Deshnok is a small, rural village in Rajasthan. It is home to the Shri Karni Mata Temple where more than 25,000 rats live within its walls. The rats are fed, watered, given pipes to live in and protected from birds of prey by nets which cover the entire complex. There are several accounts of why the rats are revered. One claims that during the 14th century, Karni Mata asked the God of Death, Yama, to restore to life her stepson. Yama denied her request so Karni Mata resolved to reincarnate her stepson and all subsequent male relatives as rats, thereby depriving Yama of souls. Most of the pilgrims are the approximately 6,000 people who claim to be directly descended from Karni Mata. They worship the rats and eat prasaad balls which are clumps of sugar and rat saliva.
As with most religious sites in India, it is requested that you remove your shoes before entering. The mass of rats was such that in places it was impossible to avoid them. This allowed me to twice experience the auspicious act whereby a rat runs over your foot. Needless to say, it was one of the most fascinating sites I visited during my Indian travels.