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BIKANER HISTORY & TRAVEL INFORMATION
Bikaner, the administrative headquarters of Bikaner District, is located in the northwest of Rajasthan State. It was an independent princely state during the Sultanate, Mughal and British periods. The royal fortified city has a timeless appeal that is surrounded by many sand dunes. The city retains its medieval splendor that pervades the lifestyle of its inhabitants. Popularly called the camel country, the city is renowned for the best riding camels in the world. The ship of the desert is an inseparable part of life here. Be it pulling heavy carts, transporting grains or working on wells, camels are the prime helpers especially of the village folk. The wells of Bikaner are an important source of water. They are quite unique in their design. They are built on high plinths with slender minaret shaped towers on each of the four corners that are quite conspicuous in Bikaner’s suburbs. The city is connected by national highways and Indian Railways with the capital New Delhi, most cities of Rajasthan as well as the entire country as a whole. Because of the sheep wool industry and the minerals Gypsum, Plaster of Paris and Bentonite, mined in the region, the greater Bikaner area has become a major industrial area. With the construction of the Indira Gandhi Canal, the agriculture in Bikaner region has markedly improved.
Binaker’s history dates back to 1488 CE when a Rathore Prince, Rao Bikaji, a descendant of the founder of Jodhpur moved to this region. Rao Jodhaji of Jodhpur had five sons but Rao Bikaji was the most enterprising of them. Bikaji chose a barren wilderness called Jangladesh and transformed it to an impressive city, called Bikaner after the name of its founder. The strategic location of Bikaner on the ancient caravan routes that came from West and Central Asia made it a prime trade center in the times of the yore. Bikaner stands on a slightly elevated and hilly plateau and is enclosed by a five-mile long battlement with five gates. The magnificent forts and palaces, created with delicacy in redish-pink sandstone, bear testimony to its rich historical and architectural legacy. Its undulating lanes, colorful bazaars as well as its bright and cheerful people make Bikaner lively and interesting experience.
Junagarh Fort has been in its entire history unassailable. Many times it was attacked but no one managed to conquer it. Raja Rai Singhji (1571 to 1612 CE), one of the most distinguished generals in the army of Mughal Emperor Akbar, built it between 1587 and 1593 CE. It is a formidable structure surrounded by a moat. Karan Pol facing the east is the main entrance of the fort. The next gate inside is Suraj Pol or the sun gate. This ruler took advantage of Emperor Akbar’s policy of reconciliation with Hindu rulers. He conquered almost half the territory of Marwar. Later as a reward for his service in the Mughal army, Emperor Jahangir granted vast territories of fertile lands in the Burhanpur region of central India and in the Gujarat State in the west of the country. The huge amounts of revenue collected from these territories made the state of Bikaner one of the richest in the country. Raja Rai Singhji traveled the entire length and width of India in the service of Mughal army. He collected ideas for his architectural projects from all the places that he visited and these influences from different regions of the country are manifested in the palaces inside Junagarh Fort. The fort is also unique in its situation on a flat surface in contrast to most forts of India that were built on hilltops. In all there are thirty-seven magnificent palaces inside this fort. The most impressive of these are Chandra Mahal, Phool Mahal, Karan Mahal, Anup Mahal, Ganga Niwas and Rang Mahal or the house of pleasure. Constructed in red sandstone and white marble, these palaces present a picturesque ensemble of courtyards, balconies, kiosks and windows on the exterior while the interior is decorated with mirror work, stone carvings and colorful paintings. For four centuries Junagadh was the heart of a significant autonomous kingdom where the public came daily, as a matter of right, to lay their problems and petitions before their Maharaja, or to eat at the communal kitchen from which no one was ever turned away hungry. A museum with valuable miniature paintings and rare antiques is also located in the Junagarh Fort. The Har Mandir is the majestic chapel for the royal family for worshipping their gods and goddesses.
Prachin Museum is located in the great Junagarh Fort. The museum is dedicated to royal costumes, textiles and accessories. Poshaks or the ladies ensembles displayed in this museum are perhaps the last remnants of the traditional designing styles and workmanship. The museum also reveals a study of changing cultural settings in its display of family portraits of the former rulers.
Lalgarh is a grand palace and an architectural masterpiece built in red sandstone. Maharaja Ganga Singhji (1881-1942 CE) built it between 1902 and 1926 in memory of his father, Maharaja Lal Singh Ji. The famous architect of the British Raj, Sir Swinton Jacob designed this oriental fantasy. This architecture is a fusion of Rajput, Mughal and European architectures. The exterior contrasts dramatically with the oriental interiors and amenities. The palace has beautiful latticework and filigree work, which are hallmarks of great craftsmanship. The Palace has an amazing collection of well-maintained paintings and hunting trophies. The palace has a billiards room, a library, a cards room and a smoking room. Belgian chandeliers, cut-glass ornaments, oil paintings and lamps add to its charm. The sprawling lawns of the palace have blooming bougainvillea and dancing wild peacocks. The treasure trove where the guests can spend hours 'walking in the past', the palace has it's own museum and library (the fourth largest in the world), clay pigeon trap and skeet shooting traps facilities at adjoining ranges. A part of the palace is used by the former royal family while another part has recently been converted into two heritage luxury hotels. The two heritage hotels in the palace are Lalgarh Palace Hotel and Laxmi Niwas Palace Hotel.
Havelis of Bikaner are ancient mansions of the nobles and wealthy traders. They are known for the opulent life style of their occupants and are decorated with intricate carvings and a variety of craftsmanship. The courtyards of these Havelis are very impressive because of their massive size and the architectural styles. The Havelis belonging to the aristocratic families of Kotharis, Rampurias, Vaids and Dagas are some of the most impressive. The recommended route to view these havelis starts with Gogagate, Daddhon Ka Chowk, Rangari Chowk, Assanion Ka Chowk, Mehta Chowk, Binnanion Ka Chowk Daga Chowk, BK School and ends at Jassuar Gate.
Ganga Singh Museum is generally considered as the best museum in the Rajasthan. It displays a rich array of archaeological discoveries from prehistoric Harrapan period in third millenium BCE to early Gupta period in third and fourth century CE. Separate sections are devoted to paintings, arts and craft, terracotta, pottery, carpets, coins and ancient Rajput weaponry.
Rajasthan State Archives, located in Bikaner City, is one of most important archives in the whole of India. The archives preserve some of the most precious administrative records of Mughal period like Persian Farmans, Nishans, Manshurs, Akbarat, Vakil Report, Arzdasht, Khatoot and the record created during the administration of the Princely states of Rajasthan such as Bahiat, Pattas, Parwanas, Rukkas, Chithiat etc. Because of this exceptional collection of records the department is of immense value to researchers from all over the world. Facilities like microfilming, reference library and research rooms are also available to researchers. An exhibition of important documents is also setup especially for tourists.
Bhandeswari Jain Temple dating from fifteenth century this is the oldest monument of Bikaner and is dedicated to the twenty-third Jain Tirthankar Bhagwan Parshvanathji. It is decorated with rich mirror work, frescoes and gold leaf paintings
Deshnok is a small village about 20 miles south of Bikaner city on the Jodhpur Road. It is a pilgrim center of Karni Mata who is considered as an incarnation of Goddess Durga. She lived here in the fourteenth century and performed many miracles. Originally the village was called Dus- Nok meaning ten corners because ten villages bordered it. It is said that a villager brought his dead son to Karni Mata but she could not revive the child because Yamaraj, the god of death, told her that he was already reincarnated. Karni Mata was disappointed but she ordered that the soul of all people of her community who died in the village would temporarily reside in the bodies of rats before being reincarnated. Since then rats are honored in the temple where Karni Mata used to live. The Maharajas of Bikaner and other rich aristocratic families of the region have been patronizing this unique temple. It has a beautiful white marble façade with sterling silver main gate that has panels depicting the various legends of Karni Mata. The pilgrims consider it very fortunate if a rodent runs over their feet or if they see an albino rodent. As usual in all Hindu temples, one takes the shoes off before entering the Karni Mata temple. There is a pit of fire burning in the temple and the priest puts a Tika, mark on the foreheads of the pilgrims with the ash from this pit.
Shiv Bari Temple, located about 4 miles from Bikaner is a Hindu Shiva Temple with an impressive fortified wall surrounding it. Maharaja Doongar Singhji had it constructed it in the ninth century in memory of his father Maharaja Lall Singhji. The temple has a beautiful wall panting of Nandi Bull just opposite the Shiva Lingam. This is located on the way to the camel breeding center.
Devi Kund, located about 5 miles from Bikaner, is the traditional royal crematorium. At the site of cremation of former Maharajas of Bikaner beautiful Chattries (memorials usually in the form of a kiosk resting on stone carved pillars and topped with an ornamental dome) were constructed. Some of the Chattries have very delicate Rajput paintings in the interiors of the domes. The Chattri of Maharaja Surat Singhji is especially interesting for its unique architecture.
Camel Research and Breeding Farm, situated about 5 miles from Bikaner is a unique scientific institution and the biggest center for camel research in the whole of Asia. The Central Government runs this farm that extends over 2000 acres of semi arid land. The camels bred here are sold in the cattle fairs of Bikaner, Pushkar near Ajmer and Jaisalmer. One can ride camels in the breeding farm.
Gajner Palace and the surrounding area is an incomparable jewel of the great Indian Thar desert. Maharaja Ganga Singhji of Bikaner built the embankment of the lake that is in the middle of a vast natural sanctuary with a large variety of flora and fauna. The Gajner Palace is a grand and magnificent that was originally constructed as a hunting lodge and retreat. This majestic forest lodge has been converted into a heritage luxury hotel with 44 suites and has an authentic Bikaner regional cuisine restaurant.
Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary is about 20 miles from Bikaner on the highway to Jaisalmer. The lush foliage of the forest here is a haven for Nilgai (Bluebull deer), Chinkara (deer), Black-Buck, Wild-Boar and flocks of Imperial Sand Grouse among many other migratory birds. It is specially interesting during the winter months when migratory birds arrive here. Jeeps with forest guides are available for viewing the wildlife in the sanctuary.
Katariasar Village, located 28 miles from Bikaner on the highway to Jaipur, is rich in ethnic rural and cultural life. A walk on the sand dunes is enjoyable and viewing the sun set with a desert landscape is a memorable scene. The native village dwellers here are Jasnathjis who make their livelihood with cattle farming for dairy products but are famous for their fire dances in the region. The village is surrounded with a forest sanctuary where one can see lots of Chinkaras (deer), desert fox, rabbit, peacock, green parrot and partridges.
Kolyat, located 31 miles from Bikaner, is a popular pilgrimage center for Hindus. Kapil Muni, an ancient Hindu sage, decided to reside here because of its tranquility, peace and natural beauty. While living here he performed a Tapasya, meditative penance and developed the Hindu philosophy of Shankya Yoga. There is a natural lake here that is surrounded by bathing ghats with beautiful stone pavillions and many temples. A dip in the lake on the full moon night of November (Kartik Purnima) is considered very auspicious and thousands of people from neighboring region come to Kolyat at this special occasion.
Chronology of the Maharajas of Bikaner:
Rao Bika from 1472 to 1504
Rao Narayan Singh from 1504 to 1505
Rao Luna Karana (Lon Karan) from 1505 to 1526
Rao Jait Singh (Jetasi) from 1526 to 1542
Rao Kalyan Mal (signed treaty with Emperor Akbar) from 1542 to 1574
Rao Rai Singh I (Rai Rai Singh, a commander in Mughal Army) from 1574 to 1612
Rai Dalpat Singh (Dalip) from 1612 to 1613
Rai Surat Singh Bhuratiya from 1613 to 1631
Rao Karan Singh deposed by Emperor Aurangzeb/exiled to Deccan from 1631 to 1667
Maharaja Rao Anup Singh (Maharaja Title by Emperor Aurangzeb) from 1669 to 1698
Maharaja Rao Sarup Singh (died of smallpox) from 1698 to 1700
Maharaja Rao Sujan Singh, served Emperor Aurangzeb in Deccan from 1700 to 1735
Maharaja Rao Zoravar Singh from 1735 to 1746
Maharaja Rao Gaj Singh allowed by Emperor Alamgir to mint coinage from 1746to 1787
Maharaja Rao Raj Singh from 1787 to 1787
Maharaja Rao Pratap Singh was poisoned by his guardian uncle from 1787 to 1787
Maharaja Rao Surat Singh entered alliance with Brit.East India Co. from 1818 to 1828
Narendra Maharaja Rao Ratan Singh honored by Emp.Akbar Shah from 1828 to 1851
Narendra Maharaja Rao Sardar Singh, assisted British in 1857, from 1851 to 1872
Narendra Maharaja Rao Dungar Singh, assisted British in Afghan War II from 1872 to 1887
Narendra Maharaja Rao Ganga Singh served in World War I in France from 1887 to 1943
Lieut.Gen.Narendra Maharaja Sir Rao Sadul Singh signed State to Ind.Dom. from 1943 to1950
Rao Karni Singh elected to Lok Sabha 1952-1977, last ruler, from 1950 to 1971
Rao Karni Singh first non-ruling head of former royal family, from 1971 to 1988
Maharaja Narendra Singh, from1988 to 2003
Maharaja Ravi Raj Singh, from 2003 to Present
Laxmi Niwas Palace Hotel – 42 rooms
Hotel Basant Vihar Palace Hotel -31 rooms
Gajner Palace Hotel – 44 rooms
Harasar Haveli - 38 rooms
Hotel Desert Winds - 22 rooms
Hotel Bhairon Vilas - 18 rooms
Lalgarh Palace Hotel – 40 rooms
Hotel Bhanwar Niwas - 25 rooms
Hotel Gaj Kesari - 17 standard & 24 superior rooms
Hotel Vesta Bikaner Palace - 40 rooms & 8 suites
Hotel Balaji Resort - rural huts and rooms in rustic atmosphere
Karni Bhawan Hotel – 21 rooms
Jaswant Bhawan Palace Hotel - 10 rooms
Marudyan Hotel - 20 cottage style rooms
Distance from Bikaner in Kilometers and Miles:
Gajner: 32 Kilometers or 20 Miles
New Delhi: 470 Kilometers or 292 Miles
Jaipur: 354 Kilometers or 220 Miles
Jaisalmer: 333 Kilometers or 207 Miles
Jodhpur: 243 Kilometers or 151 Miles
Khimser: 145 Kilometers or 90 Miles
Mandawa: 200 Kilometers or 124 Miles
Nagaur (the site of a massive annual fair): 105 Kilometers or 65 Miles