25 Nov 2013

A Royal Encounter In Bikaner

After a reasonably short drive from Mandawa (five hours) our first stop just outside of Bikaner was a bit of an odd one. The Rat Temple, home to an estimated 20,000 black rats believed to be the reincarnated ancestors of the local people. As with all temples in India you have to enter barefoot! So, we removed our shoes and had the 'honour' of walking about in rat droppings whilst the holy critters ran about their business and fed on the seeds thrown by their descendants. It was a very weird and slightly gross experience! If you are really lucky you will see one of the very few white rats and it's also said to be a high honour to eat food which has been nibbled on by these rodents. We didn't stay long and headed outside to one of the many food stalls for a tasty samosa, yep, we checked it carefully for teeth marks! 

niwas laxmi palace bikaner
Not too shabby!

Rat worshipping done we headed off to our abode for the evening. As we pulled up the driveway we were in awe of the grandure of Niwas Laxmi Palace  - a former residential palace of Maharaja of Bikaner. This five star beaut was a very welcome surprise and our spacious suite was divine with it's 3m high ceilings and room inside to fit our one bedroom London flat. 

niwas laxmi palace
A royal roof with a fantastic view.

During our stay a Bollywood blockbuster was being filmed in the palace gardens, a little bit inconvenient for us but after a few conversations with the security team we were finally allowed in for a stroll about and to be nosey - as long as we stayed out of shot. Unfortunately for Steve they declined to see a performance of his dancing skills and he didn't gain a last minute part as an extra on the set. 

That evening we dined in the beautiful courtyard and feasted on a delicious Rajasthani meal of dumplings and lamb (our first red meat since our arrival in India) washed down nicely with a lovely Spanish red. Perfect. 

bikaner fort interior

bikaner fort swing
"It don't mean a thing if you aint got this swing!"

The main attraction in Bikaner is the fort in the centre of the city and an impressive piece of architecture inside and out. It dates back to the late 1400's and has changed hands many times during wars and uprisings, inside it is lavishly finished and decorated - most of this is from the mid 1800's when Britain courted many of the Maharajas of Rajasthan. It's clear they loved the finer things in life and loved to show them off. 

bikaner fort gold room
A gold room for entertaining. Standard.

Since India's independence in the late 1940's the Maharaja's lost their power and have had to fund their own upkeep, therefore most forts and palaces are now museums or luxury hotels. The Niwas Laxmi Palace hotel where we stayed is still inhabited by the daughter of the late Maharaja. 

Rajasthan road traffic

Back on the road again we noticed just how crazy the traffic in Rajasthan is - bicycles, bright sari calf women carrying pots on their head, bulging trucks, buses wit passengers riding on the roof, cars, cows, camel carts, donkey carts, horse carts, jeeps, motorbikes and tourist coaches all have places to be and side by side they get there - it's a brilliant example of old and modern coexisting in noisy harmony.

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