It is kind of absurd how marketing feeds certain things in your mind when it comes to tourism which often leave you disappointed. Did I ever tell you how disappointed I was once with the whole marketing gimmick around the festival in “Rann of Kutch”? I understand that families particularly can’t really travel to very offbeat locations unless they have a serious streak of adventure in them but at the same time I don’t understand why people don’t take a chance with other not-so-mainstream cities which has got so much to offer when it comes to its art, craft, architecture or luxury and can find something more exciting and new in much lesser budget!
I had a similar feeling when I visited Bikaner and how it is usually never considered a city to explore when compared to Jodhpur, Jaipur, Udaipur or Jaisalmer. I feel myself fortunate to have discovered Bikaner on an invitation from Narendra Bhawan and I truly feel this city is waiting to be discovered by Indian vacationers. And seeing these pictures and post, hope you would agree with me too!
Bikaner has a very interesting history about how a son rebelled against his own father when provoked and went ahead to make a barren land his kingdom. In 1456, Rao Bika-ji left Marwar (Jodhpur) with a small contingent of Rathore warriors to create his own kingdom. He not only made it a dream place to live but also gave the due respect to its native people (Nehras) by adding their name in the city Bika+ Nehra= Bikaner.
With an open mind and fresh eyes, these are the discoveries I made on my trip here, and hope it gives you a few insights about Bikaner-
The most interesting place where I couldn’t help but went twice were the Rampuriya hawelis. Not just one or two but this is a hub which has hundreds of beautifully decorated hawelis, which have the finest piece of architecture, with delicately carved stone jaalis and jharokhas. When the havelis were included in the 2012 World Monuments Watch, over 400 of them survived in Bikaner. Dating from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries, these formerly grand homes had been subdivided, leading to their decay and overcrowding. A must visit place, if possible on early mornings.
Lakshmi Niwas Palace
Lakshmi Niwas is the sign of opulence, luxury and what the legacy of Maharajas is all about. It is a former palace of the king of the erstwhile Bikaner state and is now a heritage hotel. Not only can you visit the palace, but you may also see the museum, the rooms which were used by the Maharajas and their Darbars. Having an exclusive dinner in the open lawn with slow breeze passing through the fountain and relishing the delicacies of Rajasthani cuisine was no less than a dream. Nothing has changed here over the years, the recipes are being passed over several generations by the royal chefs and served with the same love and care to the guests.
Visiting Rajasthan and not tasting the sand would have been very disappointing. And I got this opportunity not once but thrice. First we visited Gajner Wildife sanctuary in an open vehicle. I just can’t have enough of the landscapes of Rajsthan, the feeling of nothingness and minimalism. The kings used to come to Gajner in a similar way and used to wait for the prey in their shooting pits. Thankfully the practice has been abolished!
Another day, we went even farther into the desert, and went for a desert safari to see the sunset from the top of the dunes while camel carts were returning to the home. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my visit in Bikaner!
Narendra Bhawan doesn’t forget to give a touch of their signature style and they took it to another level by arranging a sun-downer in the desert by the lake. Read here more about the experiences at Narendra Bhawan.
Before the present Junagarh Fort was built, an old stone fort existed in the city. This fort was built in 1478 by Rao Bika Ji. Junagarh Fort is one such place which you can actually call a ‘hidden treasure’. The structures built within the Junagarh fort are palaces and temples, which are made of red sandstone (Dulmera) and marble. The palaces are picturesque with their assortment of courtyards, balconies, kiosks and windows. A very well maintained place which is like a Pandora box of art, architecture, knowledge of Rajasthani culture and much more! Every Mahal has something waiting for you, which would make your mouth go wide open. My favorite was the visit to ‘Badal Mahal’, which is decorated in blue crystals to depict rain clouds, so that children get a feeling of rain in the desert.
The one thing which you would notice about Bikaner while visiting its fort and palaces is its unbelievably beautiful miniature art. The history of Indian Miniature Paintings can be traced to the 6-7th century AD. Miniature paintings have evolved over centuries carrying the influence of other cultures. The miniature artists gave self-expression on paper, ivory panels, wooden tablets, leather, marble, cloth and walls. Indian artists employed multiple perspectives unlike their European counterparts in their paintings. The idea was to convey the reality that existed beyond specific vantage point. I was truly lucky to visit the artists who have been doing this work for the last eight generations or more. These artists create miniature
art on the paper, old stamps, cloth of Gods, landscapes, animals and what not! I was totally in awe seeing their work, and at times it may take 4 months or more to complete a single piece.
Rat Temple at Deshnoke
Seeing the hundreds of rats in the temple seemed as mysterious as Karni mata’s story was when she suddenly disappeared from her home. The rats are treated as sacred and given protection in the temple, and they are literally everywhere on the deities, their prasad and can also be seen peeping out from the small holes of temple wall. Among the normal species of black rats, there is also a white rat which is considered auspicious if found in the temple. Close to Bikaner, this is something not be missed.
Did you discover a new city this year in your travel which surprised you with its beauty and culture?