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History of Bikaner

Late in the 15th century, Rao Bikaji, the son of Rao Jodhaji of Jodhpur, took offence at one of his father’s comments and left home to set up his own kingdom in the deserts of the north. Encouraged by the prophecy of a mystic woman, Karni Mata, that he would rule over a kingdom larger that his father’s, he set up a fortified city in 1488, a city which came to be called Bikaner. The city's strategic location on the caravan routes and the protection offered by the harsh desert surroundings enabled Rao Bikaji to accumulate great wealth, consolidate and eventually carve out a kingdom roughly the size of England.

Though initially victorious against Mughal armies in the early 16th century, the Maharajas of Bikaner were later won over by Akbar’s diplomacy and remained Mughal allies till the advent of the British in the 18th century. The kingdom then went into decline but made a remarkable recovery in mid 19th century as a direct consequence of British involvement in the Afghan wars. The Maharaja of Bikaner raised, trained and sent up a steady supply of Bikaner camels, renowned for their load carrying capacity, for the British campaigns.

With the upswing in its fortunes, Bikaner became the first princely state in 1866 to introduce electricity. And in the 20th century its visionary ruler, Maharaja Ganga Singh, brought it economic prosperity by establishing the legendary Bikaner Camel Corps and promoting the Ganga Canal, which helped to green vast tracts of the desert. The Camel Corps is still going strong, its caparisoned camels proudly participating in the colourful pageantry of the Republic Day celebrations each year as part of the paramilitary Border Security Force that guards India’s western frontier with Pakistan.

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