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This desert town in the north of the state was founded in 1488 by Rao Bikaji, a descendant of the founder of Jodhpur, Jodhaji. 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. The Gang Canal, built between 1925 and 1927, irrigates a large area of previously arid land around Bikaner.
Although it’s less impressive than Jaisalmer, Bikaner is still an interesting place to visit, but not many travellers stop here. There’s a superb large fort, a government camel breeding farm just outside the town, and 30 km to the south is the Karni Mata Temple where thousands of holy rats are worshipped. 

The old city is encircled by a seven-km long city wall with five entrance gates, constructed in the 18th century. The fort and palace, built of the same reddish-pink sand-stone as Jaipur’s famous buildings, are outside the city walls. 

Junagarh Fort
Constructed between 1588 and 1593 by Raja Rai Singh, a general in the army of the Mughal emperor, Akbar, the fort has a 986 –metre-long wall with 37 bastions and two entrances. The Suraj Pol, or Sun Gate, is the main entrance to the fort. The palaces within the fort are on the southern side and make a picturesque ensemble of courtyards, balconies, kiosks, towers and windows. A major feature of this fort and its palaces is the superb quality of the stone carving- it rivals the best anywhere in the world.   
Among the places of interest are the Chandra Mahal, or Moon Palace, with paintings, mirrors and carved marble panels. The Phool Mahal, or flowers is also decorated with glass and mirrors. The Karn Mahal was built to commemorate a notable victory over the Mughal Aurangzeb.
Other palaces include the Rang Mahal, Bijai Mahal and Anup Mahal. The contents include the usual Rajput weapon collection, not to mention the decaying pieces of a couple of old WW I biplanes. The Durga Niwas is a beautifully painted courtyard while the Ganga Niwas, another large courtyard, has a finely carved red sandstone front, Har Mandir is the royal temple, dedicated to Siva.  The fort is open daily except Friday from 10 am to 4:30 pm.   

Lalgarh Palace
Three km north of the city centre, this red sandstone palace was built by Maharaja Ganga Singh (1881-1942) in memory of his father Maharaja Lal Singh. Although it’s a grand building with overhanging balconies and delicate latticework, it’s not the most beautiful of Rajasthani royal residences.
The Shri Sadul Museum covers the entire first floor of the palace. A fawning brochure describe the contents as ’some gorgeous paintings and other rare artifacts that reveal these maharaja’s appreciation and profound interest for art skill and brilliance’. But the museum is worth seeing, and houses an incredible array of photos, and an extraordinary collection of the former maharaja’s personal possessions- golf clubs, camera, clothes, books, passport, glasses, earplugs and electric toothbrush! There’s also the usual exhibition of Indian wildlife, shot and stuffed.
    The Bikaner royal family still lives in part of the palace, while the rest has been turned into a luxury hotel. The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm.

Other Attractions
The narrow odoriferous streets of the old city conceal a number of old havelis and a couple of notable Jain temples. Built by two brothers, the Bhandeshwar and Sandeshwar temples date from the 14th century. Unlike most other Jain temples in Rajasthan they are decorated inside with colourful wall paintings.
The Ganga Golden Jubilee Museum contains a collection of sculpture, terracotta ware, coins, paintings and arms. It’s open daily except Friday from 10am to 5 pm.

Things to Buy
On the right –hand side as you enter the fort, by the tourist office, is an excellent craft shop, run by the Urmul Trust. Items sold here are of high quality and made by people from surrounding villages. Proceeds go directly to improve health and education projects in these villages. You can browse here without the usual constant hassles to buy. 

Getting There & Away
: The airport is 15 km from the centre but not currently served by any airline. 

Bus: The bus stand is three km north of the city centre, right opposite the Lalgarh Palace. There are at least two RSTC buses daily between Bikaner and Jaisalmer (8 hours).
The Jaipur buses go via the Shekhawati town of Fatehpur (4 ½ hours). Other places served by bus from Bikaner include Udaipur (13hours), Ajmer (7 hours), Agra and Delhi. 

Train: The computerized booking office, open daily from 8 am to 8 pm, is in the building to the right as you approach the station.
Bikaner is now connected to Jodhpur and Jaipur by broad-gauge line. Service on the 463 –km metre-gauge trip to Delhi. 

Bhand Sagar Temple
The 16th –century Jain temple to the 23rd Tirthankar, Parasvanath, is the most important of the complex. Others include the Chintamani Temple of 1505 and the Adinath Temple. There is a fine view of the city wall and surrounding countryside from the park behind the temple. 

Devi Kund

Eight km east of Bikaner, this is the site of the royal chhatris (cenotaphs) of many of the Bika dynasty rulers. The white marble chhatri of Maharaja Surat Singh is among the most imposing.   

Camel Breeding Farm
This government-managed camel breeding station, eight km from
Bikaner, is probably unique in Asia. There are hundreds of camels here and it’s great sight in the late afternoon as the camels come back from gazing. The British army had a camel corps drawn from Bikaner during WW I.
The farm is open afternoons only and rides are available. Half the auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers in Bikaner appear to be on the lookout for tourists to take out there, but you need to bargain hard with them. For the round trip including a half-hour wait at the farm. 

Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary
The lake and forested hills of this reserve, 32 km from Bikaner on the Jaisalmer road, are inhabited by wildfowl and a number of deer and antelope. Imperial sand grouse migrate here in winter.
The old royal summer palace, on the banks of the lake, is now the Gajner Palace Hotel  

Following the highly publicized 1994 outbreak of plague in India, state governments have been attempting to reduce rat populations with heavy use of pesticides. Of course, this being India, not all rats are on the death list. The thousands that inhabit the Karni Mata Temple in Deshnok are further incarnations of mystics and sadhus, so pest control here would be sacrilege.
A visit to this fascinating temple, dedicated to Karni Mata, an incarnation of Durga, is not for the squeamish. Once you’ve admired the huge silver gates and marble carvings donated by Maharaja Ganga Singh, you plunge into the sea of swarming rodents, hoping that some will scamper over you feet –most auspicious. Little boys pick them up by their tails and let them perch on your shoulders. Devotees buy Prasad to offer to the rats, finishing off anything they may leave. Eating Prasad that has been salivated over by these holy rats brings even greater good fortune, but is not recommended for wimpish Western constitutions.

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