Visiting India’s Rat Temple (rat alert!)

It is definitely the strangest temple I have ever been to.  It’s the Karni Mata Temple in Dashnok, India and is a tribute to rats.  I’ve never been very fond of the rodents.  My mom had a paralyzing fear of rats and mice and if you so much as even mentioned the words in her presence, she would have nightmares that night. I remember as a young boy, my friends and I had gone over to the nearby farm fields and caught dozens, probably over a hundred mice in a big cardboard box.  We carefully carried it home and proudly showed it off to our parents.  My mother had a fit, her face drained of all colour, her eyes were like saucers and she ran screaming back into the house.  We were told to ‘get rid of them immediately!’ We were sorry to see them go but we did as we were told and opened the box and set them free.  Well you can imagine our entire neighbourhood had a mouse problem for years to come.  I lived in Alberta which is a rat free zone.  They actually have rat patrols that keep an eye on the provincial boundaries and the border, checking the cargo of transport trucks for rats that may have hitched a ride and set traps to make sure none wander into the province.  Whenever one would, it would make the newspapers.  So I did grow up with a wariness about rats and when I moved to Toronto and we had them in the old house I lived in, (you could hear them scurrying through the walls and floorboards between apartments) it used to freak me out.  I don’t have a problem with pet rats and have even held them.  But it was with more than a little trepidation that I decided to visit the ‘Holy Rat Temple’ during my visit to India.  Since it is a temple you have to be respectful; remove your shoes and socks and don’t go running around screaming to get out.  The whole way there from Pushkar to Bikamer I braced myself, saying ‘they are only rats, how bad could it be?’ Well as I waited in line to walk inside, the woman in front of me suddenly screamed and tried to run out the door. The only non-Indians were me and another couple, ironically the squeals that occasionally echoed through the temple were the Hindu women.  There were hundreds if not thousands of rats running around. Sometimes they would come up to your feet and sniff.  It’s considered auspicious if one runs across your feet,  and some people (my driver included) would walk up to a bunch of the critters and try to encourage them to do just that (not me). It’s also supposed to be good luck if you see a white rat, so I kept my eyes wide open but no such luck.  It certainly was not as bad an experience as I expected, possibly because I was focussed on not stepping on one, and taking all my photos.  If you visit don’t forget to look up though, there are beautiful painted murals over the entrance that I’m sure most people miss.  The only gross part about it all is when you are walking through the temple you can feel yourself walking on, not only, the food spread around, but also the rats’ feces… I couldn’t wait to get to my hotel to scrub my feet and take off my socks again.  (In fact I washed my feet with hand sanitizer, just in case some germs lingered behind.)

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  1. Rajasthan: The Heart Of India | RTW - March 5

    […] Karni Mata Temple where pilgrims come to worship rats! You can read about my visit to the temple here.   As we arrived in Bikaner we stopped off at the Camel Research Centre, basically an […]

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