Cerebral Shangrila

Monday, September 01, 2003


A mixture of Religion & Architechture & Wildlife , this trip did turn out to be quite memorable & equally hectic . We (a Group of Seven)started off on a Saturday Morning 6 am in a Mahindra Scorpio. The SUV (Car of the Year -2002 ) didn't Disappoint us with its luxurious interiors & smooth Drive. The first stop was at Vrindavan which is Situated 100 kms to the South of Delhi .

VRINDAVAN : Vrindavan is the Seat of the ISKCON movement & the city where Lord Krishna enthralled the world with his childhood antics. You are Greeted by the Fully Marble ISKCON Temple as you enter the city . The ISKCON Temple Looks beautiful & Bhajans are performed Continuously here. We then Headed to the Rangaji Temple inside the city. The Rangaji temple is a perfect Iyengar temple with a Huge Gopuram and a sprawling Corridor . Interestingly all the priests inside this temple are Tamilians . The thing which puts you off is the constant pester of people posing themselves as Guides ( These people take you inside the Banke-Bihari Temple where the supposed priest forces you to Donate money which is a highly unethical practice in vogue there ) .

AGRA : We Reached Agra by around 1pm . Agra lies 200 Kms to the South of Delhi . We were ravenously hungry and were glad to find some excellent South Indian food in Dasaprakash Hotel ( Its near to the Meher Cinema Complex) . We then Headed to the Agra Fort . The Agra Fort had been the Mughal Citadel for a long time and is quite huge. The Moats around the Fort are quite deep & wide and the entire fort is reminscent of the Red fort because of its striking resemblance in Architechture & Colour. Shah Jahan was kept as a prisoner here by his son Aurangazeb & spent his last years here looking at his beloved Taj Mahal From his prison cell. The Top of the Fort and Shah Jahan's Prison offers wonderful views of the Taj Mahal which stands perched majestically across the winding Yamuna River . Diwan - i - Am ( Place of Public Audiences) & Diwan-i-Khas ( Place of Private Audience) are some of the other common Mughal places found here . Jahan Ara , Shah Jahan's Daughter looked afer him during his final years and her palace is adjacent to his prison cell . There is a also a Sound & Light show in the evening ( Both in Hindi & English - Pls check the winter & summer timings ) , which describes the history of the Fort .

We then Headed to the Taj Mahal . Security is very tight Outside and no Electronic items ( Except Cameras ) are allowed inside the Taj . The Taj looks awesome. No adjectives can do justice to its majestic beauty & Grandeur . The Govt in recent years has done a good job in Beautification of Taj ( particularly in De-sulphurisation ) by Banning commercial vehicles within 3 Kms radius . Time just rushes as you keep admiring Taj's beauty from various angles. Inside is the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal & Shah Jehan . Shah Jahan started the Construction of Taj on the death of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal in 1631. It took 17 years to complete Taj Mahal & its no wonder that it is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Some of us then decided to head to the Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary in Bharatpur , Rajasthan the next day morning to do some Bird-watching. Its been just a few months since I have got interested in Bird-watching . Got hooked to it thru a friend of mine who was also kind enough to lend me "The Book of Indian Birds "By the renowned Ornithologist , Salim Ali .

BHARATPUR : We left Agra at 4.30 am & Reached Bharatpur at 5.45 am . Bharatpur is located in Rajasthan & lies 60 kms to the west of Agra . The Keoladeo Ghana ( Khaleodeo is the name of the God in the Ancient temple located in the Midst of the Sanctuary & Ghana means Dense Forest) Bird Sanctuary is open from 6 am to 6 pm. We started early since the best time to catch sight of Birds is Early morning. Rs.25 per head is the entry fee to the Sanctuary & Re.50 for the Vehicle. However vehicles have to be parked 2 kms inside the sanctuary from where either you could take bicycles on Rent or hire a Rickshaw & we merrily opted for the former. Do not forget to get Binoculars ( you can however rent one if you dont have ) & a camera ( Preferably a SLR) . Since it was post monsoon season there was plenty of water in the lakes & marshes , creating a brimming verdant environment . The august-September is the nesting season of the Birds . However the best time is November - December when you can find plenty of migratory birds (Including the rare Siberian Crane) and hatched chicklings. We spotted a huge colony of Painted storks & Cormorants . Further ahead there were plenty of Herons , Ducks , Spoonbills ,egrets , Ibises, Kingfishers , Peacocks & Chitals . The dense forest is also reputed to house the Pythons , Civet cats , Otters , Sambhars & migratory birds like Pelicans , Spanish Sparrow, Coot Snipes, Rosy Pelican and Flamingo .

We Spent three Hours Cycling all around the Park enjoyed some Breath-taking views & I finally cut my teeth in to some Bird-watching which I had been intending to do for some time. We reached Back agra and had lunch at a nice udupi Hotel in Agra before heading to Fatehpur Sikri .

FATEHPUR SIKRI : Fatehpur Sikri was the Capital City built by Akbar in the 16th century. However it was later plagued by water problems and was eventually deserted after his death.It looks majestic from a Distance and offers some great views from the Top. We were welcomed by the Giant Buland Darwaza on entering the ruined city .It is fully constructed out of Red Sandstone with intricate carvings. The places to see are the
Jodhabai Palace ( Hindu wife of Akbar & mother of Jehangir) , Maryam Palace (Akbar's goan Christian Wife) , Birbal Bhavan, Diwan-i-Am , Diwan-i-Khas , Treasury & the Panch Mahal. Adjacent to this is the magnificent Jama Masjid which has a wide Corridor with a lovely pool in the center.

The sad thing that you will notice on the way to Fatehpur Sikri is the Cruel domestication of Bears to entertain the Tourists & for Spiritual Practices.. The bears are chained and expected to perform tricks & dance to amuse the tourists. Please desist from encouraging such despicable acts & I sincerely hope the Wildlife Organizations & the Govt of India put a full stop to this heinous crime.

SIKANDRA : It is located 4 kms from Agra and houses the Mausoleum of Akbar. Its a beautiful place with lush Green Grass having spotted Deers & Peacocks. The Tomb represents Akbar's Multi-religious faith & has the Influence of Buddhist , Islam , Christian & Hindu Architechture.

MATHURA : Lord Krishna was Born here in a Prison cell according to the Myth. Its a small room where Bhajans are held continuously . Mathura bears a striking resemblance to Ayodhya , because even it has a mosque just adjacent to the temple and hence there is an unprecedented security surrounding the area. Adjacent to the Krishna Janma Bhoomi is a lovely temple ( Reminscent of the Architechture of Puri Jagannath ) . We then headed back to Delhi and capped it with some Great food at Saravana Bhavan , Connought Place. The trip turned out to be quite memorable because of some informative & humorous friends who made the whole ambience lively .

TRAVEL TRIPS : The best time to make this trip is November,December (esp for Bharatpur) . The Best way to make this trip is either on your own Car or on a Rented one. The per head expenses for this weekend sojourn would turn out to be Rs.1500 per head. Please carry Binoculars,Camera, Woollen Wear (in Winter) , Travel Guide, Bird List Book & a Road Map. The major annoyance during the Trip are the Self-proclaimed Experts & guides at all the places who pester you . Unless you feel you need a Guide , Your Travel Guide ( The best is LONELY PLANET INDIA GUIDE) should be more than Sufficeint in explaining to you the History & details of the all the Landmarks and also help you in navigating through them .Taj & Bharatpur will remain permanently etched in my memory for a long time to come.


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