Yeah! We all know about the Indian snacks brand called Bikanervala (Now also a food chain serving heavenly Indian cuisine) and this is how most of us relate Bikaner to. BUT trust me this place in Rajasthan is more than the birth place of an Indian snack brand which by the way is yummilicious! Bikaner exhibits a rich history of Rajputs; there are so many havelis, palaces, temples and museums that offer a pleasing picture of a bygone era. In Bikaner, one can go back in history and can experience the rich culture and hospitality that melts hearts.
Here are some of the places that you must see in Bikaner to learn about this fabulous city:
Junagarh Fort is a major attraction in Bikaner. The fort was built in 1478 by Maharaja Rao Bika (after whom the city is called Bikaner); however the construction that we see now is of the time of Raja Rai Singh (1571-1611) and Karan Singh (1631-1639). The later rulers also contributed in the beautification of the fort as well. Junagarh fort complex consists of temples and palaces. The artistically done balconies, courtyards, windows catch the eyes of the visitors. The Zenana quarters in particular capture the attention of tourists as they exhibit exquisite designs of great artistic skill. Mirror work, frescos and lacquer work all make this fort look very attractive. Karan Mahal, Phool Mahal, Anup Mahal, Chandra Mahal are some major attractions here.
Now a Heritage hotel, Gajner Palace was once the royal residence of Maharaja Sir Ganga Singh of Bikaner. The palace is situated about 20kms from the city of Bikaner and is set up beside a beautiful lake called Gajner Lake. Since, it is a heritage hotel now, you have the option to enjoy great hospitality by booking a room here; however, if there is budget constrain then you can take a day trip here. The palace is divided into Dungar Niwas, Mandir Chowk, Gulab Niwas and Champa Niwas. Each wing is meticulously designed and equally well-maintained, the distinctive terraces’ design, artistically done balconies and the chic interiors make the palace look very attractive. One has the opportunity to enjoy nature walks, boating and desert safaris near the palace.
Karni Mata Temple is probably one of the most famous places to visit in Bikaner. This temple is known for its sizable population of rats that are the permanent residents here. Dating back to the 15thcentury, this temple is dedicated to Karni Mata who was the incarnation of Goddess Durga. Legend has it that when Karni Mata’s son died, she requested Yama to restore her son’s life, but Yama refused. So, Karni Mata being the incarnation of Goddess restored the life of her son and declared that from now onwards her family will not face death but be reincarnated in the form of rats. Today, there are about 20,000 rats that live in the temple premises and no doubt attract the attention of many travellers.
Now, this is one place in Bikaner, in fact in entire Rajasthan, which must be visited at least once. National Research Centre on Camel is more of a breeding farm, which has about 230 camels of 3 different breeds. The centre is situated about 8kms from Bikaner and is open for visitor between 2.30PM to 5PM. Small museum and camel ride make this place particularly special for visitors.
Since, Bikaner is within close proximity to the great Thar Desert, taking a safari is the obvious things to do. There are jeeps and camels available for the sand dune safari. One can choose the duration of the safari, even the option to camp amidst desert and witness folk dance and music is also made available here. Depending upon the duration of the safari, one can see several destinations like Raisar, Khichan, Balakaya Dhora and Phlodi.
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Offering the best of Rajputana architecture, Rampuria Haveli is amongst the best places to see in Bikaner. In fact, Rampuria is a group of Havelis that were constructed in the 15th century by Rampuria family. The havelis are made of Dulmera red sand stone and displays exquisite artistic skills. The opulent interior adorned with tasteful artifacts, golden paintings and woodwork are the major attraction. Also, the amalgamation of Mughal, Victorian and Rajputana architecture in its drawing room is worth praising.
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Bhandsar Jain Temple is one of the two most famous Jain shrines in Bikaner. Dedicated to the 6th Jain Tirthankara Sumatinath, it is a three-storied shrine that dates back to the 15th century. The temple is an epitome of Rajputana architecture and has marble pillars, gold leaf walls, intricately decorated ceilings and massive halls. The exquisite mirror work grabs special attention here. Apart from its architecture the utter silence and peace in the ambience is what makes it a great place to visit. You can spend hours marveling at its architecture and its tranquil environment.
Photo Credit: Saswati Roy
Situated about 8kms east of Bikaner is Devikund Sagar, which is the cremation ground of Bikaner’s royal family. Here stands the Royal Centaphs that were built in memory of members of the royal family. There are two separate groups of Cenotaphs that display the architectural exuberance of the Rajputs. It should be remembered that cenotaphs were an important part of the Rajputana as well as Mughal architecture. In Devikund Sagar, some cenotaphs (of early rulers) are made of Dulmera red sand stoneand some (later rulers) are of marble. The major attraction here is the cenotaph built for Maharaja Anup Singh (1669-98A.D.), which is built on 16 pillars and has carvings of peacocks, acts of Lord Krishna, birds and other animals.
Another architectural delight in Bikaner is Lalgarh Palace. This beautiful palace was built by Maharaja Ganga Singh in the early 20th century. The palace has now been converted into a hotel and thus is an ideal place to spend your holidays in Bikaner (of course, if you are not having a stringent budget). The rich Rajputana architecture mixed with the tasteful interior décor attracts visitors here. The indoor swimming pool is also a very pleasant site to see in the palace. The palace also consists of a museum that is situated inside Ganga Niwas. Here one can see the Miniature Paintings that are related to Bikaner school of art, Terracota Wares and armors. There is also a library that has a good collection of Sanskrit Manuscripts written on parchments, plaques of silver, copper and gold. The artifacts belonging to Harappan civilization and Kushan and Gupta Age are also preserved here.
About 32kms from Bikaner, Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary is an ideal place for wildlife adventure near Bikaner. The sanctuary shelters many species of animals like Chinkara (black buck), wild boar, neelgai. One can also find a sizeable population of birds here like sandgrouse. This sanctuary was once the hunting ground of the Maharaja and the royal family and today it has been developed as a wildlife reserve that shelters rich flora and fauna. Taking a safari inside it is a great idea for wildlife buffs; also the bird watchers have a good chance to spot birds of different species here.
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Separating old Bikaner from new Bikaner, Kote Gate is an important landmark of the city. Boasting of architectural grandeur, Kote Gate is in fact the first thing that you notice when you enter Bikaner. On one side of the gate are the exquisitely constructed Rujputana Havelis and on the other side is a colourful bazaar, which can be a paradise for any shopaholic. Once you are done marveling at the splendor of the architecture of Kote Gate, you can visit the market that sells items made of camel hide, open-toed shoes, miniature paintings, utensils, handicrafts, Khadi items like kurtas and wooden items. One can also enjoy eating Bikaneri sweets, Bikaneri bhujiya and tea made from camel’s milk here in the bazaar.
Amongst the most popular places of tourist interests in Bikaner is Shiv Bari Temple. This shrine holds great religious importance and is also one of the finest examples of Rajputana architecture in Bikaner. The temple is situated about 6kms from the city and was built by Maharaja Doongar Singhji. The huge black stone idol of Lord Shiva along with the artistically done pavilions, columns and domes are the major attraction here.
This temple is one of its kinds as unlike other temples there is no structure of the temple here. The shrine is basically a statue that presides over a marble platform; there is no hall, door or even a roof in this temple. This is probably the only temple in India where one has to pay an entry fee. The best time to visit this temple is during the Bhadrapad Fair, when artisans and craftsmen from all over the state come to visit this temple.
Built by Maharaja Rao Lunkaran, Shri Laxminath Temple is amongst the oldest temples in Bikaner. It is situated about 4kms from Junagarh Fort and has some of the finest artwork. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi and is thronged by devotees on occasions like Janmashtami, Nirjala Ekadashi, Ramnavami, Diwali and Geeta Jayanti.
Set up in the year 2000, Prachina Museum is situated in Junagarh Fort. The museum was established by Siddhi Kumari, the daughter of Late Maharaja Narendra Singhji of Bikaner in order to preserve the cultural diversity of Bikaner. At this museum one can witness the royal costumes and textiles, family portraits of the former rulers, change of cultural milieus from one generation to another, the responses of royal family to the Western influences, ritualism and religious accessories, the influence of Bikaner’s contemporary arts and crafts till date.
Established by Maharaja Ganga Singh on the occasion of completion of 50 years of his rule in Bikaner, Ganga Golden Jubilee Museum is one of the most popular attractions for history buffs in Bikaner. The museum preserves rich artifacts, sculptures, jade studded weapons and portraits of rulers. One can also see the terracotta wares that belonged to the Gupta period and objects of Indus Valley and Harappan Civilization. The sculpture of Jain Saraswati, Nartaki, dating back to the10th century, is also on display in the Ganga Golden Jubilee Museum. Lacquer work on wood, metal, stones, glass, and leather as well as on ostrich egg can also be seen here.
This temple was built prior to the foundation of Bikaner. Bhandeshwari Jain Temple is believed to have been built around 1468 A D and has become famous because of its exemplary temple architecture. Legend has it that a huge amount of Butter Oil was used in the construction of the temple instead of water. The shrine has beautiful inlay work in gold and has rich paintings that mark the walls and the ceiling of the temple. It is a three storied structure which offers splendid view of the old city from the top.
Sadul Singh Museum is situated inside the Lalgarh Palace, which is about 2km northeast of Junagarh. This museum throws light on the history of the Rathore royal family of Bikaner. One has the chance to see Maharaja Sadul Singh’s railway carriage, Maharaja Karni Singh’s golf clubs and hairbrush and a good collection of Bikaner school miniatures.
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The old city of Bikaner is ideal for a sightseeing tour. It has a medieval feel as the place has a labyrinth of narrow streets, a large number of old havelis, and a few notable Jain temples. The old city still has an 18th-century wall with five entrance gates, the main entrance being the famous triple-arched Kothe Gate.
Run by a local NGO called the Urmul Trust, Abhivyakti is the perfect place to go souvenir shopping. Situated 1.4km northeast of Junagarh, at Abhivyakti you can find blankets, bags, shirts and cushion-covers that are produced by village artisans. By purchasing goods here you can help The Urmul Trust in their mission to promote women’s rights; the trust also funds women’s colleges and an eye hospital for people living in the desert.