In an effort not to backtrack from our westerly point at Jaisalmer, we opted for sliding northeast along the desert semi-arid lands about 75 kilometers parallel to the Pakistan border. This took us to Bickner as a staging area to go north to Amritsar. Bikaner gets little notice from tourists who tend to focus on Jaipur, and Jaisalmer. However, Bikaner has a grand fort and an old city stuffed with over 1000 old havelis built by wealthy merchants living off the taxation of the caravans.
Most of the havelis are unoccupied and are in a sad state or repair. It is like a mausoleum of Havalis—the place is in desperate need of a UNESCO world heritage designation. We stayed in a havali that was restored with great hosts and wonderful homemade Rajasthan food. Again, no matter where you look things can be found (besides the Rat Temple as discussed earlier). The bonus here is that here are few tourists. Therefore, the hassle from touts is minimal. The downside is with few tourists, you are the only target for the ones that do exist. There is a fort in Bickner. Since it’s not built on an imposing hill, but on flat land, with a suitable moat, it does not have the curb appeal of the other forts in Rajasthan. However, it is big and worth the visit. There is much more to see inside this palace as it was lived in up until the 1920’s.
The public and private audience chambers are stunning with gold leaf and semi-precious stones laid in the melange of patterns. Of note, the armoury houses a gun on a swivel for use of firing from elephants and a 200-year of form of tank. And in the middle of the lower level a WW1 British Bomber—apparently a gift to the Maharaja in the 20’s for his support in WW2. It has recently been restored and was the showpiece of the armoury. On the outer gate wall one can find the small handprints of the wives of the Maharajah who committed group suicide (Sati) by walking into the funeral pyre in the mid 1800’a. The handprints always have flowers or temple like offerings. There self-sacrifice is still honoured today. Some things are hard to understand; it’s India, often there is no real answer.