By Kabir Bhargava
My parents and I decided to welcome 2009 by counting birds in Bharatpur’s Keoladeo National Park and, once back home, by barbecuing and bonding over hot coals and food.
We started our trip to Bharatpur on the foggy morning of 29th December 2008 around 7:15 am. We couldn’t see beyond one or two vehicles ahead of us, and driving his slowest best, my dad decided to stay on the traffic-prone Mehrauli Gurgaon Road instead of taking the new and infrequently used Gurgaon-Faridabad highway. The drive was slow, worrying and, in my case, still full of sleep. As soon as we left behind Haryana and entered Uttar Pradesh, we thought of great paranthas and puris the state was known for, and stopped at a dhaba for breakfast. It was around 9 am but felt very early due to the fog so it felt strange that some people should be eating channas, dal and roti. Instead we decided to celebrate the morning out by having stuffed tandoori paranthas with sweet tea in glasses. The paranthas were delicious with tons of butter on them. I surprised myself by sharing yet another with my father and he by asking for yet another glass of tea (he is a strict coffee drinker). In another hour or so, we reached the temple city Mathura from where we could either take the broken Mathura-Bharatpur road which was only 34 km long or go straight ahead till Fatehpur Sikri and take a wide road to Bharatpur. So, we decided to do the latter and went straight on. The road was reasonable but meant driving for a couple of hours till we reached a railway crossing where we were forced to wait for almost an hour for several trains to pass. The road beyond the crossing got us to Fatehpur Sikri, where about 50 young men alarmed us by crowding around us and insisting that we stopped there, took one of them for Rs100 to see the monuments. It was a sudden attack and almost scary. All of them screamed some rupee amount or other and we played it safe by keeping our doors and windows shut, and moving on to Bharatpur. We were booked at the Birders Inn for two days, and made our entrance there somewhat late in the day at 3 pm but the rest was cool as the restaurant’s club sandwiches and paneer pakodas helped forget the delay.
After about 15 minutes of eating, our guide Brijendra Singh arrived to take us for a walk to the park. We were told that he was one of the experienced guides of the Park. Quite soon we agreed that he was one of the best because he was carrying a spotting scope which he was very quickly able to focus onto birds. He took us to the part of the park we hadn’t seen before and made us understand the characteristics of various water birds. Not only that, he often tested us on the new knowledge he was giving us. Birding through the scope was very much more fun as one didn’t just see the form clearly, one also saw the shiny eyebrow of Common Teal, the colorful beak of the Spot-Billed Duck and the raised beak of Comb Duck. We wound up the evening by sitting around a bonfire with the other hotel guests, having a buffet dinner and crashing for the day.
The next day also started with a heavy fog that ended up delaying our bird watching. I was excited about the experience of birding that day because we had decided that I would bike around on a hired cycle while my parents and the guide would walk. Our guide got me a well sized atlas cycle that surprisingly ran quite smooth. I used to zoom ahead and then cycle back to join my folks. Birding this way proved to be fun. We started with some forest birds in the form of Grey Nightjar, Orange-headed Thrush and a Red-throated Flycatcher. We moved to the water birds that were many and the walk for my parents was quite long. So long that we stayed in the sanctuary for 8 hours and towards the end my Mom would just sit some place or another when she couldn’t stand it anymore (pun intended!). Although I didn’t note down the bird names, I became aware of a lot of new names and I believe our species count was 80+. We returned too late for lunch so had a snack of grilled chicken sandwiches, more pakodas and fresh lime soda at the next door Hotel Sunbird. We ended this day too by enjoying the bonfire before and after our dinner.
The next day we found ourselves at Fatehpur Sikri but this time we were prepared for the guides. We took on a guide who was less aggressive than the rest and didn’t appear to fleece us. After a 10 minute uphill walk he took us inside that part of Fatehpur Sikri that had Saint Salim Chishti’s tomb and a few impressive gates. This whole area was full of people and looked very dirty. I was glad I had kept my socks on. Soon I was glad to be out of it and into the nicer part of Sikri that was controlled by ASI and had the known monuments that I had read about just this year. There were Diwan-i-Aam, Diwan-i-Khas, Panch Mahal and other well kept buildings on a wide stretch of sandstone platform. There were also well maintained gardens that came as a surprise.
We left for Delhi around 1:30pm, took a shorter route, tried the Faridabad road for the first time and made it to Gurgaon by 5 pm. We quickly did our shopping for the New Year eve barbeque, and I even managed to play soccer with my friends for an hour before settling down to light the fire and celebrate the beginning of 2009 over juicy kebabs and Snapple. It was a tiring but satisfying way to invite the New Year.
Here are some pictures I took to record these two days.
For more pictures click Here