I never thought that out of all cities Rajasthan has to offer, I will end up going to Bikaner, let alone have a DDLJ moment. The thing is that the train stops at Gurgaon station for exactly 2 minutes and I was standing right opposite the first general compartment, my booking was for tier 2 AC at extreme end. And at 12 in the night, I wasn't going to take any chances. I ran for my life, there was no Shahrukh Khan to hold my hand but I was greeted by 12 fabulous travelers I would be spending the next 3 days with. Anyhow, Bikaner was never on my list. But as things would have it, I got an opportunity to travel with Inspired Traveller, I took it up without reading much about the place. Our 3-day trip was curated by Hotel Narendra Bhawan and it was a perfect blend of luxury and culture.
Let me start with the hotel first. It is the former residence of the last reigning Maharaja of Bikaner, Narendra Singhji, which has now been converted into a luxurious five-star hotel. It's unlike most luxury hotels of Rajasthan. Every nook and corner of the place has a story to tell. There's one behind every little thing that you will see there, right from the artefacts to the paintings to furniture to the magazine and books. Even a Playboy magazine from 1965 if you may please. You can spend an entire day touring the place and still feel it's not enough. It is one of the most "instagrammable" hotels I have ever been to. The room was cosy and comfortable. But what I would like to highlight is the hospitality. There is a lot of warmth in the service and the conversation with the staff was delightful. It's not the politeness which won me over, it is the way the staff engaged with us.
Pearls and Chiffon (P&C), the coffee shop where we had most of our meals, serves excellent local as well international food. I have to mention that the Gin & Tonics were delectable and I'm saying this when I'm a staunch whisky loyalist. Even better was the G&T by the pool side. And then taking a dip in the pool under the starry night.
Our first day was mostly spent lounging at different corners of the hotel. Post lunch we headed to the Junagarh fort. It's one of the few forts of Rajasthan which hasn't been built on a hilltop. But like all of them it is like a city in itself. We spent only a couple of hours there as it got terribly hot after a while, the curse of traveling to Rajasthan in summers. Post that we headed back to the hotel for some cocktails by the pool, also in the pool and a hearty dinner.
We started quite late on day two. We had a leisurely Bikaneri breakfast at P&C. Narendra Bhawan offers quite a long list of places one can visit under Royal Exploration, however, we decided to cut it short and enjoy Laxmi Niwas Palace instead. The palace was commissioned by His Highness Sir Ganga Singh Ji in 1904. We spent about 2 and a half hours lunching as they had recreated the entire royal Luncheon experience which dates back to 1927. We were served mousse aux asperges, fillet de pomfret, duck cutlets, plat de Bikaner along with choicest of wines followed by a buffet for desserts.
In the evening, we prepped up for the sundowner what they call Le Diner en Blanc at Darbari. About 45 minutes from the hotel, there's a serene lake where cocktails, snacks were served in a beautiful, dreamy setting with lanterns, candles and diwans. Rajasthani men from a nearby village performed an enthralling fire dance. I sat riveted as they performed one logic defying act after another. Swallowing burning embers of coal, walking in burning coal embers as if it were a stroll in the park. I sat there with as much fascination as respect.
On day 3 we headed to Rampuria street. It's one of those streets that looks like a movie set. Some of us just went crazy clicking pictures. Probably it was on this day, I actually got the feeling of being in Bikaner. Women riding scooties without helmets, kids rushing back from school, cows lazing around and the autowallas happily lending the autos to us to make silly boomerangs. The street is full of beautiful havelis, cobbled streets and houses which look like they are made of yellow uneven lego blocks. I don't know how many hours passed by while we explored a few havelis. It took me back in time more than any other place I visited there. I didn't want to leave but it was also the last evening and I had to pack before the dinner at P&C where I had one of the best mutton kachhi biryani.
I was told to definitely visit the Karni Mata which we couldn't include in our itinerary. It was more of a luxury trip and we had decided to not make it too hectic. A good decision considering the heat. The only regret I have is that I didn't get an opportunity to taste the local street food and chai. But then I made memories and a few friends for life.
How to get there - We took a night train. It was very comfortable and got us to Bikaner from Delhi in 8 hours.
When to go - I would say between October and March.
I will let the pictures do the talking now. (Some pics have been clicked by me, some by different people on the trip, some from Honor 8 pro and some from SLR). You can follow my instagram handle anupriyakapur for more ????