The extraordinary Karni Mata Temple at Deshnok, 30km south of Bikaner, is one of India’s weirder attractions. Its resident mass of holy rodents is not for the squeamish, but most visitors to Bikaner brave the potential for ankle-nipping and put a half-day trip here on their itinerary. Frequent buses leave from Bikaner’s main bus stand. A return autorickshaw from Bikaner with a one-hour wait costs ₹400 to ₹450.
Karni Mata lived in the 14th century and performed many miracles during her lifetime. When her youngest son, Lakhan, drowned, she ordered Yama (the god of death) to bring him back to life. Yama said he was unable to do so, but that Karni Mata, as an incarnation of Durga, could restore Lakhan’s life. This she did, decreeing that members of her family would no longer die but would be reincarnated as kabas (rats). Around 600 families in Deshnok claim to be descendants of Karni Mata and that they will be reincarnated as kabas.
The temple isn’t, in fact, swarming with rats, but there are a lot of them here, especially in nooks and crannies and in areas where priests and pilgrims leave food for them. And yes, you do have to take your shoes off to enter the temple: it’s considered highly auspicious to have a kaba run across your feet – you may be graced in this manner whether you want it or not.
You can find food and drinks for yourself at the numerous snack stalls outside.