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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

February 22nd: Bharatpur in Northern India

On February 22nd 1982 I was in Bharatpur in Northern India.  I was spending a quick couple of days at the bird sanctuary with Mary before she got a plane from New Delhi back to the UK.

We took an afternoon train from Benares which took us through Uttar Pradesh during the night.  We got off at Agra Cantonment while it was still dark and took a chilly rickshaw to find a bus.  We found a fast moving local bus through flat empty country, brick and mud villages, straight roads, with voluble locals inside and lots of peacocks and other birds outside.  From the bus stand in Bharatpur we took another rickshaw which seemed interminable through country lanes, atmospheric in the early morning light, but desperately cold.  Luckily the hotel in the park gave us a room for the day and the night.

Siberian Cranes at Bharatpur:  My picture
We took a long afternoon walk, seeing all the usual waterbirds as well as the beautiful Siberian cranes, which were one of the main attractions of the park.  There were few left in the world, and the handful of birds wintering in Bharatpur were one of only two flocks surviving.  We came back through the scrubland which felt really wild and unchanged by humans, full of shrikes and partridges.  Then we saw a bull nilgai antelope which was most impressive, a herd of sambal, some jackals, and beautiful light in the water in the dying light.  This was a beautiful, long walk, but it was hard as we were tired from the journey.

Sunset at Bharatpur:  My picture
The next day we took bicycles so that we could go to the outlying areas of the park.  We were able to track some nilgai and look for birds, mammals and reptiles.  We spent time with a British bird-watcher who loaned us binoculars and explained some of the species.  Toward evening I got a puncture and so had to push home.  But the sunset was very good, the evening being almost clear, the red light reflecting on the water, through trees and reeds, while coots flew around haphazardly, swallows and drongos caught insects, and jacanas walked on the lilies.  Finally, as the darkness closed in, hundreds of ducks flew over in little flocks heading in the direction of the main road. 

Fatehpur Sikri:  My picture
In the morning we were up early for the rickshaw to the bus-stand and a local bus on to Fatehpur Sikri.  Our visit there was very rushed inevitably, with only an hour and a half or so before we had to return to get ready for Mary's train.  The ruins were splendid, with a lovely view of the great entry arch and cupolas to the Jama Masjid on the skyline from the Bharatpur entry, then a pretty path up from the town.  The main site was more compact than I'd imagined, the architecture a collection of interesting designs and shapes, some lovely screens and brickwork, even fake roof tiles, quite exquisite; and the one building with its magnificent central pillar.  As we walked back down, the bazaar was attractive and interesting below the site, we had chai and good yoghurt, and good fun generally with the locals as we took photographs.  Back at Bharatpur we concentrated on lunch, a quick walk to the water's edge, and then a long ride in a rickshaw to the railway station, which was set in remarkable slums, something that surprised me after the wildness of the park, reminding me of realities.  We had a comfortable first class ride to Delhi, partly in the company of a strange man masquerading as (or most unlikely actually being) a Kulu drug businessman.   That evening I noted two of the sights of New Delhi - three transvestites in Janpath and a beggar dressed as a langur, or Hanuman, monkey. 

Peter Matthiessen describes the plight of the Siberian Crane and a visit to the park in his 2002 book:  The Birds of Heaven

Below Fatehpur Sikri:  My picture

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