I first visited Bikaner in February 2013 as part of a larger tour of Rajasthan with a group. Bikaner, the fourth-largest city of Rajasthan, was our first stop and it turned out to be the perfect introduction to the state as well as the perfect beginning to what turned out to be a great trip.
Five years later (and almost to the day in February 2018), I was back in Bikaner courtesy an invitation from Narendra Bhawan. And this time around, thanks to their curated trails, I was able to explore new places — the havelis and markets of Bikaner — and re-visit old ones like the royal cenotaphs. In addition, I also visited the Laxmi Niwas Palace and Bikaji ki Tekree, the site of the first fortified settlement in Bikaner. I also got the opportunity to travel out of the city into the desert one evening for a sundowner and a special dinner. An unexpected bonus of this trip was getting introduced to two master artists of Bikaner and an opportunity to see their work (more about this in a separate blogpost!).
Presenting my “Bikaner Revisited” experiences, beginning with a brief history of the city.
At first glance, the red sandstone structure that is Narendra Bhawan Bikaner doesn’t stand out or give any indication to the luxury boutique hotel that it claims to be. In fact, it looks more like a haveli or mansion of a merchant rather than the one-time residence or palace of Narendra Singhji, the former king of Bikaner.
Once past the rather modest entrance gates, you will cross a small courtyard covered with paving made from the same deep red sandstone, that Narendra Bhawan is constructed from — the local building stone. You will then pass through an arched entrance and climb up a few steps clad with golden yellow Jaisalmeri stone. And that’s when the change happens !
The floor tiles change to colourful vintage tiles. Carefully curated artefacts fill your sight, and deep and luxurious furniture beckon you to sit down and take it all in… But, wait for there is more to see and explore. You pass through a door and enter the very bold and beautiful foyer where large black and white tiles create a chequered floor pattern. Glass cabinets with the most interesting curios twinkle in the light reflected from the art deco lamps on the ceiling. At one end of the long foyer is a bright red piano…
You look around in wonder and accept the welcome drink offered to you by the ever smiling and friendly staff of the hotel and let it all sink in. This is how my Narendra Bhawan Experience began.
The Hadoti region of Rajasthan covers 4 distrcits — Bundi, Kota, Jhalawar and Baran — and till I visited it in November 2016, this was the only region I had not explored in the state. It was a much awaited trip, one that threw up many surprises and one that left me with a “why didn’t I visit before?”. It was a trip of many firsts as well, including the first time I travelled with One Life to Travel (OLTT), and one that will rank in my list of memorable trips.
In fact, when I look back at my Hadoti trip in November last year, the word that comes to mind is ‘serendipity’.
How else would you explain a trip that started off as as a Bundi trip but ended up being a Jhalawar–Jhalrapatan–Kolvi–Ramgarh–Kota–Bijolia–Badoli–Bundi trip? How else would you explain a 3-day trip becoming an 8-day trip? How else would you explain the said 8-day trip leading to so many (19 at last count!) blogposts? How else would you explain connecting with people you’ve never met before and becoming friends?
Its been almost 9 months since my return and I have been reliving the Hadoti trip since I started blogging about it here in April ! If I enjoyed writing about that trip, your response to the posts was even more so. So many of you wanted to know more about the trip and the places I visited — more than what I had blogged about — with regard to itineraries, tips, etc.
And so here I am with a Hadoti Trip Planner based on what you asked via blog comments/ mails/ messages. 🙂
When I arrived in Bundi, the last leg of my Hadoti trip, I had been travelling in the region for 4 days with my friend, Niti. That first sight of the imposing Taragarh Palace from the road was a sight to behold.
We were to join the group from One Life to Travel (OLTT) in Bundi, a place that had long been on my list of places to travel to. Thanks to OLTT, I was finally in Bundi looking forward to exploring it over the next couple of days. And yet… something was not quite right.
I was overcome with a sense of fatigue — not physical, but mental. Actually, fatigue is not the right word for what I was feeling; overwhelmed would be a more accurate term. Overwhelmed from all that I had experienced in the last four days — temples, museums, palaces, a fort, rock-cut caves, etc. all of which had been unexpectedly beautiful, enriching and thought-provoking. If you have been following my posts on this trip, you’ll know what I mean.
As I sat, listless and lethargic, having my evening tea in the lawns of the hotel we were staying in, I wondered what to do. I had the evening free for the rest of the OLTT group would be arriving late that night. Should I go to bed early or should I read a racy thriller I had with me or should I just sit in the lawns and listen to some music?
Let’s go for a walk and wander around in Bundi, suggested Niti.
It is past noon on that November day in 2016, when Niti (my friend and co-traveller for the Hadoti Trip) and I arrive at the Bijolia Temple Complex. There are three Shiva temples here — Mahakal, Undeshwar Mahadev and Hajareshwar temples — built over a 200-year-old period. Except for the priests who are gathered under a tree and chatting away, we can’t see anybody else around. The Mahakal Temple is closest to the entrance and we decide to begin with exploring that first, which turns out to be empty and silent.
We have hardly been there for 5 minutes when the silence is broken. A group of women and children enter with pooja thalis in hand. They appear to be locals and walk past us with smiles full of friendliness and curiosity towards the garbha griha or the sanctum. After a little hesitation, we follow and watch them offer pooja.
The Shiva lingam in the garbha griha is not visible because it is covered with flowers from earlier offerings. Or so I reason till one of the women explains that the lingam is subterranean with only the tip visible above ground, which she showed by pushing the flowers aside.
The women and children leave after performing a short and beautiful pooja, and we are alone at the Mahakal Temple once again, free to resume our exploration of the Bijolia Temple Complex. 🙂
When we arrived at the Rao Madho Singh Trust Museum in Kota on that November morning last year, I was taken aback to see the freshly whitewashed exteriors of the Museum building. I mean, why would a red sandstone structure be whitewashed over? The white is so blinding in the mid-morning sunlight that I had to shade my eyes to even look at it.
The Museum is located within the historic Kota City Palace or Kota Garh complex, which consists of many buildings, but none of the other buildings in the palace complex were whitewashed. In fact, the building next to the Museum has been spared the whitewash (except for the domes) and I was able to admire the intricate stone jaalis or lattice-work that covered the entire structure.
The building with the jaalis, however, was not open to the public, making me wonder if the whitewash was for the benefit of the visitors to the Museum, who (according to the website) visit it see its
rich collections of arms and armour, royal regalia and ritual paraphernalia, textiles and objets d’art, and world-famous miniature paintings and wall frescos.
As our group was entering the Museum, there was a moment of panic where I wondered if the interiors of the Museum have been whitewashed over as well, obliterating the wall paintings that I was most keen to see. But then just past the Elephant Gate (see header), I looked up and saw a gloriously painted ceiling (see photograph below) and I knew that all was well.