Bikaner is a vibrant, dust-swirling desert town with a fabulous fort and an energising outpost feel. It’s less dominated by tourism than many other Rajasthan cities, though it has plenty of hotels and a busy camel-safari scene, which attracts travellers looking to avoid the Jaisalmer hustle.
Junagarh Fort- This most impressive fort was constructed between 1589 and 1593 by Raja Rai Singh, ruler of Bikaner and a general in the army of the Mughal emperor Akbar. You enter through the Karan Prole gate on the east side and pass through three more gates before the ticket office for the palace museum. An audio guide (requiring an identity document as a deposit), is available in English, French, German and Hindi, and is very informative.
Bhandasar Temple- Of Bikaner’s two Jain temples, Bhandasar is particularly beautiful, with yellow-stone carving and vibrant paintings. The interior of the temple is stunning. The pillars bear floral arabesques and depictions of the lives of the 24 tirthankars (great Jain teachers). It’s said that 40,000kg of ghee was used instead of water in the mortar, which locals insist seeps through the floor on hot days.
Lakshminath Temple- The splendid Hindu Lakshminath Temple, behind Bhandasar Temple, was built during the reign of Rao Lunkaran between 1505 and 1526. Lakshminath was the patron god of the rulers of Bikaner, and during major religious festivals a royal procession headed by the maharaja pays homage here.
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Old City- The old city still has a medieval feel despite the motorbikes and autorickshaws. This labyrinth of narrow, winding streets conceals a number of fine havelis, and a couple of notable Jain temples. It makes for an interesting wander – we guarantee you’ll get lost at least once.
Prachina Cultural Centre & Museum- Across the fort’s main courtyard from the palace entrance, this museum is fascinating and well labelled. It focuses on the Western influence on the Bikaner royals before Independence, including crockery from England and France and menu cards from 1936, as well as some exquisite costumes, jewellery and textiles, and exhibits on contemporary Bikaner crafts.
Bikaner Miniature Arts- The Swami family has been painting miniatures in Bikaner for four generations, and now runs this art school and gallery. The quality of work is astounding, and cheaper than you’ll find in some of the bigger tourist centres. Art classes can also be arranged.
Ganga Government Museum- This museum houses well-displayed, interesting exhibits including terracotta ware from the Gupta period, Rajasthani traditional musical instruments, rich gold paintings by local artisans, exquisite carpets and royal vestments, and miniature models of the Gajner and Lallgarh palaces and the Royal Bikaner train.
Karni Mata Temple- The extraordinary Karni Mata Temple at Deshnoke, 30km south of Bikaner, is one of the weirder attractions here. Legend has it that the goddess decreed that members of her family would not die but would be reincarnated as kabas (rats). The temple isn’t swarming with rats, but there are a lot of them here, especially in nooks and crannies and in areas where priests and pilgrims leave food for them. And yes, you do have to take your shoes off to enter the temple: it’s considered highly auspicious to have a kaba run across your feet – you may be graced in this manner whether you want it or not.
Gallops- This contemporary cafe and restaurant close to the Junagarh entrance is quite popular. There are snacks such as pizzas, wraps and sandwiches, and a good range of Indian and Chinese veg and nonveg dishes. You can sit outside or curl up in an armchair in the air-conditioned interior with a cold beer or an espresso.
Heeralal’s- This bright and hugely popular 1st-floor restaurant serves up pretty good veg Indian dishes, plus a few Chinese mains and pizzas. It’s a good place to sit and relax if waiting for a train. The ground-floor fast-food section has a good, sweets counter.
Palace Garden Restaurant- This excellent garden restaurant at one of Bikaner’s best hotels is a lovely place to eat – at least until the nights become too chilly. The fare spans South Indian, veg and nonveg North Indian, and Chinese, and if you’re lucky there will be live traditional music and singing.
Café Indra- This bright and clean cafe is a great place to relax with a coffee or a cool drink, and equally good as a place for lunch or dinner, with an array of pizzas, burgers and wraps.
Bhanwar Niwas- A splendid place to eat, this beautiful hotel welcomes non-guests to its veg dining hall (reservations are essential). You can have a drink before dinner in the courtyard.