Bikaner shimmers a bit off the beaten path on the dunes of the Thar Desert. The city, with its imposing Rajput architecture and thriving industry, has masked its small origins since 1488. Its multi-coloured bazaars offer high quality carpets, exquisite Meenakari jewelry, embroidered Mojari footwear and Bhujia, the best loved snack of India! Bikaner may not have the golden perfection of Jaisalmer, but its handsome palaces have interiors alive with mirror-work, gold leaf and stained glass. The Rajas of Bikaner have shared a common interest in Kingdom building, most noteworthy among them Maharaja Ganga Singh (1880–1943). The unmissable Junagarh Fort contains within it a beautiful mosque, temples and palaces including Anup Mahal, Sujan Mahal, Gaj Mandir Mahal, Badal Mahal and Karan Mahal.
Once a part of the barren region called Jangladesh, Bikaner was founded in the late 15th century by Bika, son of the Rathore king Rao Jodha (who built Jodhpur). Its magnificent isolation proved an oasis on the ancient caravan routes and it served as a prime trading center to the merchants coming from West and Central Asia. Its most famous Maharaja Ganga Singh founded many education institutes for women, brought railways and electricity, built canals, played a central role in the politics of the British Empire. During the First World War, he commanded his own camel corps and was the only non-white member of the British Imperial War Cabinet. A painting of all members of the War Cabinet, in which the dashing mustachioed Maharaja with his elegant turban holds a prominent place can be seen at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Today it is less touristy than some of Rajasthan’s other famous cities, but it is one of the main gateways for Rajasthan’s renowned desert safaris. Bikaner is famous for its superior camels - dark caramel colour, with luxuriant eyelashes - and hosts a famous camel fair, which is celebrated for three days during the full moon in January or very late December. Make time to see the sandstone Lalgarh Palace with its fine jaalis or latticework screens, and temples, including the stunning Jain Bhandasar Temple and Karni Mata Temple - this may not be for everyone - whose rodent residents are thought to be the reincarnations of departed souls. The revered Goddess Karni was said to have championed the oppressed and the temple now houses 20,000 rats who are fed, worshiped and treated as sacred.
- Mr Geoffrey Johnson, India
- Matthew Nicklin, North India
- Jaime Benitez, South India
- Krista Weir, Sri Lanka
- Leslie Siben, India
- Mr David Wallace, North India
- Anonymous, India
- Matthew Annable, Rajasthan, India
- Mr & Mrs Manson, North India
- Mr Richard Stoughton, Sri Lanka