BHARATPUR CITY

The walled town of BHARATPUR is just a stone’s throw from the border with Uttar Pradesh, 150km east of Jaipur, and a mere 18km from Fatehpur Sikri. The town itself has an interesting mix of traditional bazaars, temples, mosques, palaces and a massive fort, but the real reason to come here is to visit India’s most famous bird sanctuary, the Keoladeo National Park, on the town’s southern edge, one of India’s, if not the world’s, top ornithological destinations.

Bharatpur was founded by the Jat king Surajmal, and quickly developed into a busy market centre, popularly known as the eastern gateway to Rajasthan. The virtually invincible Lohagarh (Iron Fort) was built by Surajmal at the heart of town in 1732; the original moat, 45m wide and up to 15m deep, still encircles the fort, and time and modern development have had little effect on its magnificent eleven-kilometre-long bastions – the British spent four months in 1805 trying in vain to breach them, before suffering their heaviest defeat in Rajasthan. You’re most likely to enter the fort from the south, though it’s worth continuing across the fort to the impressive Ashtdhatu (or Eight-Metal) Gate, named on account of the number of different types of metal which apparently went into the making of its extremely solid-looking doors.

Few people stay in the centre of Bharatpur town – to be well placed for an early start wildlife-viewing it’s a better idea to spend the night in one of several, generally welcoming hotels and guesthouses along or near NH-11, which skirts the northern edge of the park some 4km south of the centre of town. Many of Bharatpur’s hotel managers are skilled ornithologists. Bharatpur’s reputation as a tourist-friendly oasis has made it an striking base for day trippers to Agra and the Taj Mahal. It’s therefore advisable, especially in peak season (mid-Nov to late Feb), to book rooms in advance. Most of the guesthouses also rent bikes and binoculars.