If one makes a list of must visit places in the state of Rajasthan, Bikaner might struggle to make it to that list. Bikaner might lack the exuberance of Jaisalmer, the hues of Jodhpur, the vibrancy of Udaipur, the festivities of Pushkar or the popularity of Jaipur. However, the city which was once the capital of the princely state of Bikaner was founded in late 15th century by Rao Bika, who was until then a member of the Jodhpur royal family. Structures such as the fort, palaces and others that were built then still stand tall. However, it wasn’t until the last few years that Bikaner started garnering attention through tourism.
The attractions in the city and nearby can be covered over a period of two days. The city is well equipped with numerous hotels and restaurants. Autorickshaws are the easiest and fastest mode to commute across places within this city.
Here is a list of must visit places and things to do in and around Bikaner.
Junagarh fort is a landmark structure that sprawls across the centre of Bikaner. While the original fort was built in late 15th century by Rao Bika, the present structure was built a 100 years later by Raja Rai Singh. Built in red sand stone, the outer façade might not be a very impressive one, but once you enter through seven large elephant gates such as Karan Prole, Daulat Prole and Fateh Prole, the pathway opens to courtyards with numerous intricately carved windows and pillars. Some portions of these courtyards are of marble and have splendidly perforated windows. Further ahead of the courtyards lie numerous palaces that are adorned with beautiful art works all across. From walls to doors to floors to ceilings, spectacular colours and designs splash all across these palaces. All these palaces are connected by courtyards. Anup Mahal is the grandest palace inside the fort, and is emblazoned with magnificent art and lacquer work. Raj Tilak Mahal which was the coronation hall is inside Anup Mahal, and is known for its lavish works. Karan Mahal which has carved balconies and stained glass works was the public audience hall built to celebrate the victory over Aurangazeb, the Mughal eperor in late 17th century. Badal Mahal has beautiful art work on its walls in the form of blue clouds, apart from many paintings. Chandra Mahal was the royal bedroom of the king, and has a beautiful decor. Phool Mahal has subtle art work with a shrine dedicated to Krishna. Dungar Niwas has lovely inlay works all over, and is an absolute stunner. Ganga hall which was earlier a durbar hall (audience hall) is now a museum and has a huge display of royal memorabilia, artefacts, artillery and a World War I fighter plane. Outside the fort is Prachin, another museum which has a display of royal costumes, souvenirs and various other items.
Lallgarh palace and museum
In typical Indo Sarcenic style architecture, Lallgarh palace was the former royal residence built by Maharaja Ganga Singh. Also referred as Laxmi Niwas palace and built entirely of red sand stone, it is presently a luxury hotel. Access to this palace is restricted to guests and outsiders aren’t allowed inside. However, one can view the beautiful structure and its sprawling lawns upon entering through the magnificent entrance gate. Inside the premises is Maharaja Sadul Singh museum, which has a display of artefacts and photographs from the Lallgarh palace.
Located opposite the fort, Sursagar lake was built when there was a shortage of water in the city during the reign of Maharaja Sur Singh. The artificial lake with steps is a nice place to spend the evenings in Bikaner.
Apart from the fort, Bikaner is also well known for its Havelis, which are large, impressive and well decorated homes of the mercantile community. Tucked away in the narrow alleys of the city, they stand tall, intimidating, colourful and with gorgeous designs on their outer facade. Located near the Kote gate, Rampuria havelis are the most impressive ones in Bikaner. The lattice and stone works apart from the beautiful windows are the major attractions of these havelis. There are usually large numbers of pigeons fluttering around, and they create beautiful frames. Access inside these havelis is denied to tourists as they are private homes.
There are quite a few temples in the city, but the most popular one that gets hordes of visitors is the Karni mata temple at Deshnoke, which is a short ride away from Bikaner. The temple was built in early 20th century, and its entrance door has beautiful intricate carvings. Believed to be an incarnation of Durga, the temple is dedicated to Karni mata, and is also referred as Rat temple of Rajasthan. The temple is filled with rats and don’t be surprised to find a few of them running between your feet as you pay obeisance to the goddess. It is believed that there are about 25000 rats in the temple which are revered and considered as devotees of Karni mata.
The royal cenotaphs at Devi Kund Sagar are memorials of the members of the Bikaner royal family. Located just outside Bikaner in Gajner, these cenotaphs which are known as Chatris are built in a blend of Rajasthani and Mughal style architecture. While most of them are made of marble and lime, a few of the older ones are made of red sand stone. The cenotaphs of princes or kings have a vertical slab, while that of princess or queens have footprints engraved on a horizontal slab. Some of these have exquisite art works and frescoes on the ceiling, and display beautiful artistic creations.
Bikaner has in the last few years become well known for its Bikaneri bhujias (snacks). Made of moth beans, gram flour and groundnut oil, these are popular across India. There are numerous shops selling these crispy bhujias across Bikaner, but the recommended ones are Bikaner Bhujia Bhandar, Chotu Motu Joshi and Haldiram’s. Apart from the bhujias they have a wide range of local Rajasthani short eats. One can also try the traditional Rajasthani thali at any of the restaurants near station road.
The nearest aiport is at Jodhpur, which is 252 Kms away. The railway station at Bikaner is well connected to other cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai and Jaipur by frequent trains. There are also public buses plying from cities such as New Delhi, Jaipur and Agra to Bikaner.
There are numerous restaurants in the city, and most of them serve vegetarian fare. Bikaner offers budget and mid range options near the fort and station road. For the luxury travellers, Lallgarh palace, Basant Vihar palace and Bhanwar Niwas are a few options. I stayed at Metro Palace, a mid range hotel which is a decent option in Bikaner.