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Bikaner's architectural grandeur can be experienced today at the Lalgarh Palace, The Laxmi Vilas Palace anf the magnificient Junagarh Fort where visitors feel the ebb and flow of history in the last two hundered years. The desert dominates Bikaner. Among the largest and illustrious of the former princely states of India the legacy of Bikaner has been kept alive through palaces and royal retreats.
But its harshness has never diminished the warmth, hospitality and creativity of the people. Bikaner showcases the lavishly decorated and much loved camels and is also famous for the camel breeding institutes and annual camel fairs which once pioneered the railways revolution in western India during the golden reign of Sir Ganga Singhji the Maharaja of Bikaner.
How to reach
By Air - Jodhpur is the nearest Airport.
Ry Rail - A good rail network with cities connects Bikaner like Delhi, Kolkata, Jaipur and Allahabad
By Road - Bikaner is connected by road with the major cities in India
Junagarh fort is located in the arid region of the Thar desert of Rajasthan bordered on the northwest by the Aravalli range, a range of mountains in western India. Part of the desert area is in Bikaner city, which is one of the three desert triangle cities; the other two cities are Jaisalmer and Jodhpur. The name of the place where Bikaner city with its forts was established was then known as Jungladesh.
This beautiful structure was built by Raja Raj Singh early 20th century when the ruling family moved to Lalgarh Palace outside the fort limits. It is one of the few major forts in Rajasthan which is not built on a hilltop. The modern city of Bikaner has developed around the fort. It was earlier called Chintamani and later renames as Junagrah for or 'Old fort'.
The fort complex was built under the supervision of Karan Chand, the Prime Minister of Raja Rai Singh, the sixth ruler of Bikaner, who ruled from 1571 to 1611 AD. Construction of the walls and associated moat commenced in 1589 and was completed in 1594. It was built outside the original fort of the city. Historical records reveal that despite the repeated attacks by enemies to capture the fort, it was not taken, except for a lone one-day occupation by Kamran Mirza. Kamran was the second son of the Mughal Emperor Babur who attacked Bikaner in 1534, which was then ruled by Rao Jait Singh. In the battle, the Mughals were defeated by Rathors. Kamran then returned to Lahore.
The 5.28 hectares large fort precinct is studded with palaces, temples and pavilions. Entry to the fort is through a gate known as Suraj Pol, and then up a steep stone ramp. Of special interest is the Diwan-e-khas, an enormous hall, intricately carved, seemingly of wood, but in fact entirely of stone. There is a window in blue Dutch tiles, highly decorated chambers of the king and queen, and a pair of golden gates, now removed from their original moorings and secured behind iron bars.
Lalgarh Palace was built by Maharaja Ganga Singh to commemorate his father, Maharaja Lal Singh. The building is carved in red sandstone and adorned with delicate filigree work. The estate is approached through an ornate gateway which is open to all, but once inside, sadly, most of the area in out-of-bounds for tourists.
One part of the palace and most of the grounds are still inhabited by the royal family. Another part of it has been made into a hotel. Only a tiny portion, which houses a museum, is open to tourists. The museum contains a collection of photographs and preserved trophies of wildlife. The hotel is open to guests only. Photography is prohibited almost everywhere.
This means that the only pictures that you can carry away with you are the ones in your mind. It is tempting to stroll around the quadrangle outside the museum, or to venture onto the lawn in its midst and inspect the marble seating area in the centre.
Ganga Golden Jubilee museum
This Museum has one of the richest collections of terracota-ware, weapons and miniature paintings of the Bikaner school.
Prachina Cultural Centre & Museum
It is located in the Junagrah fort and was established by Princess Siddi Kumari, the daughter of Maharaja Narendra Singhji. It is an initiative to preserve the assets of the royal family and exhibit it to the public. The Cultural center helps in bringing up the local artists and they are given a place where they exhibit their work so that guests can buy them. The library has a rich collection of books.
Karni Mata Temple
The Karnimata temple, popularly known as the Rat Temple, is 32 km from Bikaner, on the Jodhpur road. Here rats are worshipped and it looks amazing to see sqeaking rats run around your bare foot. It is forbidden to harm the rats here in any way, and it is considered especially lucky to see a white rat.
This temple was built in the 15th century and earned fame for prophesying the foundation of the kingdom of Bikaner and as a reincarnation of Goddess Durga. The temple with its carved marbale facade has rats who is believed as the reborn souls of the Charans who serve at the temple. Devotees offer milk and sweets to the rats. Karni Mata temple continues to remain the tutelary diety for the royal family of Bikaner.
Inside the main doorway is an open courtyard, and an enclosed sanctum sanctorum within. The sanctum sanctorum is definitely not for those who are even slightly claustrophobic. It is a small, dark, murky area, with two or three narrow doors. In the centre is a large dish of milk, thickly surrounded by rats.
Excursions from Bikaner
Devi Kund Sagar (8 kms)
Is the site of the ‘chhatris’ (cenotaphs) built on the cremation sites of the Bikaner rulers as memorials.
Gajner (32 kms)
The hunting lodge is a miniature palace which the maharajas of Bikaner developed as a private hnting preserve and where they perfected the art of shikara diplomacy. Gajner's imperial sand grousencame to the highlight of the season even with the British diplomacy. The Gajner palace was built in the 18th century when Maharaja Gaj Singh married a Jaisalmer princess, she requested him to build her a pleasure garden which he proceeded to do, also creating a tank in the process. This is how Gajner was conceived and continued till Maharaja Sardar Singh who extended it into a hunting lodge with an even larger tank. The Gajner palace is a hotel now. The Gajner wildlife Sanctuary is located at a distance of 32 kms. from the town of Bikaner. In the days of yore Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary used to be royal hunting grounds of the Maharaja of Bikaner. The sanctuary is a wonderful place for bird lovers.
Kolyatji (50 kms)
Kolyat is located 50 kilometres from Bikaner. It is a temple complex of Kolyat and a holy place of pilgrimage for Hindus.
Camel Research Farm(8 kms)
Camel Research Farm (8 km): Spend a day with the indispensable ship of the desert at their camel research and breeding centres which is only one of its kinds in Asia.
Nagaur (113 kms)
Located between Bikaner and Jodhpur, yet mostly bypassed Nagaur serves as an important link in the state's martial history and its fort has frescoes in Rajput and Mughal styles. You can see the nagaur fort, tarkeen dargah which is a popular pilgrimage for mslims, Jain glass temple, bansiwala temple and more. Khinvsar fort is 42 kms away and stands in the middle of the Thar desert, this residence of Aurangzeb is now a hotel, dadhimati temple, meera bhai temple and the kuchaman fort.
Bikaner being located in the desert area lacks water and fresh green vegetables, hence their food is prepared to last long and re-heating is not required. Gram Flour is used generously in their delicacies like pakodi, Gatta ki subji, kadhi, etc. Bajra and corn are used in making rotis.
Bikaner is how ever famous for Rasagullas, Ghevar, Phirni, Rabri, Raj Bhog etc.
Camel festival - January
Karni Mata Temple festival - during Navratra (March/April and Sept/Oct)
Kapil Muni Fair - Nov
Gangaur fair - March
Kite Flying Festival - April/May
KEM Road (Near the Railway station is the place to hang around)
There is a market named Bikaneri Bhujiya & Chai Patti - try all snacking there
Chappan Bhog(eating outlet) - try the bhujiyas and Raj Kachoris here.
Sankhla kulfi - Their kulfis are yummy.
Gallops - good food, but long waiting time.
Bhujiyas, Pappads, Rasagullas.
The intricately carved jharokhas
Camel leather products like belts, wallets, bags etc
Cotton sanganeri prints
Flavoured Pans wrapped in colourful paper and digestives