Tag Archives: Rajasthan

Bharatpur: Birders delight

Bharatpur Bird SanctuaryWe left our annual vacation planning too late last year. As November rolled around with no destination in mind, I knew that it would be next to impossible to put together a proper itinerary and get reservations at decent hotels. So we decided to reduce our vacation dates – since no time to plan means you can’t visit multiple cities – and go back to Rajasthan. This time, we chose to visit Bharatpur. Famous for its bird sanctuary, it’s one of the few cities in Rajasthan that we haven’t been to yet.

Small birds, Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

Most of the hotels were, as I had feared, booked or way out of our budget, so we settled on the Falcon Guesthouse. It had got some rave reviews on TripAdvisor, and even though there were no pictures of the place online, I hoped that at least some of those reviews were genuine.

Black necked ibis_Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

The real charm of the guesthouse is the owners. The rooms themselves are very basic and functional. They owners, though, are warm and welcoming. They treated us like house guests rather than tourists. They’re knowledgeable about the bird sanctuary and the surrounding areas. They’re genuinely interested in the people who stay with them. They make interesting and fun conversation. And the food there is absolutely yummy! I would heartily recommend it to anyone visiting Bharatpur.

Most people who visit Bharatpur go there mainly for the bird sanctuary, and we were no different. We didn’t visit any of the other sights in town – the Lohagarh fort or the palace – we had eyes only for the birds.

Darter_Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

If you’re driving down, you can take your car a little way into the sanctuary and proceed from there on foot, on bicycle or on a cycle rickshaw. The driver of the cycle rickshaw doubles up as the guide. Make sure you take one of the authorized cycle rickshaws – you’ll recognize them by the little yellow sign that tells you they are authorized guides – because those guys sure know their birds. And they will help you get as close to them as you can so you can take some good pictures. And did I mention that they’ve been trained by the World Wildlife Federation? So yes, you want to do at least one trip into the sanctuary with them.

Ducks at Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

Almost all our visits to the park bar one – when we took a cycle rickshaw – were on foot. You’ll have tons of bird sightings every few steps along the little path that winds through the sanctuary. Even if you’re walking along with no idea about where a bird perched high above you on a tree, one of the cycle guides will happily point it out to you as he rides along with his set of tourists.

Take your time. Take out your binoculars and just watch the birds at play, at rest, hunting or foraging for food. The peace and quiet, broken only by birdsong and the flapping of wings, makes this a serene spot to visit.

Pond Heron_Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

Each day that you go back will be slightly different. Some days you’ll see new birds or beasts, on another you might be lucky to chance upon a darter as it hunts for fish, on a third you might spot a neelgai or a sambhar grazing in the trees.

The sheer varieties of birds there is mind boggling – grey herons, jungle babblers, painted storks, saras cranes, snake birds (darters), spotted owls, different varieties of ducks, to name just a few – and also some spotted deer, neelgais, jackals and sambhars.

Saras Crane_Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

We hoped to see pythons, but they proved to be elusive. We did see one particularly lazy snake, though – it had a squirrel dancing all around it, but just gave it the royal ignore and slowly, languorously, crossed the walking path and disappeared into the bushes.

It was good fun to walk around the sanctuary, spotting birds, sitting on a bench watching them groom themselves or catch fish. In fact, being able to walk around the sanctuary made it a completely different experience from zipping through a wildlife park in a jeep with pesky, noisy tourists scaring the animals away. Most people we saw around us were serious bird watchers, pointing out birds, standing and admiring them through their binoculars, and capturing them on camera with lenses that gave my poor little 55-250 mm lens a serious complex!

Spotted Deer_Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

Our three days at Bharatpur just flew by, and before we knew it or were even ready to leave those beautiful birds and long walks through the sanctuary, it was time to return home.

Coming up:
Around Bharatpur:
Deeg Palace
Fatehpur Sikri
Agra

My top three travel memories

The Competition is organized and conducted by www.lowcostholidays.com. From July 30th, team Captains of the participating blogger groups will start their leg of the Blogger Relay race by sharing the top three memories of their favourite travel destinations and ranking them 1st, 2nd and 3rd, before passing the Travel Baton on to a fellow blogger, who will then also list their top 3 travel memories. They too will then pass the baton. The Team in the longest chain by the end of the competition all win the Blogger Relay! (And, more importantly, a prize!)

As I take hold of the #TeamPurple #BloggerRelay baton from Sudhagee, I am immersed in my past. I’ve traveled a lot, and not much. I’ve been to most parts of the world, though a lot of those travels are dim memories from my childhood.

Having a father in the merchant navy meant that we traveled a lot – almost every summer vacation was spent on the ship, traveling to numerous destinations both near and far. That exposure to the huge world out there gave me a serious travel bug, but alas, that bug can only be indulged properly about once a year.

Since I got married 10 years ago, the husband and I have traveled to a lot of places around India. There’s so much to be explored in our country, so many cities I had not visited as I spent most of my childhood traveling to countries far and wide. And while I do remember a lot from my various trips abroad as a child, my top three memories are from holidays that I took as an adult.

Nawalgarh

#3: Nawalgarh, Rajasthan

On the third spot with the Bronze medal I’d rate my trip to Nawalgarh in Rajasthan. Still off the beaten track, it was a pleasure to explore the city. Located in the Shekhawati region, it is known as Rajastahan’s outdoor art gallery. The old havelis (large houses) in this region have got some fantastic murals, both outside on the walls and within the houses. Some of the havelis are very well maintained, others are sadly ignored, but the paintings are lovely. Wandering through one of the havelis will take you through Indian history, from the first railway station to the courts of the king; through European cities; and Indian mythology. The sheer novelty and laid back pace of that vacation makes it one of my cherished travel memories.

Read more about Nawalgarh – Rajasthan’s open air art gallery

Disneyland, Orlando

#2: Disneyland, Orlando

In second position, claiming the Silver medal, is my trip to Disneyland, Orlando, with my parents last year. What can I say about Disneyland? It’s absolutely fantastic, something that everyone must do at least once in their lives. Plus, you’re really never too old to be swept off your feet by the magic of Disney! The attention to detail, the passion of the people working there, the vibrancy in the air, getting my photo clicked with some of my favorite Disney characters (yes, really!) are memories to be treasured. The five days I spent there were truly magical. They made me feel like a kid once again! Some awesome rides, lovely stage shows, the Disney parade, the fireworks, and the exhilaration I felt there with my parents are etched into my memory forever.

New York

#1: New York City

The winner by far, claiming the Gold medal, is my visit to New York City. The vibrancy, the shopping, the people, the museums…just the thought of it brings a smile to my lips. The major highlight of the trip has to be my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a place that has been on my must-visit list since I was a teen. I was unprepared for it’s vastness…but the experience was mind-blowing! Actually seeing masterpieces by some of my favorite artists was surreal. Taking in the gorgeous sculptures, the Temple of Dendur, the fine Japanese artwork, the pottery…and ending the evening on the steps of the Met as I processed the entire experience was a dream come true.

You can read more about my New York visit here.

As I emerge from these daydreams of trips past, I pass the #TeamPurple baton on to Becki

Neil Barnes of Backpacks and Bunkbeds, is the captain of #TeamPurple and you can read the posts of the other team members here.

Now it’s your turn. What is your top travel memory?

Random thoughts

We’re going to Dharamsala next week…can hardly wait! Our bookings are done at the Norling Guest House at Norlibungka Institue a little way away from McLeod Ganj. The place looks absolutely beautiful! Can’t wait to get there. I’m already thinking of looking up the cheaper options in McLeod Ganj, ’cause I have a feeling that I’d like to spend more time there…maybe at the monastery, or just hanging out…

Speaking of hanging out, Pushkar was a great place to hang out…roam around the market…chill out and just relax. Our visit there last year was one of the most relaxing trips we’d taken in recent times.

With the stress and humdrum of our everyday lives, it’s really important that we find something to do to unwind and relax — it could be listening to music, reading, working out, doing something creative, whatever works, really. Without a stress-buster, things can get really overwhelming.

Nawalgarh — Rajasthan’s open air art gallery

Shekhawati: Rajasthan's open air art gallery

We take our annual holiday in December/January, as we prefer to be out of town during New Year (not ‘cause I like it quiet, just so we don’t end up greeting the new year with a fight!). This year, we did a road trip across Rajasthan — from Delhi to Nawalgarh, Jaipur and Udaipur.

We set off for Nawalgarh at around 10:30 on 24th December — pretty late, but that was hubby darling’s brilliant idea. Ergo, we had to fight our way through numerous traffic jams till we got to Kotputli, from where we mercifully left crazy old NH8 and ventured onto roads that were quieter and free of traffic. Thanks to a few wrong turns and one missed turn, it was around 6:00ish when we reached the hotel.

Being on the road for about 7.5 hours meant that we were pretty tired and cranky by the time we checked in. But the hotel, Apni Dhani, was really nice and welcoming. It has traditional Rajasthani huts arranged in a circle around a courtyard, somewhat similar to Mandore Guest House in Jodhpur in terms of the set-up and greenery.

Main entry gate to the Goyenka Haveli, Dhundold

But where it differs is in sustainability and eco-friendliness — they grow their own wheat, barley, maize, have a vegetable garden and also some fruit trees. So a lot of what you eat is actually grown at their property. Doesn’t get more organic than that!

Meeting area, Poddar Haveli, Nawalgarh

The owner, Ramesh Jangid heads the Intach chapter for the Shekhawati region, so he was the perfect person to guide us around the havelis and to tell us where to go and what to see. Though Shekhawati covers a pretty vast area — Jhujhnu, Mandawa, Dundold (some of the big towns) — he told us to visit the havelis of Nawalgarh and Dundold, which was just about 8 kms away, as they have some of the most well-preserved and finest examples of Shekhawati havelis. All the havelis follow the same basic pattern — there is a huge entrance first, with an outside area where the men could receive guests or people who came for an audience, then the main entrance (beyond which the women didn’t step out), where on the lower floor was the kitchen, water store and another drawing room where more important guests might be invited, and an upper floor that had bedrooms with a terrace on top.

Tea with a view, Goyenka Haveli, Dhundold


Made sense, so on the next day, after we were rested and refreshed, we headed into Dhundold. Our first stop was the Goyenka Haveli, which has been well-restored and is open to visitors. There’s an entry ticket of Rs. 40, and the caretaker shows you around. It had some beautiful carving — the door to the main house was made of bronze, above which was a carved wooden and ivory panel. The walls were brightly painted, with a variety of subjects, ranging from a train, to deities and scenes from everyday life.

There was a small little room where matkas of water used to be kept that had a thin door that was left open to let in air — that’s how you got cold water in the hot summer months! There was a typical Rajasthani kitchen, with a statue of a cook making rotis and serving them, and a lot of old vessels arranged in the room, including an okhli and batta. There were a lot of other statues around the haveli…a woman grinding wheat, another of a bullock cart, a third of a meeting…

Cotton sample booklets, Goyenka Haveli, Dhundold

Exploring the rest of the rooms, we saw some lovely antiques in the house, like a kid’s rocking chair and two gorgeous floor to ceiling Belgian mirrors…another room had a mini-museum, displaying old coins, 10 and 100 rupee notes (which were so much bigger than the notes today!), silver jewelry and silver candle stands. In another room I found some old codes and stamp paper, and a book of cotton samples — the owners had two businesses, selling cotton on commission and manufacturing Dundold tea. In one of the rooms a game of chausar had been laid out on the floor, and the caretaker explained how the game used to be played with shells, what the different throws meant, and how to keep count.

Wall fresco, Krishna and Radha with gopis forming the elephant, Poddar Haveli, Nawalgarh

Almost all the rooms had beautifully painted walls. Some of the paintings had recently been restored using chemical paints, but others still had the more than 100 year old original paints made of crushed stone and water.

That tour over, the caretaker told us to go visit the Goyenka’s centograph, which was typical to the centorgraphs found around the region. In fact, he said that most other centographs in Shekhawati were modeled after this one! From there, we wnet to the fort, which was pretty disappointing, as part of it had been converted to a hotel, and they rushed us in and out of there in 10 minutes flat!

We were back at the hotel for lunch, and then spent the evening lazing around…there was a classical music evening at the hotel, which was interesting (though I would have rather gone and seen at least one haveli in Nawalgarh that evening!).

Inner haveli gate, Poddar haveli, Nawalgarh

The next day was reserved for Nawalgarh. We started with the Poddhar Haveli Museum, which was absolutely mind blowing! Each and every surface of each and every wall was filled with varied frescoes, depicting everything from mythology to the kings, trains, Europeans and daily life. The guide explained it thus: In the olden days, the paintings were like TV — for instance, people couldn’t go to Bombay to see the train, so the traders who had been there described what a train looked like, how it ran, what the station was like, to the artists, who painted them on the walls of their house!

Fresco depicting a train and a kingly procession, Poddar haveli, Nawalgarh

There some really interesting paintings, like one showing a woman feeding a child and doing makeup at the same time, another showed Shiv and Parvati on Nandi from the left, and from the right, Bramha and Saraswati on a bull. There was also a painting of the head of the house that was done in such a way that no matter where you went, it looked like his eyes were following you. Very interesting!

Inner courtyard, Muraka haveli, Nawalgarh

The other interesting thing about the haveli was that it offered a virtual tour of all of Rajasthan. A number of the rooms had been converted into galleries, which displayed everything related to Rajasthani culture, from paintings and carving of all the different regions, to wedding dresses, pagdis, all the main forts and palaces of Rajasthan, jewelry, musical instruments, marble work and miniature paintings.

The haveli just took my breath away! Imagine living in a house that was so gaily painted — I’m sure you could find a picture for any mood if you were living in such a place! At times I imagine it might have gotten a bit overwhelming, too, to live under the eyes of so many millions of paintings, but…it was absolutely fantabulous!

The crumbling Bhagwat Haveli, Nawalgarh

From there we went to the Bhagwat Haveli, which had some 100 odd year old paintings that hadn’t been restored. Though it was much simpler than Poddar Haveli, the paintings had an ethereal quality about them…some of them were fading, others were blackened by time and years of smoke coming out of the kitchen, some were peeling off a bit…but that’s the real charm, eh?

Sheesh Mahal, Nawalgarh Fort

We then went to visit the fort, which doesn’t look like one, and has only one room that is worth seeing — the Sheesh Mahal. The central dome is painted to show Jaipur on one side and Nawalgarh on the other, and the circular room is filled with mirror work and more paintings.

Fresco on an outer wall, Aath Haveli complex, Nawalgarh

I wanted to look around at a few more havelis, they’re all so beautiful, but since hubby dearest said no can do, no could do it was! I did manage to bug him into taking me to the Muraka haveli and the Aath Haveli complex, but that was about it.

The next day was check out time. We were off to Jaipur for an overnight stay, and then onto the next leg of our journey — romantic Udaipur!

Welcoming 2010

It’s that time again — we’re at the threshold of a whole new year filled with potential and promise…12 months stretching out ahead of us, when we can maybe rectify our mistakes from the previous year or gather the energy/initiative to achieve all that we wanted to last year but didn’t. At the stroke of 12:00 on 31 December 2009, sitting on the terrace of our hotel in Udaipur and watching the fireworks from the Lake Palace, we got around to discussing resolutions — their importance and relevance, resolutions we make and keep and those that we make and break.

At the dawn of a new year, we’re generally enthused about the “fresh” start ahead, and filled with that euphoria, list down all the things we wanted to do in the last year but didn’t, and call those our resolutions. We manage to keep them too, for a while, before discarding them on the wayside as we go about our daily grind.

So maybe instead of making resolutions, what we should make are goals — things we want to achieve in this year with definite action steps and a timeline. One resource that I find really handy when making my goals in the Goal setting workshop that I found about 5 years ago on a website called Tera’s Wish. Try it, it’s fun!