Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

Agra and Bharatpur while being in different states are just 60kms from each other and make for a good weekend trip. Three of us did just that and left for Agra from Delhi on Saturday (26th) morning. This post is titled wrt Bharatpur because that is where the main focus of this post lies.


We reached Agra in the midst of a traffic jam to reach Taj Mahal around 12 noon when it occurred to us – on account of being Republic Day; we weren’t the only ones who had the same idea of visiting Taj Mahal.

The queue to enter was minimum two-three hours long. Then we realized that there were other gates via which one could enter the premises however all queues were still long enough. After standing in one queue for an hour; and no likelihood of entering for another few hours; we entrusted the help of a “guide” who got us through somehow in half an hour thus enabling us to enter the Taj Mahal by 3pm.

The sight of Taj Mahal is a beautiful one; there is not much more that can be said here describing the beauty and architectural symmetry of Taj Mahal that has already not been said; hence I won’t attempt to do that. Suffice to say, in one of the pictures taken with us and the Taj Mahal in the background; the sun glint brightly enough on the beautiful white structure such that the camera completely missed the pure whiteness in the background with only us left in the picture.
Taj Mahal
The sight of Yamuna on the backdrop is a pleasing one especially as it seemed a bit clean there in contrast to what is visible from Delhi. We left the premises around 5pm – in a way glad to be a bit away from the tens of thousands of people who seemed to have thronged there. Since it was already late, we dropped Agra fort from our agenda and went off to Bharatpur.


It is a bit hard to explain the beauty and serenity that we enjoyed amidst the company of exquisite birds in the sanctuary. All that can be said is we planned to spend around 3-4 hours in the sanctuary, have a meal and go off to visit Fatehpur Sikri. We ended up (without realizing) spending eight hours in the sanctuary and eventually cancelling our Fatehpur plans without any regrets.

The bird sanctuary which spans across kilometers opens at 6.30am. Car and bikes are also allowed only up to a km or so inside the sanctuary. There are two modes of transport possible - one, the cycle rickshaw which is the preferred mode of transport for most travelers; the other being a handful of cycles available for rent which can be acquired if one reaches early enough. We were up early and were successful in acquiring cycles for ourselves (Rs 80 for 8 hours).

On such trips, a lot depends on the awareness, knowledge and sharpness of your guide. We were fortunate to get an excellent guide who took us off beaten paths with lesser humans. His sharpness was also superb as he was able to identify birds with naked eye which we realized only after looking through a pair of powerful binoculars (which also belonged to him).

We saw a number of birds which our guide identified for us; since all of us are amateurs in bird-watching we attempted to retain as much information as was imparted to us. Many of the birds were local residents and there were also many which were migratory birds from different parts of the globe. On a personal note, since I am an amateur; I tend to get as excited while spotting a beautiful peacock or parakeet or egret (which are also common in cities) as spotting any other rarer migratory species. Why condescend to not react for some just because they are more common!

A beautiful peacock offering a clear shot

A couple of loving parakeets

In the early morning mist, we spotted a number of peacocks and peahens which were just getting up (or rather down) from the trees where they were perched. As we went ahead on the beaten paths (where rickshaws couldn’t venture), we saw a number of other birds starting their day. A couple of owls – the spotted owl and the eagle owl were spotted by our guide which were most settling in for the day.
The spotted owl

The eagle owl
Huge number of birds graced us with their presence in and around the big water body that lies in the park. We saw a number of egrets, the grey heron, the night heron, the purple heron, the pond heron,  large numbers of Indian More Duck, the Comb Duck, the Black-Headed Ibis, the Bar Geese. These birds were present in large numbers around the water body.
The Grey Heron
The Comb Duck

Black headed Ibis
The Purple Heron

Pond Heron

We were also lucky to spot a few jackals and wild boars along with a number of sambhars and neelgai. However, jackals were too swift to be captured on camera; they mostly gave us a fleeting glance and scornfully walked into the bushes even before we could react.

A number of neelgai grazing near the water

We also spotted the Magpie RobinCoot, Hawk, lots of parakeets, eagles and other such birds.
Magpie Robin


At one point, our guide asked us to get off the cycles and we walked into the jungle in search of pythons which are known to exist in numbers there. We walked off the tracks with a feeling of trepidation as to what if the python found us rather than us finding it. We went to a couple of porcupine holes known to the guide where the pythons are supposed to make themselves home; but both were empty. Whilst our quest was unsuccessful; even the idea of walking in the jungle hunting for a python on feet gave us a thrill and the closest probably any of us could ever get to Steve Irwin.

As the day wore on; we got onto the main track with lots of other people and saw hordes of other birds camped in huge numbers.

Pelicans, with all their grace and beauty and long beaks were visible in good numbers. We saw a number of Cormorants hanging by on the bushes drying themselves up after completing a fish catch. A bunch of unique looking snake-birds (Darter) were also visible with their snake-like heads hanging out of the water. A couple of turtles were spotted basking in the sunshine.
Cormorants (drying), egret (white), and snakebird (right)


Most of all, we saw hordes and hordes of Painted Storks sitting and making ridiculous noises. We saw around few hundreds of these birds directly within a span of 100 metres.

Hordes of Painted Storks

As we reflected on our day, we were delighted with our visit to Bharatpur and I could have easily sat for the entire day or more without any signs of boredom.

PS: since my camera is a humble one, all the above pics are taken using the guide’s binoculars put ahead of the camera lens which allowed for better visibility and clarity.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Trip from Hyderabad to Mahabaleshwar

Mahabaleshwar is a quiet little hill-station 130kms off Pune. Six of us went over a long weekend (12-14 January) to Mahabaleshwar travelling to Pune by an overnight bus and hiring a Tavera therein for the whole three days.

The multiple attractions offered by this hill station are mountains and more mountains of the Western Ghats – some gigantic, some not so much; strawberries and lots of them; various pleasant view points from which thousands of photographs are clicked every day and so on.

After a three hour drive from Pune, we touched base in Mahabaleshwar around 1pm and went off to the MTDC resort where our stay was booked. The resort in itself gives a quaint country-side feeling with big rooms and damp ceilings and cool temperatures. The large area around the resort is full of trees and greenery and some small jungle area in the background with cottages which are inhabited by people like us on the inside and lots of monkeys on the outside who prance about their roofs all through the day.

Mahabaleshwar is placed such that there are multiple scenic points each of which have been given commercial names and there is a thriving industry around most of them. We spent the evening at a few such points each of which was pleasant in its own right.

At one of those points, we saw a lot of monkeys which were aggressively snatching ‘bhutta’ (corn) from various people – adults and kids alike. Somehow, they had developed a taste for the same and even if someone resisted, they would still demand the same and pester and harry the individual until he/she finally relented.

A monkey posing at Arthur point, Mahabaleshwar

There is a lake in Mahabaleshwar too, where we planned to go boating but eventually didn’t. We spent the evening near the lake area and had strawberry and cream which was absolutely delicious even in the cold weather.

The next day we went to Pratapgarh Fort which is 25 or so kms away. It was a nice drive and we finally reached there around 11. We had to climb our way up to the top which was tiring in the powerful heat but we finally made it and view from top was well worth the effort. We had a good Maharashtrian meal for lunch and made our way back to the resort.

Towards the evening, we decided to go to Tapola; another picturesque place around 30 kms from Mahabaleshwar off Koyna river. On reaching there, we found a vast lake (Shivsagar lake) on which boating was possible.

We went on the motor boat for an hour’s boating in between which the boatman also dropped us off on a small island for some time. If serenity ever needed to be defined through a picture, I would use the following to describe the same.

Sunset at Tapola

We got up early the next day to view the sunrise from another of those points (Wilson Point) which was another pleasant and enriching experience.
Sunrise from Wilson Point, Mahabaleshwar

We left back for Pune the next day stopping at Mapro Garden for various purchases like Strawberries etc and also had a good lunch there. We stopped by Table Top mountain in Panchgani briefly and also attempted to find out about Paragliding but it seems it had been stopped there due to some accident.
Thereafter we made our way to Pune and reached there towards the evening; post which we took a bus back to Hyderabad capping off a pleasant trip.