Friday, April 22, 2011

I Smell a Rat

Click click click.  It was the sound that got to me first.  Click click click.  Not the smell, not the sight of droppings littering the floor, not the bowls of milk and food placed haphazardly throughout the temple.  Click click click.  No, it was the click-clacking of thousands of tiny rat fingernails on the hard marble floor that sent shivers down my spine.

Feeding time!

We were at the Karni Mata Temple of Deshnoke, 30 kilometers outside of Bikaner, where the thousands of rats that occupy the temple are considered holy.  So holy, in fact, that is good luck for a rat to run over your foot in the temple.  To me, this falls under the realm of “things we say are good luck to make us feel better because they are actually terrible.”  Like rain on your wedding day, or a bird crapping on your head.

Outside the temple.
Please note my socks and Dave's bare feet.  He is a fool.
Reluctantly leaving our shoes with the shoe attendant – we always take off our shoes in India reluctantly, but it was with special reluctance that we shed the only thing that would have stood between our bare feet and rats (and rat food, and rat droppings) – we followed the crowds to the cordoned-off line and through the broken x-ray machine into the temple.  At first, it was the sound, but it wasn’t long before the sharp scent of rodent became overwhelming.  And then we saw them.  Thousands of rats, scurrying across the floor, congregating in the corners, perched on the edge of giant bowls of milk and rat food, sitting on ledges and in the carved niches lining the walls.  They were smaller than your average New York City subway rat, but what they lacked in size they more than made up for in sheer numbers.

Scurrying across the floor.
We picked our way across the floor towards the center of the temple, barely suppressing shrieks of horror as the rats skittered past.  Occasionally one of us would surreptitiously nudge the other’s foot, just to enjoy the freak out that would follow.  We kept our eyes at our feet as we gingerly made our way up the stairs to the main temple area.  The rats seemed to love standing on one step and poking their paws and little faces up onto the next step.  This was unnerving.  All the while, our young guide Kapil kept urging us to keep our eyes out for a white rat.  This was the ultimate in good luck rat sightings.  The Brangelina of the rat world.  The Virgin Mary on a piece of toast.

Oh, did you need a close-up of rats drinking milk? Here you go.
I challenge you not to shudder.
Eventually we made it to the narrow metal gates that funneled us into a single file line as we approached the inner temple.  Narrow metal gates are necessary as the concept of a single file line, or waiting in line in general, appears to be foreign to Indian people (and especially to Indian religious pilgrims).  Normally we welcome such gates and the forced lines they create, but in this case the metal gates seemed to be prime nesting spots for the plumpest, most alpha rats of the bunch.  We tried to make ourselves as narrow as possible to avoid contact with the gates to either side.  Once we were through the gates, we moved extremely quickly.  Past the man who takes and doles out the offerings, past the man pressing red bindis onto everyone’s forehead, past the man who’s job it is to swipe heads with what appears to be a large duster.  We had had enough.  We wanted out.

Panic (and blurry photos) sets in
And so, moving rapidly towards the exit, rat food (we hope it was rat food, please let it be rat food) crunching under(bare)foot, we escaped the rat temple.  We hadn’t seen a white rat, and no rat had run over either of our feet, but then again, we hadn’t caught the plague.  We slid on our shoes, took photos with a few Indian tourists, ordered up a celebratory sugarcane juice, and considered ourselves lucky to have visited – and even luckier to have left – the Karni Mata Temple of Deshnoke.

Much Purell was required before Dave was even allowed to touch his juice glass.


  1. I'm going to pretend reading this post never happened

  2. I hope you did not pay much for this misadventure...YUCK!

  3. ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

  4. what a nightmare.............but you were awake..yuck!!

  5. white rats..... you can keep them all. Glad you made it out alive!

  6. Gross gross gross. Thank goodness you were wearing socks. I can't believe Dave wasn't. Ewwww.

  7. Yup, it was pretty much the grossest thing I've ever done. (Then again, just wait until you hear about some of the bathrooms in our Nepal trek).


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