The smoggy city of BIKANER has little of the aesthetic magic of neighbouring Jaisalmer, Jodhpur or Jaipur, but is worth a visit thanks to the impressive Junagarh Fort, as well as for the chance to explore its atmospheric old city, dotted with quirky havelis, as well as the nearby government camel-breeding farm. It's also the jumping-off point for the remarkable rat temple at Deshnok.
The city was founded in 1486 by Bika, one of fourteen sons of Rao Jodha, the Rathore king who established Jodhpur, as a link in the overland trading route. In the early 1900s, new agricultural schemes, irrigation work, town planning and the construction of a rail link with Delhi helped Bikaner's economic advance; it has long since outgrown the confines of the city walls, and the population has more than tripled in size since 1947 to over six hundred thousand.
Bikaner's labyrinthine old city is notable for its profusion of unusual havelis whose idiosyncratic architecture demonstrates an unlikely fusion of indigenous sandstone carving with fin-de-siècle Art Nouveau and red-brick municipal Britain. The city is confusing to navigate, so accept getting lost as part of the experience.