After Jaisalmer it was times for us to experience another desert town, Bikaner.
From Jaisalmer to Bikaner we were booked on Leelan Exp. Jaisalmer being a small station, only 7 daily trains depart from the station with our train being the last one departing at 11:55 pm. Here also I had put up at retiring room for the last few hours, so that all I had to do is climb down the stairs and alight the train. This train being a short distance train, the booking period is only 30 days prior to travel date unlike 120 days for most long distance trains (i.e., time before journey date when booking starts).
The city of Bikaner was founded by Rao Bika in 1486, who was son of Rao Jodha (founder of Jodhpur) and wanted a separate kingdom for himself. In my Rajasthan Trip, this was the first time we were travelling in a train which passes through my destination station. Fortunately I was awake on time to wake up my spouse, gather our stuff and get down at Bikaner at around 6 am. In Bikaner we stayed close to the station. Unlike Jaisalmer, Bikaner is a major city with fourth largest population in Rajasthan and like Jaisalmer, it is one of the entry points to the desert of Rajasthan. The weather in early April was hot and dry, with temperature rising fast during the day. After some rest and sumptuous breakfast we headed straight for sightseeing trip. I took an auto on rent for the better part of the day, surprisingly as INR 700 only. Our first destination was Rampuriya Haveli. They are elegant 15th century residences constructed with red sandstone and has to be visited from outside since they are inhabited. Their style of construction is unique to Bikaner. Next destination was Bhandasar Jain Temple. It is an old medium sized temple constructed by Bhandasa Oswal in 15th century, and dedicated to the 5th tirthankar Sumatinatha. The temple has intricate and colorful wall paintings, which has to be seen to believe. The monk inside was more than willing to show us and tell us about the temple. Then we reached Junagarh Fort (open 9am-5pm, ticket INR 50 for Indian, INR 300 for foreigners), built by Rai Singh, the sixth ruler of Bikaner, after the first fort built by Rao Bika was abandoned. Unlike the forts of Jodhpur (Mehrangarh) and Jaisalmer (Trikoot Garh), this fort has a moat and is on plain, arid land. There is no guide, but one employee of the royal family takes the guests around the fort in batches. There are several palaces and complexes built inside over a period of time by various rulers. There is a museum in the fort which has preserved many old documents, palanquins, carts and one aircraft used by the royal family. Prachina Museum(separate entry fees of INR 30 for Indian, INR 100 for foreigners) is outside the fort across the courtyard which mainly displays the infusion of the rulers with Mughal and European culture, explained through their transition in dresses and artifacts used. Our next destination was Lalgarh Palace. This is the new and modern palace where the royal family shifted in the 1900s. Now it has been converted into a heritage hotel, with one wing reserved for the royal family. The palace complex houses the Shri Sadul Museum (open 9am-5pm, ticket INR 10 for Indian, INR 20 for foreigners), accessible to the public, which houses various artifacts used by the royal family and also one of the largest private library in the world. Laxmi Niwas Palace is a part of Lalgarh Palace but it has been given on lease and recently is being used as a heritage hotel by a private entity, and not open to public.
Then we set off to Bikaner Camel Research Center (open 2pm-6pm, ticket INR 30 for Indian, INR 100 for foreigners), which is an institute funded by central government on study of various breeds of camels. The institute opens to the public only in the afternoon.There is a permanent exhibition on articles made from camel and enclosures housing huge number of camels. The surrounding areas have a wild desert feel with camels in their natural habitat. There is a counter on right hand of the main entrance, where tea, coffee, ice creams made of camel milk can be bought.
Leaving history at its place, Bikaner is known to the modern world for its bhujiya. The famous Bikaneri Bhujiya has its own Geographical Indication tag since 2010. So in the evening we set off in search of the cradle of bhujiya in its home city. Wikipedia said there is a market of bhujiya, but locals guided me to a shop near station called Bishanlal Babulal. Their products were good, and without thinking twice we loaded our bags with various types of bhujiya despite the reduction of storage space for the remaining of the trip.
Day 2 in Bikaner was reserved for a visit to the famous Karni Mata Temple or Rat Temple of Deshnok, 30 kms away. The place is well connected to Bikaner via rail and road. I chose rail, to enjoy the desert landscape in the comfort of an airy train compartment. The journey took around 40 mins. The temple is dedicated to Karni Mata, a female sage worshiped as incarnation of Goddess Durga by her followers. She was revered by the royal families of Jodhpur, Bikaner and Jaisalmer among others. Legend says Karni Mata’s sons were born as rats, with Mata herself born as white rat. Hence rats live peacefully here, are fed and worshipped. Sighting a white rat is considered special blessing (incarnation of Karni Mata herself). We were not fortunate enough for the blessing. If you step on a rat and it dies, you have to replace it with a silver rat. Puja was done, and we stepped out happily as the temple compound is so much scattered with rats and food articles that at times it is difficult to walk. In the evening with nothing to do, we decided to visit Shardul Colony Park, which has a toy train ride for children. We were caught off-guard when we got stuck in sudden thunder storm and rain, something least expected in the desert city. We managed to hire an auto and reach our place safely. Truly the desert is changing.
Our next destination from the hot desert was the cool hill station of Mount Abu. Connecting train was again at late night of Day 2 and the weather was cool after the shower. So we fought hard to stay awake and waited for the train to continue our journey through Rajasthan.