Saturday, June 16, 2012. Bikaner, Rajasthan, India.
Distance driven: 982 KM/ 614 miles.

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Our itinerary put us in  Bikaner as we are traveling from Amritsar to Jaisalmer which is too far to go in one shot, so we’re spending two nights here in the Thar desert in Western Rajasthan, just east of the Pakistan.

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This morning we went to Junaragh Fort, which dates from 1589 and was occupied until well into the twentieth century by the Rathore rulers of Bikaner. 

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Bikaner, along with Jodphur and Jaisalmer, was one of the three great desert kingdoms of Rajasthan.The fort balances medieval military might and the artistic aesthetic of the pleasure palace. 

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The first thing one encounters is the extra large doors into the palace which were built to allow elephants through, but studded with spikes to deter ramming by enemy elephants when the doors were closed. Elephants also figure in some of the decorative work inside the fort.

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To visit the fort one takes a guided tour that takes in various throne rooms, bedrooms, palace chambers, the women’s courtyard, palace roof, etc.  As can be seen by the variety of images here, there is a lot to see!

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The women’s courtyard was designed to prevent visitors from seeing the women and provided privacy and segregation for the maharajas wives and consorts.

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Reaching the rooftop terraces we found a nice cooling breeze, and some great views of the city below.

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Each room was sumptuously and uniquely decorated with inlay, painting, and other decorative arts.

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The boys of course enjoyed the armory which included decorative arrangements of armaments such as guns, swords, and knives. Aaron’s favorite piece was a four barreled rotating flintlock. Other unusual items included camel and elephant mounted canons. There was even a star of David made out of powder horns!

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One large hall contained a WWI biplane presented by the British in appreciation for the Maharaja’s service, as well as howdahs and palanquins, including some made of silver.

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The Maharaja was clearly an influential and powerful person.  One of the photos on display showed him participating in the Treaty of Versailles after WWI.

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One of the last rooms had artifacts from the last Maharaja including a half spoon custom designed so he could sip his soup without getting any on his ornate moustache.

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Once the regular tour was over we got escorted to two locked rooms as we had paid an extra $2 to see the special bed chamber and ante room that were particularly finely decorated. 

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There is a separate museum on site that has a collection of everyday items, housewares, decorative pieces, artwork, and beautiful textiles from the Maharaja’s collection, including some very impressive dresses that must have been very hot to wear in the sweltering summer heat.

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In order to make ends meet, the current Maharajas or their descendants have converted selected palaces into high end hotels which at the same time preserves their heritage.  One of these is the Lallgarh Palace which is a beautiful and very fancy hotel.  We checked out the menu for lunch, but the prices were more like an expensive US restaurant.  Still we got to see a little of the hotel on our way in and out.

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Also on the grounds is a small museum dedicated to the last Maharaja and his daughter, which had an eclectic variety of mostly 20th century items and photographs.  One of my favorite pieces was a military trophy that was a lamp – the light bulbs were the engine cowls.

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Back to the hotel for a rest before our afternoon expedition to a rather unique temple which you can read about in my next post.

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