Sightseeing in Bikaner: Discover the best things to do and see in the desert city of Rajasthan!

by Deborah Durrfeld
Bikaner bezienswaardigheden

Bikaner is located in the North of Rajasthan, in the heart of the Thar desert. Colorful people, bustling markets, shrines, dusty roads with rickshaws, cars and motorbikes, mixed with many cows, oxen and goats: Bikaner impresses, fascinates and you can’t get enough of it. Because this city is often skipped by tourists, it’s the perfect place to mingle with the locals and observe daily life. Bikaner is known for its special havelis (old merchant houses), bazaars, camels, miniature art and the beautiful Junagarh fort. In this article you’ll find everything you want to know about sightseeing in Bikaner, including what to see and the best things to do in Bikaner and its surroundings. Bikaner was the big surprise of Rajasthan for me!

The best things to do and to see in Bikaner | Sightseeing in Bikaner

Background information about Bikaner

Bikaner was founded by Rajput Bikaji in the 15th century. He was the son of the founder of Jodhpur, and left the court, after a family fight, to establish his own city. The Empire of Bikaji ruled Bikaner for almost four and a half centuries. Even during the Mughal Empire, (in the 16th century), the Rajputs remained power by working in high positions. Part of the former royal family still lives in the city.

Bikaner was conveniently located on the caravan route (the route from Africa and West Asia to the Far East) and has therefore always been an important trading city. The city is known for its fantastic camels, and the production of fabrics and carpets. Many Indian fashion brands come to Bikaner to buy their fabrics here.

Kote Gate – Bikaner city center

Is Bikaner worth visiting?

Bikaner is not a city to stay in for days but it’s a nice place to include in your itinerary, when traveling from Jaipur to Jaisalmer. Sightseeing in Bikaner is a great thing to do to experience the real Rajasthan.

What to do in Bikaner? | Sightseeing in Bikaner

The old city | Best things to do in Bikaner

One of the best things to do in Bikaner, is to walk into the old city center and to immerse yourself in everyday life! Bikaner consisted of a seven kilometer long city wall with several entrance gates. The main gateway to the old center is the Kote Gate, where you will also find many small shops. The center consists of a maze of streets and alleys, where you walk past bazaars, suddenly find yourself in an Islamic district and come across many small temples and local workshops.

How is Bikaner city?

There is so much to see in Bikaner old city center and take in. Men are playing cards on squares, ox carts with wood are passing by, goats are walking around, people are waving and trying to have a chat with you. You can stroll around bazaars, such as Bara Bazaar, Junagarh Fort Road, and Mahatma Gandhi Road Market and marvel at the countless spices, jewelry and fabrics. I walked around the center for hours and couldn’t get enough of it.

Tip: The center is easy to explore by foot or by rickshaw. You can also choose to go out with a local guide. This way you get to know the city really well and disappear in the countless alleys, without getting lost. You can also safely taste the delicious chai (Indian tea with countless spices and milk) and Bikaneri street foods that are sold everywhere on the street.

Fort Junargarh | Sightseeing in Bikaner

The Junagarh Fort is an absolute highlight and one of the most impressive things to see in Bikaner. The gigantic fortress is located in the city and cannot be missed, because of its pink-red color and the kilometer-long wall that surrounds the complex.

Inside you will find 37 palaces that are connected by courtyards and corridors. Bikaner is known for its miniature art, something that can be seen in the countless painted walls and tiles. The fort is also called an example of Rajput art. Everywhere you look, you will find beautiful decorations and details. On the balconies, towers, at the stairs, doorways and windows. You will be surprised over and over again.

The fort was built in the 16th century by Raja Rai Singh, the sixth Rajput leader of Bikaner. In the years that followed, it was expanded by different leaders who each left their own mark. It is one of the few fortresses that was not built on a hill, but never conquered, despite many attacks. Because Bikaner attracts few foreign tourists, this fort is less visited than other forts in Rajasthan. You mainly walk among Indian visitors. Not all palaces and corridors are open to the public, but as a woman visiting alone you might get invited by the guards and get access to private areas such as this one.

Things to do in Bikaner Fort Junargarh

Read more about Rajasthan’s most beautiful palaces and fortresses including all the highlights, photos and locations here.

Seth Bhandasar Jain Temple | What to see in Bikaner?

A temple that does not look very special from the outside, will amaze you at the inside by the overwhelming use of colors and artwork. Seth Bhandasar Jain temple was built in the 15th century and dedicated to a Tirthankar, a Jain teacher. The temple is known for its incredible leaf paintings, frescoes and ornamented mirror work, depicting the lives of 24 Jain teachers. The decorations are just impressive and makes it one of the most stunning temples to see in Bikaner.

Jainism is India’s sixth-largest-religion and is practiced throughout India. Because this religion has no gods, it is actually more a philosophy of life. Jainism honors everything that lives. Jainas are vegan and do not wear leather items. In addition, they argue for a fair and nonviolent existence, in which matters do not play a role. Gandhi seems to have been influenced by Jainism in his early years. Two of the most famous Jain temples are located in Ranakpur and Jaisalmer

Laxmi Niwas Palace – Lalgarh palace | What to do in Bikaner?

The Lalgarh palace, is coated in red sandstone and also known as the red fort. It is located north of Bikaner and consists of several buildings, set around large gardens. It is a beautiful complex and one of the best best things to do in Bikaner, if you want to unwind from the busy center. The palace was built in the late 19th century by the maharaja family. The English designer Samuel Swinton Jacob, who was also responsible for the Albert Hall in Jaipur, was asked to design the palace.

One of the palaces has been set up as a museum, where you will learn more about the Maharaja family who lived here. Another part of the palace is still inhabited by part of the family. And yet another building is transformed into a luxury hotel.

In the courtyard of the Laxmi Niwas Palace, you can enjoy the most delicious dishes and the special atmosphere of the palace. Make sure to try the beautifully served thali, with numerous small Indian snacks and breads and have a stroll through the gardens that surround the palaces.

Best things to do in Bikaner – Art & culture

Haveli’s | Sightseeing in Bikaner

Bikaner is home to some of Rajasthan’s most beautiful havelis, and there are almost no tourists around. Havelis are traditional merchant houses and protected heritage. In many Indian cities these houses are transformed into a luxury hotel, restaurant or museum, but in Bikaner you will also find them in their original state. You might have to search a bit, but once you’ve found one, you will be surprised about its beauty.

Rampuriya Haveli, from the 15th century, is one of the most famous Havelis. I couldn’t stop takig pictures.

Most of the havelis are on Heritage rd and are best reached by foot or by rickshaw from Kote Gate. For me these havelis are one of the most beautiful things to see in Bikaner. The high pink colored buildings with their unique architecture and decorations left a big impression.

Bikaner Miniature art | What to do in Bikaner?

Bikaner is known for its miniature art and you can still see artists at work. One of the most renowned sites and best things to see in Bikaner in terms of art is Bikaner Miniature art. A famous family run business that has even received a spot in the Guinness World Book of Records, for creating the smallest painting in the world. In the Bikaner Miniature art center, you can admire various works, receive extensive explanations about the process and even attend workshops. Of course you can also buy pieces of art here, but walking around alone is already worth it. Keep in mind that rickshaw drivers get a commission on your purchase, if they drop you off here.

Best things to do in Bikaner | Sightseeing in Bikaner surroundings

Visit the Royal Tombs of Devi Kund | What to see in Bikaner?

On the outskirts of Bikaner, along a large reservoir, you will find the former cremation sites of the Bikaji dynasty royal family.  Devi Kund Sagar, consists of several cenotaphs or chhatris (domed pavilions), made of marble with beautiful ornament. You can walk around and marvel at the stunning decorations.

Things to do in Bikaner-Devi Kund Sagar

The complex consists of two groups of cenotaphs, from the 5th and 16th centuries, which are built in memory of kings, queens and members of the royal Bikaner family. The highlight is the cenotaph of Maharaja Anup Singh. Built on 16 pillars, this cenotaph contains spectacular carvings and Rajput paintings, depicting Krishna, floral motifs, birds, peacocks and animals.

Devi Kund Sagar is a great place to take pictures and one of the sightseeing in Bikaner that should not be missed in this list with things to do in Bikaner. A rickshaw will take you from the center to the entrance within 20 minutes.

The Rat temple of Karni Mata, Deshnok | What to see in Bikaner?

30 kilometers from Bikaner you will find one of the most bizarre places in Rajasthan: The Karni Mata temple or the Rat Temple of Deshnok. In this temple, there are more than 250,000 rats (yes really!) and as a visitor you just walk around them. The temple is dedicated to Karni Mata, a 15th century woman with extraordinary powers. She was believed to be an incarnation of goddess Durga, and able to bring people back to earth like rats.  The rats are sacred and believed to be reincarnations of humans who had been devotees of Karni Mata. People come from all over to pay tribute to Karni Mata and the sacred creatures. There are trays with milk and grain everywhere and the rats are walking around you in large numbers.

A visit is a unique experience, not only because of the rats but also because of the faith and dedication of the people that goes with it. Do you want to know more about this temple? Read more about my visit to the rat temple here.

Camel breeding farm Bikaner Rajasthan | What to see in Bikaner

8 kilometers from the city, you will find one of the top attractions in Bikaner, the Camel Breeding Farm & Research Centre, a camel breeding farm where most of the camels from Rajasthan come from. The farm is said to breed the best camels in the world. Camels have always played an important role in Rajasthan history. Bikaner was the base of operations for the Camel Corps, part of the British Indian Army, known for their desert warfare. Today you can visit the farm and learn more about the camels, their behavior and their important role in the desert.

Things to do in Bikaner-Camel breeding farm bikaner

Every year in January the International Camel Festival takes place in Bikaner. The festival is held to honor the camels, also known as the “Ship of the Desert”. Camel races, camel dances and long parades take place where artists from all over the country decorate the camels in a traditional way.

Things to do in Bikaner - International Camel Festival Bikaner

Enjoy a camel safari | What to see in Bikaner?

Bikaner is a perfect base for a camel safari through the fascinating sand dunes of the Thar desert. It is best to take a trip during sunrise or sunset. Then the temperatures are the most pleasant and the light is the most beautiful. There are day trips but also multi-day trips, where you spend the night in tent camps and visit small desert villages such as Khichan, Balakaya, Raisar and Dhora. Highly recommended and one of the best things to do in Bikaner, if you want to see more of the Bikaner surroundings. If you don’t want to make a camel trip, you can also choose to go out with jeeps. Most tours are tailor-made, from basic to luxurious safari experiences. Harasar Haveli and Hotel Bhairon Vilas both offer good tours.

Things to do in Bikaner - Desert safari Bikaner

Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary Bikaner | What to see in Bikaner?

Do you want to leave busy Bikaner behind and dive into nature? 32 kilometers outside Bikaner is the Gajner Palace, the former hunting lodge of the Maharaja family from 1784. The palace is located on a beautiful lake and is part of a nature reserve, the Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s a unique area in the dry desert environment. Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the deer, antelope, black bucks, Indian bulls, wild boars, desert foxes and numerous migratory birds. You can go for lovely walks, take beautiful pictures and learn more about the local flora and fauna, led by local guides. Bird watching in particular is something you will be able to master with a guide. You can also enjoy beautiful sunsets by the lake and explore the town of Gajner.

What to see in Bikaner - Bikaner - Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary

The best time to visit this area is between November and February when it is winter. In summer, temperatures rise up to 40 degrees and it is almost impossible to walk around. The Gajmer Palace has been transformed into a heritage hotel and is a good starting-point for discovering the area.

Where to stay in Bikaner?

One of the best things to do in Bikaner is to spend the night in a former palace, build by the maharadja’s. There are many possibilities in different price ranges.

  • Do you want to enter a fairytale and spend the night in luxury? The Laxmi Niwas Palace is a palace that has been transformed into a luxury 5 star hotel. It is slightly outside the center but a rickshaw can take you sightseeing in Bikaner and get you to the old center within 20 minutes.
  • Hotel Bhairon Vilas, is centrally located at the Junagarh fort. From here you can walk straight into the old city center and start your sightseeing in Bikaner. You will be spending the night in a unique Rajasthani palace, in original palace rooms. The service and the rooms are simple but well taken care of. The accompanying bar and coffee shop are also a worth visting, because of the many authentic attributes. In the shop you will find beautiful traditional jewelry.
  • A nice and beautiful haveli to spend the night is Harasar Haveli, located in a slightly quieter area. You can also book a stay with a local family in the countryside through this Haveli! A nice experience and recommended if you have more time.
  • Gajmer Palace is a beautiful palace to spend the night, if you are looking for a bit more peace and planning to go sightseeing in Bikaner Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary.

The best places to eat in Bikaner?

  • One of Bikaner’s best restaurants is Gallops, located at the Junagarh Fort. Here you will find amazing Indian dishes in a simple yet neat setting. Don’t forget to try the gatte ka sabzi en dal bati churma, traditional Rajasthani dishes.
  • Laxmi Niwas Palace is a must-visit if you want to have lunch or dinner in style, in a beautiful courtyard of a palace.
  • In Harasar Haveli you can enjoy delicious Indian dishes in a pieceful setting.
Sightseeing in Bikaner - lunch at Lalgarh Palace

Is Bikaner safe?

Bikaner can be overwhelming in many ways. As a European woman walking around alone, you definitely will get a lot of attention. Still, I haven’t felt unsafe in any way. People are very helpful, friendly and less pushy than in other places in India. Just watch out for the many oxen and cows that walk the street. Keep a proper distance. Always be well informed at the hotel about the current security situation. In the evening, it is best to travel by rickshaw.

Do you want to read more about India? Read more about the most beautiful palaces and fortresses in Rajasthan, the pink city of India – Jaipur, a New Delhi slum tour, and the Karni Mata rat temple in Deshnok.

This post is also available in: Nederlands (Dutch)

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