On our way from Jaisalmer to Jaipur, we stopped at Bikaner for a few hours to break our journey. After our delicious Rajasthani lunch at a restaurant in Bikaner we headed straight to the Junagadh Fort. It was a massive fort made of red stone and had a series of gates that one has to pass to enter the fort.
Junagadh fort unlike other forts in Rajasthan was not built on a hill, that was a surprise to me.
Rao Bika, the second son of Rao Jodha who was the founder of Jodhpur was the first one to built a fort in Bikaner even before Junagadh fort was built. The stone fort still exists but is in ruins. The city of Bikaner was founded by Rao Bika in the year 1478. It was only later,after 100 years that the city of Bikaner flourished under the rule of Raja Rai Singhji , the sixth ruler of Bikaner who ruled the city from 1571 to 1611 AD. The Junagadh fort was then built under the supervision of Karan Chand, a trusted aide of Raja Rai Singhji. History has it, that despite repeated attempts to capture the fort, it could not be captured. Only once when Kamran Mirza, the second son of the Mughal Emperor Babur had captured the fort for one day, he was then defeated by the Rathors and had to return back to Lahore.
The fort where twenty kings have resided, was once called Chintamani Durg, but was later named Junagadh, when the royal family moved out to their new palace residence.
However, The Raja Rai Singhji trust founded by the Royal family has put in a lot of efforts to maintain the fort and the museum within. They also provide guided tours to visitors for a minimum cost. The person who took us around was a very old security guy who has been here for ages and before him his family too worked with the Royal Family. He was systematic in his approach , provided a lot of information while showing us around and answered all our questions with a smile.
As soon as you enter the Fort , you come across this massive red colored wall with steps on each sides.(pic below). It was such a beautiful sight and my favorite part of the fort. As we entered inside, we could see there was restoration work going on one side of the palace. Hence, we coudnt click the famous cannon which was captured by Maharaja Gaj Singh, the 14th ruler of Bikaner, in 1808. Its a small cannon but the guide told us that it has a lot importance in the history of Bikaner.
When we went further inside I could see that there were lots of courtyards and each of them were different . The courtyards then led to different palaces or Mahal like the Karan Mahal, Anoop Mahal, Phool Mahal, Badal Mahal, Durbar Hall , each one an architectural marvel, some with rubies and emeralds studded, some with gold dazzling chandeliers, white washed marble walls, motifs of flowers, glass inlay work, and 1100 year old Sandalwood throne. Beautiful paintings on the walls, lattice work on the windows , use of red stones and marbles in the construction, everything was a visual treat to the eyes. My favourite was the door made from Walnut tree wood. It looked as if it was made just yesterday. Kudos to the efforts of the Trust who maintain the place.
The palace complex has a museum within the fort called the Junagadh Fort museum which was established in 1961, with lots of objects in display. A huge collection of armouries, sofa sets, tea sets, spoons, mirrors, gold and silver howdahs, thrones, palanquins,sanskrit and persian manuscripts, war drums, royal costumes, paintings etc. A special mention to the huge Haviland Plane which was on display, the guide told us that the King of Bikaner had good relations with the British and this plane was gifted to him by the Britishers as a friendly gesture.
The Junagadh fort is a grand affair and something very different from the Mehrangarh fort of Jodhpur. It took us 2-3 hours to see the whole place and this was just a small portion of the fort that is open to the public.
When we came out and were about to leave, the guide told us there was a small museum just outisde the fort but within the premises that we should not miss. We walked towards the small complex facing the fort palace. This museum called PRACHEENA is founded by the present princess of Bikaner has some of her personal and some royal collection in display. Its surely not to be missed.
One thing that comes to mind when I think of Bikaner fort palace is “Grand” , yet I see a lot of people giving Bikaner city a miss. The Rao Singhji Trust is doing a great job and the Palace itself is so beautiful and full of history that more and more people need to know about it.