Camel country

Known for its sand dunes and bhujia, Bikaner forms the third part of the famous
desert triangle, writes Tanushree Podder

Situated in the heart of the desert belt, Bikaner is famous for its picturesque golden sand dunes, striking red sandstone forts, imposing palaces and beautifully sculptured temples of red and yellow sand stones.

Junagarh Palace is located in the heart of Bikaner
Junagarh Palace is located in the heart of Bikaner

Bikaner also boasts of the only Camel Research Farm and Breeding Centre in India that is also one of the largest in the world
Bikaner also boasts of the only Camel Research Farm and Breeding Centre in India that is also one of the largest in the world

Apart from its bhujia, the area is also known for its camels. The animals of this region have been famous for their endurance as well as their strength and beauty.

In fact, the Bikaner army had an elite camel corps called the Ganga Risala, which took active part in both the World Wars. The Ganga Risala was a camel unit in the Army even after the Independence and participated in the Indo-Pak wars. Bikaner also boasts of the only Camel Research Farm and Breeding Centre in India and one of the largest in the world.

So it is not surprising if a tourist visits the centre ahead of its historic fort, palaces and other marvels. Various varieties of one-humped and the two-humped camels are housed in the research centre. An elite herd of about 270 dromedary camels of Bikaneri, Jaisalmeri and Kachchhi breed has been bred in the research centre.

The centre has also developed a cosmetic cream with camel milk base. It also has a milk parlour offering ice creams, yoghurt, flavoured milk et al. There is also a research on camel bone replacing ivory in artefacts.

The grandiose Junagarh Palace is located in the heart of the city. There are more palaces on offer for a conscientious tourist, who wants to sample everything. An impressive Badal Mahal, the palace of clouds, with its thunderous clouds simulating rain and thunder, the beautiful Anup Mahal, with its red and gold ambience, a perfect perching place for the king and his cronies, the Chandra Mahal, Phool Mahal, and Sheesh Mahal, with their royal ambience, each vies for a lasting impression on the mind.

Fast Facts

Getting there: Regular train services operate from major cities to Bikaner. It is also well connected by roads and the roads offer a good driving experience. Bikaner is about 500 km from Delhi. Jodhpur is the nearest airport, 252 km away.

Food: Rajasthani cuisine is truly delectable. Sangria, dal bati choorma and other ethnic dishes are a must taste.

Special products: Bikaner is a major wool centre, famous for its woollen items and wool craft. It specialises in carpet making, leather products, Kundan and lac jewellery. Usta art on camel leather is another speciality of the place. Bikaner is specially noted for its bhujias. The leheriya and tie and dye fabrics, quilts and bedspreads are other attractions for visitors.

Around Bikaner: A day trip to Gajner, the erstwhile hunting palace of the Maharaja having its own lake, is recommended. Migratory birds swamp the lake during the season. Another easily accessible place (about 55 km) from Bikaner is Kolayat, a placid lake with umpteen temples around it.

The right time: Winter season, when the annual Bikaner Camel festival (January) is on with its decorated camels and local performers is the right time to visit Bikaner.

The Lalgarh Palace was built by Maharaja Ganga Singh in memory of his father, Maharaja Lal Singh. The palace, built of red sand stone, with an oriental facade and delicate latticework, is worth the effort in the sweltering heat, as even in winters the afternoons can be quite hot. It has been converted into a heritage hotel now. Within the palace premises, the Sardul museum has a wide range of photos, golf clubs, cameras, clothes, glasses, earplugs and other personal collections that can hold back tourists for a long time.

The Bhandasar Jain Temple, dating back to the 15 century is the oldest monument of Bikaner. According to a legend, hundreds of pots of pure ghee and coconuts were used for laying the foundation of the temple. The temple, with its beautiful frescoes, gold leaf paintings and ornate mirror work, is definitely worth the visit.

A walk around the older parts of the walled city can be quite interesting. Narrow lanes with houses on both sides reveal that people preferred to make houses with very little ventilation. The reason could be the severe dust storms that lash the city during the summers. The old walled city is crowded with many old mansions owned by the rich business families. These are massive structures with intricate designs to fend off the heat and beat the sand storms. They are made of red sandstone and richly decorated with intricate carvings. The carved pillars, beautifully sculpted jalis and ornate jharokhas, the impressive havelis can take the visitor back by a few hundred years.

A stroll along the Sunar gali reveals a cottage industry behind each door. Men and women laboured with diamond bits, gold and polish to create some wonderful jewellery known as ‘Kundan’. The famous lac jewellery is another flourishing trade in these narrow lanes.

The trip to Bikaner is not considered complete until one had tasted the famous Chotu Motu Joshi kulfi and bought the famous Bikaneri bhujia. There is also a feast of delicious kachoris and puris besides the kulfi.