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Published: July 31st 2017
Rajasthan is a state filled with palaces and forts in all major cities. The ones in Chittorgarh, Jodhpur and Kumbalgarh are very well known, but the Junagarh Fort in Bikaner is quite underrated. The reason I call this a fort unlike any other is that this is not perched on a hill like the other ones. It is right in the center of the city of Bikaner. The city and civilization is built around this fort without disturbing its historic value. The royal family that belong to this fort reside in the Lalgarh Palace in the city's outskirts. This palace is strictly off limits for tourists, but trust me the palace is a sand stone marvel which you can look at all day long!
The fort looks very simple from the outside. The entry ticket (Rs.50) is the cheapest when you compare the other palaces and forts of Rajasthan. Tourists are organized in groups and a guide takes you through the history of the fort and his narration is so good that you will literally live in the Marwar era. The guide is a volunteer (you can compliment them if you wish to and they are too good) and he
can speak English, Hindi, French, Spanish, German and Dutch. Wow, right? There is more wow factor inside.
As you enter the gates made entirely of silver, your hands will twitch to touch them, but you cannot. They are shielded and guarded. The fort is filled with beautiful courtyards, balconies, temples, decorated with myriad colors and paintings. Every room has a different set of pattern and different set of colors on them. The families of those involved in making these patterns and paintings are still in Bikaner and they are responsible for the maintenance of these beauties.There is one particular hall called the Anup Mahal, that has its entire wall touched with real gold. Again, you cannot touch it! There are temples and swings dedicated to Lord Krishna and you can feel the vibration of Krishna swinging with Radha on it.
One particular room mesmerized me. This was the room for performing musicians. In the Mughal era, there obviously weren't fans or air conditioners. Well, there was a huge tank where water used to be filled.There is a narrow opening in the tank which can be controlled by a knob near it. There was a big fan made of
silk cloth that was moved with ropes by maids in the palace. When the fan is in motion, cold water generates cool air for the musicians performing in the hall. Also, do not miss out the crooked fan in the exhibit hall which was sent by the East India Company when the Maharaja ordered this luxury commodity (online shopping kind of). The Raj couldn't digest the fact that an Indian could afford a fan! So they bent the blades on purpose.
There is another Durbar hall which is entirely wood walled to keep temperatures under control for the Raja and his audience. The courtyards are made with either white marble or a combination of white marble and red sandstone. Do not miss the exhibits of the famous World War I airplane and the collection of palanquins for the queens. The palanquins are again made with the weather in mind. There is a collection of weapons and armory inside. There is an interesting tale of one of the maharajas who had a very strange problem. He had a huge mustache and every time he was dining with an Englishman he couldn't avoid the soup from sticking on his mustache. This
wasn't well received by his guests. He found out a solution for this problem without shaving off his famous mustache!
He designed a spoon for himself that had an opening just for the soup to touch his lips and the rest were covered by a food safe material. Do find a picture of the famous spoon in the pictures. There are rooms on one of the terraces where all the royal babies were born. One of the balconies gives you a wonderful view of the royal gardens which is extremely well maintained and strictly off limits to outsiders. Junagarh fort is one fine example of appearances being deceptive. There is history, modernity, art, wealth, faith and so much more inside which is well concealed by its appearance from the city roads.
There is so much more to talk about this desert city, Bikaner, one of my personal favorites in Rajasthan. I will let you all hear from the fort walls instead. Bikaner is another city amidst the Thar apart from Jaisalmer.
Few tips before you venture to Bikaner. Always carry a government issued ID proof (Passport, Aadhar card etc) since the city is too close to Indo-Pak
border. The best time to visit is September to November and March-April. The summer temperatures are as high as 50C and winter the mercury goes in the negative.
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