The desert town of Bikaner was founded in 1488 by Rao Bika, a descendant of the founder of Jodhpur, Jodha. Like many others in Rajasthan, the old city is surrounded by a high crenellated wall and, like Jaisalmer, it was once an important staging post on the great caravan trade routes. Bikaner is home to the superb Junagarh Fort, constructed between 1588 and 1593 by Raja Rai Singh, a general in the army of the Mughal emperor Akbar, as well as a unique government camel breeding farm.
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Top things to do in Bikaner
Junagarh Fort and Lallgarh Palace
Junagarh fort is undoubtedly one of the most interesting forts in Rajasthan, with its sumptuously decorated interiors. Built in 1588 by Raja Rai Singh, it is unusual in the sense that it was one of the few major forts in Rajasthan that was not built on a hilltop. Instead, it was built on the desert plains, its rugged sandstone bastions and graceful pavilions and balconies silhouetted against the sky. Equally enchanting is Lallgarh Palace. Designed by Sir Swinton Jacob, this exotic palace has magnificent pillars, grand halls and Italian colonnades. It houses the fourth largest library in the world and its own museum.
Karni Mata temple
The village of Deshnok lies 30km south of Bikaner and is home to one of India's more disconcerting and fascinating temples. The 17th-century Karni Mata temple features massive silver gates and beautiful white marble carvings on its facade. These were added by Ganga Singh (1898-1843), who dedicated the temple to Karniji, a 15th-century female mystic, worshipped as an incarnation of Durga. Once you enter the temple, mice and rats, revered and fed with sweets and milk in the belief that they are reincarnated saints, swarm over the temple and around your feet. To spot a white rat is said to be good luck.
Wander the labyrinthine streets of Bikaner
The narrow winding alleyways of Bikaner, teeming with a dense urban population, feature some of India's best street architecture. The ornamental facades with their finely carved stone jaalis (latticed screens) and jharokhas (overhanging balconies) reveal the influences of Mughal, Rajput and colonial-style architecture. An array of colourful bangles, vibrant spices, tea stalls and local vegetables are on offer. Bikaner is also known as the snack capital of India and no opportunity should be missed to try the regional savouries, which are crispy and at times spicy.
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