Third leg of the Rajasthan road trip: Jaisalmer to Bikaner
3rd Mar – 6th day of roadtrip: We checked out from Prince desert camp (Sam sand dunes) at 9:30 am and took the road to Bikaner which was via Jaisalmer-Pokhran. The approximate distance between Sam sand dunes and Bikaner was 380 kms. We drove on NH11 and just before Pokhran we sliced left to get on NH15. This is were TD had a tough time, first time in the roadtrip. NH15 was in the process of getting widened, due to which a large section was converted into a single lane highway – Paradise was now going to be turned into hell. The truck traffic was also very high and there were several patches of 4-5 kms each which were in very bad state. There was almost no road and TD felt as if he was driving on boulders. These patches would shake all 206 bones of your body even if you would drive at a dead slow speed of 20 kms/hr. TD tried its best to keep the entire focus on driving until we decided to stop at around 1 pm for lunch. There are not much options on this highway and where we ate lunch was not good either. We were back on NH15 at 2 pm and covered the next 60 kms quickly as the road was better from here till Bikaner. After a bad drive from Pokhran to Bikaner we finally reached and checked-in at 3 pm in Lallgarh palace.
Lallgarh palace was divided into 3 parts lately, the right most part is the private residence of the royal family of Bikaner. The middle part is converted into a luxury hotel and named Laxmi niwas palace. Left most part is converted into a heritage hotel and is called Lallgarh palace where we were put up. If you are thinking how much we would have paid for this marvelous heritage property – No, we did not spend too much to get an accommodation here, we were lucky enough to strike a good deal online of rs 4500 per night inclusive of buffet breakfast. It gave us an experience of staying in a palace, experiencing the royal hospitality and was worth every dime we spent. It had multiple restaurants to choose from, an indoor swimming pool, gym and lots of paintings, handicrafts, informative articles etc on display throughout the hotel lobbies. Mostly the guests were foreigners (non-Indians), but you actually share the palace with the royal family if you stay here! 🙂
We were very tired and needed a nap badly. Soon all 3 of us crashed on the luxurious maharaja bed. We got up at around 5 pm and without wasting further time jumped into the pool to relax and freshen up the body. While I was swimming, my wife quickly did some expert google search to find out the best and oldest market place to buy authentic stuff. Soon we were off to KEM road. This is a one way road so we parked our car and then roamed around for an hour on foot. Tip: We bought authentic Bikaneri bhujia and Papads. You can also look for Bikaneri jewellery and spices, specially red chili. We located a restaurant called Sukhsagar and had sumptuous dinner which included Makhaniya lassi. By around 10 pm we were back to Lallgarh palace – the night view of the entire place was just stunning. We clicked a lot of snaps in the huge garden surrounding the palace. We went back to the room, fell asleep pretty soon as we were damn tired after the bumpy ride to Bikaner and were still coping with the aftershocks.
4th Mar – 7th day of roadtrip: We woke up early around 7 am, got ready quickly and went straight to Padam Mahal one of the restaurants of Lallgarh palace. The breakfast menu was very cleverly thought off to cater to all types of guests from different geographies of the world and offered plethora of options – result we over ate! The hospitality was excellent and we left the palace with a good experience and smile on our faces at 9:30 am. We went to the Shri Sadul museum which is inside the palace premises only. It is a small museum but show cases interesting history of Bikaner and the current royal family. We spent around half an hour and then went straight to the Junagarh fort.
Of all the forts I visited in this trip undoubtedly this was the best. This fort was inhabited by 16 kings over a period of 350 years. As we entered the fort premises, a flock of private guides surrounded us. Tip: Do not fall prey to the private guides, they will charge you heavily. Instead buy tickets and wait for some time in the waiting area and the official guide will take you around the fort in a group. Official guides are salaried employees of the fort trust and don’t charge you extra. Please note that you are not allowed to go inside the fort without a guide.
So after buying the tickets we waited for about 15 min in the cool breezy gallery and then we were taken inside the fort for a guided tour. The guide was one of the best guides we had engaged so far and was pretty knowledgeable and gave good insights about the fort. The fort museum is huge (one of the hall is so huge that it showcases vintage world war I airplane) and we spent next 3 hours here unknowingly as every room you get into has an interesting history and you never get bored. After coming out of the fort we quickly grabbed sandwiches from the fort restaurant and went to another small museum which is behind the restaurant only and is inside the fort premises. This museum mostly showcases items related to daily usage of the royal family. We spent around half an hour here too before we planned to leave for our next destination. It was now time for us to get bit more religious!
Some interesting information on Bikaner and tourist attractions (Source – Internet):
Lallgarh Palace was built for Sir Ganga Singh, Maharaja of Bikaner, between 1902 and 1926. In 1972, Karni Singh, the Maharaja of Bikaner, established the Ganga Singhji Charitable Trust. The Maharaja endowed a part of Lallgarh Palace to be used in service of the trust. Two wings were converted into independent hotels with the income from The Lallgarh Palace Hotel, a heritage hotel used to support the trust. The palace whoping 1 million rupees due to the use of the finest materials including the widespread employment of finely carved stonework. The three-storey complex is coated in red sandstone quarried from the Thar Desert. Lord Curzon was the palace’s first notable guest. Ganga Singh was legendary for his shikars (hunts) at his hunting preserve at Gajner, in particular his Imperial Sand Grouse hunts at Christmas.As a result, the palace hosted many guests including Georges Clemenceau in 1920, Queen Mary, King George V, Lord Harding and Lord Irwin.
Junagarh Fort was originally called Chintamani and was renamed Junagarh or “Old Fort” in the early 20th century when the ruling family moved to Lalgarh Palace outside the fort limits. It is one of the few major forts in Rajasthan which is not built on a hilltop. The fort complex was built under the supervision of Karan Chand, the Prime Minister of Raja Rai Singh, the sixth ruler of Bikaner, who ruled from 1571 to 1611 AD. Construction of the walls and associated moat commenced in 1589 and was completed in 1594. It was built outside the original fort of the city, about 1.5 kilometres from the city centre. Before the present Junagarh Fort was built, an old stone fort existed in the city. This fort was built in 1478 by Rao Bika who established the city of Bikaner in 1472. Some remnants of the old fort are preserved near the Lakshmi Narayan temple.
Historical records reveal that despite the repeated attacks by enemies to capture the fort, it was not taken, except for a lone one-day occupation by Kamran Mirza. Kamran was the second son of the Mughal Emperor Babur who attacked Bikaner in 1534, which was then ruled by Rao Jait Singh.
Karan Singh who ruled from 1631 to 1639, under the suzerainty of the Mughals, built the Karan Mahal palace. Later rulers added more floors and decorations to this Mahal. Anup Singh, who ruled from 1669–98, made substantial additions to the fort complex, with new palaces and the Zenana quarter (royal dwelling for females). He refurbished the Karan Mahal with a Diwan-i-Am (public audience hall) and called it the Anup Mahal. Gaj Singh who ruled from 1746 to 1787 refurbished the Chandra Mahal (the Moon palace). Following him, Surat Singh ruled from 1787 to 1828 and he lavishly decorated the audience hall with glass and lively paintwork. Dungar Singh who reigned from 1872 to 1887 built the Badal Mahal (the weather palace) named so in view of a painting of falling rain and clouds (a rare event in arid Bikaner). Ganga Singh who ruled from 1887 to 1943 built the Ganga Niwas Palace, which has towers at the entrance patio.
The fort has 7 gates, while the main entry gate was Karan Pol or Parole, facing east, the current gate of entry is called Suraj Pol (meaning the Sun gate), ‘pol’ also colloquially spelt prol, built in gold coloured or yellow sandstone, unlike the other gates and buildings built in red sandstone. It is the east facing gate permitting the rising Sun’s rays to fall on the gate, which is considered a good omen. The doors of this gate are strengthened with iron spikes and studs to prevent ramming by elephants during an attack. At the entrance to the gate, two red stone statues of elephants with mahouts stand as sentinels. The gate was also the location for announcing the arrival and departure of royalty by musicians playing the trumpet from a gallery in the gate. The other gates are Karan Pol, Daulat Pol, Chand Pol (a double gate) and Fateh Pol; these provided access to various monuments in the fort. The Karan Pol gate is also braced with iron spikes to prevent battering of the gate by elephants. To the right of this gate is Daulat Pol. Forty-one hand imprints are seen on the Daulat Pol gate wall, in red colour, of the wives of the Maharajas of Bikaner, who committed sati (self immolation) on the funeral pyres of their husbands who died in battle.
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