Bikaner is a vibrant, dust-swirling desert town with a fabulous fort and an energising outpost feel. It’s less dominated by tourism than many other Rajasthan cities, though it has plenty of hotels and a busy camel-safari scene, which attracts travellers looking to avoid the Jaisalmer hustle.
The ancient Thar Desert town of Osian, 65km north of Jodhpur, was an important trading centre between the 8th and 12th centuries. Known as Upkeshpur, it was dominated by the Jains, whose wealth left a legacy of exquisitely sculpted, well-preserved temples. The Mahavira Temple surrounds an image of the 24th tirthankar (great Jain teacher), formed from sand and milk.
Karni Mata Temple at the village of Deshnok, 30km south of Bikaner, is extraordinary even by Indian standards. Most travellers coming to Bikaner make a beeline here. The holy rats of Karni Mata are considered to be incarnations of storytellers, and they run riot over the temple complex.
Kichan & Phalodi
Mornings and afternoons in the winter months see huge flocks of graceful demoiselle cranes flock to the tiny village of Kichan. The village is 5km east of Phalodi, a town at the junction of roads from Jodhpur (135km), Jaisalmer (165km), Bikaner (168km) and Nagaur (130km), and is a destination of long-distance camel treks from Bikaner.
This once-pleasant formal garden, 7km northwest of Jaisalmer and 4km west of Bada Bagh, is still Jaisalmer royal property but has fallen into decay. According to locals, the step-wells here were built by prostitutes. On the far (west) bank of the lake here (2km by road) is a beautifully restored and finely carved 18th-century Jain temple that’s well worth a look.
With its temples and 52 ghats around its lake, Kolayat, 51km southwest of Bikaner, is a beautiful, holy and untouristed town. Visiting here is considered a worthy Hindu pilgrimage, with one day here being worth up to 10 years at another sacred place. Like Pushkar, it has a (rare) Brahma temple.
This windswept desert village (also spelt Ramdeora), just off the Phalodi road and 12km north of central Pokaran, is home to an important temple dedicated to deified local hero Ramdev, who is revered by both Hindus and Muslims. Ramdev was born in Tanwar village to a Rajput family and was opposed to the caste system, believing instead that all human beings are equal.
Rohet Garh, in Rohet village, 40km south of Jodhpur on the Pali road, is one of the area’s most appealing heritage hotels. This 350-year-old, lovingly tended manor has masses of character and a tranquil atmosphere, which obviously helped Bruce Chatwin when he wrote The Songlines here, and William Dalrymple when he began City of Djinns in the same room, No 15.
The Bhati Rajput capital before Jaisalmer, the deserted ruins of Lodhruva are 17km northwest of Jaisalmer and 10km beyond Amar Sagar. Lodhruva (also spelt Ludarva and several other variations) was probably founded by the Lodra Rajputs, and passed to Bhati Devaraja, ruler of Devagarh, in the 10th century.