Sometimes you visit a place and it lives up to more than your expectations. Junagarh Fort for me was one such place. I enjoy reading History and visiting monuments wherever I travel. Somehow, with my very active imagination, these places come alive to me. On a road trip around Rajasthan last year, our second stop was at Bikaner, the erstwhile capital of the Rathore’s of Bikaner. Founded in the year 1488 AD by a Rajput prince Rao Bika the younger son of Rao Jodha of Jodhpur, the state of Bikaner played an important role in the History of India.
The Junagarh Fort at Bikaner is an excellent peep into the History of the Rathore’s who trace their ancestry back to the Gahadavala Kings of Kannauj. The sixth ruler Raja Rai Singh built a new fort called Chintamani during 1589 to 1593 AD. It was renamed Junagarh or old fort in the early part of the 20th century when the royal family moved out of it to the Lalgarh Palace.
Junagarh fort is one of the few forts in the world that is not built on a hill and the modern day city of Bikaner has grown around it. When one walks into the Suraj Pol (Sun gate) of the fort you leave behind the hustle and bustle of modern life to take a leisurely walk down the annals of History. The fort is a composite structure, the result of building efforts of a number of rulers through four centuries. An audio guide accompanying you with its soothing rendition of the past brings alive the various palaces created by every ruler making the fort a vibrant jewel in the middle if the Thar Desert.
One walks into the sandstone structure into a white and pristine Karan Mahal, built in classic Mughal style, this was the Public Audience ‘Hall.’ The Anup Chowk that the next few palaces are built around has been featured in many movies and as one walks into it images of peacocks and bustling maidens come to mind. The first palace to visit is the Phool Mahal, motifs of trays, flower vases, and rose water sprinklers stucco work and glass inlay is reminiscent of the Jehangirian era. Then into the glorious Anup Mahal or the Privy Council Chamber, breathtakingly beautiful to which no words can do justice and should be seen to be believed. Bikaner is famous for this kind of gold vermillion varnished work and you may have seen some of it earlier.(See Picture Above) Then onto the Badal Mahal, reflecting the longing for rain in an arid landscape. The room is soothingly blue with clouds and rain drops depicting the Monsoon.
Then onto to the Gaj Mandir and Dungar Niwas with their white walls decorated with elaborate niches and mirrors in the Mughal floral designs and style.
Here the past ends and the British influence begins to be seen the rest of the fort was built in the Indo-Saracenic style and houses the first lift installed in India and the Durbar Hall and Vikram Vilas. It is here that one finds the ancient sandalwood throne of Kannauj and various war souvenirs, howdahs and the famous Nalki, one of the honors conferred by the Mughal rulers.
This is but a short synopsis of the many treasure that the Junagarh Fort houses. I have visited many heritage sites in my country, a lot many are more popular; this fort however provided to me the best insight into the grandiose living style of the rulers of Rajputana. So if you like to tread down the annals of the past as I do, do visit the Junagarh Fort.