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Published: February 19th 2016
Unlike yesterday, today has been the epitome of a perfect day on holiday.
We were up early for a quick breakfast before setting off by rickshaw to the Keoladao National Park. It used to be the Maharajah’s hunting grounds and is now a wildlife sanctuary with a huge variety of birds. Apparently there are fewer species than there used to be, because the government diverted the water to supply people, meaning the lake is now much smaller, but it still looked pretty good to us. It was cool but not cold and incredibly peaceful. There weren’t many other visitors when we set off at 7am, though those who had made it out early all seemed to be serious Indian twitchers with massive telephoto lenses playing the game of ‘mine’s bigger than yours’. David pointed out they were mostly Canon prime lenses between 400 and 600mm should you care about such things. And you have to have the proper camouflage cover for it and a big tripod. And of course the camouflage kits so you look like an SAS trooper. You also have to have a propensity to sit for an hour taking thousands of photos of one bird with your
camera on seven frames a second.
Our rickshaw driver (or should that be pedaller) was great at spotting birds that would have passed us by, and naming them, though we now can’t remember the names of most of what we saw. The painted storks and Sarus cranes though were amazing. The cranes are the tallest flying birds in the world at up to 6ft high. They mate for life and are so desolated by the death of their mate that they sometimes starve themselves to death. We weren’t close enough to fully appreciate their height but they did look majestic. The best sight of the day was a young stork about 3 ft tall standing in the road, with a large fish in its beak. It could not work out how to swallow the fish, so kept moving it around in its beak until finally it succeeded.
After three hours, we returned to the hotel, packed up and set off to visit Lohargarh fort in the nearby town of Bharatpur. Most of the outer walls have vanished but the inner walls still stand high above the town, surrounded by a moat. The fort was captured by Lord Lake
in 1805 from the pesky Marathas. Inside, there was a bustling town within a town, with shops and homes. We’d been told the museum was closed on Fridays but in fact it was not only open but free. It was in a beautiful seventeenth century palace. The actual museum displays were dire – mangy stuffed animals, random pieces of pottery, and some cabinets that were so badly lit we couldn’t work out what was in them! We encountered the first school party of the trip, who literally mobbed us in their excitement. Twenty photos and forty handshakes later we escaped into the hammam only to be greeted by another group of children!
Once done, we headed for Agra, stopping on the way to revisit Akbar’s tomb in Sikandra. Akbar was the third and greatest Mughal Emperor who ruled from 1556 to 1605. He started the design and building of the tomb himself but it was completed by his son Jehangir. The south gateway where you enter is a magnificent construction in red sandstone faced and decorated in white and black marble. The tomb itself is set in centre of a chargbagh garden – the classic moghul garden design divided
into four equal squares with the tomb in the centre. It is another fine structure with the cenotaph of the Emperor in the centre, in a chamber reached by a long passageway. After the Mughal Empire declined in the 18th
century, the tomb was ransacked and the body taken away and lost. And as with so many monuments in India, it faces a continual battle against the degradations of the weather and pollution, and a limited budget for repairs. India often seems to prefer spending its resources on things other than the maintenance of the past, a sad state of affairs in a country with an unbelievable quantity and variety of monuments.
By now overheated, we proceeded to the Marriott. Oh yes, this is more like it. Most pleasant!
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