Monday, May 27, 2013

In company of some featured friends

Bharatpur, of late, has become a regular fixture in the tour programs of people who are going to Agra and thereby has made a surreptitious entry into the so called "Golden Triangle" (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur). No more is it a quiet hamlet frequented only by strange creatures, who, even in the chilling winter, leaves the warmth of a hot blanket and decides to park themselves behind trees with extremely long telephoto lenses or binoculars for several hours. On the contrary, now it has it's fair share of "Uncle-chips"-munching tourists who usually touch this point en route Agra-Fatehpur Sikri.

The usual way to go to Bharatpur from Delhi is by road via Faridabad which goes via Ballabhgarh-Palwal-Hodal-Kosi Kanal-Dig (part of which is NH2). There is an alternate road via the Sohna which also joins this road at Palwal. There are plenty of dhabas on the way; but be warned - this is the so called "Mathura Circuit" which means it is completely vegetarian. People who cannot imagine starting the day without a masala omlette would be in for a rude shock.

There is no earthly need for any prior hotel bookings at Bharatpur as long as you are not very finicky. There are probably as many hotels as the number of birds in the Keonadeo National Park (which is the official name of the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary). Unless you know any of the hotels from first hand experience, it is not recommended to book a hotel based on internet ratings (we tried the first time and landed up at a hotel which probably has not seen the face of any guests for at least 3 months). 

We had been to Bharatpur twice and on both the occasions, we stayed at a hotel called "The Birdie Inn". The location of the hotel is superb (5 minutes from the park) and the quality of their food, especially their continental fares, are certainly worth mentioning. The rooms are nice and comfortable though not exactly build for the convenience of the "modern" tourists (not enough plug points, viewing angle of the TV from the sofa is not optimal etc). The service cannot be described as "prompt" or "efficient", but the bungling waiters seem to have a kind of wodehouse-ish simplicity which, somehow is rather endearing. 

There is nothing much to do at Bharatpur in the evening (the TV channels available are restricted and you might be forced to watch a power-packed saas-bahu K-brand serial. To save you from this fate worse than death state, the hotel staffs light up some form of "bon-fire" to keep the people entertained. This soon transcends into a kind of community drinking session with everybody sipping rum with coca cola and lamenting about how they could not capture the supremely exotic bird that they had seen. As the hotel architecture has a certain archaic look, it works quite well.

The breakfast starts at 6:30 am and it is a good idea to have an early breakfast and reach the park by 07:00 am. A guide is a must and certified quides are available at the park gate as well as at the hotel. We took the guide who is "loosely" attached to Birdies Inn and we were quite satisfied with him.  

By paying some extra charges, you can take the car upto a certain point inside the park and there onward,  the options are to walk or take a rickshaw or a bicycle. My recommendation would be to take a rickshaw to dump the handbags / camera bags / spare lenses / cranky kids etc and walk. You would be greeted with lovely views like this :

You would also get to see quite a number of birds, depending on what time you go.  Sadly, I didn't get any memorable shots of the feathery friends due to the usual set of excuses (my telephoto is not long enough, the lens is too slow, the other tourists were making too much noise etc). Nevertheless, these were a few which were not completely of trash-bin quality.

1) Cormorant :
2) Kingfisher 
3) Bee-eater
4) Neelkanth

If someone wants to do a real justice to this place, he should probably make 2-3 trips to the park - one near the swamps, one to the temple and one general. For most of the usual tourists, one trip or maximum two should suffice. Each trip takes about 3 hrs on foot - hence one needs to carry adequate water and some small food with himself. There is also a boating facility inside the part (was not functioning when we were there) and a tourist centre just outside the park where one could go and buy the usual T-Shirts/ Caps / mugs etc with animals & birds pictures / motifs on them. 

Another attraction at Bharatpur is the fort at Bharatpur (called Lohagarh Fort) which was built by Raja Suraj Mal. Whether you will enjoy this place depends on whether you are travelling to Agra from Bharatpur or vice versa. If you have already seen Agra or Jaipur, I dare say you might find it a bit of an anti-climax. Nevertheless, it has a small museum inside and people interested in history would certainly love it. The fort has the usual wide staircase and large arches and also has a rather well maintained canon. 

On the whole, a nice place for a couple of days stay and a good run-up for the Fatehpur Sikri !!


Monidipa Dey said...

Well written!

Anonymous said...

Excellent - Shamik

Victor Ghoshe said...

Good going man. Now there is a virtual place where you can save some moments of life. Besh bhalo hochche.