Friday, August 13, 2010

Rajasthan by road - day 3, Jaipur to Bikaner

Bikaner is at a distance of 330 km from Jaipur and it took us nearly 6 hours to reach Bikaner from Jaipur. Bikaner is a part of the Marwad region of Rajasthan. It is a small town in the desert area of Rajasthan. Junagarh fort is a fort in the city of Bikaner which was originally named Chintamani and then renamed to Junagarh or Old Fort in the early 20th century when the ruling family moved to Lalgarh Palace built on the outskirts of the fort.  Junagarh is one of the few major forts in Rajasthan which is not on top of a hill.

Junagarh Fort, Bikaner

The large fort precinct is studded with palaces, temples, and pavilions.  Karan Mahal or the Public Audience Hall has stained glass windows and intricately carved balconies built in stone. Phool Mahal or the Flower Palace is the oldest part of the palace. Anup Mahal is a multi-storey structure which functioned as the administrative headquarters of the kingdom.  Chandra Mahal houses gold-plated deities and paintings inlaid with precious stones.  In the royal bedroom, mirrors have been strategically placed so that no intruder could escape the eyes of the Maharaja. Ganga Mahal has a large durbar hall which houses the museum.  The museum has exhibits of war weaponry and also an aeroplane from the World War I which is said to be still functional and well maintained. Badal Mahal  or the Weather Palace houses various paintings.  The Fort also has a fort museum which houses various paintings, royal costumes, headgears, jewels, cutlery, crystals, etc.

Another attraction of Bikaner is the Deshnok Karni Mata Temple which is at a distance of 30 km from Bikaner along Jodhpur road. It is also famous as the Rat Temple. Here, one will find hundreds of rats running about almost every part of the temple.  Rats are considered to be the incarnations of the Mata's followers. Legend has it that Karni Mata who lived sometime in the 14th century, performed many a miracle during her life-time.  When her youngest son died, Karni Mata asked Yamraj, the God of death, to bring him back to life.

Deshnok Temple
Yamraj replied that he was unable to do so, but Karni Mata who was an incarnation of Durga, could restore her son's life. Thus not only did she restore her son's life but also decreed that her followers would be reincarnated as kabas or rats and these kabas would return as members of her family. The many families residing in Deshnok claim both decent from Karni Mata and that they will be reincarnated as kabas.  It is considered very auspicious to have a kaba run over your feet, but I ran out of the temple at the first possible opportunity. It was very scary to find rats in every nook and corner of the temple, running about, ready to jump on you!!

In Bikaner we were put up at a heritage hotel called the Basant Vihar Palace. The rooms were very well done, very comfortable, making one feel like a part of the ancient royal family, but the food was so-so.

Do not miss the quaint little shop on Station Road, from where Haldiram first started his venture into the food business.

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