Rajasthan — the desert of India that’s not only picturesque but comes with a rich cultural heritage. While cities like Jaipur and Udaipur have been commercialised, some cities remain untouched and stay closely grounded to their roots. Such is the city of Bikaner that to date uses camels to transport goods and takes pride in its unique art form, miniature art. Being a part of the silk route, Bikaner flaunts its culture and is known for its hing, wool and camel wool industry, and tie and dye practised by the Muslim women community of the city. The Rajasthani women in the region are usually spotted sporting the traditional attire that comprises a ghagra with a choli and a veil known as Odhan in vibrant hues and tie and dye. Men opt for more contemporary clothing a mix of trousers and shirts. Bikaner is easily accessible by road from Jaipur being a 6-hour drive or you can opt to take a flight from Delhi to Bikaner as well. During our time in the city, I stayed at the newly opened Brij Gaj Kesri hotel.
Brij Gaj Kesari
Turning the home of a maharaja into a luxurious boutique stay is the recently reopened Brij Gaj Kesri. Located 35 minutes from the airport on the outskirts of the city, Brij Gaj Kesri is spread over 16 acres offering a mix of Mughal architecture, sprawling lawns and an ode to the art omnipresent in the local area — miniature and Usta art. Upon arriving at the property expect to be greeted with a majestic tall iron gate and stand stone pillars that also draw from British architecture. Drive further in to be spellbound by the expanse of the fort structure artistically created with domes and arches.
With a focus on experiences and leisure, the property has a total of 40 rooms, with two wings dedicated to weddings. And a special wing that is under development with a total of 7 secluded rooms and a private garden for an exclusive experience.
Stepping into the reception be blown away by the high ceilings and intricate paintings on the wall (a mix of Usta art and miniature art). Each piece of furniture is carefully curated by artists across the country making it a haven for art enthusiasts; and also, a collector’s paradise. From the structure of Qutub Minar to camel structures made from wood and camel bone intricately painted with Usta technique and gold, it’s almost like entering a princely adobe. The reception leads to a courtyard beautified by arches and the red colour of the stone along with mosaic tiles used on the floor. During the winter months, the courtyard is a haven for guests and also doubles up as a spot for musical evenings and a BBQ. The property further offers a restaurant called Polki overlooking a fountain in the courtyard and a majestic painting of the famous fort in Jodhpur. It also has a special area for weddings and events, an arcade across the main building for a private dinner, a TV room with a stunning wall painting of the forest, a private room for women’s get together, a swimming pool, spa and gym, and even a temple amongst the vast desert land.
Accommodation at Brij Gaj Kesri
With a total of 23 rooms in the main wing, the rooms have been upgraded by the Brij group to make them luxurious and comfortable. Rooms on the terrace overlook the lush green lawns and the rooms on the ground floor are no less. Each room displays traditional art on the walls, the tv is mounted on the wall I’m between two Mughal-inspired pillars and the furniture too is traditional with miniature art on it. The double-door bathrooms painted in white add immensely to the aura. Staying true to connectivity the rooms are equipped with Wi-Fi and even a smart tv!
Food in Bikaner
When it comes to Rajasthani food words fall short of explaining the joy of digging into a traditional thali. Brij Gaj Kesri is a vegetarian hotel, and the F&B department is helmed by Mr Karan Singh. Giving us a taste of the culture of Rajasthan each meal for a representation of unique flavours from Gatte ki sabzi to sangri, mixed vegetables, paneer (each time it was treated in a different way offering variety) and dal with unique tadkas. Accompanied by an assortment of freshly made bread and local papad each meal left you feeling stuffed yet wanting more. Towards the evening you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee with indulgent vegetable cutlets and sandwiches by the poolside to soak in the colours of the sunset. As the sun sets the temperature gets cooler and stepping outdoors is a delight. The chill in the air makes it perfect for enjoying a candlelight dinner in the courtyard under the bright moonlight and twinkling stars. Alternatively, if you want a special night, the hospitable sales manager, Mr Abhay Singh requests the team to organise a dinner at the Arcade Area. This spot is located opposite the main building on top of a structure that resembles a crown and can be reached by climbing a flight of stairs from either side. It overlooks a fountain and the illuminated main building making it an ideal spot for a romantic date on a clear night. And for occasions like Valentine’s Day, they have yet another secluded spot under the trees for couples. With wholesome food for breakfast, lunch and dinner from the famous aloo poori for breakfast to soups to main course and dessert with a side of fresh juice the dining experiences will mesmerise you.
Culture and Art
Bikaner is known for its miniature art, kachori, bhujia, havelis, Karni Mata Temple, Junagarh Fort, The annual Camel festival in January and the dunes. To explore the city, Brij Gaj Kesri organised a holistic day tour with different experiences that lasted through the day.
A day in the city means travelling through the hustle bustle of the old and new city. Making a stop at Baada bazaar (old city) to browse through tie dye work, interact with the local women who specialise in starching saris (priced at INR 40 per sari), enjoy a kachori from the streets with aloo and chutney, a glass of chilled lassi, dal moth chilka pakoras, and delicious poori with methi and aloo sabzi spiced with a strong flavour of hing. And whether you’re a foodie or not we’d recommend trying the local food, especially at Indra’s restaurant. You can opt to walk the streets giving you a true glimpse of the culture or even take a tuk-tuk ride in the market.
For those who wish to explore the city visit the famous Karni Mata Temple – a temple very rats are worshipped and spotting a white rat is considered auspicious (even the prasad is offered to the rats) – and for those who aren’t a fan of rats, make your way to the stunning Jain Temple. Being one of the most beautiful temples this is painted entirely in miniature art and is the oldest monument of Bikaner. The temple is decorated with rich mirror work, frescoes and gold leaf paintings. The unique thing, which makes it different from other temples, is that the foundation of the temple was laid with limestone powder and ghee and on very hot days you can even see and touch the ghee coming from the crevices.
Moving on to the architecture, if you really want to understand the way the rich merchants live in Bikaner, visiting a haveli is non-negotiable. Known for their majestic living large courtyards and intricate carvings, haveli and mansions were the business houses of those times. Showcasing opulence and grandeur is the most beautiful Haveli from inside and outside named Rampuria Haveli. Displaying works of art on the furniture and on the walls along with architectural masterpieces is going to leave you in awe. The tessellations spotted on the flower of this haveli and the use of colourful mosaic tiles at Brij Gaj Kesri are a visual delight too.
And as I mentioned earlier Bikaner is known for its miniature art and for those who love art don’t forget to visit the Bikaner miniature arts for a one-on-one with artist Shiv Swami. What’s fascinating however is that each of the colours is made from vegetables, flowers, stones or 24k gold. The beauty of this art form is the attention to detail despite the size of the painting being small, it’s so precise that one needs a magnifying glass to see the details.