Saturday, June 16, 2012. Deshnoke, Rajasthan, India.
Distance driven: 1012 KM/ 632 miles.

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In the late afternoon we drove to the Karni Mata Temple, also known as the Rat temple, 30 KM out of town.  The temple is devoted to Karni Mata , a 14th century mystic believed to be a reincarnation of Durga and the official deity of the Bikaner and Jodphur royal families. 

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Thousands of rats are venerated as reincarnated souls and fed milk and sweets. In particular it is considered very auspicious to see one of the white rats (there are rumored to be about 4 of them), which are thought to be reincarnations of Karni Mata herself and her three sons.  No such luck for us today.

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The place smells about as bad as you would expect.  Like all Hindu temples, you are required to remove your shoes, but mercifully we could keep our socks on.

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It certainly pushes the comfort boundary, but at the same time is enlightening.  What from a western perspective is a swarming mass of vermin being managed like some overrun pet shop is to local eyes yet another of God’s creatures and possibly you or me in a different lifetime.  It was striking to walk through the temple (avoiding treading on any creatures) and see rats stretched out and resting just like we have seen humans doing at other temples.

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Still, I was having visions of Willard and hope that I don’t have any crazy dreams tonight.  After leaving the temple, I think we were ready to bathe in hand sanitizer fluid, but instead settled for a good wash of our socks, shoes, and feet once we got back to the hotel.

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Back in Bikaner, next to our hotel is the main embroidered textile workshop in town. Women from remote villages hand embroider cloth here doing everything from simple contemporary work to complex heavily embroidered pieces to patchwork using antique fabrics. We went in earlier in the day to have a look and were immediately welcomed with complimentary beverages and an overview of what the work is, how it is done, and how it benefits the local community. We were then shown a variety of pieces that varied in initial asking price from about US$40 to over $1,500. We picked out a few decorative pieces that interested us – a gauzy fabric backed piece with heavy metal embroidery and a piece made from antique regal garment pieces. The initial asking prices on these pieces was pretty steep and well out of the discretionary “just buy it” range, so I had them hold a few pieces until I had a chance to check another shop in town and get a better idea of what their real value was and what my target price should be.  Keep in mind there is no fixed pricing here and the only price that matters is what you and the seller are willing to agree on.  Since they know their cost of goods and they sell their wares every day, they clearly have the advantage in negotiations.

On the way back from the temple we stopped in at another shop and it was clear that the initial workshop had better quality goods and a more extensive range.  Still it gave me the opportunity to compare prices on some like items that both stores carried.  Armed with this basic data I was ready to go into negotiating mode.  I’ve had a fair amount of experience bargaining in many parts of the world, with some good success.  It all comes down to knowing what you really want, what you are willing to pay for it, and how to bargain effectively and politely with the other party.  In the end, I was able to get the price down to half the original asking price and get some additional pieces thrown in, which seems to have been a reasonable deal.  We certainly love the pieces we got and look forward to putting them on display when we get back to Austin.

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