Bikaner is a land of staggering wealth, beauty, music, culture and food so unique that it will surely send you to a heavenly world for a few hours at least! Bikaner, situated in the middle of the Thar desert is a princely state since about the 15th century. What is quite remarkable is the staunch loyalty and support that the royal family enjoy even today!
As Bikaner was on the trade route of Central Asia and Churu was a part of the state of Bikaner, the very enterprising royals made excellent use of the resources and connections at their disposal and the region soon saw thriving trade and business. The tremendously wealthy merchants living in opulent havelis with eye-popping frescoes became a regular feature and the overall affluence and prosperity of the region rose multi-fold. That is why we see 1/10th of successful business families in India emerging from the rich Churu region.
I travelled to Bikaner from Jaisalmer visiting the famous Karni Mata Temple otherwise known as the “Temple of Rats” en route. Jaisalmer is called the “Golden City” but golly! Junagarh Fort in Bikaner will send your head spinning! It is an unbelievable visual treasure of colours, designs, frescoes, tiles, mirrors, paintings, history and culture that one sees only in fantastical movies! (see photos below)
I was in a state of euphoria after seeing such grandeur as I had never come across such an enchanting spectacle of outstanding architecture and art during my few travels to forts and palaces. Perhaps, there are more such culturally and historically rich forts and palaces in India but Junagarh Fort definitely sent me into an “Alice in Wonderland” mind frame!
I had learnt from a few fellow travellers that Bikaner is a street food paradise for vegetarians what Lucknow is for the meat lovers. My lovely hosts suggested that I should explore Station Road in the area of Kote Gate for a divine food experience.
I set out at around eleven in the morning – the right time for a few snacks I was told. I met a friendly local who told me to first have a delicious pyaz ki kachori, then follow it up with the different types of bhujia, then have a lassi as I am bound to be thirsty after eating all the fried stuff and then top it off with the famous Bikaneri rasgulla.
I first headed to a small little kachoriwala who was surrounded by many customers doing some brisk business. He quickly got one dahi pyaz ki kachori all ready with the delicious sweet and spicy chutney for me. I was practically drooling seeing the deft manner in which he generously poured the chutneys delicately balancing so many on his palms as he served his other waiting clients.
Becoming quite pleased with my first snack, I then headed towards the famous “Bhikharam Chandmal” to sample their bhujia and by Jove! what a collection! There were so many varieties – palak, plain and different types of masalas that will get you all confused that either leave a tangy taste or are so scrumptious that you ask for more before ordering the whole lot.
I then headed for a ridiculously thick rich sweet lassi from a small shop near the famous “Chhotu Motu Joshi” that was definitely little drops of heaven. Finally, I headed for the world famous Bikaneri rasgulla of “Chhotu Motu Joshi” – one bite into the chunky succulent rasgulla and I was seeing stars and rainbows! It is so distinctive in its taste and so delectable that you are not satisfied with eating just one. It was the sacred food experience that I had been told about and it lived up to its expectations – far and beyond.
Well, it was indeed absolutely mind-blowing! There were no words for me express my pleasure and when he asked me if liked it, all I could do was roll my eyes towards the heavens and beam as much as my stuffed mouth would permit!
Maybe it is the water or perhaps the desert sand or perhaps the richness of the land, but such a culturally distinguished visual and delightful food experience of Bikaner makes you think about the noteworthy influence of the royal family and the interesting lives of the common people during their reign.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
Photos by Lakshmi Subramanian