Say ‘B’ for Bikaner

Say ‘B’ for Bikaner

Bikaner is more than just its bhujia. It’s also a hub of unusual temples, heritage mansions and more

Junagarh Fort, Bikaner

Every city of Rajasthan is unique and special. There is something which makes them distinct with identities of their own. For long, most of these cities have been having their fair share of tourist footfalls. But poor connectivity made Bikaner miss out on its share. My sole (soul) connection with Bikaner was just the Bikaneri bhujia that helped me stay awake while burning the midnight oil for exams. But a couple of recent tours to this city of sand dunes and camels opened up a whole new world to me.

Today, with direct flights connecting Bikaner to cities like Delhi and Jaipur, it is easy to include Rao Bikaji’s city in Rajasthan tour itineraries. I discovered that Bikaner (aka Janglabad) can be a bundle of quirky and enigmatic experiences in addition to the staple fare of royal history that is a given in Rajasthan.

The usual quota of grand palaces and forts include Gajner Palace, Laxmi Niwas Palace, Junagarh Fort and several museums (aviation buffs will get to see a WWI British biplane in one of them). Be ready to travel beyond them to explore the other facets of this city.

The grand-old havelis

If you have time to visit just one attraction, choose the ‘Walking Tour of Havelis’ in the older streets of Bikaner. You will get to see why this has become one of the famous tourist trails. Stunningly ornate, magnificent heritage mansions of the erstwhile Silk Route merchants of Bikaner line the streets. Noteworthy are the Rampuria havelis and Kothari havelis. Not all are inhabited. Some are under lock and key, under the watchful eyes of caretakers hired by the well-to-do owners settled abroad. Photography is permitted, but to get into the interiors, you have to talk it out with the folks there.

Temple trail

A visit to Deshnok Temple left me completely gobsmacked. Never before had I seen so many rats in one place! And the sense of sharing they seemed to have, all sipping from the same huge bowl of milk! While the devout visitors possibly feel blessed to be able to feed the rodents and let them climb all over, the average tourist like me is quite wary if not terrified.

Yet another quirky temple of Bikaner is Bhairav Nath Temple, 29 km from Bikaner City Junction. Dogs are revered in this temple, which incidentally has no walls or a roof. The sacred idol, a manifestation of Bhairav Nath, is placed on a raised marble platform and worshiped with choice offerings. The deity’s vahana (vehicle) is a dog and this explains the free entry for canines within the premises.

Deshnok Temple
Deshnok Temple

Bhandasar Temple, the oldest temple of Bikaner, is believed to be made of ghee. According to the legends, locals taunted Banda Shah, the builder, for using water, a scarce resource, for construction of the temple. The taunt provoked the rich merchant to use ghee instead of water for its construction. Locals claim that in the sweltering heat of summer you can actually feel the oiliness in the floor and walls!

Fried goodies

Whenever you feel templed out, munch on Bikaner kachoris available in every roadside eatery. Multinational fast food outlets are yet to get a foothold, so tourists have a chance to taste some of the finest finger-licking dishes of Rajasthan. Among the street grub varieties, try their pyaaz ke kachori (small deep-fried flatbreads with a stuffing of spiced and sauteed onion). The stuffing that goes into it is heavenly! Don’t try to get the recipe, it’s highly guarded! Around four lakh kachoris are made and consumed every day in this city of Bikaner, which has a population of 6.44 lakh!

A street food stall in Bikaner
A street food stall in Bikaner

A couple of food souvenirs that you can pick up from this city are the pickles from Golchha Store and aromatic sherbet from Chunnilal Tanwar’s shop. The pickles range from sweet jaggery-based ones to sour and spicy ones. How about a pickle of aloe vera leaves? Yes, they sell that, too! And the packaging was really good; not a drop of oil spilled as I got myself a variety of pickles in small bottles. Chunnilal Tanwar’s sherbets are a class apart! They are based on real flavour extracts of essential oils from all sorts of spices and herbs — jasmine, clove, saffron, fennel and many more!

Wild, wild life

Do you fancy some unusual interactions with wild predators? No, I am not talking about the wildlife in Gajner Sanctuary or National Research Centre on Camels, but vultures! Located at about 12 km from the city, Jorbeer is a carcass dumping site. I reached there early one morning to have a glimpse of the flourishing vulture kingdom there. The huge birds feast on rotting flesh. Be warned, the stench is quite strong. Also, there are feral dogs around; they can feel threatened about you encroaching their territory. Tourists with a fascination for vultures and photographers with special interests can certainly have a field day in such a morbid expanse.