Built over a period of four centuries and finally completed in 1594, Junagarh Fort still stands strong with the determination of the rulers who lived to see it rise and is a prime example of Indian architecture in the Thar Desert. Due to its prolonged construction, the fort was built with multiple architectural influences and worldly additions – its window are made of beautifully designed ceramic tiles from all over Europe and Asia.
Junagarh Fort, Junagarh Fort Road, Bikaner, Rajasthan 334001, India, +91 151 220 2297
Coated in red sandstone, the beautiful Lalgarh Palace was built by Maharaja Ganga Singh and named in memory of his father Maharaja Lall Singh. The palace was actually commissioned by the British-controlled regency for the Maharaja, as Junagarh Fort was deemed not modern enough for the young Ganga Singh, who ruled from 1881–1942. The palace was built in the 19th century and includes a smoking room and even an indoor pool—but then again, it was designed by a British architect. The palace was completed in 1926.
The Old City is packed with bustling markets, shrines and havelis, giving tourists a real feel of the rich history Bikaner holds. Hire a bike and drive through the streets of sandstone buildings, get lost in the markets dripping with color or swing by a few walas to try out some Rajasthani and Bikaneri street foods.
Not many are brave enough to enter the Karni Mata Temple, also known as the Rat Temple. It is a famous temple devoted to the goddess Karni, a patron deity of Bikaner’s royal family. The temple is filled with auspicious rats that live within the temple walls and like to crawl over your feet and nibble at your toes as you walk through the holy place. And no, you cannot opt to wear your shoes. But hey, when in Bikaner…
About 20 kilometers from the city center is the gorgeous Gajner Palace, a luxurious and peaceful hotel to retreat to when traveling through busy Bikaner. Hire a taxi or tourist bus to take you to the village – this can be easily arranged from any hotel or tourist office. The palace is an old hunting ground built by Maharaja Ganga Singh that sits on a wildlife sanctuary and Gajner Lake. Make sure to take a walk around the adorable village of Gajner as well. Sit by the lake with a chai at sunset, as the village temple plays its daily Hindu tunes that say goodnight to Gajner each evening.
Gajner Palace, Kolayat, Gajner, Bikaner, Rajasthan 334001, India, +91 294 252 8008
The main bazaar in Bikaner is located at the back of Junagarh Fort and is filled with sweet shops and juice walas, along with numerous back roads and small alleys filled with jewelry shops and textile markets. Purchase traditional Rajasthani scarves and beautiful cotton textiles for a quarter of the price when compared to Jaipur and Udaipur while enjoying the colorful world surrounding you with vibrant red, yellow and blue textiles and saris hanging above each shop.
Located near the main bus stand in a relatively quieter neighborhood is Harasar Haveli Hotel. The friendly staff and intimate restaurant, with both indoor and outdoor rooftop seating, will have you feeling like you are on a luxurious vacation as you stuff yourself with delicious north Indian, Chinese and international cuisine. The hotel is surprisingly on the cheaper side even though its gorgeous exterior and interior will have you thinking big dollar signs.
While visiting Bikaner, be sure to try out some of the region’s fantastic breads and snacks – from bajra to bhujia.
Bajra is similar to chapatti or roti but made with millet flour. Instead of rolling out the dough with a rolling pin, you flatten it with you hands, like a game of patty cake. Bajra is thicker than your average roti and absolutely delicious with a splat of melted butter atop.
Matar is an addictive snack. Consisting of rolled out maida flour with caraway seeds, salt and water, the dough is rolled out thin like cardboard and sliced into long, skinny pieces, which are then fried. The snack is delicious either freshly fried or cooled.
Bikaneri Bhujia – the name says it all. The crispy snack is a combination of besan and spices and eaten all over India, though it originated in Bikaner.
The famous dessert of Bikaner is the sweet and syrupy rasgulla. Similar to a gulab jamun, the sweet is white in color, light and is mostly made of unripened cheese curd and sugar, where as a gulab jamun mainly consists of flour, sugar and milk solids.