Bikaner: The Desert City

I came to just as the overnight train pulled into the Bikaner station. It took less than a minute off the train, before a local was requesting a selfie with me in true paparazzi style. Who would’ve thought I’d be famous not only in Delhi, but in Bikaner too? Feeling obliged and disorientated, I gave my best “just woke up” smile for the camera whilst carrying all my baggage.

It was impossible to ignore the temperature being 33 degrees at 7.30am already. Nervous of the temperature escalating to a 44 degree high, we were glad to spend the following few hours between the hotel pool, and in front of a giant outdoor aircon contraption (An absolute marvel, such an aircon will most certainly be on my wedding registry).
The hotel is something you’d imagine a sultan or wealthy sinbad-like character would live in. Directly opposite the fort, it is a stunning and aged red villa with inner courtyard, and uniquely decorated rooms, with a bar that will make any other look feeble. Adorned with trinkets and treasures from many decades and travels, the villa is a heritage house which has been turned into a hotel to ensure it does not fall into disarray, so fair play – there’s a lot of history going on there.
After being dragged away from my seat in front of the giant aircon, we drove with jeeps into the desert for a nomad styled lunch before being thrust up onto camels for our journey to our overnight stay.
Whilst fun for the first moments, it didn’t take long before my nether regions were slowly being ground to dust. Samuel (a name I chose for my camel) had a jarring movement whilst at a walk, and a down right brutal stride with his erratic and unpredictable canters which he would blissfully break into. Needless to say, after close to 2 hours on his back, I was glad for the dismount – though this was also a painful manoeuvre.
Shortly after arrival at our camp – an outdoor raised platform, with adjacent restaurant – a sandstorm encroached and showered our camp for a few hours. A truly remarkable experience, we saw our visibility reducing in a lateral wave of dust, before finally finding ourselves covered in the chaos of the cloud. Amidst the chaos, I played paparazzi with the locals for a change, and was able to get a pic with Badu, a friendly and loyal man from the camp, whilst in the sandstorm.

Tired of the storm and with sand in almost every orifice, we scurried inside to enjoy a prepared dinner, and entertainment consisting of traditonal dancing and singing (the entertainment sat at a good 12 out of 10 on the tourist scale).
With the dust settled and the dancers tired, we proceeded outside to the platform where beds had been prepared for us. After a few beers, we turned in for a night out in the desert.

Waking up the next day to a warm breeze and stunning desert landscape, I can honestly say I’ve never felt more relaxed. This being right up until old Badu startled me, and requested a selfie whilst I was still in my bed – which was a little odd. Obliged yet again, I gave my best “I’m not hungover” smile for the photo. Fairplay to him, I had bothered him for one in the sandstorm whilst he was working. After the photo shoot with Badu and a short lie in, we had breakfast, and were then shifted back to the villa hotel for the showers everyone was craving (and a few were desperately needing).

My room had handpainted wall designs, regal portraits, a well functioning aircon (a rare find in India), and water pipes with a ghastly air block. Producing only a trickle of water, after much time and patience, I was successfully able to fill a bucket with water from the coughing tap – enough to have a bucket bath – a first for me, despite being from “rural” Africa.

In the afternoon, we elected to sacrifice our relaxing pool time, for a visit to the nearby rat temple. As it is a temple foremost, and a rat sancturary second, it was unfortunately a requirement for shoes to be removed. Trying to be respectful, all the while trodding in rat turds as you sidestep the twenty thousand zigzagging rats around the the temple was a real skill, and thankfully no rats were harmed or touched. The floors had a certain stickiness to them akin to a dirty bar counter, and the odour of the place was unmistakably how one would imagine a rat temple to smell. The whole setup is quite simply madness – a few dead rats here, a few partially eaten rats over there (some of the rats seem to have developed a blood lust), and a large number bathing in their food troughs. After about 30 minutes, a final sighting of the white rat and accepting the good luck such a sighting brings, I two-stepped my way out of the temple whilst avoiding the visibly petrified locals entering the temple. An experience, yes, but perhaps one not to be repeated.

Once back at the hotel, I removed the shoes from my rat-soiled feet, and sat back with a few Kingfishers from the ornate bar. Quite certainly, the only way to unwind from a sweltering day out in Rajasthan. All that stood in my way from a long sleep was another bucket-bath.

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