From The Forgotten Lands
Say Rajasthan and the first thing that comes to your mind are the beautiful sand dunes, camel rides, delicious food and huge forts. While Udaipur, Jaipur, Jaislamer and even Jodhpur needs no introduction to the world for their beauty, it is a smaller city like Bikaner that needs attention, if you want to explore the untouched charm of the rich heritage that Rajasthan is famous for.
So while the sun wasn’t too harsh and the evenings were pleasant in Northern Indian, we decided to head to this historic city that is mostly known around the country for its delicious sweets and bhujia.
Soak in the vibes
For our three day trip to Bikaner, we stayed in Gaj Kesri Hotel. Spread across 25 acres of land, the hotel is set amidst lots of greenery on the Jodhpur-Jaipur Bypass, keeping you away from the usual hustle-bustle of the city. The property is owned by the Rampuria family of Bikaner and has been designed by the owner, Sunil Rampuria, who is actually an architect and an art connoisseur.
In fact, one of the first things you will notice as soon as you enter the property is the unique collection of artwork that gives this hotel an art museum-like feel. Gaj Kesri boasts of an unparalleled collection of contemporary Usta art work, one of the most famous but washed away with time artform of Rajasthan. The best part about the artwork in this hotel is that all these artefacts are created in-house, and not a single piece has been brought from outside.
Although his family moved to Kolkata more than 150 years ago, Sunil decided to come back and restore and revitalise his ancestral haveli, Bhanwar Niwas; eventually setting up Gaj Kesri in Bikaner. So what got the self-confessed, true blue Calcuttan, Sunil Rampuria, out of the cultural capital of India and back to his Rajasthani roots in Bikaner? He smiles and says, “My family is from Bikaner and when we took to converting our ancestral haveli into a hotel, my wife and I, along with our kids decided to come back here in 1992. It’s been fun and I enjoy the fact that I can be creative here. So once we got done with Bhanwar Niwas, we started Gaj Kesri in 2006 with just 24 rooms; and now we have 41 rooms and hope to continue growing.”
The hotel is divided into three wings—the main wing, the Mohini Niwas and the Karni Niwas, which are adorably named after Sunil Rampuria’s granddaughters. We stayed in the main wing of the hotel and were welcomed to the room with a plate of the famous Bikaneri mithai, and a huge window that gives you a great view of the greenery outside. So, if you are willing to wake up a little early on your vacation, you can see the beautiful horizon of colours as the sun rises and rare birds chirp in the morning, right from the huge window in your room.
Taking it all in
Now, since no vacation is ever complete without a few hours in the spa, we decided to check out the spa services available at the hotel. We should warn you, you mustn’t expect a fancy spa with hot stone massage therapy here. The spa here is more of a massage centre but nonetheless, you would definitely enjoy the experience. The hotel also has a swimming pool, so you can laze around the area if a day in the spa doesn’t interest you much.
Besides the beautiful art pieces, what we liked the most about this place was their multi-cuisine restaurant, Polki. The restaurant serves everything from European cuisines to Marwari dishes, and our taste buds were thankful for the wide variety of food that we got to try here.
While you are there, don’t forget to ask the hotel staff where you can get the best Rajasthani mithais because Bikaner is heaven for all the Indian dessert lovers.
Also, if you are a dog person, you can play with the cute, stray black labrador on the property, whom the owners now call Blacky. It’s a total goofball and a perfect partner to guide you around the hotel at night.
In all, with a perfect mix of lots of wilderness, Rajasthani culture and amazing food, this hotel makes for a great place to stay at while you are in Bikaner.