What to see in Bikaner
India | Rajasthan
Bikaner is located in Rajasthan and is an important tourist destination thanks to its wonderful Junagarh Fort dating back to the 16th century, sumptuously decorated and with an intriguing history. The bazaar in the old town, the Jain temples and the havelis, are other interesting attractions not to be missed.
BIKANER: WHAT TO SEE, USEFUL TIPS AND PHOTOS
Bikaner is located in northern India, exactly in Rajasthan, along the edge of a vast desert (Thar desert) that extends far into Pakistan. The city can be reached in about 10 hours by car from Delhi (normally breaking the journey with a night in Mandawa), or 6 hours from Jaipur and Jaisalmer, destinations normally included in most Rajasthan tours. Bikaner has also an airport with a few daily flights onto Delhi and a railway station served by various long-distance trains (the train is the best way to get to Bikaner, if you are traveling to India without a car and driver).
Bikaner is an old city, dating back to the fifteenth century and is currently populated by just over half a million people. The economy is based on handicraft, farming and a growing industrialization, while in the past it was an important logistic base along the main trade routes, like a kind of oasis in the Thar desert.
The main tourist attractions in Bikaner are:
- Junagarh Fort. The colossal fortress of Junagarh, protected by massive walls surrounded by a channel, dominates the city center. Inside Junagarh Fort (sometimes improperly called Bikaner Fort) there are palaces with sumptuous facades, courtyards built largely by white, pavilions housing museums and small temples. The fort dates back to 1587 and was commissioned by maharajah Rai Singh, of the Rathor dynasty, under the emperor Akbar.
- Bikaner old city. The historic center of Bikaner is surrounded by massive red sandstone walls and can be accessed through huge portals. The interior is a dense maze of alleys that can be traveled almost exclusively by motorbike or tuk tuk: here visitors will find beautiful old havelis (traditional residences belonged to wealthy merchants) dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, and an open-air market (bazaar) where everything is sold, from spices to electronics.
- Lalgarh Palace. Outside Bikaner city center, the Lalgarh complex houses the residence of the current royal family, an interesting museum (Shri Sadul) and a luxurious hotel, decorated and furnished in traditional style.
- Bhandasar Jain Temple. The Jain temple of Bhandasar, dating back to the 15th century, is famous for its beautiful frescoes, paintings and bas-reliefs.
- Rats temple. Commonly known as the "temple of rats", the Karni Mata is located in Deshnoke, less than an hour drive (or train) from Bikaner. This temple is home to thousands of mice adored by the believers, who bring offerings of food, milk and water. In the whole temple, it is required to walk barefoot, with mice running everywhere (really not recommended if you don't like this kind of animal).
To visit Bikaner most visitors take a minimum of half a day, therefore, if you arrive from Mandawa, it is good to leave very early in the morning, to have enough time. If, on the other hand, you come from more distant cities, it is better to plan two nights in Bikaner: the additional free time can be used to visit, for example, the temple of rats (Karni Mata) in Deshnoke, about forty kilometers further south. The various attractions in Bikaner are close enough to each other, but still too far away to be visited on foot: the ideal way to move through the narrow alleys of the historic center is certainly by tuk tuk.
What is the best time to visit Bikaner?
The best time to go to Bikaner is from November to March, like for the rest of Rajasthan.
But now let's see some photos of Mandawa taken during our tour in Rajasthan.
The mighty fort of Bikaner (Junagarh Fort) is located in the center of the city and is protected by walls extending for about a kilometer and a half (almost one mile) around the structure.
The complex dates back to the 16th century and has numerous palaces built in red sandstone and marble, with sumptuous decorations, large courtyards and kiosks that give an idea of the lifestyle of the first maharajahs of Rajasthan.
A narrow alley
leads to a first courtyard. The passage is very narrow to prevent the enemies from being able to access in mass quickly, while the reliefs on the ground were used to prevent horses from sliding. The orange color is the natural color of the sandstone used to build the Junagarh Fort.
A large hall in the Junagarh fortress
, with finely inlaid red sandstone walls, has been transformed into a museum housing old weapons.
As in a sort of Chinese boxes, from the courtyard of a building, visitors enter the next one: this is the Karan Mahal. This courtyard has large porches and balconies finely decorated with elaborate inlays made directly in the sandstone (soft and easy to work) or even in the hardest white marble.
Although the workings are so precise to suggest that they are made on wood, in reality it is really just sandstone or marble in their natural colors, sculpted by patient and skilled hands, in traditional Mughal architectural style.
The Karan Mahal
has a small museum where Karan Singh's silver throne is housed. This area was used as a location for meetings with military leaders. The room is decorated with frescoes painted by gold leaf.
More nestled inside, we find the Anup Mahal Palace
with its wonderful courtyard, its balconies and its finely latticework windows
which consist of a single perforated marble slab. The reason for the fine meshed pattern used for the windows, was to be able to see from inside out, but not vice versa, thus allowing court women to look outside without being seen.
Some rooms have been restored, to bring them to their original splendor. There are brilliant frescoes
, decorations made by gold leaf
, ceramic tiles (which were originally imported from Florence, Italy) and a beautiful inlaid wooden ceiling
, which kept the rooms cool in summer and warm in winter.
One of the most beautiful rooms in Anup palace is the one where the coronations of the sovereigns
took place. It has a wooden ceiling inlaid with mirrors and walls decorated by gold leaf, more mirrors and precious stones. It is estimated that the room contains several kilos of gold spread among the decorations.
A room for children, with colorful walls and ceiling, probably designed to resemble a sky.
The wonderful frescoes inside Junagarh fort in Bikaner
. Some are original and dating back centuries, while others have been restored. Some rooms have been closed to the public to best preserve this priceless artistic heritage.
More photos of the beautiful frescoes decorating the rooms in Junagarh Fort.
The ceiling is also very impressive, finished by inlaid wood with an intriguing floral pattern.
A palace inside Bikaner fortress
One of the things not to be missed on a tour to Bikaner, is definitely the old city
, where the best way to move around is by tuk tuk
. The driver will use all his skills to move safely among cattle, motorcycles and stalls selling everything.
In the historic center of Bikaner there are several havelis
, traditional houses belonged to wealthy merchants. Bikaner is in fact located along a secondary way to the Silk Road and was therefore an important logistical location for the caravans crossing the Thar desert.
As already seen in Junagarh Fort, also the havelis in Bikaner have a finely decorated facade
, with extensive use of red sandstone widely available in the region.
The decorations on the facade of these havelis
are so elaborate, that seems made with wood, chalk or other easily modelable material. Instead, it is still red sandstone patiently carved by skilled hands and left in its natural color.
Another attraction in Bikaner not to be missed is Bhandasar Jain
, a temple dating back to the 15th century. Jainism is the religion of Jina's followers and Rajasthan is home to several temples dedicated to this cult.
The Bhandasar Jain temple in Bikaner
is particularly known for its frescoes, paintings, inlays and statues.
During a trip to Bikaner, visitors may even come across ... the longest mustache in the world
. After all, we are in India ...
I leave the old town of Bikaner, with another thrilling tuk tuk ride
among the stalls of the bazaar.
I then cross one of the colossal gates
through the walls that surround the downtown of Bikaner.
Finally, I visit the complex of Lalgarh
, which includes the current residence of the royal family, a traditional luxury hotel
and an interesting museum
with items from various historical periods.