The location: buried in the middle of the Rajasthan desert, where it belongs.
Picture it: a train passes through the centre of Bikaner, separating the new and old town, cutting through the sweet shops and textile markets, slicing up the traffic and tyre shops with their gratuitous hooting. In fact these trains never stop, serving to add another layer to Bikaner ‘s dense soundscape of squawking tuk tuks, bleating bikes and insistent calls to prayer and shopping.
The vibe: there’s something odd about this city. On the one hand you have the friendly locals going about their traditional trades, making archaic machines come to life with skills that have been passed down over generations. And then you have the hotel managers and tourism officers, who like to take you into their confidence, warning you of the touts and who not too trust, while touting you themselves. This means you end up having more of a strategy than an itinerary for your day, planning how you will sneak past the reception desk just to eat at another restaurant or practicing what story you will tell to shake off the manager showing you the textile and spice markets “free you my guest”. Even your laundry has to be smuggled out for fear of “going it alone”.
Fun fact: there is a colourful camel festival that happens once a year in January for two days. It’s more of a colourful display of costume, dance and ritual than an actual camel fair, so not a reason to rush there but if you happen to be in the area, or have broken down and need to stay on a day or two, then stay and visit the fort while you are there too.
Odd thing: so many tyre shops. So many.
DIY: get lost. Walk around the spice market, stumble upon the Jain temple with its friendly priest and beautiful artwork but most importantly, look around you because there are some truly beautiful old haveli buildings to be seen and enjoyed. Just do it on your steam. It’s much more relaxing that way.
You’ll like it if: you want to photograph traditional trades (this is a city that makes things from scratch) and great big machines that are as perplexing as they are old.
Avoid: being taken under the wing of a hotel manager.
Last word: It’s out of the way, for a reason but if you happen to blow a tyre on your bike trip around Rajasthan, you could do better than stop here for a few days outside of the camel festival. (okay it’s not that bad).