Himachal Pradesh is a state in India that was carved out of the vast Northern territories that were controlled by Emperors and Kings, charlatans and brigands and local Rajahs and chiefs over centuries. It has a distinct geography and culture compared to the plains because it was always a little inaccessible being in the heart of the Himalayan mountain chain. Secondly the area did not have any great economic relevance for empires or any strategic territorial highlights that would make it an important conquest for invaders. So it remained peaceful and life whirled slowly and serenely.
Simla is a town that is like folk lore in the Raj and post Raj era as it was a town that was developed by the British as the summer capital of their Indian empire. Much politics and intrigue as well as decision making happened here. I have had the good fortune to be in Himachal Pradesh for a long period of time first while at school in Chail and then college in Simla. Fun time indeed where sometimes one had to walk 10 kms to college on early morning exam days as the buses would not ply so early.
I have been lucky to see some great sights while traveling in this state. Early mornings in Barog, Mid day spectacle in Kotgarh, late evenings in Solan and jungle fires late in the nitgh. These are what I have been fortunate to capture recently. The earlier sights just remain etched in the mind as there was no camera then.
Without much ado, let us start with the first image of a morning in Barog.
A valley lies submerged in a river of clouds. The valiant Sun makes an effort to pierce this muddy whitish grey river of clouds early in the morning in the cold winters of the Himalayas. Barog is a fairly large mountain peak that anyone on the famous road track to Shimla will remember for the most arduous climb and descent en-route. Now there is of course a new route, but I still use this for my numerous journeys to and fro to the Himalayas. It has its rewards and this surely was a vision straight out of the annals of a Chinese fairy tale. Sometime later in the day, the clouds lift up buoyed by the warmth of the sun and leave the cold valleys in bright sunshine.
There is a lot of text here.The subject matter may be a tad uncomfortable for some. You are cautioned, there will be rat pictures here.
Rats are not the most liked of mammals for a variety of reasons. They carry the ominous burden of spreading diseases and destroying food grains. The primary response to a rat is revulsion and its removal from the visual cortex.
Deshnoke is a small temple town, about 30 kilo meters away from Bikaner in Rajasthan, India. Dust eddies swirl around chase each other in the trail left behind by motor cars. Most places in Rajasthan are barren and dry with scant grass climbing over large hill sides. Stone boundaries demarcate ownerships. It is a semi desert landscape of utter beauty and fascination and at times terrifying proportions for some.
As you reach Deshnoke, a fort like outer facade of ochre pink stands squat and low with bastions in the corner and gun emplacement slots peeping down at you. India’s feudal structure demanded such forts from the marauding intentions of the neighbors as well as long term Muslim invaders from Central Asia. So there is a fort here too but I wonder if it was ever laid siege to. Not likely. It was built only around early 1900s by which time the British Empire was in total control of the Indian subcontinent.
The fortification served the purpose of hiding the temple from the prying eyes of humans and predators. Within lies the Karni Mata temple and about 15000-20000 rats that inhabit the courtyard. The rats are sacred. It is good manna if a rat scampers over your bare feet. If you manage to sight albino ones, then it is a sign of great fortune.
The temple was built in the early 1900 by the Maharaja of Bikaner who used to be a great patron and follower of Karni Mata. She was a wise and powerful lady with immense spiritual powers worshipped by the the lay populace as well as the Rajas in Rajasthan. We are talking of the late 14th and early 15th century here. She is supposed to have lived for about 150 years. Somewhere in her journeys, a young follower of hers lost his footstep near a water hole and drowned. The other followers beseech-ed Karni Mata to revive the young man. The Hindu God of Death who reaps the souls is called Yama and he comes astride a dark and sculpted buffalo with big horns.
Legend has it that Karni Devi would not allow Yama to perform his duties. A stalemate ensued. Ultimately a solution was arrived at. The God of Death passed on the soul of the dead boy into that of a rat and saved his face. From that day onward any member of the Charan community who died would be reborn as a rat and every time such a rat died, a Charan boy would be born. Re-Incarnation at full work here.
Rats from that day onward are revered by this community of Charans in this area of Rajasthan. The rats are the past as well as the future of the community of Charan male members. The white rats in the temple complex are supposed to be the direct descendents of the immediate family of Karni Mata whereas the others are the rest of the community members.
In the temple complex about 15000-20000 rats live. I have no idea when the census was done but these are just guesstimates over a period of time. Devotees come in daily and so do visitors who want to see this great terrifying spectacle of rats and the crazy worship. Most visitors must steel themselves to withstand the sight and the smell and get used to the idea of rats and their excrement on the floor. Now a days the visitors have the option to receive a cloth or a polythene sheath shaped like a shoe covering for the feet. It helps.
Writers and media people make frequent forays to present the exotic, arcane and bizarre to the world at large. One of the most terrifying experiences in the world as per the New York Post is a visit to the Rat Temple.
Not to be trapped in the listings game, I would say that the place leaves an indelible mark in one’s mind for the sheer concept of it. The experience can not be termed “terrifying” for sure. More unsettling and unnerving maybe.What about you ?
No photo journey of the Rat Temple would be complete without having close up glimpses of the actual rats that inhabit the warrens inside the Karni Mata temple complex. You can find them peeping out of small holes in the marble walls, scurrying down steps and darting around trying to get some food.MIlk is available in the shops outside that sell prayer ware. You can also buy yellow Laddus for the rats. These are traditional offerings for the rats.The rats that you see during the daytime are generally furtive and not so bold. Not many can be seen either. The popular numbers touted for the rats is about 15000-20000, though no census ever was taken. It is only during the early morning time that there is a large presence of the rats and most of them that are visible are large and healthy. The weaker ones come out later to forage on what they can get.The rats are supposed to be reincarnated male members of the Charan caste of Rajasthan and they are the vestments for the human souls for a short time. As soon as a rat dies, a human being is born. That in essence is the karmic cycle of the Rat temple.There are more rat photos, so just bear with me 🙂
Yes more rats here.
From the Rat Temple at Deshnoke in Rajasthan where the rats are holy and the quirky temple experience is regarded as one of the most terrifying experiences in the world ( NYPost )
A rat was trying to roll a Laddu ( a round yellow sweet made of besan in ghee) away but with an occasional challenge thrown in by other rats from the hood, some peeping from their warrens in the marble walls of the temple complex.
At 10 am in the morning, these are not the strongest and the best rats of the temple complex. The healthy and sleek population is visible in the early morning when the food gets distributed. Thousands scurry around and it is a moving tangle of brown fur.
Most people who visit the Rat temple get to see the weaker not so sleek specimens like what you see in the photo.
Of David Gerstein, Bengt-Göran Broström, Einar Utzon-Frank and others
Lalit Kala Akademy Still Photography
Bicycling is a part of growing up.
An ode or maybe a celebration of motor skills and locomotion that gives you freedom to roam and explore the world around you. The scratches and bruises a life long reminder to the process.
I captured some still images of a sculpture showcased by the Lalit Kala Akademy, the premier keeper of sculpture, art and culture in India. This image is of a bicycle rider sculpted by Narendar Singh in 2008 is titled “My Journey ” and is about 145×12.5×120 cms made of Iron and is painted in green strips of metal with scant flowers on the mud guards. That touch of flowers screamed a watered down “euphoria” of a David Gerstein creation. This metal sculpture by and Indian sculptor is a delight to look at and conveys the sense of freedom and motion that is the essence of what a bicycle represents. Job well done Mr Sculptor.