Travel in Rajasthan, India
A Rajasthani Kid is playing "Ek Tara"
Thar Desert Jaisalmer in Background, Rajasthan, India

A n c i e n t   H i s t o r y  of  R a j a s t h a n

Rana Udai Singh Rana Pratap Chauhans of Ajmer -  Delhi
A Past Period of Bikaner Colonel James Tod Raja Jai Singh
The Rajputs Rana Khumba Rana Lakha
Rana Sanga Rao Jodha Kutch - Wahas
Imperial Guptas Hara Chauhans of Bundi - Kota Early Period of Rajasthan
Sisodias of Mewar Mughal History Rajasthan The Mauryans

A Past Period of Bikaner

If you thrill to the inexorable forces of nature do not miss Bikaner. This is true desert country. You must dismiss any picture post-card ideas of the desert, however. There are few sanddunes here. The Thaar desert is hard, rocky soil, solid as brick. It is scrub-country, not cactusland. Gorse, thorn, milk-weed sprout precariously and the earth is alive with brazen insects and bolder birds.

You can get to Bikaner by train, but it is best to drive there. From Jaipur to Bikaner (449 km) runs a superb road, National Highway No. 11. From Delhi it is 510 km via Rohtak Hissar (Haryana), Sadulpur and Ratangarh, another good highway. From Jodhpur to Bikaner is 240 km The Jaipur-Bikaner road is a remarkable highway. It runs straight as an arrow across the dead land to the distant horizon. On either side the relentless earth reflects the sun in a dazzling haze. Falcons swoop on lizard and rat, chattering babblers flutter from thorn to scrub. A sudden herd of chinkara twinkles past, like a corps de ballet on points, so delicate are their tiny hooves and so amazing their startled leaps in the air.

This is camel-country. They transport grain, pull heavy carts, work the wells Water lies sometimes 122 metres below the surface, Wells are important: almost sacred. Built on high plinths with slender minareted towers on each of the four corners, these wells proclaim their existence from afar, like a shout of welcome. The miles between villages are tediously long Off the highway are mainly cameltracks, or small unmetalled roads. Watch your petrol-gauge! And you too, in your swift 20th century limousine, may have to stop to ask for water at a cameldriven well, Akhepura has a picturesque one, with its four turrets intact.

At LACHHMANGARH the gorse takes on a silver-mauve tinge. The fort on a crag, with a white village below, is arresting. A little further is RAM GOPALJI KUND. The township has disappeared and it is eerie to find this large tank, with wide shallow steps leading down to the water, its parapets ornamented with bas-relief designs and its little island-turret in the middle of the water from where the whisper of ghost-voices seem to echo. The approach to Bikaner is bleak. The wonder is that men have chosen to live here or have thought it worthwhile to risk their lives to win such a kingdom.

Jodha Singh Rathore of Marwar retrieved the fortunes of his clan and founded the city of Jodhpur in 1.459. He had five sons of whom Bikaji was the most lively and enterprising. Realising that a struggle for the paternal inheritance was not likely to be fruitful this adventurous prince determined to chart out his own destiny and win a kingdom for himself. Jangaldesh, as this north-desert tract was then called, had been disputed territory for long periods. Gujars, Pratiharas, Chauhans and Afghans had fought for supremacy here.

The Bhatti Rajputs of Jaisalmer had extended their sphere of influence and were also powerful contenders. Rao Bika gathered a force of young warriors who, with that quality of restless energy that is a powerful motivating force in this martial race, were ready to hazard the dangers of the desert to seek a fortune in the new kingdom. Bikaji kept adding to his army as he advanced north. At Deshnoke he sought the blessings of Karnidevi, a mystic Charan, a caste of bards who preserve the genealogy, folk culture and heroic legends of the race and are therefore held in high regard. She blessed him and prophesied victory. Bikaji defeated the Bhattis and others and established a dynasty that lasted till the state was taken over as part of the Indian Republic.

The last ruler, Karni Singh, has been a member of Parliament for many years. He is also the celebrated world champion of clay-pigeon shooting and an enthusiastic abstract painter. In the early 1 900s, Maharaja Ganga Singh was the enlightened ruler of Bikaner state. He opened schools and hospitals run on modern lines and built the cementlined GANGANAGAR CANAL a remarkable feat of engineering. This canal has now been greatly extended by the Indian government and Ganganagar District once notorious because of the dreaded dacoits that haunted the region, is fast becoming a green belt so rich that it rivals the fertile lands of Punjab and Haryana that border it.

Maharaja Ganga Singh was a colourful personality and a great favourite of the British whom he entertained with extravagant hospitality, providing them with big-game hunting and the grouse shooting in which his state was so rich. He led the Concord of Princes at the Royal Durbar, Delhi of 1911 and was a signatory to the Treaty of Versailles.

Bikaner is situated directly on the ancient caravan routes that came from Africa and West Asia. It was therefore a great centre of trade in the ancient world. This gave rise to a curious phenomenon: the establishment of enormously wealthy Marwari families who are today leading industrialists and bankers, such as the Birla family who have founded the Engineering Institute of Pilani.

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