One of the most stunning and emblematic attractions of Bikaner is the Junagarh Fort that still stands strong. The foundation of the fort was laid by Rao Bika (founder of Bikaner) in the 15th-century, and it was then known as the Stone Fort. However, the imposing structure that we see today was completed in 1594 under the rule of Raja Rai Singh, and was renamed as the Junagarh Fort in the early 20th-century.
The architecture is a blend of Mughal, traditional Rajput and Gujarati styles. Visitors can get an idea of the architectural brilliance and grandeur, however, just from the admiring its main gates made from red and gold sandstone. Lacquer work, red and gold filigree designs, mirror work, stone carvings, lattice windows, frescoes, wooden ceilings and Gothic archways complete the effects of splendour. Some of the major highlights here include the Karan Mahal, Anup Mahal, Chandra Mahal, Har Mandir, the Prachina Museum and the Fort Museum that houses an impressive collection of royal costumes, jewels, arms and ammunition, and other relics.
Junagarh Fort, Junagarh Fort Road, Bikaner, Rajasthan, India, +91 151 220 2297; Opening hours: Monday to Sunday: 10:00am-4:30pm
Rampuria Haveli is a group of havelis, which are more than four centuries old, and were established by the affluent merchant family of Bikaner, the Rampurias. This exquisite haveli is cherished for its grandeur and eclectic architecture, which is a concoction of Rajputana, Mughal and Victorian styles, thus has been rightly labelled as the ‘Pride of Bikaner’. Visitors will be left awestruck just by viewing the outer doorways, built in the Dulmera red sandstone. The havelis are not open to public, but one haveli has been converted into a hotel, known as Bhanwar Niwas Palace. Visitors are welcome to stay in the palace-turned-hotel and observe the traditional grand interior and decoration with object d’art, artefacts, portraits, murals, woodwork and intricate stone carvings.
Completed over a period of 24 years, the Lalgarh Palace is the epitome of Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. Built from red sandstone structure, it is a three-storey complex that primarily functions as a heritage hotel. The complex also contains a library and two museums – Sadul Museum and Ganga Golden Jubilee Museum, which are open for visitors. Talking about the design aesthetics, the stately palace features finely carved stonework, exquisite pillars, fireplaces, beautiful filigree and lattice work, and other embellishments that reflect the golden past.
Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary
Located approximately 19 miles from Bikaner lies Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary that once served as the hunting ground for the royal families of Bikaner. The sanctuary today draws in nature lovers and wildlife explorers who come to marvel at the rare and unique flora and fauna that are thriving amidst the dense forests. Also, there is a lake in the sanctuary, which is home to a variety of bird species, making it a paradise for twitchers. Some of the common sightings include sandgrouse, wildfowl, antelope, black buck, nilgai and wild boar. Camel safari and jeep safari are available that let you meander through the forested terrains and view the wildlife.
Should you wish to stay for a day or two, there is a Gajner Palace-turned-hotel on the premises that is famed for its traditional architecture and royal Rajasthani hospitality.
During the time of Maharajas, Kote Gate was the main entryway to the city, and it still stands tall separating the new Bikaner from the old city. Besides the historic significance, the Kote Gate is also a delight for architecture buffs and shopaholics. On one side of the gate is a colourful bazaar with a wide range of items on sale, from traditional clothes and accessories, to miniature paintings, handicrafts, household items, Khadi and camel hide articles, and much more. There are a few food carts and eateries scattered around the street, which make for a useful pit-stop to top-up your energy levels. When you’re done shopping, make sure to head to the other side that is dotted with ancient forts and havelis built in Rajputana styles. Take a tour of these imposing structures that are historical and architectural marvels.
Bhandasar Jain Temple
Established in the 15th-century, the Bhandasar Jain Temple is dedicated to the Sumatinatha, the fifth Jain Tirthankar. It is a three-storey temple built in red sandstone and white marble, complete with gold leaf walls, yellow-stone carvings, exquisite mirror work, frescoes and illustrations that exhibit the lives of 24 Jain teachers. The splendour of this historic temple is as awe-inspiring as it is divine.
Shiv Bari Temple
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Shiv Bari Temple is one of the famous temples in the city. The spectacular architecture resembles Rajputana-style, featuring elaborate columns, domes, pavilions, intricate carvings and a wall painting of Nandi Bull. The highlight, however, is the miniature idols placed within the temple. The tranquil atmosphere adds to the appeal.
Karni Mata Temple
Dedicated to Karni Mata (incarnation of Goddess Durga), the Karni Mata Temple is famed for its sizeable population of rats, called Kabbas that dwell here. These rats are believed to be the sons of Karni Mata, and are revered in the temple. Legend has it that if you see a white mice (which is, perhaps rare), you receive the good luck and blessings of the goddess. Also, legend has it that hurting or killing the kabbas is a sin, and if you happen to step on any of the rats, you have to buy a gold or silver statue of rat and offer it, in order to atone for the sin committed. Devotees in their thousands visit this temple every day to worship and feed the kabbas.
Shri Laxminath Temple
Dating back to the 14th-century, the Shri Laxminath Temple is one of the oldest temples in the city. Dedicated to Goddess Laxmi and Lord Vishnu, the temple stands out with its beautiful idols and intricate silver artwork. Some of its famous Hindu festivals, like Janmashtami, Geeta Jayanti, Ramnavami, Diwali and NirjalaEkadashi, bring in thousands of people from around the country.
Built by the founder of Bikaner, Rao Bikaji, the Kodamdesar Temple is one-of-its-kind in the city. Dedicated to Lord Bhairon Ji, a particularly intriguing feature of the temple is that there are no doors, roof or hall, instead the idol is just placed on a raised marble platform. Another highlight of the temple is the Bhadrapad Fair that is held in August/September, and sees the coming together of the craftsman and artisans from all over the state.
Devi Kund Sagar
Another unmissable place in Bikaner is the Devi Kund Sagar, which is the cremation ground of the royal family of Bikaner. The highlight, however, is the royal cenotaphs (chhattris) that are a blend of the Rajputana and Islamic architectural style. The most appealing of the lot is the cenotaph of Maharaja Anup Singh, which is nestled on 16 pillars and has carvings of birds, animals, floral designs, peacock and the acts of Lord Krishna. These royal cenotaphs are beautiful around the clock, and become all the more gorgeous when sun goes down.
Devi Kund Sagar, Ridmalsar, Rajasthan, India, ; Opening hours: Monday to Sunday: 10:00am-7:00pm
For visitors to Bikaner, this area is not to be missed. Brimming with centuries-old havelis, shrines and bustling markets, every nook exudes a historic charm and peaceful vibe, which makes it worthy of exploration. It’s not too big, and easily navigable. Don’t forget to treat your tastebuds to the very popular Bikaner snack, Bhujia.
Camel Safari at Thar Desert
The quintessential Rajasthan experience is the camel safari that lets you catch a glimpse of the desert lifestyle and admire the beauty of the dunes up-close. Visitors can go for camel safari on the golden sand dunes of the Thar Desert, which lies in close proximity to the city. You can also opt for jeep safari, which is equally enthralling. There are many companies that offer this epic experience, the best ones include the Bikaner Camel Safari, Adventure Nation, and Rao Bikaji Groups.