In the desert of Rajasthan, Bikaner rises like a gorgeous apparition, with its red brick palaces, exotic temples and atmospheric ancient center. Add in camel safaris and stunning desert scenery, and you've found one of north-west India's finest destinations.
Without question Bikaner's premier attraction, the Junagarh Fort dates back to the 16th century and features a superb textile museum within its astonishing grounds.
Beyond Junagarh, Bikaner's highlights include the colonial Laxmi Niwas Palace and the Lalgarh Fort that was home for centuries to the Rajputana royal family.
Get out into the desert of Rajasthan on the back of a camel with expert guides who know every birdwatching spot and photo opportunity.
From street food like bhujia (chickpea chips) to thalis that cover the entire table and a dizzying variety of sweets, Rajasthan is a fantastic Indian destination for gastronomes.
Just 20 miles from Bikaner, Karni Mata is a Hindu temple with a difference: the priests there venerate rats, seeing them as holy guardians. It's a beautiful place, but one for rodent fans only.
The foundations of Junagarh Fort were laid in 1478 by Maharaja Rao Bika,and the city of Bikaner grew up around it. It is considered one of Bikaner's major tourist attractions. Within are temples, mosques, archways, mansions and a museum depicting the royal life the fort once witnessed. Upon arrival at Junagarh Fort, the first thing you'll notice are the artistic courtyards, balconies, and windows. Step into the Zenana quarters where elegant designs that demonstrate a high level of artistic skill are exhibited. Be enthralled by the carvings in red and gold sandstone.
Formerly the residence of Bikaner's Maharaja, Sir Ganga Singh, the Gajner Palace is currently a Heritage hotel. It stands approximately 20 km from Bikaner beside the picturesque Gajner Lake. If you decide to stay for more than a day, the Gajner Palace offers the best in hospitality. Alternatively, if your budget doesn't go in line with the palace's prices, you could always opt for a day trip instead. The Gajner Palace is divided into five distinctive areas: Mandir Chowk, Dungar Niwas, Champa Niwas and Gulab Niwas. In each of these areas, you can enjoy desert safaris, boating, nature walks, and lots of other fun activities.
One of the most well-known attractions in Bikaner, the Karni Mata Temple is also one of India's strangest holy places. This Hindu temple, which dates back to the early 15th century, is mainly dedicated to the Goddess Durga incarnate, Karni Mata. History records that when Mata's son passed on, she called upon Yama to bring him back to life, but Yama declined. Taking advantage of her power as the Goddess of incarnation, Karni Mata restored her son's life and declared that her future family will never die, but instead be reincarnated in rat form. So when you arrive here, be prepared for a warm welcome from approximately 20,000 rats.
Situated a few kilometers from the magnificent Thar Desert is the world-famous Sand Dunes Safari, and this particular site brings a whole new meaning to the term 'safari.' You, the visitor, get to decide how long the safari is going to take. What's more, you also have the option of camping in the desert! A night in the desert is an enchanting experience, especially when accompanied by lively and captivating music and folk dance performances.
Built in the 15th century by the now famous Rampuria family, Rampuria Haveli is one of the best places to visit in Bikaner. It offers possibly the finest extant example of Rajputana architecture. The Rampuria Haveli is an exquisite palatial house constructed from red sandstone. Within the magnificent rooms you'll find a wealth of aesthetic treasures, including portraits, carvings and other beautifully crafted art objects.
Generally, Bikaner is at its best between November and March, when you can avoid the incredibly hot summer temperatures. January is a great time to go, as the city hosts its annual Camel Fair.
The closest airports are at Jodhpur and Jaipur, with the latter offering a better choice of routes. From there, the best option is to catch a direct train (about 7 hours, RS265).
Trains run into Bikaner Junction from Jaipur, Mumbai, New Delhi and most other major Indian cities. the journey from Delhi takes around 20 hours and costs RS435.
From New Delhi, take Highway 3348, then Highway 11. From Jodhpur, just follow Highway 62 northwards.
Rishabh Travels and Shrinath Travel Agency both run buses from major Indian cities into Bikaner.
Accommodation highlights in Bikaner include the exquisite Lalgarh Palace and the Laxmi Niwas Palace, where you can literally live like a prince.
Kamala Colony - Home to the Junagarh Fort and the textiles museum, Kamala attracts almost every visitor to Bikaner.
Kote Gate - Just south of the historic center, Kote Gate is a relaxed area with some excellent restaurants, including Heeralal and Vrindavan.
Hanuman Hatha - A well-heeled central neighborhood, Hanuman Hatha is home to some of the city's finest hotels as well as Sursagar, a chilled-out city center lake that's a great place to unwind.
Buses aren't really a viable way to get around the confined streets of central Bikaner, so locals tend to rely on trishaws. Expect a short inner city hop to cost around RS250.
Expect taxis to charge around RS50 for the meter drop, followed by around RS20 for every mile after that.
Car rental companies in Bikaner include Bikaner Travel and Shreeji, and you can find rates as low as RS400 per day.
Bikaner isn't a famous shopping destination, but you can find some stunning woolen textiles at stores like Arvind Textile or Deepak Textiles.
If you need groceries, Bikaner's options include Reliance Fresh and Banwari Lal. As a guide, expect to pay around RS160 for a gallon of milk.
Rajasthani food is sublime, with street food and mains to suit everyone's tastes. Some of the best eateries in Bikaner include Gallops (which fuses Indian, European and Chinese dishes), Heerelal's (which has a vegetarian emphasis) and Bhanwar Niwas, an upscale hotel-based restaurant. Expect meals to come to around RS450 per person.