By now, you all must be knowing that I am the kind of person who gets high on history. The sensation that one feels while walking through medieval stone carved corridors, while breathing in the damp air of old fortresses, while feeling the sunshine peeping through cracked ceilings of ancient temples is simply ineffable. To feel that, one needs to surrender to time. These monuments speak to us only when we let go of the sense of presence. Once you are able to do that, there is no turning back (or only turning back literally).
So if you are someone like me then Junagarh fort of Bikaner needs to be on your must visit list. And even if you are not a history buff, do visit it because it is simply gorgeous.
We payed a quick visit to Bikaner during our short trip to northern Rajasthan in September 2019. Bikaner, one of the lesser hyped destinations in Rajasthan has a lot to offer to a history and architecture lover. The Bikaner of my imagination was a rustic little town with cramped lanes sitting by the sand dunes of Thar desert. However, in reality, the landscapes were exceptionally green thanks to the insane rainfall of this year. The sand dunes were nowhere to be seen as they were all covered under poppy green vegetation. Only the old parts of the town were closer to my imagination. Rest was a fairly modern city with spacious planned roads and gardens. The old town had tiny lanes lined by heritage buildings and shops bustling with action. But by no means Bikaner was a sleepy small town.
I was fascinated by the energy of the place. That is one thing that no amount of research on google can provide you with. One has to actually visit the place to feel the vibe and see for oneself if it connects. Bikaner connected to me instantly.
I was now eagerly waiting for the next morning to visit the Junagarh fort.
Enter the marvelous Junagarh fort of Bikaner and be ready to be swept off your feet as the gold plated pillars, intricately carved windows, motif laden walls peeping through a maze of pristine marble and elegant sandstone transport you to an era when minimalism was unheard of. When the royal family drama and politics were more intense than any kind of soap opera you’ve ever seen. When building a massive unconquerable fort in a desert wasn’t a big deal.
Junagarh fort is a unique architectural feat. It was ruled by 16 generations who built and upgraded structures inside the fort complex. The influence of the contemporary Mughal or Western architecture can be seen on the monuments built by later generations. The kings had accepted sovereignty of the Mughals and later the British Raj, thus enjoyed rewards and revenues from their various jagirs which were in turn used for the construction of this fort. This sense of security and prosperity is evident in the way this fort developed even though it is built on plain land.
We visited Bikaner during September and were greeted with the infamous heat of Rajasthan. I once did the mistake of underestimating the chill of Rajasthan, and there I was again, underestimating its heat. Between the sultry heat, following our guide, attempting wide angle photos while dodging crazy selfie lover tourists – I feel like I missed out on a lot. Needless to say, while leaving the fort I promised myself that I would return in a better season. Because what I saw during those three hours was just a glimpse of the grandeur of a bygone era.
A few tips while visiting the Junagarh fort, Bikaner:
- The fort opens around 10 AM. It is very popular among local tourists who may or may not be interested in the architectural or historic details. The fort provides a free guide who shows around in large groups without much useful information. So I would recommend hiring one of the private guides. If you are traveling solo / couple, try to tag along others who too might be interested in a private guide. Don’t hesitate to bargain before you hire a guide. They anyway expect tips at the end of the tour.
- Bikaner is a desert city. Except winter season, it is mostly very hot (even for an Indian) throughout the day. I would recommend visiting Bikaner only during winter because only then you can enjoy the beauty of the place to the fullest.
- There are many other things to see and do in Bikaner in addition to Junagarh fort. Visiting the old parts of the town, Bhandasar jain temple and Lalgarh palace should be on your list even if you are running short on time.
- If you are traveling to /from Jaipur,and planning to visit the Karni Mata temple (The temple of rats) at Deshnoke – make sure you don’t have smell sensitivity because the place heavily smells of rats and if it is a hot /humid day -things can smell and look pretty unappealing. Avoid consuming food / water from nearby stalls.
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