The Yamuna Expressway indeed makes for a boring but smooth ride, was the thought going through my head as I twisted the throttle of my motorcycle trying to egg it to go faster. I was headed out of Delhi (what a relief) for a night-out ride to Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. The nip in the air was very evident through the mesh of my riding jacket and the weak morning sun didn’t do much to warm me as I cruised on the smooth highway on my Thunderbird.
The change from the virtually traffic free expressway to the crowded and chaotic streets of Mathura was indeed jarring but shortly we were out of the city and riding the last thirty odd kilometers to Bharatpur. The other jarring thing that I noticed was the utter disregard for COVID-19 precautions in Mathura as literally no one was wearing a mask and social distancing did not exist. By lunch time we were in Bharatpur and after a brief rest we set out to explore Bharatpur town.
Bharatpur was the seat of the Jat kings of the region and they fought many a war from there to defend their kingdom. The Lohagarh fort inside which most of the original township of Bharatpur is located is a formidable one even today with its moat and ramparts intact in most places. In fact, it was the only fort to never have fallen despite many attempts by the Mughals followed by the British. The name Lohagarh originates from the mighty iron doors each weighing 20 tons which are placed on the main gate of the fort. The doors originally belonging to the Chittorgarh fort and taken to Delhi by Allaudin Khilji, were brought there after having won them from the Mughals by the Jat kings in the 17th century.
There are many interesting buildings inside the fort which were originally palaces of the kings and queens of the Jat kingdom. Housed in one such building is the museum which has many artifacts of the era gone by. Most of the heritage sites are however in a state of disrepair and are crumbling and some have even been sold by the heirs of the kings to private owners. A couple of interesting sites include the Burj which is the highest place inside the fort where stands an iron pillar with the entire lineage of the kings of the Jats engraved on it and the Top Wale Hanuman Ji temple which is marked by a massive gun placed on the rampart of the fort overlooking the approach from the south, hence the name top wale!
Two famous temples are also located just outside the fort walls which are revered by the locals. These are the Ganga Devi Temple belonging to the family deity of the kings and the Laxman (Brother of Ram) Temple whom the locals hold in high esteem. In fact, the name Bharatpur is also after the younger brother of Ram who ruled the kingdom when Ram was in exile. Both the temples are fine examples of architecture prevalent in the region at the time.
Early next morning we visited the Keoladev Wildlife Sanctuary also known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. The Keoladev temple is located inside the sanctuary after which it is named. Legend has it that the locals noticed cows giving milk at the base of a banana tree in the jungle. They informed their king about the same who had the area dug up and found a shivling buried in the ground. He built a temple at the place and hence the name Keoladev.
Though the best time to visit the bird sanctuary is professed to be December/ January as the migratory birds come at that time however even now was not a bad time as many Indian migratory birds had come to the sanctuary and were breeding. Now I am not a bird lover so I don’t really remember the numerous names of birds that our guide showed us but the feeling of being among so many birds in their favorite habitat flying, feeding and breeding freely made me happy. There are many other wild animals like deer and wild boar etc. which also we were lucky to see. The sad thing though was that the guide told us that many migratory birds like the famous Siberian Crane had stopped coming for many years now, due to changes in the climate and due to the fact that they were being hunted en route in Afghanistan and Mongolia, had changed their flight paths to southern areas.
Something else about human disregard for other life on the planet which really struck me was the record of game kills which has been maintained in the sanctuary. Till as late as the 1980s game hunting was a popular sport among the elite. I was horrified to learn that over four thousand birds had been killed in a single hunt itself.
We left Bharatpur after breakfast, back through the lanes and by lanes of Mathura, in an endeavour to pick up the famous Brijwasi pedas and reached Delhi after a boring but smooth ride on the Yamuna expressway.
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