Weekend getaway: Bharatpur and Deeg Palace
Even though Bharatpur falls politically and geographically within Rajasthan, it has a strong influence from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh in terms of the people’s food, customs and other habits.
The major things to see in Bharatpur are the Keoladeo national park and the Deeg palace. It is advisable to visit the Keoladeo national park early in the morning when the birds are easiest to spot. At the crack of dawn, you might get to hear some music of nature in the form of bird calls or even those of Asian jackals
during sunrise! Walking through the entire park is a leisurely experience, but in case you think you may feel tired, you can hire a rickshaw to take you through it. The rickshawallahs charge a fixed rate of Rs 100 per hour. The rickshawallahs also double up as guides inside the park, as they are very knowledgeable about all the birds, flora and fauna seen here—and keep pointing out interesting sights to you as you move along.
One can also spot some varieties of animals here such as the spotted and hawk deer, nilgais, hyenas, wild boars, jackals, snakes, antelopes (which look like they wear socks on their feet) and pythons (you might even chance upon some of their skin!). Among the trees found here are the Indian jujube and the miswak (used for making toothpaste). You will also
come across a number of mounds or termite hills inside the park.
The park consists of more than 375 species of birds. It is believed that while most of the migratory birds are vegetarian, it is the local avian species that are carnivores. Almost instantly, you will see roseringed parakeets, bulbuls, partridges, peacocks and peahens. Towards the wetlands, you will notice that the landscape changes considerably from the earlier drier area. Here, you can delight in the sight of some bluethroat Siberian birds and ducks, whitebreasted waterhens, laughing doves, purple sunbirds, ashy prinias, black redstarts, painted storks, pied mynas (or starlings), spoonbill storks, northern pintails and shovelers, yellow-footed green pigeons, gadwalls, oriental magpie-robins, spot-billed ducks, drongos, purple moorhens, pelicans, eagles, whistling ducks, purple herons, blackcrowned night herons, crested honey buzzards, Eurasian teals and collared doves, American white ibises, Chinese coots, spotbilled white egrets, grey herons and greyhound geese from Holland, blue kingfishers (which are always seen alone, fishing on their own), cormorants (which fish together in groups), snakebirds (which can be seen catching fish from the water and then drying their wings) and rufous treepies (also known as the ‘Tiger’s toothpicks’ for their unique habit of cleaning tigers’ teeth after a kill!). Further, four different varieties of owls are found in the park—spotted, collared scops, oriental scops and dusty eagle.
But of course, the iconic species of open wetlands seen at the national park is undoubtedly the Sarus crane, which at 1.8 metres is the world’s tallest flying bird. These endangered birds need lots of space, are territorial, and form lifelong pair bonds (which is why they are sometimes called life partners). In India, they are considered symbols of marital fidelity, believed to pine the loss of their mates even to the point of starving to death.
‘Keoladeo’ means ‘Shiva’, and the Lord also has a temple within the premises of the park. Other attractions include an area where visitors can indulge in some boating and the Salim Ali Visitor Interpretation Centre. Realized through a partnership between WWF-
India, the government of Rajasthan and Swarovski, the Centre has been dedicated to one of India’s leading ornithologists. It has been designed to generate awareness and encourage the conservation of wetlands, as well as to achieve long-term conservation of water in the region. The park is ecological in other ways—it uses solar panels for pumping water. There is also a canteen inside, where you can get yourself a hot cup of tea, coffee or small snack—and a babbler may come and sit beside you while you eat!
This world heritage site is a must-see for all bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts!
On the way towards Delhi, comes the charming Deeg Palace located about 35 kms driving distance from Bharatpur via Alwar. Our guide, Jaisingh Saini ji, looked like a relic in himself, as he leisurely guided us through the palace while doling out loads of information. The largest palace in Rajasthan, Deeg Palace was the erstwhile capital of Bharatpur. Made of sandstone, it was built by the Jat rulers Maharaja Surajmal and Jawahar Singh. The palace has a mix of architectural styles ranging from Rajput, Bengal, Hindu and Mughal. In 1956, it was donated to the Government of Rajasthan and acquired by the ASI.
There are other surprises in store about Deeg. Apparently, the palace has the second largest cannon (called Lakha) in Rajasthan after Jaigarh Fort’s Jaivana (the world’s largest ever wheeled cannon). Saini ji mentioned that unfortunately the palace has been sidelined by tourists who mostly flock to other forts and palaces in bigger, more well-known cities in the state. Since it is also not on the main highway, Deeg often gets bypassed by road travellers too.
Steeped in history, the palace has 10 different monuments inside as well as a fruit garden. The interior is made up of four floors consisting of old furniture, and a water body at the back of the palace which keeps it cool. Further, it has a total of 2,000 fountains (the maximum in the world). The coloured fountains still run twice every year. Inside the premises, there is also Noor Jehan’s swing and a 400-year old south-facing Hanuman mandir made of jade stone.
The palace also consists of a marble building which came all the way from Agra and was assembled here. Used as a guest house back in the day, the Mughals had built it very scientifically— complete with sliding doors and cross-ventilation. Close by, is a tiger cage where the king would keep his tigers, as well as a huge water tank that can store up to six lakh gallons of water.
The water pipe, made of clay, goes 15 feet under the ground. Apart from this, there are four wells, a Durbar Hall that was used as the Supreme Court, and an area which was used as a Gram Panchayat. Another structure, the Kesav Bhawan, consists of 300 jets, which makes it seem like it has a natural air conditioner. Here, there is also an akhara hall for pehelwans.
All in all, Bharatpur is quite a discovery. Moreover, it’s easily approachable from the capital and is perfect for a short weekend getaway!
Bharatpur: Fast facts Driving distance from Delhi: 200
Best season: October
How to reach: You can easily reach Bharatpur by road from Delhi (via the Yamuna Expressway). When driving from Delhi, a smooth run on the wide Yamuna Expressway is the best route to get to Bharatpur. You will need to turn towards Mathura, where you will move off the highway for about 50 kms or so. This is the only stretch where road gets a little bumpy, crowded and has a few potholes; but it is still not too bad. Here, you will cross Mathura on the way, where you could even make a stop at the famous Dwarkadheesh temple.
To return to Delhi from the Deeg palace, you will need to take the route towards Mathura; cross Kosi, Palwal, Govardhan, Faridabad, and enter Delhi through the old Agra highway.
Where to stay: This small city has plenty of little hotels all situated close to the main hub—the Keoladeo national park. Take your pick between The Park, Shiv Vilas Palace, Saras (RTDC), Eagle’s Nest, Laxmi Vilas Palace, Sunbird and The Birder’s Inn. If you want to stay inside the national park, then choose Hotel Bharatpur Ashok, which is an ITDC forest lodge.
Where to eat: Since Bharatpur lies on the UPRajasthan border, there are lots of places here where you can eat traditional delights like dal baati churma, kachori, etc. To sample a taste of the city’s local food, head to
Choburja Bazaar, the main market square. Once here, you should head straight to Deviram Kachori Wale for a sumptuous meal consisting of a variety of traditional kachoris—dal, alu, pyaz and khasta. You can also go to Gopal Mishthan Bhandar or Saini Mishthan Bhandar for some of the famous rabri and jalebis! Close by is also the Ganga mandir and Laxman mandir, both of which are worth a visit.
Inside the Keoladeo national park.
A pair of Sarus cranes.
A courtyard at the ancient palace.
The side facade of the glorious palace.