Of Haveli’s and forts and temples we talk, as we try to picture Rajasthan, but we forget that the most used snacks without which the drinks gets boring is also a gift of Rajasthan, mainly Bikaner, within 200kms of Pakistan, amidst the desert.
Bikaner was called Jangladesh, it is in the Thar desert and was completely baron but the one thing which made it an oasis on the trade route between the Gujarat coast and central Asia, were its natural springs.
Rao Bika was the eldest son of Maharaja Rao Jodha of the Rathore clan of Jodhpur and wanted a kingdom for himself. So he built a fort in Bikaner 250 kms north-west of Jodhpur and established a city. As any city in the trade route, Bikaner prospered but it was not until the times of the sixth Raja, Rai Singhji, when the city’s fortune flourished. Raja Rai Singhji was an army general at the court of Emperor Akbar and Jahangir. He had won many accolades in the war fought for the Mughals and thus received jagirs from the emperor.
These jagirs earned him huge revenues and he was able to build the beautiful Junagarh Fort (Chintamani Durg). Subsequent rajas added new palaces to the fort and decorated it further. The Bikaner Rajas accepted the suzerainty of the British after the Mughals and thus have been always wealthy and prosperous. After independence the then Maharaja, Lieutenant General Sir Sadul Singh acceded the princely state of Bikaner to the Union of India. The last Raja Dr. Karani Singh had fought in the Second World War and was member of the Indian parliament for 25years. Now the royal family lives in a suit at the Lalgarh palace which they have turned into a luxury hotel.
Rajas, royalty and their prosperity, more or less the same story all over the world but Bhujiyas and bhujiyawalas are unique to Bikaner. It all started here. Bhujiyas, delicious, can be preserved for days and a little quells the hunger, made a wonderful carry on food through the desert where caravanserais are distant and infrequent.
Born in 1877, when the first moth bean, chana daal, powdered cellulose, red chilli, black pepper, cardamom and so many other condiments mixed together, went through the sieve into the frying pan, the Bhujiya finally got the Geographical Indications rights and patents in 2010, so none other than the local manufacturers can call their bhujiya, Bikaneri Bhujiya.
Mouth watering kulfi, crispy kachori, tasty puri and multicoloured dry sweets are among the tourist attractions in Bikaner.
The casse-croûte is one of the major cottage industries in Bikaner employing more than 2.5 million people, the other things people are involved in is making kundan jewellery, lac ornaments, leather products, wool craft, carpets, leheriya and tie and dye fabric, quills and bedspreads.
These skills have been passed on for generations, from the intricate carvings in the palaces and temples to the precision of the needle as it moves and the mixture as it goes through the sieve.
Camel is another important element of dwelling in Bikaner. Ganga Risala an elite camel corps unit in the Bikaner Army participated in both the World Wars and for the Indian Army in the Indo-Pak war. Bikaner is the only place to have a camel research farm and breeding centre in India and one of the biggest in the world. Varied varieties of camels are housed in the research centre, one humped, two humped, kachchi, Jaisalmeri, Bikaneri and many more. Camel milk products are available at the research centre for the tourist which is extremely delicious. Camel bones from the dead camels can replace ivory and stop the killing of the tuskers.
Bikaner, a vertex of the golden triangle is a thriving city of more than 6.5Lakhs people is distinctly divided into the old and the new city. The old city boasts of exquisitely carved and intelligently designed Havelis of the rich, narrow galis (lanes), bazaars and tightly packed houses of the common man most likely to fend against the heat and desert storms. It is bordered by the Gorgeous Junagarh Fort. The new city has wide roads, havelis and palaces converted into luxury hotels lining them, eateries with an old world charm and glittering street lights.
Many a beautiful and unique attraction can be attempted with Bikaner as the starting point, like Karani Mata temple, the safest haven for the rodents some 35kms away towards Nagaur, Gajner palace by the lake, once a hunting lodge of the maharajas, now converted into an opulent hotel, another 35 kms on road to Phalodi, the first monument constructed by Rao Bika, the Kodamdeshwar Temple some 24kms to the west and ofcourse the beautiful cenotaphs in a serene surrounding.
Delighted to have visited this colourful and humble abode of the Bhujiawalas.