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Published: March 1st 2008
While planning a weekend getaway from Delhi, especially in winter, Rajasthan is the undisputed choice. The centerpiece of our trip this time was Bharatpur, the famed bird sanctuary at the border of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. But being amateur bird lovers, we knew we would not need more than a day in Bharatpur. We needed some place nearby to visit, and Sariska seemed to be a good choice. Along the way we found out about another place to visit - the biggest center of exorcism in north India, the Balaji temple at Mehendipur.
With all our previous experience of planning trips, we have become efficient in putting together the logistics for a trip. Car was booked for two days, called up one or two hotels to find out if there was a rush. Finally, a group of five (Nilanjan, Dipanjan, Anuradha, Himanshu and me) started off early on Saturday morning. Sariska
Sariska is on the way to Jaipur. Once you manage to get out of Delhi you can catch the beautiful Delhi-Jaipur highway, which in my opinion can match US highways. An additional charm on these roads is the roadside dhabas where you can stop for a cup
of steaming tea to beat the morning chill. This is always in our agenda whenever we hit the highway out from Delhi. Most of us are not early risers. Usually on a long drive after the initial excitement of leaving Delhi settles down, people slip into a slumber. But this time Himashu put us to shame by demonstrating how to relax while on a drive. Other than missing the blanket from home, he left no stone unturned to catch a “good-morning” sleep in the back seat of the Tavera we had rented. There was only a minor distraction to his peaceful nap when we blared a song loud just to test his endurance. He woke up to find out that the car was still rolling on its four wheels, and dropped back into his nest.
The bright yellow sunflower fields welcome you as you drive well into Rajasthan. This time it looked even more beautiful as I noticed that the fields are flanked near the horizon by small brown hillocks that are dimly visible behind the fading morning fog. We stopped the car to take our first shots of the trip. Sariska is not very far from Delhi -
On the way to Sariska
Typical Rajasthan highway view
around 4 hours drive. We reached before afternoon and went straight to enquire about the places to explore here.
Sariska is one of the national tiger reserves in India. Unfortunately, the last sighting of a tiger in Sariska was way back in 2002. It is accepted by all that there are no tiger roaming in Sariska. But there are other fascinating sites to visit inside this forest - the architecture and archaelogical ruins of the Neelkanth temple, the Sariska palace, and the Kankwari fort. It usually takes a whole day safari in one of the jeeps you have to rent from the forest office to cover all of these. Private cars are allowed to only a few chosen points inside the forest. For visiting the other sites, there is no option but to rent the government authorized jeep.
Keeping the time budget in mind, we decided that we will only do the Kankwari fort this time. The fort is 23 km from the gates of the forest, and passes through some amazing terrain dotted with palm trees. It gives the impression of an oasis, and the fort stands majestically in the midst of the plain.
history of Kankwari fort might explain the background of our choosing this place over the others. The fort was built by maharaja Jai Singh. But it is made famous by the fact that Aurangzeb, the last significant Mughal emperor, imprisoned his brother Dara Shikoh in this fort before executing him. Among the Mughals, Dara Shikoh was famed for his scholarly and secular views, and is remembered for his efforts in translating parts of the Vedas in Persian. I was curious to the see the place where he spent his last days.
This is not one of those large forts you usually come across in Rajasthan. But what attracts you is the environment. When we reached the fort we were the only tourist there. As you walk through the broken main gates of the fort, you are struck by the sheer desolation of the place. The guide told us that leopards can very well lurk in some corner adding to the excitement. To top this story, soon enough we saw the skeleton of what looked like a goat. It could have been a campfire, it could be leopard, it could be a sacrificial site … we didn’t stop long enough
Dipanjan and Himashu
Where are you lost ??
to investigate. We climbed all the way to the top of the fort. A panoramic view of the palm-dotted landscape greets the eyes from there. The fort has all the signs of lack of maintenance, but probably that is what helps in transporting you to the by-gone days. It does not take more than an hour to walk around the fort, but I recommend that you spend some time there savoring the beauty of the place.
Although we were in the middle of a forest, we were not lucky enough to catch sight of much wildlife, other than deer. But there were quite a few interesting and unknown birds that we saw. The guide told me the names, but it was too hard for me to remember all of them. This was like a prelude to our next destination - the Bird Sanctuary at Bharatpur.
Another thing that I must mention is our lunch that day. The government hotel was taking too long to provide lunch before we start on the safari. So we just went to a roadside dhaba, the smallest I have ever been to. Our driver, Anil-ji, took personal care in instructing the cook there
and got us chapattis made of “Bajra”. I had never had Bajra rotis before, but I enjoyed them thoroughly. Next time you get a chance to try them, give it a shot. Bharatpur
From Sariska to Bharatpur took more time than we had anticipated. The roads are under construction, and therefore the drive is slow. We reached late in the evening, checked into a hotel within walking distance from the gates of the sanctuary. There are plenty of hotels at reasonable rates here. Although the winter season is the peak time, we were told that this year has been bad in terms of tourists because the sanctuary didn’t attract that many birds. It was the result of a bad monsoon, which led to the lakes drying up. The authorities were using pumps to fill up the lakes as much as they could. This information was bit of a letdown. Word of advice - do the homework before going to Bharatpur. It is possible to call up the offices to collect information about the bird migration before you plan your trip.
The next morning was planned to be the highlight of our trip. We went to the bird sanctuary,
but from the very beginning the guide told us that this year has been one of the worst in terms of sighting the birds. Very few migratory birds have flown here this year.
Nevertheless, we decided to take a tour of the park, and test our luck. I was very happy to spot and shoot the golden woodpecker which I have been seeing since the previous day, but was unable to capture it on camera. We managed to spot the more common birds, like the Kingfisher, cranes, egrets. Among the uncommon ones, we saw the Mongolian war ducks which, as the name suggests, migrates from Mongolia. They have an interesting black stripe behind their head getting them their name. The two-hours was not very eventful, except for the fact that people enjoyed a long leisurely bike ride, and I enjoyed my maharaja ride on a cycle rickshaw. Balaji Temple at Mehendipur
Since we scrapped our plan for an afternoon visit to the sanctuary, we decided to head for the Balaji Temple. As I mentioned before, this is the largest center of exorcism in north India - this being the biggest reason for our excitement. Anil-ji, who had visited
the temple before fed us interesting anecdotes of exorcism at the temple to rouse our interest level to an extent, so much so that some of us were ready to be greeted by the spirits. And, as it goes the spirits exorcised at the Balaji temple may not be very friendly going by the actions of the people they possess. Unfortunately, I don’t have any picture to show here because we didn’t take our cameras inside the temple.
The temple turned out to be not as scary as it was described to be. The only ritual that catches your attention here is that the offerings to the deity here (the “Prasad”) is not carried home by the devotees, as is the usual practice in all other temples. You have to leave the offerings here lest you carry with you a spell from the other world. Also, there were rows of chains inside the temple. We were told that people who come here possessed are left in chains before they are cured. An interesting place to keep in your travel itinerary.
However, what we missed, quite unknowingly, was the main site where the exorcism is done. It is another
hillock a short distance from the temple. Scarier sights wait the visitors there. Children are not allowed. We were full of regret that we didn’t go the key point for which we had come all this way. May be Balaji wants us to pay a visit another time. Usually, saturday evening prayer time is the best because that is the time when all the devotees looking for a cure throng this temple.
This was a short trip to start the year. But with a good group to travel with, we had our moments of excitement, anticipation, and stories to remember.
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