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Which is better Bikaner or Jaisalmer?

Discussion in 'Rajasthan' started by Shivani Kalra, May 26, 2017.

  1. Shivani Kalra

    Shivani Kalra New Member

    We (my family) are going to Rajasthan in October, and we are planning out the destinations we wish to visit. First on the list is Jaipur and then we would be visiting Udaipur and Jodhpur. We would like to do the camel safari which is done both in Bikaner and Jaisalmer.

    We can not decide which destination should be the fourth one we should be visiting. We would like to know which is better Bikaner or Jaisalmer?
     


  2. briannagodess

    briannagodess Well-Known Member

    Hello, @Shivani Kalra, welcome to the forum!

    Bikaner Jaisalmer.
    (Images from Makar, Arian, Jitendra and Valentina)

    Overview

    For that glimpse of the royal era when forts and palaces dominate instead of skyscrapers, there's no better destination for that than Rajasthan. Filled with historical lanes of grand architectural marvels, you won't be disappointed with the spectacles you can witness here. Two such destinations that you can find here are Bikaner and Jaisalmer, which can be considered as two lesser-known tourist places in the state. While they stay under the limelight, their fascinating stories intermingled with their heritage sites would surely render one's interest piqued. Now on this guide, we would highlight the main differences and similarities in these two destinations.

    Starting with Bikaner, which was established in the 15th century by Rao Bika, son of the founder of Jodhpur. So what makes Bikaner unique? Its warm people who are always ready to help tourists in need? Its rich culture that is evident in every festival celebrated here, always with fervor and attitude? Or maybe its heritage-filled lanes, specifically its havelis that feature art-filled frescoes worthy of exploring? The answer is, all of the above, because this underrated destination has all these features and more. Despite its rural appeal, you would find the city so enticing, so enriching and so fulfilling, that a trip here won't be a disappointment.

    And then we have Jaisalmer, aptly named as The Golden City, with its golden sandstone structures. Jaisalmer was founded in the early 12th century by Jaisal Singh, from whom the city was named after. A living fort, a lake and several temples make up the tourist circuit in the city. But far from your usual tourist destinations, Jaisalmer marvels with its unique excursions that you can take from the city itself. Nearby, you would find the border of India with Pakistan, which adds to the surreal beauty of Jaisalmer. Again, Jaisalmer won't disappoint the history lovers, it's yet another must-visit destination in the desert state of Rajasthan.

    Bikaner Versus Jaisalmer (A Comparison Guide)

    1. Ease of Access
    • Bikaner - As of June 2017, the Nal Airport, also known as Bikaner Airport, started its domestic flights to and from Delhi, operated by Alliance Air and Zoom Air. This airport is merely 15 kilometers from the centre of Bikaner. These flights were inaugurated by the government along with these private airlines under the Regional Connectivity Scheme, which involves subsidized rates for passengers. Alternatively, the Jodhpur Airport is about 249 kilometers away from Bikaner and has flights from other cities such as Bangalore, Jaipur and Mumbai, along with Delhi. By land, you can opt for either train journey or bus journey. The Bikaner Junction Railway Station has direct train connectivity to cities such as Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Delhi, Lucknow, Varanasi and many more. Some trains have daily schedules while others have weekly schedules so check accordingly. The railway station is located to the south of the city, around a 20-minute walk from the city centre. If you're coming from other cities in Rajasthan, don't worry as there are trains connecting them to Bikaner too. The Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation (RSRTC) also operates plenty of buses running from major cities like Delhi and Ahmedabad to Bikaner. You can also board local buses from the main cities of Rajasthan like Jaipur and Udaipur going to Bikaner. The journey to Bikaner can be long and winding but fortunately, there won't be any issues with regards to its connectivity to other regions of India, as there are many transportation options that one can choose from.
    • Jaisalmer - As of now, the Jaisalmer Airport is not yet functional but under the same Regional Connectivity Scheme, it will be operational soon. It is believed that at September this year, 2017, Spice Jet would operate the to and from flights between Jaipur and Jaisalmer. For now, alternative airports like the Jaipur International Airport and Jodhpur Airport provide for air connectivity to Jaisalmer. However, from these airports, you need to ride a bus or taxi to reach your end destination, which is Jaisalmer. Of the two, the nearer one is the Jodhpur Airport, which is five hours of driving from Jaisalmer. From the airport, just reach the Paota Roadways Bus Stand and from there, you can find buses going to Jaisalmer, operated by the Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation (RSRTC) as well. The Jaisalmer Railway Station is under two kilometers away from its city centre. It has direct train connectivity to cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Lucknow. You can also opt for buses, both private and government ones operate from Jaipur to Jaisalmer.
    2. Best Time to Visit
    • Bikaner - If you visit Bikaner during the summer season, from March to June, expect sweltering heat and sweaty clothes. Temperatures during this season fall above 40°C and at times, can even reach beyond 45°C. In fact, Bikaner is one of the hottest cities of Rajasthan, having recorded high temperatures reaching 49°C. As you might have deciphered, summer is not the best season to visit Bikaner, as the uncomfortably high temperatures can even lead to heat stroke. The next season is monsoon, which extends from July to September, which is another not recommended season for visiting the city. Aside from the temperatures which are unrelenting, humidity adds to the icky factor of this season. July is the wettest month though rainfalls are scanty as compared to other cities of India. The last season, winter, extends from October to February and is considered as the best time to visit Bikaner. Temperatures are usually around 30°C but it's not unusual for them to drop below 20°C during December and January. The pleasant climate is good enough for sightseeing or even doing some adventure activities around the city.
    • Jaisalmer - Jaisalmer suffers from the same predicament when it comes to its seasons. Summers, March to June, can be very hot, with temperatures reaching 45°C or even higher. In 2017, Jaisalmer recorded its highest temperature ever at 52°C during the month of May. These heat waves are not only uncomfortable but can also be very dangerous to the health of tourists. If you must visit during this season, stay hydrated and wear light cotton clothing. Monsoon, July to September, is humid and only a bit wet, as the region doesn't receive as much rainfall. For those who want to avoid the crowds, this is a good season for that and you can also find discounted rates in hotels. The last season is winter, extending from October to February, considered as the best time to visit the city. Temperatures rarely reach beyond 30°C during this time and night time temperatures can go below 10°C too. Thus, for sightseeing or indulging in adventure activities, there's no better time than the winter season for that.
    3. Attractions to See
    • Bikaner - The main attraction of Bikaner is the Junagarh Fort, built during the end of the 16th century by Raja Rai Singhji. The fort was renovated and expanded by other rules of Bikaner though, evident by the different architectural styles of the various buildings within it. The gorgeous Anup Mahal sparkles with the use of the art technique known as Usta Art. Specifically, the Naqqashi and Manoti forms of art were used here, which are intricate mural designs completed in various stages, with the last stage being the most difficult, as gold is gilded into the design. This fort has the distinction of being impregnable, as it was only occupied for a short time by invading forces, lead by Kamran Mirza. Don't forget to view every nook and corner of the fort, as well as its museum showcasing the artifacts collected by the royal family over time. Also worth visiting is the Bhandasar Jain Temple, which was built around the 15th to 16th century by a rich Jain merchant. From the outside, the temple isn't as striking or remarkable, but its beauty lies mainly on the inside. This almost 600-year old temple is dedicated to Sumatinath, the 5th Jain Tirthankara, replete with remarkable murals, from its wall, ceilings and even pillars. The themes are of the lives that the 24 Jain Tirthankaras accentuated by floral motifs. The opulent Lalgarh Palace was built during the early 20th century and boasts of a combination of Hindu and Mughal styles of architecture. Most of the palace has been converted into a heritage hotel though some parts are considered as the residence of the royal family of Bikaner, the descendants of Ganga Singh. For those tourists with children, you can't miss the National Research Centre on Camel, which breeds and researches camels, also produces for dairy products from the camel's milk. If you visit during the monsoon season, the Gajner Lake would be full and can be an enjoyable place to visit as it offers boating activities for tourists. Otherwise, just reach the Royal Cenotaphs, if you are visiting during the other seasons, which are collections of chhatris dedicated to the royals of Bikaner.
    Junagarh.
    Junagarh Fort in Bikaner (Image from Daniel)
    • Jaisalmer - The formidable Jaisalmer Fort is considered as the prime attraction of the city. It is the epitome of Jaisalmer, the very reason why it was nicknamed as The Golden City, with the fort's sandstone material and lion-like color. Built during the 12th century by Rawal Jaisal, this is the only living fort in the world, where you get to see people actually living inside the fort. With its narrow alleyways, markets and hotels, it can be quite chaotic. Do take your time to explore the fort and the interior structures like the Royal Palace, which is filled with lovely lattice works and carvings. Even the Jain Temples here were made using local sandstone which makes them blend seamlessly with the surroundings. Keep your eyes open for cannon and bastion remains all around the fortified city. Next, venture into the numerous havelis of Jaisalmer that are not only stunning but also served as a part of history since they were built by wealthy trading merchants during the pre-colonial era. The Patwaon Ki Haveli has intricate carvings from the outside, of lattice works and arches. Inside, you would find intricate glass works and murals that are quite mind-boggling to see. Other havelis that you can find here are the Nathmal Ki Haveli and Salim Singh Ki Haveli. The Jaisalmer War Museum is a bit far from the city centre but worth a detour as it highlights the events that occurred during the Indo-Pakistan War, as well as showcases some artifacts obtained from the site where the war occurred. The Gadsisar Sagar is a lake just on the outskirts of Jaisalmer, almost like an oasis in the desert region. If the water is full, usually around monsoon, you can enjoy boating in it.
    Jaisalmer Fort.
    Jaisalmer Fort in Jaisalmer (Image from Shitha)

    4. Activities to Do
    • Bikaner - As compared to the other tourist destinations of Rajasthan, Bikaner is still just mildly developed. The main activity that one can do here is a camel safari, though the beauty of doing that here is that it is less commercialized. So if you love going to unknown paths, being away from the crowds, then a camel safari amidst the desert side of Bikaner might work well for you. Camel safaris can be as short as just two hours or can be as long as several days, it depends on your preference. If you choose the latter, then you can also indulge in a camping trip, choose from rustic camping sites or luxury camping sites, again your choice. Aside from camping, you can opt to stay in the rural villages close to Bikaner for a more authentic local experience. Usually, guest houses and camp sites provide for all meals during your trip, along with the camel safari. Additionally, they also provide for entertainment in the form of bonfire and traditional Rajasthani folk dances or performances.
    • Jaisalmer - Jaisalmer offers the same kinds of activities for tourists although in a more commercialized way. For example, you can also do camel safaris here, though you can expect more crowds and less remote excursions into the desert. The good thing about this is that you have more options when it comes to tour operators. The same goes for camping amidst the desert, you can find both simple tented accommodations and luxurious tented accommodations, sometimes referred to as glamping. You can even opt for a more adventurous jeep safari amidst the desert, truly an experience that you won't forget. Some camps even have facilities for adventure activities such parasailing, ATV riding and more. Do inquire about such activities from camps like Camp Oasis and The Golden Camp.
    5. Staying Options
    • Bikaner - Backpackers would be delighted to know that even for just under Rs. 900 per night, you can find decent accommodation options in Bikaner. The Shri Ram Heritage Hotel is one such good budget option, with its Standard Room not exceeding Rs. 600 per night for a lone traveller. You can even opt for the dormitory for a cheaper budget rate. Hotel Simran is yet another good option, located close to the city centre and with its Standard Room at just Rs. 875 per night. For those with mid-range budgets to spare, rest assured you can find comfortable accommodation options. Hotel Heeralal has rates under Rs. 2,500 per night and you can enjoy the modern side of Bikaner with this property. Hotel Desert Winds has the same rates per night but the appeal of the property is its heritage facade and interiors. Now if you're someone who indulges in luxury stays during their trips, Bikaner has a number of properties that can cater to your need. At the most, these are four-star hotels, some are three-star hotels, but the city still don't have five-star hotels. Highly rates luxury properties here are the Vesta Bikaner Palace and Laxmi Niwas Palace, both have rates above Rs. 4,000 per night.
    Shri Ram.
    Shri Ram Heritage Hotel in Bikaner (Image from Booking)
    • Jaisalmer - In contrast to Bikaner, Jaisalmer has more hotel options, since it is more developed and commercialized. Even the rates here are more competitive and for as little as Rs. 600 per night, you can find decent properties to stay in. Hotel Fort View has rates starting from Rs. 250 per night and it's just a 6-minute walk to the fort. Of course, facilities and amenities offered are very basic but you can't complain for such low rates. Hotel Heera Court is another good hygienic option and its rates start at Rs. 550 per night. For those who love heritage, the property has been designed much like the traditional havelis of Jaisalmer. If you have Rs. 1,500 per night to spend, you would find mid-range hotels that are safe and clean already. Hotel options for this budget are Mystic Jaisalmer Hotel, Hotel Bharat Villas and Hotel Pleasant Haveli. Another difference that Jaisalmer have and Bikaner doesn't have is the presence of five-star hotels. You can find two luxury properties in Jaisalmer, namely, Suryagarh and Jaisalmer Marriott Resort & Spa. With these properties though, you need to pay more than Rs. 10,000 per night to stay in any of them.
    Fort.
    Hotel Fort View in Jaisalmer (Image from Booking)

    6. Transportation Options
    • Bikaner - Bikaner has narrow roads and alleyways so the best mode of transportation in this old city is via rickshaw. You can opt for either cycle rickshaws or auto rickshaws, both are available in the city. The downside is that rickshaw drivers rarely use the meter so you need to negotiate for fare rates prior to riding one. Alternatively, you can also opt for local cabs, if you intend to visit the outskirts, since the roads here are more spacious. Rates are on the higher side but you can be more comfortable especially during summer season when the temperatures are at their highest. If you're physically fit, then you can opt to walk the alleyways of Bikaner instead. Or you can even hire a bicycle for a more immersive local experience.
    • Jaisalmer - This is one aspect that Jaisalmer and Bikaner has the same features in. Alleyways and streets in Jaisalmer are also very narrow hence it's very economical and convenient to just utilize the local auto rickshaws or cycle rickshaws. Just like Bikaner, drivers rarely use the meter system so it's best to negotiate for a fare rate prior to riding one. You can even hire a rickshaw for a whole day tour of the city, this is a convenient option so you won't need to keep negotiating for fare rates each time you need to ride one. Alternatively, cabs also run all throughout the city but can be more pricey. But if you're not used to the heat, then this is a more comfortable option, preferable for those with kids or seniors with them.
    7. Dining Options
    • Bikaner - Bikaner is a haven for foodies as well, especially for those who intend to sample local cuisine whilst on their trip. Gallops is one of the most renowned Rajasthani cuisine restaurants here. It is located just opposite the Junagarh Fort entrance so it's easily accessible. The restaurant also has a few Italian cuisine dishes with varieties in pizzas. Must-try dishes here are the Bikaneri Chicken and the classic, Dal Makhani. For vegetarians, the Moomal Restaurant is a good option, as it has varied vegetarian Indian dishes. In luxury properties, you would also find posh dining options like the Kings Pavilion Restaurant in Lalgarh Palace and Laxmi Niwas Palace Restaurant. Of course, your trip to Bikaner won't be complete without tasting bhujia, a local snack made from the endemic ground moth lentils that only grows in the desert areas of Bikaner and Jodhpur. This snack is incredibly crispy and satisfying that you just can't have enough with just one serving. You can find it in street food stalls around the city, but standalone restaurants such as Bhikharam Chandmal Bhujiawala and Chhotu Motu Joshi Sweet Shop also sell them.
    • Jaisalmer - Authentic Rajasthani cuisine is also a feature of the dining experience in Jaisalmer. Topping your foodie itinerary should be Desert Boy's Dhani, which is comparable to Jaipur's Chokhi Dhani. You can indulge in their Rajasthani Thali or also opt for ala carte meals. The best part is its oasis setting of greenery, set upon an open area with traditional folk music playing as background. One of their best-seller dishes is the Ker Sangri, a lentil dish made from beans and berries, not as appealing as it looks but every bit delicious with every spoonful, a mixture of tangy, spicy and flavorful in every bite. Milan Restaurant, just five minutes of walking from the fort, is another must-try dining option here. It's a bit underrated and doesn't boast of remarkable interiors. Yet locals flock to this place because it offers affordable meals that don't compromise on taste or quality. You can relish Rajasthani and North Indian cuisines dishes here. Jaisalmer also has plenty of rooftop restaurant where you can enjoy dining whilst viewing the skyline of the city. Highly rated ones are Pleasant Haveli Restaurant, KB Cafe and The Panorama.
    8. Excursions to Take
    • Bikaner - There are some excursions that you can take from Bikaner. First is Deshnoke, situated around 30 kilometers to the south of Bikaner, and is famed for being home of the Karni Mata Temple. This temple is unique in that it houses thousands of black rats, along with the rare white rats. The temple is highly revered by Karni Mata devotees, whom is believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Durga. Much like other Hindu temples, you need to remove your shoes prior to entering the temple, so if you're not as fond of these little creatures, the experience might be exciting as it is scary. About 35 kilometers to the west of Bikaner is the town of Gajner, which has a wildlife reserve that you can visit. The Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary is a lesser known wildlife reserve in the state, where you can find deers, chitals, nilgais and blackbucks in huge numbers. Last is Phalodi, which is around a three to four hours drive from Bikaner. This is an offbeat destination where you can find unexplored heritage sites such as temples and havelis.
    Karni.
    Karni Mata Temple (Image from Pablo)
    • Jaisalmer - There are many excursions that one can take from Jaisalmer. Usually, these excursions are part of the tourist circuits offered by agencies as well. Longewala is around a three-hour drive from Jaisalmer, close to its border with Pakistan. It was the place where the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 was fought. The Longewala War Museum is a must-visit here, where you can find memorabilia from the war itself, plus a short film highlighting the events that occurred during that time. About an hour away from here is the Tanot Mata Temple, a sacred and revered place especially for the Indian Army soldiers. During both wars of 1965 and 1971 between India and Pakistan, this temple was targeted by the latter, but none of the bombs they planted exploded. It is believed that Goddess Tanot Mata is the protective deity of this place and the soldiers who are designated here. The Kuldhara Abandoned Village is merely 20 kilometers from Jaisalmer and is famed for being a supposed haunted place in Rajasthan. The village was once a thriving town but was abandoned overnight by its inhabitants for reasons unknown exactly until now.
    Kuldhara.
    Kuldhara Abandoned Village (Image from Shipraa)

    Summary of Comparison

    So now, we have completed our comparison guide of these two cities. We have highlighted their similarities and differences in the in-depth guide above. But for those who have a short time, you can refer to the table below instead. This table is a summarized version of the guide above so that you can plan your trip accordingly. On various categories, we would designate a winner, so if you have preferences that you want to follow, you can also do that.

    Summary of Comparison Between Bikaner and Jaisalmer

    CategoryBikanerJaipurWinner
    Ease of AccessVery Easy (By Air or By Land)Easy (Mainly By Land)Bikaner
    Best Time to VisitWinter SeasonWinter SeasonBoth
    Attractions to SeeHeritage Sites and WildlifeHeritage Sites and NatureBoth
    Activities to DoCamel Safaris and Desert CampingCamel Safaris, Desert Camping, Jeep Safaris, Parasailing and ATV RidingJaisalmer
    Staying OptionsCheaper Luxury PropertiesCheaper Budget PropertiesBoth (Depends on your preference)
    Transportation OptionsRickshaws and CabsRickshaws and CabsBoth
    Dining OptionsVaried (Rajasthani and International Cuisines)Varied (Rajasthani and International Cuisines)Both
    ExcursionsSomePlentyJaisalmer
    Whew! As you can see from the table above, this versus battle is too close to call. On many aspects such as best time to visit, attractions to see, staying options, transportation options and even dining options, both Bikaner and Jaisalmer would satisfy the tourist. Bikaner is slightly easier to access with its airport being opened recently for domestic travel. But Jaisalmer is still not that far behind, with its airport presumed to be opening this year in September. Activities that one can do are more varied in Jaisalmer as well but for those looking for offbeat adventures, Bikaner would suit you well. And finally, excursions that one can take from Jaisalmer are many as compared to Bikaner, which only has a few places nearby it worth exploring.

    Conclusion

    At the end of this guide, it's still up to you to decide which destination best suits your preferences and interests. Jaisalmer might have won this versus battle but don't dismiss visiting Bikaner altogether. After all, Jaisalmer did win but only by a few points, in some aspects that might not be important for some people. So when deciding on which destination to choose, keep in mind that both these destinations are not the usual touristy ones in Rajasthan, unlike Jaipur or Udaipur. They aren't as developed or as crowded so you can enjoy that authenticity of the culture and traditions still.

    Choose Bikaner if you want to stray away from the usual tourist paths. If you would love to try a desert safari but don't want to be amongst the crowds, then a camel safari in the desert regions of Bikaner is suitable for you. The Junagarh Fort is not yet commercialized, has this nice art form that can only be seen in this region of the state and has the distinction of being impregnable. Even the excursion outside of Bikaner, specifically the Karni Mata Temple, is not your usual one.

    Choose Jaisalmer if you want a more developed city to stay in, one where you can find more accommodation options or shops. Sure Jaisalmer might be a bit commercialized but it isn't as crowded yet as other metro cities. Here lies the only living fort of India so it's truly worth a trip just to see how the locals live their daily lives in this narrow alleyway-stricken fortification. The havelis that line the streets of the city are striking, truly attractions that can take you into the bygone era with just one snap. And if you have that patriotic side in you, the border area with Pakistan is close by, imagine the bravery of the soldiers who are protecting these areas with excursions out of Jaisalmer.

    Good luck and I hope this helps you!:)