Bikaner India Tour
- History of Bikaner
- Climate of Bikaner
- Tourist Attractions
- Eating in Bikaner
- Shopping in Bikaner
- Hotels in Bikaner
In the heart of Western Rajasthan, the city of Bikaner shimmers like a glittering jewel in the hot summer sun. Dotted with scores of sand dunes, Bikaner famous for its indispensable ship of the desert still retains the medieval grandeur that permeates the city's lifestyle. Strategically located on the once thriving trade routes of West and Central Asia, the city of Bikaner stands on a slightly raised ground circumscribed by a seven km long embattled wall with five gates. While its magnificent forts and palaces, created with delicacy in reddish-pink sandstone, bear testimony to its rich historical and architectural legacy, the city's surging lanes, colorful bazaars with bright and cheerful folks make it an interesting place to explore.
Originally a cluster of 22 princely states, the history of Bikaner dates back to 1488 when a Rathore prince, Rao Bikaji, the son of Rao Jodha of Jodhpur converted a vast tract of barren land called "Jungladesh" into an impressive city. Named Bikaner after the founding figure, the city was found on the very area where an earlier civilization flourished. Various archeological surveys and excavations have established beyond doubt that the pre Harappan city of Kalibangan flourished here. Bangles, statues, coins and carvings of stones and clay excavated from the site stand as testimony to this fact.
The camel city of Bikaner boasts of some unique architectural marvels of India. The Junagarh fort remains unparallel in its splendor while the Victorian styled Lallgarh Palace show a fine amalgamation of Mughal and Rajput art in its stone and wood carvings. The Jain temples like Bhandasar temple, Neminath temple, Adeshwar temple are simply adorable. But it is largely for its havelis that Bikaner is more renowned. A marvel of Indian architecture, the old havelis of Bikaner are simply outstanding in terms of their carvings and paintings.
The foundation of the camel city of Bikaner was laid in 1488 A.D by Rao Bika when an insensitive remark by his father Rao Jodha of Jodhpur led him to forge out an independent principality of his own. With the help of a small contingent of Rathore warriors (500 soldier and 100 cavalrymen), he started out on an ambitious military adventure, subdued all the contemporary chiefs and ended the rivalry between the Rathores & Bhatis by marrying the daughter of Rao Shekha- the powerful Bhati chief of Pugal. This matrimonial alliance consolidated his power and he later on went to convert a vast tract of barren land called "Jungladesh" into an impressive city which he named Bikaner after himself.
Bikaner continued to play an important role in the history of Rajasthan. Very often they found themselves fighting with the other Rajput states especially Jodhpur in their quest for increasing their boundaries. Relations with the Mughals were very cordial and many rulers from the state held high ranks as Mansabdars of special order in the court of the imperial Mughals. As imperial military commander of various campaigns of the Mughals, they were also posted all over the Indian sub-continent as governors. Raja Rai Singhji, the sixth ruler of Bikaner was among the first Rajput Chiefs to join the Mughal alliance and was one of Akbar's most distinguished generals. The reign of Raja Anup Singh was the golden age of Bikaner. A great scholar and warrior, he collected a large number of rare manuscripts in Sanskrit and other languages whilst he was in Deccan and established a library in Bikaner. The library known as Anup Sanskrit Library is famous all over the world as a repository of ancient and medieval knowledge.
The next important ruler to sit on the throne of Bikaner was Maharaja Sri Ganga Singh, whose reign is marked for great Socio-Political and economic development in every sphere of life viz. - Education, Health, Sanitation, Electricity, Irrigation, Post & Telegraph, Roads & Railways, Trade & Commerce and so on. His reformative zeal put Bikaner on the path of modernity and led to its transformation from a principality to a premier princely state. A strong and foresighted ruler, he renovated the traditional administration, modernized the army, separated the judiciary from the executive, established a number factories and girls schools, constructed the famous "Gang Canal" (now the Indira Gandhi Canal) and provided a number of welfare schemes and hospitals.
The reign of Maharaja Sadul Singh saw India throw off the yoke of British rule. Among the heads of princely state of India, he was the first to sign the instrument of Accession by which this state merged into Indian union. His son and successor, Maharaja Dr. Karni Singh was an outstanding shooter who won laurels for the country by winning gold and silver medals in many Olympic and Asian Games in clay pigeon shooting. A great scholar, his book on the 'Relationship of Bikaner Royal Family with the central Authority' is a master piece in itself. Dedicated to the cause of Rajasthan, he later represented the Bikaner Parliamentary Constituency in the Lok Sabha for five consecutive terms lasting over a quarter of a century and incessantly pleaded for the inclusion of the Rajasthani language in the 14th Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
The current ruler Maharaja Narendra Singh continues to carry forward the rich traditions of the Bikaner Royal family and works tirelessly towards the further development of the state and the people at large.
Situated in the heart of western Rajasthan at a height of 238 mts. above sea level, the camel city of Bikaner is characterized by hot scorching summers and extreme chilly winters. The temperature varies from 48 degree in summer to below four degrees in winters with the average rainfall hovering around 25 cm annually. Thunderstorms are very common in the month of May-June with the wind blowing upto 120 kms per hour.
Facts and Figures about Bikaner :
- Population : 6,42,550 (1991 census)
- Altitude : 238 mts. above sea level
- Languages : Rajasthani, Hindi and English
- Best time to visit : October to March
- STD code : 0151
How to reach Bikaner :
Situated in North-West of Rajasthan, Bikaner is about 321 km from Jaipur and 243 km from Jodhpur. The roads are very good, and it takes around 8-9 hrs from Jaipur. The city is conveniently connected via rail and road network with all major cities of the country.
- By Air : Nal Airport is 17 Km from the city center. At present there are no commercial flights. Nearby airports are Jodhpur (254 kms) and Sanganer airport Jaipur (325 kms).
- By Rail : Bikaner is directly linked by rail with major cities. Some important travel connections are from Delhi Sarai Rohilla, Jaipur, Mumbai, Calcutta, Jammu, Kalka, Ambala, Ahemadabad, Baroda, Surat, Agra, Allahabad, Kanpur, Chandigarh, Bhatinda, Jodhpur etc.
- By Road : A wide network of bus services link Bikaner with several destinations. Various Deluxe, Super deluxe and AC buses of both the state government and private players ply between Bikaner and all major cities and towns of the country.
Junagarh Fort : An unassailable fortress, which has never been conquered, the Junagarh Fort was built between 1588 -1593 AD by Raja Rai Singh (1571 - 1611 AD) who was one of the most distinguished generals in the army of Emperor Akbar. A fascinating peice of Rajput architecture, the fort encircled by a moat has a 986m-long wall with 37 bastions, and two entrances- the Suraj Pol and the Karan Pol. Junagarh fort is famous for its intricate stone carving, a feature which can be seen in its magnificent palaces-the Chandra Mahal, or Moon Palace, with paintings, mirrors and carved marble panels; The Phool Mahal or Flower Palace is decorated with glass and mirrors; The Anoop Mahal is famous for it's gold leaf painting and the Karan Mahal which was built to commemorate a notable victory over the Mughal Aurangzeb. The Har Mandir is the majestic temple where members of the royal family used to worship their gods and goddesses. Other palaces worth visiting are the Dungar Niwas, Ganga Nivas, Gaj Mandir, Rang Mahal, Bijai Mahal. These palaces built of red sandstone and marble are located on the southern side of the fort and make a picturesque ensemble of courtyards, balconies, kiosks and windows with their gigantic columns, imposing arches and graceful scenes, minarets and pavilions.
The Junagarh Fort also houses a museum whose notable displays include an old World War II biplane which was presented to Maharaj Ganga Singh by the British and an unusual Rajput weapon collection. One can visit the fort between 10: 00 AM to 4:30 PM on all weekdays except Sunday.
Lallgarh Palace : Situated 3 km north of the city center, the Lallgarh Palace is an architectural master peice in red sandstone. Built between 1902 -1926 by Maharaja Ganga Singh (1881 AD-1942 AD) in the memory of his father Maharaja Lal Singh, the palace designed by Sir Swinton Jacob in the Indo-Saracenic style is a wonderful example of Rajput, Mughal and European architecture. The palace has several grand halls, lounges, cupolas and pavilions with beautiful latticework and filigree work. Walls of palaces are reminiscent of the past vintage etchings, hunting trophies and old portraits. The palace also houses it's own museum and library and though a portion of palace has now being converted to a hotel, the Bikaner royal family still resides in one part of the palace. The Lallgarh Palace is opened from10:00A.M to 5:00P.M on all weekdays except on Sunday.
Gajner Palace : The Gajner Palace built by Maharaj Ganga Singh on the embankment of a lake has often been described as ' an incomparable jewel in the Thar desert'. A summer resort of Bikaner Maharajas, the palace was used by Maharaja for grand shoots and lavish entertainment. Built of red sandstone, the palace has intricately carved pillars, jharokhas and screens. Spread over 6000 acres, the palace surrounded by beautiful wooded area is also a preserved sanctuary. The reserve which is only accessible by the Gajner Palace Hotel vehicles provides shelter to chinkaras , blackbucks, blue bull (neel gai) and flocks of imperial sand grouse and other migratory birds who make the lake their home during the winters. Today, a part of palace has been transformed to a heritage hotel.
Prachina Museum : Established in 2000, the Prachina Museum located in the Junagarh Fort endeavors to highlight the glorious heritage of the Bikaner rulers through the display of their royal costumes, textiles, portraits and accessories. In addition, it also attempts to revive the dying art and craft tradition of Bikaner as well as provide a platform to the numerous craftsmen and folk artists to showcase their wares. The museum has a rich collection of ‘Poshaks’ or costumes. These costumes highlight the fine workmanship (karigari) of the artisans in their kalabhut embroidery, Zardozi work, Badala work etc. Apart from the costumes, the museum's Mandir Gallery has the intricately handmade idols poshak, the mukuts worn by Devi and the jewellery shringar while its protrait gallery houses the miniature paintings and the black and white portraits of young men and women in their traditional gear and group photographs of important events during the time of Maharaja Shri Ganga Singh. Timings: 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM everyday.
Ganga Singh Museum : Considered as one of the best museum of the state, Ganga Singh Museum displays a rich array of archaeological discoveries dating from the pre-historic Harrapan to the early Gupta period. The Museum has separate sections earmarked for paintings, arts and craft, terracotta, pottery, carpets, coins and ancient Rajput weaponry. Timings 10.30 Am to 4.30 PM
Sadul Museum : Located within the precincts of the Lallgarh Palace, the Shri Sadul museum covers entire first floor of the palace. The museum was established in 1976 and houses well preserved old photographs and trophies of wildlife besides a reasonable collection of artifacts and personal possessions belonging to the Bikaner Maharajas and a brass vessel known as a Tokan, which was used to collect revenue which was then transported by camel to the Bikaner state treasury. Timings 10 Am to 5 Pm Monday to Saturday
Rajasthan State Archives : Located in Bikaner, the Rajasthan State archives have in their custody some very precious administrative record of the Mughal period like the Persian Farmans, Nishans, Manshurs, Akbarat, Vakil Report, Arzdasht, Khatoot and the records created during administration of the Princely states of Rajasthan such as Bahiat, Pattas, Parwanas, Rukkas, Chithiat etc. Because of this exceptional collection of records which is of immense value to researchers all over the world, facilities like microfilming, reference library and research rooms are also available to researchers. An exhibition of important documents is also set-up especially for tourist interest. Timings 10.30Am to 4.30 Pm.
Lakshmi Nath Temple : The Lakshmi Nath Temple has an important role in the history of the Bikaner. It was here that the foundation of Bikaner was laid in the year 1488 A.D. by Rao Bikaji One of the oldest temples of Bikaner; the temple was erected during the reign of Rao Lunkaran and boasts of the superb archeological skills of artisans and craftsmen. It houses the statues of God Vishnu and his consort the Goddess Laxmi.
Bhandashah Jain Temple : Built in the 15th century, the Bhandashah Jain Temple is one of the most beautiful Jain temples dedicated to the 23rd Tirthankar Parshvanathji. One of oldest existing structure in Bikaner, the temple built of red sand stone and white marble is famous for carvings, wall paintings, structural beauty and artisticly designed statues. The pillars bear floral arabesques and stories that depict the lives of the 24 Jain tirthankars. The temple's rich mirror work, frescoes and gold leaf paintings are also noteworthy. It is said that 40,000kgs of ghee was used instead of water in the mortar, which locals insist seeps through the floor on hot days even today.
Shiv Bari Temple : Located 6 kms from Bikaner, enroute to the Camel Breeding Farm is the Laleshwar Mahadev Temple popularly known as Shiv Bari Temple. Built by Dungar Singhji in the late 19th century, the temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is surrounded by an embattlement wall and two large reservoirs of water known as bawaris. A four-faced black marble Shiva statue is installed inside the red sandstone temple. Beautiful paintings and a Nandi Bull facing the Shiva Lingam are the other attractions of the temple.
Nagnechiji Temple : Situated in the south-east of Bikaner city, the Nagnechiji Temple has a historical importance. The statue of 18 armed Goddess having different weapons in her arms was brought here from Jodhpur by Rao Bikaji.It was one of the 18 heirlooms which the founder king got after a confrontation with the then king of Jodhpur.
Royal Cenotaphs at Devi Kund : The royal crematorium of the Bikaner royal family,theDevi Kund Sagar situated 8 km in the east of city has several exquisite cenotaphs (Chhatris). Each Chhatri is dedicated to the memory of rulers of Bikaji dynasty and are situated on the exact place where they were cremated. The white marble chhatri of Maharaja Surat Singh is quite a marvel of Rajput architecture and is known for the spectacular paintings on its ceiling. Close by is a Dargah of Rustal Ali Shah Peer which is held in high esteem by Muslim community and other people.
Camel Research and Breeding Farm : The only one of its kind in Asia, the Camel Research and Breeding Farm located some 8 Kms from Bikaner is the only farm in India that is dedicated to camels. Spread over 2000 acres of semi arid land, the farm is the largest in Asia. There are hundreds of camels here and the scenario in late afternoon is great when camels come back from grazing. One can enjoy some time here by having a glass of thick camel milk rich in vitamin C, listening to a Raika or Rebari, a camel breeder's tribe telling you about camels and camel lore and how they are bred or browsing or buying camel hair products like animal cover clothing, rough cloth, ropes, blankets, carriage bags, belts, wallets, lamp shades, toys, drums, containers and other decorative objects. The importance of the indispensable ship of the desert is quite well known and Bikaner being the home tract of camel, it was but obvious that the Camel Research and Breeding Farm should be established here. The British army had camel corps drawn from Bikaner during World War I. These camels, when they are fairly grown up are then sold in the cattle fairs of Bikaner and Jaisalmer where they are decorated in all their fineries which are colorful and attractive, complementing the brown terrains of the desert.
Havelis : Marvels in home architecture, havelis are the pride of Bikaner. Once the residence of the rich and wealthy, the havelis of Bikaner are known for their intricate carvings and exquisite craftsmanship along with sprawling courtyards, beautiful jharokhas, latticed windows and magnificent Divan khanas. Situated in narrow by lanes of the old city, these beautiful red sandstone mansions stand magnificently as a splendid example of the centuries old craftsmanship which are no longer in vogue.
Most of Bikaner's havelis date back to at least 400 years though a few of them are around 100 years or so. Constructed by wealthy merchants to show off their wealth as well their love and fascination for art and architecture, these havelis provided a much needed platform to the artisans and the craftsmen to showcase their craft. Probably, the most distinguishing feature of the havelis is its jharokhas. Six feet long and three feet wide, these small jharokhas form the most picturesque part of the haveli. Famous for their exquisite carvings, they often held the viewer spellbound with their fine detailing of leaves and flowers.
The next opulent room was the diwankhana or the guest room where the guests were entertained. Most of the havelis usually had two dankhanas- one for the men and one for the women and these were often situated at the main entrance of the haveli. A diwankhana generally has six pillars with a gold framed glass mirror. These frames are engrossed with flowers, whose various colours illuminate the diwankhana and add to its beauty.
Paintings of various gods and goddesses are yet another notable feature of the havelis. The gods and goddesses often depict are Lord Ganesh and goddess Laxmi and Parvati. Lord Shiva, Lord Rama, Lord Krishana along with Radha Krishan and Ram Sita are the other Gods who are represented in the havelis. Birds and animals also find a place in the havelis. Another distinguishing feature of the havelis is its ceilings. Beautifully and artistically painted, these ceilings often made of wood were embossed with flowers with six or eight leaves. Some of the havelis have golden work on the ceiling and some like the Bhairnodan Kothari haveli and Rampuria havelis excel in this type of work. The owners of the havelis were mostly religious people and every haveli has a temple which was often far away from the urinal place; the purity of the place being the main consideration. The toilets were situated in near by kotries or large open spaces with only toilet buildings. The courtyards or boundaries were always there to surround a kotri.
Every haveli has at least a second storey with the Mahal being the most beautiful and artistic portion. Rich in carvings, it was here that the parties and dance performance were given. Since the Mahal was the symbol of status, some of them contain valuable master pieces of art. For instance most of the rooms in Sampatlal Agarwal haveli are adorned with large priceless paintings of the noted painter Raja Ravi Verma , some as old as eighteen hundred ninety four. Every haveli consists of a number of rooms, big and small, made for special purposes and suitable for those purposes. Large courtyards, sals, and oras turn these ancient houses into a rich depository of history, art and architecture in their own small way. A sal is a half open multi purpose room for internal use of the family; an ora is a small bed room for the members of the family. It is also a box room. Barsali is the passage from entrance to the interior portion of the haveli. It is followed by the Angan or chowk which is then surrounded by the kitchen, the temple and water store or parindha. Almost every haveli has more than one storey, sometimes five to six but normally three.
Bikaner is full of such havelis and the notable amongst them are those belonging to the Kotharis, Rampurias, Vaids and Dagas. To view these havelis the suggested route is Gogagate, Daddhon Ka Chowk, Rangari Chowk, Assanion Ka Chowk, Mohta Chowk, Binnanion Ka Chowk Daga Chowk, BK School and Jassuar Gate.
Karni Mata Temple, Deshnok : A small village situated 32 km south from Bikaner city along the Jodhpur Road; Deshnok is famous for the fascinating Karni Mata temple. Dedicated to Karni Mata -an incarnation of Durga, a visit to the temple is not for the squeamish. Here thousands of holy rodents considered to be incarnations of the storytellers, run amok over the temple complex. These rats (kabas) are considered as sacred by the devotees and if one runs over your feet it’s considered as highly auspicious especially if it is a white one. Even eating the prasad (the holy food offering) that has been salivated by the rodents is also believed to bring good luck.
The temple is an important place of pilgrimage and thousands of pilgrims come here to pay their respects to the goddess. The royal family of Bikaner always holds Karniji in great esteem. Several instances show that whenever the kings of Bikaner found themselves in trouble, they remembered Karniji and with her blessing succeeded in getting over their turmoil’s. The founder of Bikaner, Rao Bika had beseeched her blessings before laying the foundations of the new city in 1488A.D. The beautiful marble facades with solid silver doors were donated by Maharaja Ganga Singh. Across the doorway to the inner sanctum are the repousse (raised relief) silver doors - one panel shows the goddess with her holy charges at her feet. An image of goddess is enshrined in the inner sanctum.
A fair is held twice a year during the ninth day of the Navratas. Thousands of devotees gather at Deshnok during the month of March/April and September/October and amidst the chanting of hymns and prayers, they offer their prayers.
Shri Kolayat Temple : A famous pilgrimage spot with a temple dedicated to Kapil Muni, the Shri Kolayat temple is situated 50 kms from Bikaner on the highway leading to Jaisalmer. According to the legends, Kapil Muni, the great propounder of the Sankhya school of Philosophy struck by the tranquility and peace of this place chose to perform tapasya (penance) here. 52 Ghats surround this temple and a holy dip in the sacred waters of the Kolayat lake ( Kapil Sarovar) on the full moon day (Kartik Poornima) is considered as highly auspicious. Though the place is often referred to as mini Pushkar and a fair is also held here as part of the festivities, it however lacks the vibrant character of Pushkar.
Kodamdesar Temple : Located 24 kms from Bikaner on highway leading to Jaisalmer is the Kodamdesar Temple. Dedicated to Bhaironji , it was here that Rao Bikaji, the founder of Bikaner, first choose to lay foundation of Bikaner, but on the advice with Napo, a Sankhla Rajput who was great believer in omens, he chose another site. Built entirely of white marble, the temple houses the idol of Kodamdesar Bhaironji, which was installed by Rao Bika himself. Every year a huge fair is held here in the month of Bhadrapad.
Kalibangan : Located 205 km from Bikaner is Kalibangan, the place where the extensive remains of the pre-Harappan and Harappan civilizations were discovered. An important site of the Indus Valley Civilization, Kalibangan, located on the left bank of the Ghaggar River was discovered by Mr.A. Ghosh, Ex. Director General, Archaeological Survey of India in 1958. It offers an excellent illustration of how the transition from a pre Harappan civilization to a Harappan civilization took place and is the only site where there is no evidence of the worship of the "mother goddess. The site of ancient bangle industry, one is totally mesmerized by the number and types of black terracotta bangles that were unearthed at Kalibangan. One can also take a tour of the fortified citadel and the cemetery that has been excavated at Kalibangan; view the copper and metal objects as well as the paintings on the ancient pottery.
Shopping in Bikaner promises to be a pleasurable affair. Synonymous with exquisite crafts, the camel city besides being famous for its spicy snacks, Bhujias and Papads is also renowned the world over for items made from camel hair and camel hide. Camel and sheep wool woven carpets, woolen items, rugs, belts, wallets, bags, Jutties (footwear), wood carvings and lacquer work can be purchased at government approved prices from the Government Khadi Emporium located at Mahatma Gandhi Road. The main shopping area located around the Kote Gate and Junagarh Fort has some interesting bazaars where one can shop. Some shops along the Lallgarh Palace Road are excellent options for buying miniature paintings in the Bikaneri style.
'Nokha Quilts', known for light weight and good insulation, beautiful cotton fabrics including Sanganeri prints, tie-dies, paintings, embroidered shoes etc. are also good buys. The city is also rich in jewellery designs and the city's Kundan jewelry available in traditional designs like Rikhari, Timaniya, Bala, Bajuband,Gajara, Gokharu, Jod etc are famous throughout the country. Abhivyakti, a small craft shop run by Urmul Trust at Junagarh sells various high quality products which are made by people of surrounding villages. The proceeds earned from the sell go directly to improve health and education projects in these villages.
The cuisine of Bikaner, just like the rest of Rajasthan's cuisine is generally characterized by the availability of ingredients in the region. Simple with its own distinct flavor, the Bikaneri cuisine is predominantly vegetarian. Non vegetarian food is generally not preferred and some restaurants don’t even serve eggs or egg products. However, Bikaner is famous for its spicy snacks known as namkin as well as for its sweets and sweetmeats. Bikaneri Bhujia, Rasogullas, Raj Bhog, GaundPak, Ghevar, Fini, and Rabri are some of snacks and sweets that are quite popular amongst the tourists. The Chhotu Motu Joshi Sweet Shop located on the Station Road is the city's most popular Sweet shop followed by Haldiram's Bikaneri Bhujia Bhandar. Amber Restaurant at Station Road has good Indian and Western vegetarian food as does the Hotel Joshi. Annapurna at MG Road offers delectable vegetarian, South India and Continental food while Garden Café also at MG Road is known for its Indian snacks and ice cream. Lalgarh Palace Hotel is considered to have the best eateries in town however if you are not staying here you should book in advance. The RTDC Hotel Dhola Maru, has reasonably priced local dishes as does the Deluxe Restaurant and Hotel Bhanwar Niwas, whilst The Green Hotel (Station Road) offers up market regional specialties and international fare.