Looks are deceptive and so is Bikaner. Bikaner is the hub of history. But do you know the food here has its own history too. Founded by Rao Bika of the Jodhpur family in 1488, Bikaner offers a beautiful culture that is oh-so-Rajasthani with medieval architecture in a string of spectacular forts and temples, narrow lanes meandering the gently bustling markets. Life moves at a leisurely pace here and the locals greets with a polite ‘khamma ghani sa’, which is a general greeting in the Marwari language said to have originated in the Mewar Empire in the early 15th century, and widely used by Rajasthani people.
With deep rooted culture Bikaner is every bit of a royal destination. The most imposing structure here, hands down, is the Junagarh Fort. Built between 1588 and 1593 by Raja Rai Singh, this awe-inspiring edifice beautifully marries Mughal and Rajput styles of architecture. The Junagarh Fort is the only fort in Rajasthan to have been built at a ground level and not on an elevated platform.
Next in line is the resplendent Lallgarh Palace, which was built by Maharaja Ganga Singh in 1902. Designed by a European architect, Sir Swinton Jacob, one can notice a strong overlay of Victorian architectural influences. A major part of the building has been converted into an opulent heritage hotel property called Laxmi Niwas Palace. One can enjoy a dauntingly elaborate Rajasthani thali with lal maas being the protagonist.
Another stop is the Gajner Palace that sits pretty on the embankment of a lake. This red sandstone structure was built to serve as a lodge retreat during royal hunting expeditions.
Bikaner and temples go hand in hand. The main crowd-puller is undoubtedly the Karni Mata Temple of Deshnokh located 26 kilometers away from the city. Enough has been written about the 20,000 rats that can be spotted scurrying all over the temple premises with devotees feeding them in lieu of getting their blessings. The pious also flock to the very old Shivbari Temple dedicated to its namesake god. The incredible four-faced black marble statue of Lord Shiva and two huge baoris (water reservoirs) here are much celebrated.
Then there are the Jain temples that go back to the 15th century of which Bhandasar Temple is most notable. As the story goes, it was built by a Jain merchant by the name of Bhanda Shah in dedication to Lord Parsvanath and that its foundation contains 40,000 kilograms of desi ghee. Visit it during the summer and the greasy floor is hard to miss. The yellow-stone carvings and the gorgeous paintings in the three-storey building are a treat to the eyes. More places of worship like Sandeshwar Temple and Laxminath Temple are well known for their carvings and night puja.
Rajasthan and camels are inseparable, and Bikaner has an entire breeding farm full of them. Bikaner offers great alternatives to the Jaisalmer safari and is fast catching up with tourists. These safaris range anywhere from a half-day trip to 14 days (yes, you can actually go all the way to Jaisalmer). But true camel love can be seen in the month of January at the vibrant Camel Festival. It is here that the ‘ship of the desert’ is decorated for special events like races and dance.
Officially the sweet and snack town of Rajasthan – Bikaner will keep your taste buds wanting more. Well, there is a reason why most mithai shops across the country have named themselves after this city. Heard of Bikanervala or the relatively new entrant Bikano? Our desi food chain Haldiram’s traces its roots to Bikaner. They have a huge factory on the Ganganagar road, you might just get a sneak peek of the great bhujia-making adventure.
Other delicacies worth their salt, sugar and spices are raj kachori, dal bati choorma, ghewar, camel-milk tea and the list goes on. So what are you waiting for? Explore the unexpected parts of Rajasthan on and colour your trip with Bikaner culture.
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