“Mouse Temple” – Bikaner

Shittish explained and we listened – it was known as the mouse temple and was a sacred spot half-way between Bikaner and Pushkar – there were sweet little mice that scurried through the beautiful carvings and if they ran over your feet it was extremely lucky. I had a pet mouse when I was at school called ‘Z’ after my matron and absolutely adored it, so I was looking forward to our visit and Sophie was looking forward to getting some good snaps of us to put in her scrap-book.

Shittish stayed in the car and pointed out to us the way – through the car park, through a security gate (which as usual beeped, and as usual was ignored) and then, after dropping off our shoes, along a worn red carpet and into the temple. Looking out for the little mice, the first thing that struck us was how filthy the temple was; the floor was covered in faeces and withered yellow flowers, and with each step in the harder it became to peel our feet off of the sticky surface. The second thing was that there were no mice.

‘Oh my god,’ Sophie said straining to maintain her volume.

‘What?’

She pointed to the right. I followed her finger, looked over and choked. There on the right hand side of the temple lay two huge trays filled with milk and perched on the side lapping up the dairy delight were about thirty huge, brown, rats. Looking around suddenly I realised that these revolting creatures were everywhere, in the corners, on the walls, hanging off the railings and that the majority of them were diseased.

Matted skin, yellow eyes, half-tails, missing limbs and covered in urine, these creatures were not the ‘sweet mice’ of Shittish’s description but dying monsters. My skin prickled and I started to feel queasy, Sophie took a quick photo and then we turned on our heels and pegged it. I was convinced that I’d contracted the bubonic plague. It was the first but certainly not the last time we would be mislead on the Indian animal front.