Bikaner’s history dates back to 1488 when a young princeling, Rao Bika – the second son of the Jodhpur clan-leader, broke away from his family’s ancient legacy and sought to establish his own lineage. The site he chose was rather peculiarly called ‘Jungladesh’ and was an uncontested barren outcrop of land.
Through the centuries, the city-state grew to evolve into a poster- child of competence and able governance through the agency of some exceptional Maharajas and their ministers who advanced an idea of welfare and development that was notable for its time. In a more modern context, the descendants of the founding father Bika – from whose name was derived the city-state Bikaner, served India with aplomb and integrity as sterling examples of benevolent Maharajas, as outstanding Generals in the Indian army, as politicians who steered a young and tentative democracy and, as sportsmen who shone bright on international platforms.
Unlike most forts in Rajasthan and elsewhere in India, the Junagarh Fort of Bikaner is a land fort. The imposing structure is built from red sandstone and with its cluster of low-rise buildings within has never been conquered, in spite of many battles fought as it equipped with all possible defense mechanisms. On your visit do note the moat, the twisted access and the long metal nails studded into the gates to thwart elephant attacks.
The city of Bikaner thrived due to its prime location along the caravan routes between Western and Central Asia. Enriched by this bountiful trade the nobles and the merchants of Bikaner built palaces, havelis and temples in red sandstone that stand pristine to date.
The 600-year-old Karni Mata Temple at Deshnoke, 30 km from Bikaner is dedicated to the household goddess of the rulers of Bikaner. The temple, amongst the strangest in India, is not for the squeamish as it is famous for the legions of rats that are feted and worshipped here. Devotees tread warily to reach the inner recesses of the temple for injury to a rat would be sacrilegious.
Built between 1898 and 1902, Laxmi Niwas Palace was commissioned by Maharaja Sir Ganga Singhji to serve as his royal residence. Used exclusively as the private residence for the Royal family and their guests, Laxmi Niwas Palace commanded over Bikaner in all its opulence. With a flair for hospitality, the Maharaja hosted numerous luminaries and dignitaries, including King George V and Queen Mary, the King of Greece, Viceroys, fellow Maharajas, and renowned statesmen.
The resplendent Lalgarh Palace was built by Maharaja Ganga Singhji in 1902. Designed by a European architect, Sir Swinton Jacob, one can visibly identity a strong overlay of Victorian architectural influences. The palace has beautiful lattice work and filigree work. The interior walls of the palace are adorned with vintage etchings, hunting trophies and old portraits.
The Junagarh Fort houses a smaller private museum, the delightful Pracheena, a museum that displays contemporary arts and crafts, ritual crafts, period furniture, textiles and costumes that were once used by the royal family. The many rooms display royal photographs and miniatures, among many others personal objet d’arts. There are even framed menus on display as well as the delicate crockery and cutlery. This museum is a veritable treat for the eyes and gives a glimpse into the everyday life of its earlier patrons.
The National Research Centre for Camel Welfare is located 10 km from Bikaner city. The Centre has the responsibility to conduct basic and applied research for the improvement of the Camel and over the years it has developed excellent laboratory facilities. An elite herd of Bikaneri, Jaisalmeri and Kachchhi breed of Camel has been developed and maintained by the Centre.
Built by Maharaja Ganga Singhji of Bikaner, on the edge of a vast lake, Gajner Palace encloses a private wildlife sanctuary. During the winter months, the lake becomes home to an assortment of migratory birds including the Imperial Sand Grouse.