Friday, March 4, 2011

Camels, Temples, Henna, and Rats

So much is happening day to day at this point it's hard to decide what to write about. I have only a few days left in India and while I want to breathe a giant sigh of relief, I am also a little sad because there are things that I would have like to do that I didn't have time for. But I think that's almost always the case while traveling, and better to focus on the experiences had, rather than experiences missed.

By far the highlight of the last few days has been the camel trek we went on. We drove out into the desert, far past the hustle and bustle of Jaisalmer, and met our camels and guides on the side of the road. Camels may not be the most majestic of creatures but I've become a big fan anyway. What they lack in grace they make up for in ridiculousness. With big, docile eyes and a constant grin you can't help but be amused and delighted, awkward though they may be. They literally laid down on the ground like a giant dog for us to climb on their backs. Then, in one jerky motion, they are up on their feet, and we were off. We rode into the dunes of the Thar desert, stopping once to run through sand, which was so soft I didn't even need my sandals. After an hour or so we made camp, stopping only 60kms from the Pakistan border. At dark, we lit a campfire, and celebrated a fellow traveler's birthday with some impressive fireworks. We spent the rest of the night laying around watching the stars and enjoying the very rare Indian silence! At dawn the next morning we trot back out on our camels to watch the sun, a giant orange globe, peak it's head above the dunes for the first time that day. It was freezing and windy on the back of a camel (not to mention bouncy!) but it was by far worth it for the view.

Other highlights include a trip to a Hindu temple in Jodhpur to watch the priest do his daily prayer. This was by far not a tourist activity, it was average people going to service (or whatever they call it here), and I would have felt extremely uncomfortable if I hadn't been with an Indian guide. He doesn't usually take people, and I sensed it would have been disrespectful to bring a boat load of tourists to watch, but because I was alone at the time he brought me. We had to bend to under a low roof at the entrance of the temple, stepping into a smoky interior. Once inside the roof opened up, and we walked around, paying our respect to each of the Gods, and then sat outside the chamber where the priest was preparing for the ceremony. The women all sat neatly off to one side, while the men gathered near the front. The priest lit this thing that kind of resembled a Jewish menorah (basically several candles on a stick - except these weren't candles). Then everyone started chanting slowly and periodically ringing this a large bell near the priest. The priest then began waving the fire around. The chanting got faster and faster, and the bell ringing again and again until everything was quite frenzied! I stood up with the men watching the whole thing go down, not really knowing to do or if they were pissed that I was snooping in on their religion. But then a man tied a prayer bracelet on my wrist and another filled my hand with flower pedals, showing that they accepted my presence. Obviously confused, my guide informed me the flower pedals were for the offering. A basket is passed around through the chaotic chanting, and you throw the pedals in as an offering to the Gods and you make a prayer after you do it. At the height of the chanting and bell ringing, the priest stopped waving the fire around and then, as a grand finale, splashes us all with water, the Hindu equivalent of holy water I assume. And then, as if nothing had happened the crowd scattered, and it was over.

The fact that I stood with the men during this ceremony is somewhat symbolic. I've found throughout my travels in India that the men are far more present, and I've found myself spending a lot of time talking to them. It's not that women don't exist, they are there, but the tend to always be sitting quietly to one side. They don't openly engage you and they don't tend to work in shops, so it was quite refreshing when me and a friend went to get henna done and a women was there, running her own business. She was very candid and open, and we had a great talk with her. While in the big cities woman's rights are gaining momentum, but it seems they are lagging painfully behind in more tribal areas. According to the shop owner, a girl can be eligible for marriage as soon as she starts menstruating. Her good friend was married off when she was just 11 years old, to a 36 year old man. A girl has no real rights, and is basically at the whim of what her parents decide to do with her. If she is lucky, she might receive an education, but many families think that this is wasted on girls (school is not free in India) as they are just going to be given away to a man and his family. In the case of the 11 year old girl, the husband died a couple years later leaving her 17 years old with 3 young children and no source of income. Her only hint of luck was that she had a son, so she could keep her property. If she's had only girls, the property would have been transferred back to the husband's family, as property (in the year 2011) still can't be passed through the female line. This pissed me off big time. Even in more "forward thinking" areas of India, most marriages are arranged, divorce is not possible, and all property and wealth is passed through the male line. This particular young girl, at the age of 17, will NEVER be allowed to remarry, as she has children from one line, and can't marry into another. This is all extreme bullshit if you ask me! 

Finally, I also visited Karni Mata, or the rat temple. This location is special because, like the name suggests, there are literally hundreds of rats living freely within the temple. For Hindus, it is a main site of pilgrimage, and they come to worship the rats which they believe are reincarnated humans. Because of this, the rats are sacred and are fed and cared for. Tourists can go take a gander, but they are not breaking the rules because you are a foreigner, it's a temple so SHOES OFF. It wasn't as bad as I thought, although you do feel vulnerable in bare feet, as you walk over the sticky marble caked with God knows what and rats scurrying everywhere. The plague no longer exists, right?
Well...before I ramble too much longer, I am going to end here. We are off to Varanasi on a night train tonight, then I will be crossing over into the Nepal border after we are done there.   


  1. Have to admit the whole rat thing creeps me out, but your sister the rat lover might like it! You're the first person I've ever heard say they liked camels. It must not have spit on you. Love, Mum

  2. If you love rats, this temple is best place for you. here you can fed them. Rats are the vehicle of Lord Ganesha. So Hindus love them.