Motorcycle temple in Rajasthan

12 May

Rajasthan is the wackiest place. The journey from Jodhpur to Udaipur could have been a long and tiring five-hour stretch in the car. And after the rat temple in Deshnoke, I really believed I had seen it all.

But then we passed through the village of Chotila, where locals worship a motorcycle. Not yet enough wonders for one day, we then met Jain high priests in nearby Sardi, who insisted we joined a wedding because they knew the Norwegian royal family.

The motorcycle first.

Leaving the hotel reception in the morning, a freshly shaven Balu surfaced with a newly polished car. Rows of chilis were dangling from the licence plate, just next to a horse shoe. Balu, it turned out, was superstitious. He wobbled his head in the front seat: “It's Saturday. Lucky day.”

Making our way again through Jodhpur's narrow alleyways in the Old Town, my boyfriend asked how many hours we had to reach Pushkar.

“You going to Pushkar?” Balu mock-flinched. “Udaipur is the lucky city. You have three nights there. You enjoy bazaar, bazaar, bazaar. I am free!”

“Why is it a lucky day today?” my boyfriend replied, then laughed a bit over not knowing what city we were going to. For two people normally travelling slow, a 15 day Rajasthan road trip with a driver was quite a change.

Balu wobbled his head, this time most likely signifying a no: “Lucky day?”

“Today it's Saturday, a lucky day,” my boyfriend repeated.

“Which people told you it's a lucky day?”

“You did!”

Balu laughed, wobbled his head a bit more, but did not offer any further explanation.

Leaving Jodhpur meant also leaving behind the most noticeable aspect of the desert. My boyfriend eyed the rows of green trees, some of which hung heavy over the road: “What happened to the desert?!?” Goats were nevertheless still herded alongside the road. And cows occasionally brought cars, tractors and trucks to a halt. But there were no camels or donkey carts any longer. Now, elderly men sporting thick, curled up moustaches and pink turbans was the new attraction to help us pass the time.

All of a sudden, Balu hit the brake to open the car door and spit some paan on the black road below. In itself not remarkable, had it not been for the small prayer that followed. Picking up on something different from a still boring landscape, I quickly asked why he had prayed just now.

Balu pointed across the road, to a few small houses and three cows in the shade. A truck blocked the rest of our view.

“A small temple, want to see?”

Why not. We were only about half-way to Udaipur and happy to stretch our legs.

It was dusty and in the middle of nowhere. The desert loomed vast behind the few houses, but a steady stream of people were moving towards the far end of the houses. A group of young men passed around a bottle, in the middle stood a young man in golden jodhpurs – the pyjama pants meet riding trousers that the Maharajah once had developed for his own use. Balu nodded: “Wedding. Drinking whiskey, no riskey”.

As we rounded the truck, we spotted a large tree decorated with red and golden threads and glittering bangles. A middle-aged man in an orange turban and a striped t-shirt sat in lotus position on an altar. Next to him, a bowl of incense, another with mung beans, and finally a bowl with a small fire that flickered in the wind.

And that is when I heard an excited whisper next to me: “Kari, this is it! This is IT!”.

Because there, slightly to the left of the altar, people were walking bare feet around a glass monter. Behind the glass, stood an old motorcycle, heavy with flower garlands.

Inadvertenly, Balu had taken us to the holy grail of wierd Indian stuff; the motorcycle temple in Chotila.

Bullet Baba's temple

While in the car the other day, my boyfriend had read out loud from a guidebook about this temple. In the village Chotila, 50 km from Jodhpur, there was a shrine devoted to a motorcycle god. And the people around us with flowers in see-through plastic bags, were all devotees who had turned up to pray for a safe journey.

The story goes that in 1991 the son of a village leader crashed his Bullet motorcycle into a tree, the motorcycle fell into a ditch and the man known as Om Banaji died on the spot. The motorcycle was taken by the local police to the station, though the following morning it was again at the spot of the accident. The bike was seized by local police and this time secured with chains. But the morning after, the bike was again found at the accident spot. Apparently, this happened time and time again. No matter what the police did, the motorcycle always returned to the site where Om Banaji died. News got out, and locals built a memorial – a temple to worship the motorcycle. The fatal tree still stands; it is now decorated with offerings of bangles and colourful threads.

Taking in the sight of the holy motorcycle with a wide grin, my boyfriend remarked: “You got to give it to the Indians, they make the funniest temples!”.

Once our excitement could be kept in check, Balu beckoned for us to join him at the shrine of the motorcycle. Not taking our eyes off the magical Bullet, we followed him in a circle around the motorcycle, only to emerge at the front of the altar. A thumb was quickly pressed to our foreheads, leaving red marks and hopefully also “luck for long life” as Balu explained.

Back in the car, Balu showed us his new red and golden thread. “It is new one. The old one is now placed on the tree”.

Yes, Balu was superstitious.

But it did turn out to be our lucky day.




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