A Spiritual Journey, Part Three

Leaving Delhi was like an elephant getting off my chest, I didn't realize how big and stifling it was until I left it behind. 


First stop: Bikaner, home of God knows what. I was just happy to get off the bumpy crap roads and get out of the car. It was for the most part a rest stop, an overnight break from the excruciating journey from Delhi to Jaisalmer. In kilometers it's not that far to Bikaner, the reality of the roads make what should be a 5 to 6 hour ride into a 10 hour ordeal. The roads, for the most part, are pitted and potholed so deeply that we had to idle over them lest we lose a muffler. When I arrived I just needed a damn shower.

The next morning, refreshed, we hopped in a tuk tuk with our local guide and made our way to the old city which seems littered with cow shit and stately havelis. My first impression of an elaborate haveli was wonder. An haveli is an old private mansion that housed large rich families in Rajasthan. Most of them are now converted into hotels or museums. The exteriors are incredibly ornate, you know they dropped some serious rupees in the building of these things. The carvings on the outside are so delicate they are like lace made in stone. Back in the day (not too long ago really) there was the purdah system where women could not be seen outside of the walls of the Haveli. To satisfy the women's curiosity (or to spur it) the walls were made so that the women could see through the screen of carved patterns onto the city streets below. The trick was that the holes in the walls were so fine that the public could not see to the inside where the women watched. A gilded cage indeed. 

This being my first exposure to an haveli, I thought this example was stunning. As I was later to find, this one was a bit mediocre. A bit middle class. 

I was looking forward to the Jain temple in town as I have no knowledge of the Jain religion. At first glance it looks like a Hindu temple. Upon further explanation I was able to pick out the very obvious Jain examples of design. The tirthankaras of which there are 24, are in simplification, a type of prophet that is unique to the Jain religion. They are always pictured sitting in the lotus position, eyes open, hands in their laps in mediation. They are vegetarians and practice non violence in all forms, with the notable exception of bilking tourists for rupees. Most every act of the "priest" requires a "donation". This is not necessary, as our guide informed us, as the temples are provided for in trust. They are a persistent lot and are always coming at you with a platter with a hundred rupee note on it as a not so subtle hint that that would be a normal token of appreciation. One hundred rupees being around $1.50 this is a significant sum for them, and a good catch from a passing tourist.

Ignoring this fact, the temples are beautiful and peaceful places, the history is rich as Jainism precedes Christianity by 500 years. The monks practice such non violence that they are known to wear masks and sweep the floor of unseen bugs before each step so they don't inadvertently breathe in or step on an insect and kill it. One part of the sect even goes about skyclad, meaning butt naked. I saw no skyclad monks but I did peek around a bit in search of one!