Sunday, February 2, 2014

Destinations in Rajasthan - Visiting Bharatpur

Visiting Bharatpur
(Destinations in Rajasthan)
Painted stork in Keoladeo Ghana National Park, Bharatpur
As the winter vacations of the children loomed large, this time around I was perplexed about the destination I would take them to.  During the previous years, I had ceremonially proceeded to hill stations, so as to enable them to watch snowfall, but without success.  However, during this year they happened to witness snowfall during the peak of summer, on the day we visited Tso Moriri Lake in Ladakh and therefore, there was no point in going again for a holiday to a hill station.  Since Rajasthan was an area that had not been toured by me, especially because of having had some bad experiences with the tourism industry related people of the State.  Thus, because of my interest in bird-watching, of the ‘Avian’ kind of-course, I choose to visit Bharatpur this year.  Bharatpur is also called the Eastern gateway of Rajasthan. The history of Bharatpur dates back to the epic age, when the Matsya Kingdom flourished here in the 5th century B.C. The matsya’s were the allies of the Pandavas during the Mahabharata war. According to tradition the name of Bharatpur is traced to Bharat, the brother of Lord Rama of Ayodhya, who’s other brother Laxman was granted the esteemed place as family deity of the ruling family of Bharatpur. His name also appears in the state seals and coat-of-arms. 
A Yellow Wagtail on the Yamuna Expressway
Hotel Saras, Bharatpur
            Bharatpur is famous for its bird sanctuary that goes by the name of ‘Keoladeo Ghana National Park’.  The nearest city to this township is Agra that is situated at a distance of 54 Kms. and Jaipur is about 174 Kms. from here, it is also accessible from Alwar at a distance of 117 Kms. and Delhi, which is about 182 Kms. from here.  Bharatpur is also accessible by train, as it lies on the Western Railways Mumbai-Delhi Sector and about fours hours run from Delhi.  There are a plethora of private hotels that operate in this township and apart from them there is Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation run hotel ‘Saras’ of ‘comfort category’ but very basic nature and I had stayed here in AC Rooms, but the fooding is not upto the mark.  For those looking for more luxurious environs, there is hotel Ashok, Bharatpur an ITDC run hotel right inside the National Park precincts.
Main entry gate of Keloadeo Ghana National Park, Bharatpur

Spotted Owlet in Bharatpur bird sanctuary
Indian Roller on its perch in Bharatpur sanctuary
Sambhar deer (female) in Bharatpur sanctuary
Chital or spotted deer (female) in Bharatpur sanctuary
Wild boar in Bharatpur sanctuary
Chital or spotted deer (Male) in Bharatpur sanctuary
Kingfisher in Bharatpur sanctuary
Eurasian Coot in Bharatpur sanctuary
            We started for our sojourn to Bharatpur at around 8.00 A.M from Delhi on the   4th of January, 2014 and we decided to access the Yamuna Expressway, as the National Highway passing through Gurgaon was bound to be jam packed during the morning hours.  The decision appeared to be well taken, as we started from Dwarka and had reached Nehru Place in about 40 minutes and having gone past the Okhla Bird Sanctuary we reached the Yamuna Expressway.  This was the first time for me on this road and I found the road to be astounding, maintaining international standards and a dream to ride on.  As we were not aware as to whether we would get anything to eat on this highway or not, since it would not have the ordinary range of ‘Dhabas’ (local restaurants) alongside.  We stopped on the way, parking our vehicle on the side and had our breakfast of grilled sandwiches and Coffee that had been prepared by my better half.  Thereafter, we proceeded towards Mathura and having paid a toll fee of Rs.220/-, we exited the expressway at Mathura after a drive of little over two hours.  Our dream journey had come to an abrupt end and nightmare started as soon as we exited the express way and entered Mathura, it took us one full hour to cross this township, full of jams and slow moving traffic.  We exited Mathura at National Highway and having crossed over, drove towards Rajashtan and found that the road here was much better, as we headed for Bharatpur.
Panoramic view of Lohagarh fort in Bharatpur
The way to main entrance to Bharatpur Palace
The inside view of Bharatpur Palace
A large utensil kept inside Bharatpur Palace
The outer facade of one of the building in Bharatpur Palace
A stone carved Lion in Bharatpur Palace
A pillar inside Bharatpur Palace
A Cannon kept in Bharatpur Palace
View of the gallery in Bharatpur Palace
The stairway leading to the museum in Bharatpur Palace
View of a roof top inside Bharatpur Palace
The columns of the main hall inside Bharatpur Palace
Busy in performing duties in Bharatpur Palace
View of the Hamam or bathing hall in Bharatpur Palace
View of the floor of Hamam inside Bharatpur Palace
View of the roof  of the Hamam inside Bharatpur Palace
Reclining Lord Vishnu statue inside Bharatpur Palace
Another huge sculpture inside Bharatpur Palace
The sculpted statute of Lord Shiva and his consort Goddess Parvati inside Bharatpur Palace 
Broken statues inside Bharatpur Palace
             We reached Bharatpur at around 12.30 P.M and after having completed the check in formalities at Hotel Saras, we occupied our rooms to relax and refresh ourselves.  We thereafter, took lunch at the hotel and as the occupancy was low the staff informed that instead of A-la-carte, they would provide ‘Thali’ (Plate comprising of Cereals, Lentils and Vegetables etc.) @ Rs.175/- per plate, but we did not find the food very palatable, as it was bland.  It was overcast outside, but we still decided to head for the famed ‘Keoladeo National Park’, which is a famed bird sanctuary.  The Park gate is about 300 meters from the Hotel gate and as we were unaware of the direction or distance, we hired an auto-rickshaw for Rs.30/- and reached the gates within five minutes.  There are cycle rickshaws that ply within the precincts of the National Park and one can either  hire them right at the main gate, wherefrom you have to buy tickets @ Rs.50/- per head for adults and @ Rs.20/- per head for students and free for kids under 5 years.  The cycle rickshaws charge @ Rs.100/- per hour and the guide @ Rs.150/- per hour without telescope and @ Rs.250/- per hour for those with telescope.  There are two gates to the Park, one just at the entry and one at the core area of the park, one can drive through till the second gate and hire rickshaws from there as well.  Vehicles are only permitted up to Shanti Kutir inside the Park. The Electra Van of the Forest Department in the Sanctuary can be engaged, although the best way to explore the Park is on foot, bicycle or cycle rickshaws which are available on hire.  Since we had not brought our vehicle we had to hire three rickshaws and a guide for the visit, which cost me about Rs.1400/- (Rs.900/- for rickshaws for three hours and the guide Rs.500/-).  It is not essential to hire a guide, as the rickshaw pullers are equally apt at identifying the birds and also showing them to you for some little extra incentive, the guides are a professional lot and despite seeking hefty payments will not show you anything out of the ordinary.   Migratory waterfowls from all over the world and even the famed Siberian Cranes, that were once the pride of Keoladeo, last visited the park in 2002, was a major attraction. The most noticeable waterfowls coming to the Park are the bar- headed and grey lag geese. The ducks spotted that can be spotted here are the northern pintail, common teal, ruddy shelduck, mallard, widgeon, shoveler, common shelduck, red crested pochard, gadwall etc. Predatory birds like the imperial eagle, steppe and tawny eagle, spotted eagle, marsh harrier and laggar falcon are attracted towards the Park, completing the avian food chain of the ecosystem. Some of them, like the short – toed eagle lesser spotted eagle and shikra, are the residents of the Park. Saras cranes, the tallest flight birds, nest in exposed and open areas, but had failed to make it to the park this year.  About 11 sq. Kms of the Park out of its total area of 28 sq. Kms. is covered by water & marshes.  The remaining portion comprising of dry bushland & Acacia trees is rich in birds like the kingfisher, red-vented and white-cheeked bulbuls, babblers, quails, partridges, sunbirds, sparrows, parakeets and orioles, which live in bushes and burrows. In addition to these birds, animals like the black buck, sambar (largest Indian antelope), spotted deer, nilgais and wild hogs can be spotted here. Likewise, Pythons and Monitor lizards can also be observed, at some places, lazing in the sun.
Way to the Jawahar Burj
A pillar atop the Jawahar Burj
Closeup of the pillar atop Jwahar Burj
Panoramic view of Bharatpur from atop Jwahar Burj
Statute of Maharaja Surajmal astride his horse in Bharatpur
             Historically speaking the Keoladeo National Park was intitally construed as a dam that was built by Maharaja Suraj Mal in 1750’s known as Anjan Bund.  Due to abundance of water, it started attracting many hervivores, especially Deers of many kind and in year 1850 onwards, this was converted as the Deer Hunting site by the MaharajasDue to abundance of water and being protected site, the place had started attracting birds in huge numbers and Prince Harbanji of Morvi State of present day Gujrat, who had been appointed as Administrator of Bharatpur converted this place into a Duck shooting reserve in 1899 and after flooding & creation of channels for distribution of water in 1901 onwards, the reserve was inaugurated in 1902 by Lord Curzon.  The Keoladeo Ghana National Park was formally notified as a Bird Sanctuary in 1956 and remained a personal game reserve of the Maharaja of Bharatpur till 1963.  Thereafter, in 1967 the area was declared as a reserve forest and upgraded as a National Park in 1981 and declared a World Heritage site in 1985.
The famed Ganga temple of Bharatpur 
Panoramic view of the Ganga temple in Bharatpur 
The famed Laxman temple (presiding deity of scions of Bharatpur) in Bharatpur
Another view of Laxman temple of Bharatpur
We returned back to the hotel and after having taken some tea & snacks settled to watch television as there is nothing else to do in this remote part.  We then had dinner by ordering dishes separately – A-la-carte, but found the preparation as atrocious as in the afternoon.  The remaining days that we stayed there we only ordered ‘Dal’ (a kind of lentil soup) and ‘Paranthas’ (fried bread) and sought scrambled eggs from outside the Hotel to partake our dinner.  We tucked ourselves into the bed early so as to get up early in the morning for visiting the Bird Sanctuary.  But the next day turned out to be equally bad with an intense cover of fog enveloping the entire area and after waiting upto 10.00 A.M. we decided to explore the township.  As the roads inside the township are rather narrow, we decided to explore the township in a local auto-rickshaw that charged us Rs.200/- for the trip.  The first prominent destination inside the township is the famed Lohagarh Fort, which true to its name that literally means ‘built of Iron’, stood solidly against many attacks by the British, frustrating them to no end. It faced the British onslaught four times and after a long siege they had to withdraw, but finally it was captured by Lord Lake for the British.   This fort is very different from the other forts in the State of Rajasthan. There is no architectural style associated with this fort, but it radiates an aura of strength and magnificence. The fort is surrounded by a moat, which was filled with water to ward off the enemy attacks. Sandy battlements strengthened the sandy ramparts, thus the enemy guns proved of no avail.  It has many gateways known as burjs and also houses many buildings inside its precincts.
A Fox inside the Bharatpur Sanctuary
Rose ringed Parakeets inside Bharatpur Sanctuary
A Cormorant with its meal in Bharatpur Sanctuary
Migratory birds flying across Bharatpur Sanctuary
A large water monitor basking in the Sun in Bharatpur Sanctuary
         However, the most outstanding piece of architecture is the Bharatpur Palace.  It is a fusion of Mughal and Rajput styles of architecture and it appears that the Rajas of Bharatpur were in awe of the Mughals and copied them in many aspects.  The palace was built in various phases by different  Maharajas, having being initally established by Raja Suraj Mal. The magnificent apartments are richly decorated with patterned floor tiles having exquisite and intricate designs. Kamra Khas, within the fort, has been converted into a museum displaying a rich collection of antiquities, exquisite sculptures and some ancient inscriptions alongwith a variety of arms & ammunation and muskets.  The museum occupies the main central wing displaying collections dating back to the 2nd century AD which demonstrates the art and skill of the region.  However, photography is restricted inside the museum precincts.  Another interesting part of the Palace architecture is the building housing the ‘Hamams’ or bathing place, which too constitues of intricately laid down floorings and exquisite roofs etc., a direct influence of the Mughals.  Behind this palace lies the Jwahar Burj that houses two huge metal pillars with inscriptions on them.
As the Sun sets across the Bharatpur Sanctuary
           In the market area is the Ganga Temple that was constructed by Maharaja Balwant Singh, who had started the construction of this big temple way back in 1845. The construction was carried out by a unique method, where all persons employed in the service of the state, were asked to donate one month’s salary of their service or any raise in pay towards the shrine. The temple is a beautiful piece of typical Rajput architecture.  The other main temple of the township is the Laxaman temple, this temple is also famous for beautiful stone work with elaborate carvings from doorways to ceilings, pillars, walls and arches. The temple is dedicated to Laxman, brother of Lord Rama.  After having visited the temple, we again headed back to the Bird Sanctuary, this time around we drove upto the Shanti Kutir and walked on our own exploring ‘hither & thither’, till we were famished and had reached the end of the road, where we consumed some ‘Samosas’ (fried snacks) and Cold drinks in the Canteen run by the Sanctuary administration near the ancient Shiva temple.  But my daughter & wife were totally worn out and therefore, we had to seek assistance of Rickshaws on our way back and by the time we were moving out of the complex, the sun was setting and created a beautiful aura all around and thus, we bid adeiu to Keoladeo National Park.
Here is the link to the video for the destination -