Welcome to Bikaner, Rajasthan’s ‘Red City’.
Step off the beaten path and embark on a journey to the vibrant city of Bikaner, where time seems to have paused amidst its majestic architecture, rich history, and untamed beauty. Often overshadowed by its more illustrious state sibling, Jaipur, Bikaner beckons with its own unique allure, offering travelers an exclusive experience that combines heritage, hospitality, and a glimpse into a lesser-explored facet of Rajasthan.
Where To Stay In Bikaner
First things first, where to stay in Bikaner? There are two standout options that truly capture the essence of Bikaner and there's simply no other alternative you should choose: Narendra Bhawan and The Laxmi Niwas Palace renowned for their architectural marvels. These places aren't just hotels; they're experiences that let you dive headfirst into the city's opulent history.
Narendra Bhawan, a former royal residence, is one of Rajasthan's most exceptional heritage properties. Following the passing of the last Maharaja of Bikaner, this stunning residence underwent a transformation that artfully merges its regal heritage with modern opulence. Elaborate archways lead the eye to a carefully curated collection of artefacts that line the walls, each telling a story of the Maharaja's world travels. Yet, amidst this historical opulence, contemporary design elements ooze through. Plush seating arrangements immediately invite you to relax and soak in the grandeur of the lobby. Bombay Art Deco accents, gracefully juxtaposed against rich textiles and vibrant hues, create an environment that is simultaneously timeless and modern. The best part is the serene rooftop pool, which absolutely is the cherry on top of the cake.
Laxmi Niwas Palace
The Laxmi Niwas Palace - truly a treasure trove of history and architectural brilliance - The Laxmi Niwas Palace stands as a testament to the artistic finesse of the past. As you step into its regal corridors and ornate chambers, you'll be transported to a time of regal extravagance. The palace seamlessly marries Rajput and European architectural styles, with an ambience that is both majestic and inviting. While it's true that The Laxmi Niwas Palace may bear a slightly more vintage charm (ahem, outdated) compared to the contemporary elegance of Narendra Bhawan, it's this very vintage essence that sets it apart. From the lavish regal suites that whisper tales of kings and queens, to the breathtaking courtyard that becomes a stage for nightly feasts accompanied by live Rajasthani music and dance, every facet of this palace is a masterpiece in its own right.
Beyond the luxurious confines of these palatial retreats lies a city brimming with cultural gems and unique experiences. Here are my top picks for things to do in Bikaner:
Junagarh Fort: A spellbinding example of Rajput architecture, Junagarh Fort is a glorious blend of red sandstone and marble. Its intricate carvings, ornate balconies, and grand courtyards reveal the rich history and artistic prowess of the past. Junagarh Fort is a photographer’s paradise with so many stunning rooms and art to capture.
Old City Bazaars: Delve into the vibrant heart of Bikaner by wandering through the bustling bazaars of the old city. From aromatic spices to intricate textiles, these markets offer a sensory overload that is an essential part of the Bikaner experience. Haggling is all part of the fun so brace yourself.
Rampuria Haveli: Marvel at the intricate facades and ornate designs of Rampuria Haveli, a symbol of Bikaner's opulent past. These grand havelis tell stories of affluent merchants and their artistic legacies. When you Google Bikaner, it is likely the first image you see is of Rampuria Haveli. Although you cannot go inside, wander around the outside from all angles and then take a stroll through the neighbouring streets - all stunning for street photography.
Seth Bhandasar Jain Temple: Admire the stunning architecture of Seth Bhandasar Jain Temple, adorned with vibrant frescoes that depict tales from Jain mythology. The intricate detailing will leave you in awe and you won’t be able to take your eyes off the artistry. Seth Bhandasar Jain Temple is indeed a temple, so dress appropriately, visit with respect, and you can also take some flowers as an offering sold just outside the temple. Don’t be afraid to speak to the priest to get a deeper insight into the place of worship.
Bikaner's culinary scene is a symphony of flavours that tantalize the taste buds with every bite - just like all Indian cuisine! While in Bikaner, indulge in traditional Rajasthani dishes like Bikaneri bhujia, gatte ki sabzi, and the huge variety of sweets that give you a glimpse into the region's culinary heritage. Some places you should absolutely visit are The Laxmi Niwas Palace for traditional Rajasthani thali for dinner where they also have live music and dance, Chhotu Motu Joshi, as mentioned below, Narendra Bhawan for drinks and light bites, Chhappan Bhog for sweets and savoury snacks, Chai Patti for chai and fried snacks (in the morning) and Manka Maharaj Rabdi Wale for sweets.
Bikaner Hidden Gems and Insider Tips
To make your trip even more memorable, here are some hidden gems in Bikaner and insider tips.
Hotel Bhairon Vilas: Go for drinks at Hotel Bhairon Vilas, where eclectic antiques meet old-world charm. The dark and dim bar that's sprawling with antiques and artefacts creates the most unique bar setting that you are unlikely to forget. This is a boutique hotel with quirky rooms, but also has a bar, cafe, and lots of vintage cars.
Bhanwar Niwas Cafe: Unlock the secrets of a haveli's inner world by visiting the cafe at Bhanwar Niwas. The opulent courtyard and elegant architecture provide a peaceful oasis for a cup of chai or cold coffee and you get to see what the inside of a haveli looks like. If you are lucky, the owner’s daughter might just give you a private tour of the rooms.
Chhotu Motu Joshi: Sit with the locals at one of the oldest restaurants in Bikaner, and savour the flavours at Chhotu Motu Joshi. You must have the alloo poori sabzi here along with the rasgulla for dessert, although you can’t go wrong with any of their desserts. Outside of the rasgulla, I recommend the jalebi and kulfi. So good!
Chunnilal Sharbat: Quench your thirst with a refreshing (non-alcoholic) drink at Chunnilal Sharbat, a local favourite known for its range of flavours. Sharbat is an iced drink made with fruit juices or extracts from flowers or herbs with sugar and water or soda water. At Chunnilal, there are so many flavours like cardamom, rose and fennel. We did a tasting of them all and it was so worth it, especially in the March heat. Fun fact - the welcome drinks upon check-in at Narendra Bhawan are also from Chunnilal Sharbat.
While Rajasthan is known for its tourist hotspots, Bikaner beckons the discerning traveller to uncover its lesser-travelled corners. With a perfect blend of regal splendour, cultural richness, and untamed beauty, Bikaner promises an authentic experience that captures the essence of Rajasthan in a way few destinations can. And I promise you, you will leave feeling so inspired.