16th-century Junagarh Fort (admission: INR 300.- or US$ 4.80 per paying foreigner), built at ground level and defended only by high walls plus a 10 m wide moat, stepping without being caught in the maharaja's opulent headquarters aka anup mahal on the thick carpet which was made by inmates of Bikaner jail, a manufacturing tradition that has only recently ceased, and discussing the self-immolating practice of committing sati which has been banned for the whole of India by Queen Victoria in 1861 CE.
"...the holy practice of sati, whereby a widow burned herself on the funeral pyre of her husband, to achieve virtue, to secure the honour of her husband's family, and to cleanse that family of the sins of three generations..."
(V.S. Naipaul)

"You who wish to conquer pain,
you must learn what makes me kind;
the crumbs of love that you offer me,
they're the crumbs I've left behind.
Your pain is no credential here,
it's just the shadow, shadow of my wound.

I have begun to long for you,
I who have no greed;
I have begun to ask for you,
I who have no need.
You say you've gone away from me,
but I can feel you when you breathe." 
(Leonard Cohen)

Matt: Meeting up with the friendly and knowledgeable Brahmin priest Shankar at his 16th-century Seth Bhandasar Jain Temple, touring together the innards of the temple which are decorated with a gaudy array of paintings and porcelain tiles imported from Victorian England, and learning that the foundation of the temple has allegedly been made with 40,000 kg of pure ghee and dry coconut (…plus some other ingredients, probably too tedious to mention).

Matt: Counting the free-roaming, well-fed black rats (Rattus rattus) in the Karni Mata Temple (free admission for humans and rats, camera ticket: INR 30.- per camera) at Deshnok (c. 32 km from Bikaner, ½ hour by public bus, INR 20.- or c. US$ 0.30 per person, one way), tippytoing barefooted among the substantial rat droppings, searching together with many agitated Hindu pilgrims for a glimpse of the temple's venerated white rat, listening to the devotees who believe that these rats are reincarnated souls saved from the wrath of Yama, the god of death, and investing in a 60-ml bottle of well-tried Dettol antiseptic liquid for only INR 18.- or US$ 0.30 at the local pharmacy for a thorough clean-up of my contaminated feet immediately afterwards.

“The rat gave birth.
Six little ones ... cute baby rats.
None of them are like Hitler.” 
(Yoshihiro Tatsumi)

Matt: Spying on India's camel-cavalry resources and visiting the National Research Centre on Camel (admission: INR 100.- per foreigner, camera fee: INR 50.- per camera) situated in the Thar Desert c. 10 km south of Bikaner, renowned for its famously sturdy beasts for the once much-feared Bikaner Camel Corps, but these days a rather boring and mercilessly commercialised tourist trap (e.g. camel-milk icecream, camel-leather handbags, camel-hair blankets); round trip Bikaner - N.R.C.C. - Bikaner in a shared auto rickshaw aka three-wheeler aka bajaj: c. 20 km return, ½ hour one way, INR 60.- per person.

 “All things (e.g. a camel's journey through
A needle's eye) are possible, it's true.
But picture how the camel feels, squeezed out
In one long bloody thread, from tail to snout.”
(C.S. Lewis)

Matt: Scouting around for cheap and good local vegan food and chilled flyless beers and hitting pay dirt near the Bikaner Junction Railway Station: (i) the non-luxurious Hotel Deluxe for great lunches for less than INR 100.- or US$ 1.60 per meal (a wide array of delicious vegetable curries from INR 40.- to INR 60.-, plain rice for just INR 20.- per bowl and Indian onion salad for INR 15.- per plate), (ii) the friendly no-name tandoori dhaba with superb thalis for INR 50.- (an unlimited number of crispy-fresh rotis, two to three different unlimited sabji, daal, Indian onion salad), and (iii) the ubiquitous 650-ml bottles of ice-cold Tuborg Strong Premium Beer with 8.0 % alc./vol. for only INR 90.- or US$ 1.40 per large bottle from the reliable English Wine & Beer Shop right opposite Bikaner's well-managed railway station.

“Slow down, take time, allow yourself to be wildly diverted from your plan. People are the soul of the place; don't forget to meet them and enjoy their company as you explore a place.”
(David DuChemin)

Matt: Taking the Bikaner Delhi Sarai Rohilla Express train no. 15,458 in India's filthy three-tier sleeper class (with metal-grilled, locked windows) from Bikaner's Junction Railway Station to Delhi's run-down Sarai Rohilla Railway Station (457 km, 7 ¾ hours, INR 200.- or US$ 3.20 per senior citizen), hereafter a private auto rickshaw aka three-wheeler aka bajaj from the Sarai Rohilla Railway Station straight to the New Delhi Railway Station (c. 5 km, ¼ hours, INR 80.- or US$ 1.30 for the ride), and walking finally to the highly recommendable budget hotel Smyle Inn +911123584076 (see our previous stays: [1], [2]), only a short walk from the New Delhi Railway Station but well hidden at N 28° 38.50' E 077° 12.88' in the adventurous maze of Paharganj's narrow lanes, Delhi's frenetic market and hostel district for both international and domestic travellers.

Beim Reisen begegnen mir immer wieder ganz verschiedene Tiere: Haustiere und Wildtiere, kleine und grosse Tiere, laute und leise Tiere. Ihr Verhalten mir gegenueber haengt von der jeweiligen Situation, einschliesslich meines eigenen Verhaltens, und von den gattungstypischen Eigenschaften dieser Tiere ab. Ganz klar, Tiger betragen sich im wirklichen Leben anders als Hasen…
In Maerchen und Fabeln jedoch werden den Tieren gern einzelne menschliche Eigenschaften zugeordnet. Wenn dann ein bestimmtes Tier in dieser Geschichte auftaucht, koennt Ihr Euch meistens schon denken, wie es weitergeht. Einfaeltige Fuechse gibt es im Maerchen nur selten. Dafuer sind Biber meistens recht fleissig und arbeitsam, Esel sind oft stoerrisch und faul, Hunde in der Regel treu und freundlich, Loewen stets stark und maechtig, Ziegen haeufig zickig und unzufrieden und die lieben Grunzis in Eurer Scheune werden gern als dick, dumm, faul, gefraessig und schmutzig bezeichnet, so dass es den Menschen leichter faellt, sie mit gutem Gewissen zu toeten und aufzuessen. Manche Tiernamen werden sogar als Schimpfworte und andere Tiernamen als Kosenamen benutzt. - Welche Eigenschaften haben die Tiere in diesem Blogeintrag? 
From India, with Love!

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