Bharatpur & Mehandipur Balanji: Keoladeo National Park and the Most Persistent Beggar I’ve Met

Good morning everyone,

Bharatpur is the entry way to Rajasthan from Agra (well Uttar Pradesh anyway).  It’s actually quite near.  We visited, hoping to see Lohagarh Fort.  Unfortunately, it has been converted to a hotel – the Mahal Khas Hotel which offers among other things (their spellings):

– Puppet and cultured showes
– Private bolconies and a
– Village Saffari

I would be interested to find out what is involved in the village safari and curious to know what the villagers think of being part of a safari.

In all seriousness, they probably meant Keoladeo National Park, a smallish park just on the outskirts of Bharatpur which has man made wetlands, some temples and natural grasslands.  We skipped the fort/hotel (a 1 km walk through a very crowded market) and headed for Keoladeo National Park instead.

The park is three kilometres in length and because my time was short, I took them up on the offer of a rickshaw ride for a 2 hour tour, which would take me through the wetlands portion.  The rickshaw is in high demand and goes for about Rs. 100 an hour.  I also brought a naturalist with me to identify the birds and animals I would see.  He cost nothing but I gave him a tip instead.

The park is loaded with birds who migrate from all over Europe and Asia.  Loaded.  There were just birds everywhere.  Eagles, herons, cormorants, ducks, plovers…  There were also buffalo, and antelope in the wetlands.

There is a wildlife corridor between this park and another, larger park deeper in Rajasthan that boasts quite a few tigers.  The naturalist waited until we were halfway through our tour to tell me that one of those tigers, a male, used that corridor and now this park is his territory and feeding grounds.  Along with the tiger, there are other predators like lions and scavengers (though still dangerous) like hyena.

There are also large pythons and cobras but because I was there fairly early in the morning before the sun had a chance to warm anything up, the snakes were still in their dens and we didn’t see any.  I’m not sad about missing the snakes… not even a little bit.  Okay, it would have been cool to see a cobra  This park is beautiful and definitely worth a visit.

After the park we stopped at Mehandipur Balanji where there is a large mandir dedicated to Hanuman (the monkey god).  It has no parking, a tight market catering to observers to the temple, and the crush of traffic was insane.  It took us almost an hour to find a parking spot.  Then Jagdeep found someone to take me through the crazy crowds into the temple.  No pictures because I left the camera in the car and given the jostling, pushing crowds I wouldn’t have got pictures of anything but the backs of peoples’ heads.

The young man who was guiding me through the temple rushed me right through, past most of the crowd.  I don’t know how he managed it but I had a hard time keeping up with him.  However, he also walked me barefoot through the most disgusting piles of I don’t know what that was lining the streets.  My feet ended up covered in goo which made me want to shower and also made the walk back very, very slippery.

On the way out of the temple there were a number of beggars.  I gave one of them Rs. 10 mainly because she looked rather emaciated and she was very, very old.  This of course attracted more beggars.  A man, who went away when I told him no and the most persistent beggar I’ve ever met.

MPB followed me all the way back to the car, despite me telling her no, despite the young guide yelling at her.  All the way back,  The whole time she had her hands cupped in front of me, telling me something in Hindi that I didn’t understand but I’m certain was asking for more money.  Finally, I gave her Rs. 10 as well and instead of being satisfied and going away (by now about 4 people where yelling at her to leave me alone), she amped up her game, adding her form of sign language to the begging which became louder.  I understood from the sign language that she was saying she had small children to feed and that she was very hungry and please won’t I give Rs. 50.  I tell her no, more people yell at her, I notice the betel stains on her teeth… still she begs for more money.  I get in the car.  She begs for more, trying to hold the car door open.  Now she’s making me laugh that awkward laugh one gets when they are exasperated by a situation.  I pry her hand from the door and close and lock it.  She begs for more.  Jagdeep starts the car, she begs for more.  People are now physically trying to block her from getting behind the car while it backs up and all the while she is begging for more.  Finally, I give Jagdeep (she’s at his window now, having dodged the people trying to shoo her away) Rs. 20 and ask him to tell her in Hindi that this is all she will get.  Nothing more.

We finally pull away from the parking space and head away from the tiny market… and she follows us the whole way.  I don’t know when we lost her but it was only after we got in among a bunch of camel carts on the main road that I stopped hearing her begging behind us.

Rajasthan is largely desert and here, camels and donkeys have replaced horses and elephants pulling carts.  Camels were everywhere.  So were brick making factories.  Everywhere.   What soil there is here is bright red, reminding me of both brick and Prince Edward Island at the same time.  Just rich, beautiful red soil and cream coloured sand wherever I looked.  And goats and pigs … more pigs.  I am told that Rajasthan is primarily Muslim so what is with the pigs everywhere?  I don’t mean the wild pigs but the domestic ones.  Who is eating all this ham and bacon?  I know you’re not trying to milk the pigs so…

We stopped at a dhaba for lunch and had “salad” – this is sliced onion, tomato, cucumber, carrot with desert lime arranged on a plate, butter rotis that could have been cooked a little longer, black dhal and some paneer with tomatoes.  The dhaba was a little dirty but I didn’t think much of that.  The plates were clean and they brought bottled water for us to drink.  The food was reasonably tasty as well.  No hint of anything off.  Yeah.  By the time we got to the hotel in Jaipur 5 or 6 hours later, I was as sick as I have ever been in my life.  I couldn’t wait for the bell boy to leave the room so that I could spew hostile, volatile, evil liquids from every place that could happen.  So, so sick.  I rarely get food poisoning for long but this had the beginnings of what felt like it would last forever – or kill me in which case it would last until my last breath.  Usually, once I’ve emptied the gastrointestinal tract, it’s over.  So once that happened, feeling a little dead inside and in a lot of pain, I washed up and went to meet Jagdeep and go over the plan to see the sights in Jaipur the next day.

We agreed to use an auto to get around Jaipur and avoid any Rs. 4000 corruption fees.  (To be fair, the police in Jaipur did not attempt to extract any bribes from us and were actually quite friendly when I needed to ask them (twice) for directions and when I was walking alone along the boardwalk near the end of the day).  However, we were not going to take any chances.

Then I returned to my room to write for a few hours before it was time to eat.  I felt well again by the time 9 p.m. rolled around so I met Jagdeep in the hotel restaurant.  We’re easy – butter roti, dhal, bottled water, chai and some sort of veg.  Every time it works for us.  This time the veg was aloo matar (peas and potatoes).  It was tasty and very reasonably priced.  Very, very reasonably priced.  But the little bug that tried to kill me earlier in the evening was not dead and it was not done with me.  I was up all night being sick.  My fault – I fed the little bugger.

Whatever bug I picked up I got at the dhaba in the afternoon and not the hotel.  The rule about only eating at dhabas and restaurants where the locals and truck drivers also eat, doesn’t always work.  However, it did keep me safe right up until that moment… so, if you’re coming to India please feel free to borrow that rule.

Ha.  So much better now and thankfully I was also better and ready to go the following day in Jaipur, the pink city.  It’s a good thing to because there was an awful lot of hiking going on there.  Until then,

Peace and love all,
Himmatpreet

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