Oct 18,19 – Bharatpur
We left our hotel in Agra at 7:30, and for almost an hour followed the GPS directions out of town. Unfortunately our hotel was on the east end and we had to get out of the west end to get to Fatehpur Sikri, our first destination. For a place like Agra and a significant road like HH 11 which is the main route into Rajasthan, the way out of town was particularly intricate and congested, in part because we were part of the morning rush.
Once out of town we had a nice hour on a two lane treed and shady lane. Still a bit of traffic, but not so much we could not enjoy the activity in the fields and along the road. We entered a four lane toll road as we entered Fatehpur for the run through to the ancient city.
We parked our bikes and had a cold drink in a nice looking hotel before walking up to one of the many attractions at this old capital of Emperor Akbar. He had three wives, a christian, a Hindu and a Muslim, each said to have their own palace, but we did not venture off to see them. As we entered through an enormous gate to an inner courtyard we were each beset by young men selling themselves, their wares, their information or whatever. We both shook them for a while, but they kept popping up like a bad penny. At one point Rich told his that if he said one more word Rich would just leave. We walked back down to the hotel watching our bikes, with no appetite for further visits at Fatehpur.
We had a leisurely lunch and decided to head off in the mid day for Bharatpur as it seemed to be only an hour away. Riding mid-day would normally be something we would try to avoid. The Birder’s Inn is recommded in LP as a good place to station for visits to Keoladeo NP.
Rich was stronger than me, on this day, and I pulled into the Inn quite spent. We chose the upper end room, deciding not to share one of the matrimonial bed rooms. We started with a cold beer on a padded seat overlooking the garden, before even rolling our bikes around. This place is the best place we have stayed in all aspects, and if the birding is good we will certain spend two nights here. After weeks of peeling paint in our rooms, here we have stencilled patterns in our arched ceilings; after fraying carpets here we have inlaid marble floors; after bare light bulbs here we have stained glass shades on all fixtures, even the bathroom. I am a bit queasy and am not sure what to do. I have a medicine recommended by a pharmacist in Delhi, I guess I will give that a go.
Our guide, Soran, turned up at 3:00 armed with a Swarovsky spotting scope, one of the best money can buy. This is a good sign. We rode our bikes a few hundred meters to the Park Entry, and the three of us headed off on our bikes. We stopped withing 200 m and viewed a Black-shouldered kite and an Indienne roller through the incredible scope. It feels like you can reach in and touch the delicate feathers. We were out less than three hours and saw about 35 species, not counting the common ones like peacocks. We would ride on for a few minutes and Soran would jump off his bike and have the scope focused in on a bird before we could get there. We saw numerous other guides with clients. Only one or two had scopes, some not even binoculars. There is no doubt we got a special guide here.
Near dark we had a 5 km ride back to the hotel and arranged for a 6:30 am start in the morning. We headed off a different road, this one dirt and then brick, and continued to add to our list. I was able to get some reasonable pictures, but the resolution is just not there to zero in on the very small part of the image I am able to capture. Still it will act as reminders for me, the pictures I include will be the central very small part of the image my camera captures.
We had breakfast at 10:30, as all other things here, the best one so far, and arranged another go at 3:00. This is probably over kill, but if you have great birding and an excellent guide you have to take advantage.
Our evening birding did not bring any new birds, except for a sarum crane, which is a large red-headcd crane., and we spent longer watching the raucous painted storks. We did a bit more riding on this evening, which got us to the end of the park and then we again had a fairly fast ride back into town. Possibly my best picutre was of the Rajasthan ladies in their colourful outfits as they walked back to their village from working in the park, each with a load of wood on their heads. They had initially covered their faces, but as the passed me on their way home they all gave me a big smile. It is hard to tell what their customs regarding hiding their faces.
We cycled 70 km getting to Baratpur from Agra and then another 30 km on our three birding rides into the park.
Oct 20, 21– Gangapur
We left The Birders Inn after a full breakfast and then rode 7 km along NH 11 the main highway to Jaipur, and then turned off on a non-coloured road, the least popular on our map. At first the road seemed to be very broken, but after about 5 km we had nice running for 80 km. It was a quiet road and we saw many of the birds that we had identified for us by Soran in the park. The life along the road was very colourful, but as we had a long day ahead we kept trucking. We had questionable snack at 80 km and kept going. The afternoon was opposite from the monring. The road started out well and then turned terrible. At one time the road had been sealed, but it was continuously eroded unto often there was only a strip down the centre wide enough for a motorcycle, which kind of rules the roost here. Meeting one, every 30 seconds or so we both ride to the sides of the pavement, but if you fall off it is in the rubble. This was the best of the road. Most often it was just broken up road with sharp rocks and loose dust to pick through. Another ugly feature was where the road was there, but it would be interlaced with 3 in cracks that you could only just bounce over. We rode continually hoping for a 100 m of relatively clean road, wbich kin of kept us going.
Arriving in our destination town, Gangapur, the road continued to be brutal right into town. We used the GPS to get us to an area where we found a basic room. The main part of our sustenance this night was 1 1/2 very strong beers each. Outside of the tourist places food will be tough.
We did 130 km today.
Oct 21 – Sawai Madopur
After yesterday’s road we chose a longer route to get us to the town at the base of Ranthambhore National Park, where we have little hope of seeing wild tigers. We had an interesting narrow lane route through Gangapur that put us onto the highway, two levels above yesterday’s road. It was exactly the same and we bounced along for almost two hours to cover 20 km. I had stopped to wait for Rich and when he came along, despondently, he announced that he was going to change from his clipless cycling shoes into his walking shoes as the road was so bad. This worked, from then on we had good roads into Lalsot, where we again had the same questionable snack and a drink. Our route now turned south again and we found ouselves on a higher end main road, that was not marked as such on our map. Still we had 65 km to go and the heat to contend with.
With the better road we can look around a bit and we are still entertained with the camel carts, women drawing water and carrying loads on their heads and the endless stream of kids either wanting to say hello or to get sassy. When we stop we are soon swarmed with mostly young and older boys who ask the usual set of questions and want to flip our levers and size up our bikes, which are very different to the standard one speed 50 lb variety you see here.
It is tough cycling, even with a .good road as it is so hot and dry. We can not keep the fluid level up and when we stop it is usually about re-hydrating.
We are stopping here to visit Ranthamphore National park, famous for its tigers. We are in a resort hotel, our for the budget minded, no doubt other very much higher end are here as well. We will be taking a jeep into the park tomorrow morning, as that is the only way visitors can enter. We do no have high expections.
We did 110 km today.
Oct 22 -Jaipur
At our hotel, the Azur Safari Lodge we had breakfast at 6:00, and then waited from 6:30 to 7;00 for our jeep to turn up. I was upset as if there is any chance of seeing tigre, I would imagine that it is the early bird that gets the worm. All sorts of jeeps, and canters (they hold 20) went by and I imagined following that cavalcade into Ramthanbhore park. Our jeep turned up finally and I got about five reasons why no one was at fault. We were with an American couple who had been on 6 earlier safaris and a Russian who had been on three. She asked if we had been on others. In response to my “no, this is the first”, she replied “oh, that is why you were upset, they were an hour late for my first one.”
We drove for half an hour before getting into zone 8 of the park, and then on some rough park roads where we saw no other vehicles, dispelling one of my concerns. We climbed up the rocky escarpment and had some nice views. We saw some antelope and some nice birds, but no new ones for us. The Americans had seen a mother tiger and three young ones on one of their outings, but I think the possibilities are very low, still the environment was great and we didn’t really have high hopes for a Spotting.
Rich and I paid the same for our three hour outing that we paid for our individual guide for close to 12 hours at Keoladeo, where we saw about 70 different species. Not much comparison here.
Back at the hotel we rested abit, ate and then headed to the train station for a ride in an out of Jaipur, one of our destination cities. We left bikes and bags behind and will return after two nights.
We got tickets for the equivalent of $1 each, for the two hour trip. We are obviously not going in style. When the train pulled in we joined in the rush of hundreds trying to get on before anyone on the train could get off. Once on we walked up and down a few cars looking for a seat. We found ourselves in a reserved sleeper section and no one there was too keen on sharing their benchs with us. But after we looked beseechingly long enough we were both allowed to crawl into an upper berth, where the sleeper had enough sleep and was sitting with others in a lower seat. We expected to either get hit up for money or asked to leave; neither happened and within two hours we were magically in Jaipur, and in a very nice hotel.
Tomorrow we hope to do a one day visit. I may have trouble dragging Rich back to the road.