Tourist Attractions and Best Things to do in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India
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Bikaner in northwest Rajasthan, India is not as popular as its neighboring cities such as Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer. However, Bikaner being less visited in Rajasthan does not mean it isn’t a worthwhile destination. This desert town has a certain charm of its own. Read below 10 things to do in Bikaner and you’ll be surprised about its rich culture and heritage and its people’s hospitality.
Top Ten Best Things to Do in Bikaner
Go on a desert camping and camel safari
Most people who had been to Rajasthan would associate desert camping and camel safari with Jaisalmer, a desert region in western Rajasthan. If you want to experience these with a lesser crowd, then Bikaner is your alternative destination. However, one should not expect vast golden sand dunes as can be found in Jaisalmer. Bikaner’s desert is somewhat different. It is characterized by scattered vegetation, providing habitat for desert fauna. On the upside, a camel safari in Bikaner would give you a chance to see wild animals in their natural habitat.
Just a word of advice, if you like to try the camel safari, doing a bit of research on probable tour operators will be worth the effort to ensure that your money will be supporting an ethical operation. Check out this article to know more about the ethics of camel ride. If you decide to skip the camel ride, you can still enjoy Bikaner’s desert by going on an overnight camping, do stargazing or revel in the music of folk musicians.
Marvel at the grandiose of Rampuria Havelis
Travel back in time as you admire the grand Rampuria Havelis standing proudly along the narrow streets of Bikaner. Haveli is a Hindi term for mansion, while Rampuria is the name of the opulent merchant family who owned these ornate buildings. The havelis are made in striking red sandstone, with doors and windows painted in contrasting green or blue colors, or unpainted rustic wood.
The elegant mansions are across one another along narrow alleys, which will give you visual treats more than what your brain could process at one time. The intricate details of the havelis will keep you absorbed whichever side you look at, may it be sideways or looking up. There are a few other havelis scattered around the nearby area but those of the Rampurias’ are the most photographed because the buildings are concentrated in a small area.
Walk through the Kote Gate Market
In every new place, a visit to the local market even if you don’t plan on buying anything, is a great way to catch a real world cultural insight. The largest local bazaar in Bikaner that can provide this is the Kote Gate market.
Sample Bikaner’s specialties such as sweets, Bhujia (a snack made from moth beans and gram flour) and a hot cup of tea made of camel’s milk. Learn how the locals go about their daily lives by simply looking at what produce they sell, what handicrafts they showcase or what utensils they use.
Admire intricate murals at Bhandasar Jain Temple
The Bhandasar Jain Temple looks unassuming from the outside. Entering the temple surprisingly reveals elaborate murals and exquisite gold leaf paintings. The walls, ceiling and pillars are literally exploding with colors that every corner of the temple will fight for your attention. Don’t forget to walk up the rooftop of the Jain temple for a beautiful view of the old city.
Say hi to Bikaner’s mustache man
This is Vikram-ji of Bikaner, Rajasthan. Everyday, he would sit in his humble “convenience store” located a few meters away from Bhandasar Jain Temple. For visitors, he would be the man with a long mustache. He would tie his mustache into a spiral bun ala Princess Leia style. Untying the knot reveals about a meter long mustache on each side.
Apparently, he also enters into “longest mustache competitions” in annual camel fairs in Rajasthan. His mustache is such an asset that he grooms it every day with shampoo and oil. More than just taking a souvenir photo of him, have a chat with Vikram-ji and get a chance to genuinely interact with this nice Bikaneri fellow.
Visit the majestic Junagarh Fort
Junagarh Fort was built from red sandstone as a fortified residence for the descendants of Rao Bika, the founder of Bikaner. Unlike other forts in Rajasthan which were built on hilltops to make it less vulnerable to attacks, Junagarh Fort is located in plain ground. What it lacked in elevation, it made up for its strong security features. The bastion was never conquered, a testimony to the effectiveness of its formidable defensive barricades.
The fort consists of grand courtyards, balconies and antique monuments. I relished going around its pavilions, palatial rooms, its somewhat eerie quarters, the moody staircases, ornate doors, and its narrow pathways. The seemingly confusing and narrow paths were intentionally designed as such for defense purposes.
Face your fear of rats at the Karni Mata Temple
Apart from the mad driving and holy cow having a literal meaning in India, worship of rats is another item on the list of peculiar things in India. You can witness the latter when you visit Karni Mata Temple in Deshnok, Bikaner. It is definitely appropriate to exclaim “holy rats” when you are inside the temple because the rats are in fact revered here.
The temple is home to more than 20,000 rats, the worship of which originates from two different stories. The first one is that the rats are believed to be manifestations of the goddess Karni Mata and her four sons. Karni Mata’s stepson once drowned in a lake while attempting to drink from the lake’s water. Karni Mata pleaded to the God of Death to bring him back to life. The God of Death then bestowed Karni Mata the power to reincarnate her son and later the rest of her sons, as rats.
According to the second story, an army of about 20,000 men fled the battle and went to the Karni Mata Temple. Because of their cowardice, the soldiers became banished as rats. Lucky that they were reincarnated as rats rather than sentenced to death, they swore to serve Karni Mata forever.
Surprisingly, the rats did not smell bad unlike the rats found elsewhere. Maybe it’s because rats inside the Karni Mata Temple are fed with milk and grains. Just outside the temple are numerous vendors of special rat food which the devotees can buy and offer to the rats when they pay a visit to the temple.
Indulge yourself at the Lalgarh Palace
Once the royal residence of Maharaja Ganga Singhji, Lalgarh Palace is now a luxury hotel, composed of 59 rooms. The palace is designed by British architect, Samuel Swinton Jacob, which explains the fusion of Hindu and European influences in its architectural design. Likewise, the palatial rooms are a blend of modern comfort and vintage furnishings.
If staying in luxury hotels isn’t your style, you could still get a taste of royal experience in Lalgarh Palace. Stroll in its wide gardens and open courtyard, or explore the corridors and find beautiful paintings, elegant artifacts and historic photos hung on its walls.
Experience Indian hospitality in a homestay
Homestays provide an opportunity to interact with the locals in a way you won’t experience staying in hotels. Getting to live with a local family will help you feel safer and more comfortable, especially if you are traveling solo. There are only a few homestays in Bikaner but I would still recommend others to try it out. A homestay in Bikaner may not offer the modern conveniences that hotels have, but for me, its benefits outweigh the inconveniences.
Eating authentic home-cooked meals with your hosts, sharing stories and experiences with them, and observing their daily routines are some of the best ways of learning Indian culture firsthand. Most of all, building friendship with your hosts is the takeaway winner in a homestay experience.
Take a closer look at Bikaner Miniature Art
Miniature paintings, featuring intricate brushwork, are popular in Rajasthan. The history of miniature painting in India can be traced back to the time when religious teachings of Buddha were painted on palm leaves. Because palm leaves are small, the images had to be painted small-scale, too.
Paintings were later made in paper and were eventually patronized by Rajasthani aristocrats. Bikaner became one of the most notable centers for miniature art schools when art was at its peak in Rajasthan. The Swami family in Bikaner is a family of miniature painting artists who helps keep this culture of art alive through an art school and gallery called Bikaner Miniature Art.
I would have loved to visit their gallery but I fell short of time in Bikaner and wasn’t able to see their intricate brushwork personally. Fortunately, my host at the homestay is a painter and generously showed me a few of his paintings. Some were miniature paintings and looking at them closely reveals minute details that together form colorful images.
If you are visiting Bikaner and love art, make Bikaner Minature Art as one of your top things to do in Bikaner. It would be a nice opportunity to meet the Swamis and have a deeper appreciation of this ancient art. You might get lucky and see how they prepare colors and do the actual brush strokes.
About Jing Calonge
Jing Calonge is an environmental consultant from the Philippines who happens to love travel and photography. She considers traveling as the best way to discover not just the world but to learn of oneself. She writes about her travel experiences at https://findingjing.com. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.