Tucked away in the harsh desert region of western Rajasthan lies the relatively remote city of Bikaner. But then we always liked to explore off the beaten track.
Started the day by visiting the unusual Junagarh Fort. Unusual because, unlike all the major forts of Rajasthan which are on hilltops, this one was built on the desert plains itself.
The palace complex's sumptuously decorated interiors are better preserved than in almost any other region. Particularly, Anup Mahal with its ornately lacquered walls in red & gold and panels of dazzling coloured glass inlay set over the coronation throne. The marble columns are covered with delicate paint work, and the entire effect is simply breathtaking.
The fresco of rain clouds in Badal Mahal brought a smile to our face when the guide explained that since rains were a rare phenomenon in this desert kingdom, an artist was specially commissioned to paint it, so that when the rains finally did come, the children of the royal household would not get frightened.
From the Junagarh Fort, we saw some beautiful havelis (mansions) that line the narrow alleys of the walled city. Later, we went to see the impressive Lallgarh Palace. Like Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, the royal family still lives in a wing of this palace, but the rest of it has now been converted into a charming hotel, with a fascinating little museum thrown in.
In the evening, we went to the National Camel Breeding Farm and saw the incredible sight of a herd of camels returning back after grazing, with the spectacular desert sunset in the background. Set amid rolling sand dunes, this farm was set up to produce superior strains of camels both for domestic haulage as well as, even today, for military use.
Interestingly, one of the efforts is to breed camels with longer, thicker eyelashes to offer greater protection during sandstorms. I couldn't help wondering that if some genius were able to come out with a capsule which could do the same on humans, many of those false eyelash manufacturers would be out of business!