Bikaner, the fourth largest city in Rajasthan, offers an interesting set of experiences to its visitors. From lip-smacking food trails to the ancient merchant settlements and colourful bazaars, there is a lot to do in the city. However, the one unique thing that I did in this city was embarking on a royal trail. This helped me to not just understand but also live the history of Bikaner. The trail traces the humble beginnings of the founder of Bikaner to the last Maharaja of the kingdom – allowing you to see the residential palaces of these Maharajas.
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Bikaji Ki Tekri – the first home of Rao Bika
A breakaway of the famous Jodhpur kingdom, Bikaner was founded by one of the sons of the Rathore clan. With an army of around 500 soldiers, Rao Bika left Jodhpur to set up his new home. My royal trail started at Bikaji ki Tekri where one can visit his humble fort. Simple and strategic, you can see his small abode with low doorways to slow down the enemies. A secret passageway, now closed, is there for you to see, next to a hidden safe. Small temples and cenotaphs form a part of the small fort area. Don’t miss the remains of the old fortified walls of Bikaner that can still be viewed from this place.
Junagarh Fort – the pride of Bikaner
As the riches came by, so did a new abode with stunning red sandstone structures to white marble ones. Here you will be treated to the gold filigree of Anup Mahal and the pleasing colours of Badal Mahal.
You will also get to see the royal heirloom throne of Rao Bika along with the biplane of Maharaja Ganga Singhji. The huge courtyards of the fort have their own tales to tell like the one in Karan Mahal with the coronation throne. Do click at the zigzag staircase as you enter the fort– this one has been a part of many movies and telefilms in India.
Laxmi Niwas Palace – the modern palace of Bikaner
In the 1900s, the then Maharaja of Bikaner – Ganga Singhji felt the need for a modern dwelling that met the needs of that era. The Laxmi Niwas Palace naturally became my next stop. Sprawling lawns with traditional red sandstone pavilions will greet you as you drive through the main gate. The traditional Rajasthani architecture remains predominant on the exterior while the interiors have a contemporary feel. Complete with a large outdoor pool, this palace is a delight to just walk around. What is noteworthy is that this palace was a host to King George V and his wife Queen Mary.
Lallgarh Palace – A heritage hotel & still a home to the Royalty
While the Laxmi Niwas was built as a residence, it was soon converted to a guest home and Lallgarh Palace was built as an extension to it. A part of this palace is still owned by the royal family while the rest of it has been converted to a heritage hotel. The rooms still have that princely aura and you can opt to have a meal here just to take in the surroundings. Keep aside some time to walk across to the museum where the old letters and seals of the Maharaja have been exhibited.
Narendra Bhawan – the home of the Last Maharaja of Bikaner
The last of the homes of the royal family belonged to Late Narendra Singhji – who was born around the Indian independence year and shifted to a modern home away from the Lallgarh Palace. The abode has been refurbished to another hotel albeit one that you can opt to stay in or dine at.
Whilst here, you can tour his home for the Diwali Chowk – or the main courtyard that was used for festivities. The grandeur and mannerisms that might have been can well be experienced through this hotel as you browse through what might have been his personal collection of things.
Devikund Sagar – Cenotaphs of the Royals
My royal trail ended with a visit to the resting place of the royalty. Serene and beautiful – you can pay your respects to the Maharajas and their family at these crematoria grounds. As you walk past each structure, you will spot footprints and hand prints. These signify the wives who self-immolated themselves as Sati to follow their husbands in death. Devikund Sagar is a befitting end to this majestic trail of Bikaner – a peaceful finish to the opulent history of Bikaner.