A nice breakfast on the rooftop of the Shahi Palace, and then a complimentary lift to the station from the hotel manager. Such a great hotel! Onto the train to Lalgarh, the nearest station to Bikaner, and was looking forward to reading and listening to my MP3 and of course gazing out of the window at India, by far the best thing to do on an Indian train. None of this eventuated because of a) incredible amount of dust coming in through the windows and b) a man named Aatish Ashishkant. Of course meeting new people is one of the great pluses of travel, but generally most people know where to draw the line, and how to balance up your personal space. Aatish didn’t. He started to talk to us from his berth almost as soon as boarding, and moved in closer and closer until he spent the rest of the journey practically sitting on Merrill’s lap! Aidan and tara were forced to sit elsewhere in the carriage. We heard about his family, army life, his thinning hair, his marriage, his thinning hair all the way to Bikaner, so neither of us got to read a word and i didn’t see very much out the shuttered windows either. It was such a relief toarrive that we may even have hopped off a station earlier, but an A/R into Bikaner didn’t take long. Our hotel was a bit out of town but eccentric and homely, and run by a very laid back manager. This was the Hotel Padmini Niwas. It almost seemed like the manager was actually a guest who woke up one day to find everyone had gone, and so has looked after it awaiting the return of the real owners.
Anyway, it was a quiet, peaceful part of town. Went to the station first on foot to buy our tickets to Jaipur, then into town for dinner at the Amber restaurant on Station Road, which was OK. Warched a family who the waiter told us had just confirmed a wedding match, so it was sweets and photos all round. Then got the best ras malai ever in the world at the Sree sweet stall, as well as a box of delicious barfi and other assorted sweets.
Next morning it was an early start to get out to the rat temple (Karni Mata) at Deshnok. Merrill of course opted out, not being a big fun of rodents (she’s never got over the giant rats of Colaba). So Aidan, Tara and I walked through some streets of beautiful big houses to the roundabout (Ambedkar gate) where the buses go from. Had a lovely breakfast of delicious kachoris at the bus stop. Caught the very fast bus to Deshnok, whizzing past camel carts on the way. From the bus stop it was an A/R to the temple. The temple building itself was nothing special, but of course the attraction is the numerous rats sacred to the goddess Karni Mata. They were everywhere, and its considered lucky if one of them runs over your foot, but sadly none did. What surprised me is that given they are fed milk and other offerings all day, they were very unhealthy looking rats. The ones we’d seen scurrying about the railway tracks at Jodhpur were much healthier. Maybe milk is really bad for them.
From the temple we returned to Bikaner and met up with Mez, then walked to the Junagarh fort, which is perhaps one of the nicest I’ve been to in India. Some interesting artwork and beautiful rooms. Some great views over the town from the roof too. Lunch at Heeralal’s “fast food” on Station Road which was fun and tasty. Then walked through old town to look at some old havelis that weren’t in a great state. On the way were pestered by some of Aaatish’s relations who wanted to “practice their English” which meant stalking us and steering us to their spice shops. You couldn’t even ask them to leave because their response was a guilt inducing “don’t you like us? Don’t you like Indian people?” said as melodramatically as possible. Certainly never experienced this sook approach before anywhere in India. Back to the hotel for a rest and then had dinner in the tiny hotel restaurant, which was also cooked by the manager or his mate.