Ah! The travails of a travel-blogger!!
Wondering, why this sigh?
Well, it is not an easy task to capture & write uniquely about the essence of a place that finds more than a lakh visitors thronging it each year – a number of them better writers & photographer than Yours Truly. Add to this that fact that in the days when digital imagery has captured a permanent space on everybody’s mobile & Facebook, it is all the more difficult to create a unique photo-journey of a place which attracts nature photography enthusiasts from all over the world. I was facing this very dilemma that evening, when I stepped out into verandah.
It was about 7 in the evening. After a long day’s walk through the woods & wetlands, my fellow traveller had decided to take a short nap. The weather was cold-rather, very cold-chilling to the bones even through the 5-6 layers of warm clothes that I had donned. In spite of the cold, with nothing much to do till dinner, I opened the door & got out. The sudden appearance of a biped startled a few spotted deer wandering idly just outside the room. I looked incredulously while they, stepping back to a bit of a safer distance, in their perception, stared back at me – an intruder in their idyllic world - inquisitively and perhaps insolently. That was the moment I realized I had found my WALDEN.
WHEN I WROTE the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself…
Thus begins Walden, the book which narrates Henry David Thoreau’s a year & a half long sojourn & tryst with nature in America of mid 19th century. The experience afforded him an opportunity to discover and contemplate about the various facets of human life, and the synergy these share with nature. The book is also a kind of a treatise on transcendentalism – which links humanity & nature through divinity.
It is almost a decade ago when I first came across Walden while rummaging through old books in one of the cabinets of my office – which were part of my father-in-law’s collection. This was that phase when I was just turning 40, had already been in the midst and then, at the helm of corporate financial affairs, and had by that time set-up my own CA practice. The book’s curious beginning set me on to a journey which, over the years, brought me closer to nature.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
A good book eggs you on to experience the story. Thoreau’s Walden had the same effect on me, and I longed to find my own Walden. It was easier thought than done though, accustomed as I have been to the city of comfort that existed within me. Unlike Thoreau, I did not find it as easily possible to lose myself in wilderness for such a long period. Hence, I took an easier path – wandering for brief communes with nature, with my wife or friends, accompanied by my camera & literature at my fingertips, seeking illumination from nature.
I did manage to travel to places which I would not have thought of a decade ago. These wanderings not only provided wider perspective about nature & its interlinking paradigm, the path also took me to a whole new world of romanticists, Sufis & naturalists. The Walden however, remained elusive – for a long time.
For a long time; that is, till that evening in early January, this year – when I found myself face-to-face with that herd of deer. This was the Keoladeo Ghana National Park of Bharatpur, and to me, equivalent to Thoreau’s Walden.
Bharatpur is a sanctuary different in its setting and ambiance. The park, spread across 29 sq km, brings you in proximity to the miracle of nature in a way which is unmatchable. Here roam some of the bird species with such impudence around you that it is difficult to imagine this place as a once-upon-a-time hunting grounds for the royal gentry of Rajputana & their British friends. A huge plaque placed near the heart of the park lists down the exploits of various hunters during those years.
It is the reputation of it being a heaven for bird-watchers that had brought me to Bharatpur – my second visit in less than a year, and indeed, once again I was not disappointed. However, as I meandered through its wilderness seeking these winged species, I discovered another facet of Bharatpur. It is an absolute delight for those interested in landscapes – as a photographer, a painter or perhaps as a mere traveller.
Something would remain amiss, if I left Lawrence Durrell, unquoted:
It is there if you just close your eyes and breathe softly through your nose; you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. 'I am watching you -- are you watching yourself in me?'
As the Sun traverses through it arc across this terrain, it unveils a view so picturesque that human language is incapable of capturing it. A generous mix of grasslands, woods & wetlands – with interlinked paths well suited for living those glorious, albeit brief, moments, of uncertain nomadic living; the ponds with carpet of moss of ethereal hues, the trees displaying shades of various stages of their life, those shaded paths bisecting the thickets, plumage of flora & fauna adding up to a riot of colours; even the rays of a wintry day’s Sun, mellow in its mood, could not help but glisten exuberantly the moment they touched the pond's surface.
Indeed, it is difficult not to wonder, like John Dyer: Ever charming, ever new, When will the landscape tire the view?
In fact, for most of us, used to appreciate the man-made beauties in this concrete jungle, the architectural wonders, those urban-scapes, skylines, well manicured gardens, and artificial natural views, Bharatpur’s verdant and unadulterated lyrical vista is a necessity that raises the human spirit. The only thought that echoed in my mind came from a song penned by Bharat Vyas decades ago:
Apni to aankh ek hai us ki hazar hai
Yeh kaun chitrakar hai
And birds? Well, while I was busy with my musings enjoying the bewitching landscapes, unknown to me, something else was brewing between Mother Nature & its brood of birds. I will come to that in some time. Meanwhile, you may enjoy more pictures from Bharatpur on the following link: