Bikaner, the city of golden sands, starry skies, delish regional fare, and glorious past!
Overshadowed by its celebrity cousins- Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, this remote desert town in Thar remains fairly unexplored as a holiday destination. The red hues of Bikaner are somewhat lost amid the neighboring hues of blue, pink, and gold. With a genuine untrammeled vibe and a certain rustic charm, the city of Bikaner has a unique flavor in it.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
To delve deeper into Bikaner’s history, we start our royal exploration at the strikingly clean and well preserved Junagarh Fort. The imposing red stand-stone facade of the 15th-century fort boasts of Italian marble courtyards, beautiful fresco paintings glass mosaic, gold leaf decoration, and pearl-white stucco work. We spend almost two hours admiring its various mahals.
What particularly catches our attention is the Badal Mahal painted all over in blue and white to depict clouds and lightning. A small tank is constructed to produce rain showers!
The fort museum is a treasure house of medals, dresses, headgear and other items of the bygone era. The extensive collection of weapons and swords is a must-see for anyone with a fetish for weaponry. The highlight is the DH-9DE Havilland fighter plane from World War 1st.
We move on for a rendezvous with Rampuria Havelis, the most famous cluster of Havelis in Joshiwara or Old Bikaner. Constructed from red dulmera sandstone for the wealthy merchant clan of Rampuria, these aristocratic homes boast of latticed windows, intricate jharokhas, and exquisite wood carvings.
Another must-visit is Narendra Bhawan, the townhouse where the last reigning Maharaja of Bikaner, Narendra Singh lived until passing in 2003. Here modern Indian furniture effortlessly blends with Portuguese tiles and tribal artworks to create an eclectic setting, while tasteful designs and decor elements narrate stories of Singh’s fashionable life and frequent trips abroad.
The bustling bazaars of Bikaner remarkably contrast the medieval vibes of its quaint bylanes. For a cool respite from the heat, we make a quick halt at Chunnilal Tanwar Sharbatwala. The iconic 82-year-old, a no-frills joint creates and sells cordials made from a variety of fresh flowers and spices. The excited Vidhan Tanwar gets us to sample everything from Chandan(sandal), and saved Gulab(white rose) to paan(betel), laung(clove)and sauf(fennel); all free from artificial colors and flavors. Served in a Kulhad, topped with crushed ice, these drinks are surely refreshing. The whiff of freshly-fried bhujia is hard to miss.
Bikaner bazaars have bhujia and mithai vendors at every corner. Skip mass bhujia producers for more local, hole-in-the-wall shops like Bishanlal Babulal and Bikharam Chandamal. You also sample khasta kachori and lassi at Chotu Motu Joshi. Stuffed with potato and moong dal filling and topped with yogurt, chutney, onion, pomegranate, sev, coriander, the deep-fried kachori is simply delicious. Wind up your meal with lovely Ghevar.
Most evenings in Bikaner are spent watching the sky changing its colors with the setting sun. However one of the most ethereal and intimate experiences is the sundowner at Darbari Village, around 22 km from the city. A stretch of soft green pastures and lush oasis, Darbari Lake was once the favorite game hunting spot for the Maharajas of Bikaner. Post hunting, they would dine here in style and feast on their shikar. The mesmerizing ambiance of white shamianas, surrounded by lanterns and candles screwed you up under the star-lit sky and make you enchanted White Night of Rajputs.
# Take a day trip to the Camel Research Farm located on the Jodhpur bypass road about 8km from Bikaner city. Make sure to be there by 3 pm when all 400 camels with their young ones, return to their shelter after a session of grazing.
# If you are visiting in January, do attend the Camel festival. The festivities start with a parade of beautifully adorned camels against the backdrop of the majestic Junagarh Fort. Enjoy spectacular displays of camels dressed in vibrant bridles, traditional necklaces, and heavy anklets.
# Another catching sport is Swarna Mahal at Laxmi Niwas Palace serves a dauntingly elaborate Thali! For lovers of literature and gastronomy, the seven-course literary lunch curated by Narendra Bhawan is unmissable. With each course, you read out a passage from a novel before its representative dish is presented. Every dish is inspired by a description of food in fiction and beautifully garnished.
# Do try Khasta kachori which is great for breakfast and famous savory of Bikaner.
I hope you enjoy a color burst city of golden sands and starry skies- A TRIP TO BIKANER