Sometimes when you like something, you want to savour it for a good amount of time before you share it with everyone. My journey through the Junagarh Fort Bikaner is something similar. The fort was so beautiful and classy that each time I began writing about it, I paused to savor it some more. Thus, the delay in sharing it with you. Junagarh Fort in Bikaner is one of the best maintained forts of Rajasthan – classy, gorgeous and just amazing. Personally, in my scale of rating, I am unable to decide which one would be the top most – Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur or the Junagarh Fort Bikaner. Though smaller than the Mehrangarh Fort, the way the structure of Junagarh Fort is laid out, makes the entire journey through the fort as beautiful.
The fort is so well maintained that it has been a popular location setting for many Bollywood films and TV serials like Siyaasat by Epic Channel. It is a true delight to spot it when watching these sitcoms and relive my experience here. While there is just tons to see in this fort, I am only going to touch upon only some of the attractions. So, let’s get going.
History of Junagarh Fort Bikaner
Quite unlike the other forts of Rajasthan, the town of Bikaner was not established by a Maharaja. It was in fact, called Jungladesh and was established by the 2nd son of the Maharaja Rao Jodha of Jodhpur. The prince Rao Bika set up his own territory in this region and thus, the new name for the town Bikaner. The Junagarh fort Bikaner was just a stone structure for many years until the 6th ruler – Raja Rai Singhji, laid a solid foundation in the 1580s.
Raja Rai Singhji was a loyal vassal in the Mughal court of Akbar and Jahangir. He was quite successful in leading the Mughal armies to win several Mewar kingdoms and this in turn, earned him several jagirs and lands in and around Rajasthan. With this wealth amassed, the fort of Junagarh in Bikaner was built.
Subsequently, the latter kings added more buildings to this fort. The nomenclature of the various palaces within the fort is quite simple – they have mostly been named after the king who constructed them. Of course, there are a few that are named around the concept that they have been built on.
The Junagarh fort withstood several attacks and was never really conquered. It served as a residence for the royal family of Bikaner for several generations till the newer Lalgarh palace in the 1900s was built. The royal family still resides in a part of the Lalgarh palace while the rest has been converted to a heritage hotel.
The Architecture of Junagarh Fort Bikaner
The Junagarh Fort in Bikaner is a mix of Gujarati, Rajasthani, Mughal and British architecture. What I loved about the fort was the red sandstone facade that was filled with precise delicate designs. Within the palace, there is quite a bit of marble used that makes a lovely contrast to the surrounding red walls.
The one thing that was striking was right at the entrance. The zigzag staircases – the structure and design of which add to the whole aura of the fort. I remember being so enamored by it that I could not stop capturing it. The beauty of this entire entrance has been used in various telefilms and Bollywood movies.
Junagarh Fort has a guide service that is included in your entrance fare. Every 15 minutes, a guide takes a set of waiting visitors into the palace for a tour. I particularly mention this here as the waiting place for the guide is in front of these gorgeous flight of stairs. And as I stood waiting for our turn, all I kept wondering is – “if the beginning is so beautiful, I wonder how gorgeous would it be from inside!”
Karan Mahal in Junagarh Fort Bikaner
A narrow steep climb takes you to the first courtyard where you see a white marble seating amid water filled channels. This was the hall of public audience, named Karan Mahal in the Junagarh Fort Bikaner. It was here that the King met his subjects and addressed their issues. The contrast of white marble throne against the red backdrop definitely gives the entire scene a royal touch. This area and throne was also used for the coronation ceremonies of the king.
I happen to visit at the time when there was some brief maintenance and restoration work happening. However, the scaffolding could not take away from the unmistakable beauty of the courtyard. As I panned around, I caught some really unusual sights. Check out this lovely painting in blue along the wall.
Don’t miss this lovely window with Dutch tiles. The Maharajas of Bikaner had these imported from Europe in those times.
Next from this courtyard, the guide led us to a white marble one with passages that were filled with delicate flower inlays, a few of them enhanced with stained glass work. The one thing that struck me were the painted doors and windows. Rightly called the “flower palace” or the Phool Mahal, this part of the fort as the guide mentioned was one of the oldest – straight from the times of Raja Rai Singhji.
From the understated, contemporary and delicate designs of the Phool Mahal, we were led into an ostentatious, golden Anup Mahal. Complete with gold filigree kind of designs, stone inlay and tiled ceiling, this was the hall of private audience. A magnificent throne adorned the center of the hall and I could well imagine the King sitting there with his council of ministers occupying the spaces on the rich carpet that covered the rest of the room.
This room was a perfect example of how some colors just blend with each other despite us wondering how they would. Red with green, gold, cream ….all lit by candle lights (of course, right now yellow lights) – this hall must have been spectacular in its times!
This was a smaller chamber with blue clouds painted all over the room. Sadly I could not capture the whole room as it was filled with people but here is a glimpse of what you can expect to see through the room. Badal means clouds and as you might guess, the room was painted to depict monsoons and rains. I do recall a beautiful mural painted on the wall of the room but well, my memory fails me on what the concept of that mural was.
From the public to the private areas of the king – the guide took us along these gorgeous red stoned corridors that allowed you a view of what was outside as well as what was inside.
Gaj Mandir was the private residence of the King Gaj Singhji and his two queens – Chand Ktunwar and Phul Kunwar. The rooms were a little dimly lit and flash photography not permitted, I could only get you these shots. There were quite a few interesting things to note here – for one, some of the doors were so low that even a midget like me had to stoop to get in. The purpose of course, being to slow down enemies, if they decide to attack.
The other thing that you might have already noted are the ornate designs on the doors and windows. The next are the gorgeous passages along the palace – complete with stained glass.
And then, there was this lovely swing that was kept in this section.
A series of passages took us to another section of the palace, which I believe was occupied by the Maharaja Dungar Singhji, who had commissioned the earlier Badal Mahal or Cloud palace. This section too was similar to the Gaj Mandir but was better lit.
Durbar Hall of Junagarh Fort Bikaner
The Durbar Hall though dim, was a magnificent ball room kind of hall. The huge dome-shaped pillars with high ceilings give the entire setting a grand feel. The guide told us that the hall was used as “Hall of Private Audience” or to receive important royal dignitaries.
The highlight of this hall was an exhibit kept in it – a sandalwood throne that was used by the Rathore clan. Apparently, this was handed over to the founder of Bikaner – Rao Bikaji and was used by the family ever since. More than a throne, I thought it look like a lavish bed but then who am I to say anything about the ways of royalty back then 🙂
The last room in this fort was constructed by the 20th century Maharaja Ganga Singhji. This hall had some fantastic exhibits for one to see. From exquisite palanquins to howdahs, unusual weapons and carriages, tons to see and appreciate. However, what stole the limelight was this biplane – from World War I.
The plane was used by Maharaja Ganga Singh in the war that he fought for the British. He was apparently, an accomplished army personnel in the British Raj. He was also, awarded the title of Knight Commander of Star of India by the British.
Besides the armaments , there are some crockery, dining chairs and tables on display here. Among the main quaint things was this spoon. If you observe the picture carefully, you will see a small pointed attachment just above the spoon. The story behind this is quite interesting. It seems the Maharaja sported a moustache that would interfere with his consumption of food. The needle like thing would help him hold the moustache in place while he sipped on his soup with that spoon 😉
Pracheena – Fort Museum
With the Ganga Hall, the main tour of the fort comes to an end. However, once you exit the main building, you can head to another one next to it. This houses the collection of exhibits from the Royal family. There are plenty of interesting things to see here – from the royal clothes to crockery, to show pieces and some really ornate mirrors.
Check out the manicure and pedicure sets here.
And the gorgeous interiors and doorways.
With that, the main highlights of this palace come to an end. However, I urge you to not miss the gorgeous gardens opposite the main fort with its little sit-out kind of dome. And the well-preserved cannons that are kept along the boundary wall of the fort.
Junagarh Fort Bikaner definitely leaves you wanting for me. A fort that is not visited that often but has enough for you to take in if you decide to. In my opinion, a detour here is definitely worth it.
- Bikaner is well-connected by road and railway to the major cities of Rajasthan. It is around 5 hours drive from Jaipur or Jodhpur or Jaisalmer.
- It is a good idea to keep Bikaner as an overnight stop if you are on a road trip to Jaisalmer.
- Jaipur and Jodhpur are the two closest airports to Bikaner
- Junagarh Fort Bikaner is right in the middle of the town and the best way to get to it is by hiring an auto rickshaw or a taxi. There is plenty of parking within the fort.
- Here is the official site of the Junagarh Fort Bikaner. You can refer to the same for all the ticket prices and opening- closing hours.
- There are restrooms and cafes within the fort.
- Most of the rooms in the fort are dim in an effort to preserve them well. Flash photography is prohibited here.
- As mentioned earlier, there is a regular guide service included with a ticket where every 15 minutes a guide takes around 20 – 30 people for a tour of the palace. In case you wish to spend more time here, you can opt for either a private tour or an audio guide. With the regular guide, you will have to follow your batch and will be given only limited time.
- For an overnight stay in Bikaner, there are plenty of hotel options. I personally, recommend Hotel Jaswant Bhavan as it is not just affordable but gives you a feel of an actual haveli. It used to belong to a minister of the court and the old world charm still remains within the rooms.
- When in Bikaner, remember to try out the local Rasgullas and Bikaner Bhujjia. These are specialties of this place.