Dutch Tile Window at Bikaner Palace
Well the drive out of Jaisalmer and on to Bikaner was altogether boring and uneventful (although the camel that tangled with a Jeep might not agree - talk about road kill). We arrived mid-afternoon in Bikaner, what appears to be a fairly big, hazy and crowded city. We went with Nandu’s recommendation on accommodations again and popped into the Harasar Haveli for a look. The room was a bit grimy with stained linoleum floors, chipped tiles and graying walls but it was only one night and the AC worked well so we checked in.
Lunch was actually really good at the Haveli and then we headed off to see Junagarh Fort in old Bikaner.
Courtyard at Bikaner Palace
It is a really nicely partially restored fort, not as imposing and impressive as Jaisalmer, Jodhpur or the Amber Fort in Jaipur, but inside, it is really nice. We had read that the entry fee (and of course camera fees) included a guide, but one was not to be seen so we headed off on our own. We hadn’t made it far, actually the first courtyard, when we were approached by a somewhat bizarre, jovial man who said he was our guide (in addition to being the guide for half a dozen locals meaning he had to say everything once in Hindi and then again in English).
It quickly became apparent that he knew which side his bread was buttered on as he became fawning and obsequious, actually "renaming" the palace the "Larry Mahal" which I am sure would have royally pissed of the Maharaja….
Golden Ceiling at Bikaner Palace
You can see from some of the pictures that the palace is ornately decorated with tiles given as gifts from around the world, richly detailed, gold inlaid ceilings, palatial rooms with colored stone mosaics and white marble columns. All told, it was pretty opulent. At one point, our guide (who incidentally was annoying the crap out of Cindy since he refused to talk to her, focusing his tip garnishing efforts at me continually) actually lowered some ropes and let us see the "special" colored glass windows that he didn’t show to the locals (see the picture below) He was somewhat theatric about this which cracked me up, knowing that he was just greasing the skids for his tip. There was a huge room filled with a bizarre assortment of weapons including some WWI German Helmets for some unknown reason as well as another room with some chariots, lots of fancy English period knick-knacks and a two seater plane that looked extremely un-air-worthy.
Arches and Windows at Bikaner Palace
At the end of our tour, Mr. Smiley came over to me to shake my hand but Cindy and I had prepared and I had given her the tip money just to drive home the point that he shouldn’t be ignoring women in general. He actually seemed pleased with the tip, and then pulled out a one dollar bill and asked if we could exchange it for him. I said sure and he said "OK, give me 50 Rupees (the current rate is about 41). Nice try buckwheat! We told him that he was somewhat overvaluing the dollar and gave him the 42 and he scurried off looking for the next westerners as quickly as possible. There was also a museum which we wandered around looking at period artifacts, textiles, and some of the very fancy dresses from the Maharani’s (the Maharaja had many wives to dress…) On the way out, I snapped a quick picture of Nandu our driver for posterity sake - unfortunately he is not smiling his typical huge smile. He is a really nice, conscientious man and, other than not speaking much since he is so shy, we are really enjoying his company.
Royal Room at Bikaner Palace
We stopped by an Internet Café to see if we had any responses yet to our follow-up emails with a couple trekking companies in Sikkim. We are hoping that we can piggyback a Sikkim tour and trek right onto the end of the Bhutan trip. We are exiting Bhutan overland via Phuntsholing and haven’t been able to find out much about getting from the border up to Sikkim easily. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard back yet. Meanwhile, we asked Nandu about the drive to Delhi on the final day and he told us it would be about nine hours from Pushkar.
When I asked him about his trip home to Udaipur, he said that afterwards, on the 27th, he would drive back to Jaipur, spend the night, then head home from their the next day. Cindy came up with the brilliant idea of suggesting we visit the Rat Temple in the morning, then spend a few hours in Pushkar but power on to Jaipur and burn 10,000 Hilton points to stay in luxury at the Trident Hilton. All of this of course to help Nandu out by minimizing his drive time on Friday, not because she wanted hot water and a comfy bed! Nandu liked this idea a lot, so we got on the Hilton site and booked the stay. We followed up with a nice, rooftop dinner at the Haveli.
Doors at Bikaner Palace
Other than the fort, the big thing to see in Bikaner is Karni Mata Mandir, affectionately known as the "Rat Temple" a 17th century temple with actually quite beautiful silver doors and white marble columns and, ummm, rats.
Lots of rats. They scurry around everywhere and are revered by the local devout who feed them sweets and milk, believing that they are reincarnated saints. I am not sure what kind of bizarre sense of justice any deity would have in reincarnating a saint as a rat but there you go. Supposedly, it is very auspicious to see a white one (we didn’t). Cindy briefly went into the inner temple and said she was out of there. I hung around snapping some photos of the less than cute and cuddly little vermin. At one point, an elderly German couple walked in, the husband looking around and shooting a few pictures. The wife put one foot inside the silver doors, grimaced and turned around and left. In addition to the rats everywhere, there were their flying cousins, pigeons, crapping willy nilly. Keep in mind that you have to remove your shoes to go into the temple and thus are wandering through rat and pigeon poop. Kinda gnarly…
Holy Rats at the rat temple!