If you’re looking for a vacation that brings together history, wildlife, and abundant beauty, Bharatpur in Rajasthan is the place to be. By Bayar Jain
Believed to date back to 5th Century BC—at a time when the Matsya kingdom, allies of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata war, once flourished—Bharatpur is a hidden gem in the vibrant tapestry of Rajasthan’s colourful tourist circuits. Legend has it that this quaint town is named after Bharat, the younger brother of Rama, a major deity in Hinduism. Years later, in the early 18th century, Maharaja Suraj Mal captured Bharatpur fort by vanquishing Khemkaran, the rival chieftain, and laid the foundation for Bharatpur. Today, the erstwhile royal city houses one of the world’s best-known bird watching destinations, ancient temples, historic palaces and forts, and more.
Places to see in Bharatpur
Keoladeo National Park (formerly Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary)
Possibly one of the most famous attractions of Bharatpur, Keoladeo National Park originated as a royal hunting reserve during the 1850s. Today, the UNESCO—listed World Heritage Site gives refuge to over 375 species of birds and animals such as the basking python, painted storks, deer, nilgai and more. Explore this natural beauty by embarking on guided treks on foot, cycle, or rickshaws.
Bharatpur Palace and Museum
When speaking of the royals of Bharatpur, a mention of the Bharatpur Palace and Museum is unavoidable. Kamra Khas, a museum located within the Bharatpur Palace, has a vast number of antiques, more than 581 stone sculptures, 861 local art and craft wares, and many ancient scriptures that depict the art and culture of the city. This varied cultural past also reflects on the palace’s exterior that beautifully blends Mughal and Rajput architecture. The patterned floor tiles adorned with exquisite designs make for striking visuals.
Literally translating to ‘Iron fort’, Lohagarh Fort truly lives up to its name. Over the years, the rugged fort has withstood countless attacks by the colonisers, only to be ultimately captured by Arthur Wellesley, the first duke of Wellington. Surrounded by a moat to keep attackers at bay, this monument has structures like the Kothi Khas, Mahal Khas, and Kishori Mahal hiding within its premises.
Located in the heart of the city, Ganga Mandir is a red stone temple built by Maharaja Balwant Singh in the mid-19th century. All the affluent inhabitants of the city donated a month’s pay to help with the structure’s construction. The result? A magnificent deity of Ganga built from pristine white marble ready to bless deities.
Dedicated to Laxmana, the brother of Hindu deity Rama, this temple displays Rajput architecture interspersed with pink stonework. Spiritual reasons aside, consider visiting Laxman Mandir for its intricate carvings of flowers and birds on doorways, ceilings, pillars, walls and arches.
Located in the north of Bharatpur, Deeg is famous for its forts, palaces, gardens, and fountains. Its crowning glory, however, is the Deeg fort that is surrounded by moats and gateways. Built by Maharaja Suraj Mal, this ancient structure also houses a watch tower to oversee the city.
An old wildlife reserve of the erstwhile rulers of Bharatpur, Band Baretha is now under the administration of the Forest Department. This bird watcher’s paradise not only houses 200 species of birds—including the Black Bittern—but also has a dam and palace in its sprawling greens. While the construction of the dam on the Kakund River here was kickstarted by Maharaj Jaswant Singh in 1866 AD, it was only completed roughly 30 years later in 1897 AD by Maharaj Ram Singh. The palace inside this reserve, which is also the Bharatpur royal family’s private property, was built by Maharaj Kishan Singh.
Kaman (locally, Kamaban)
An old town to the north of Bharatpur, Kaman has cemented its position as a pilgrimage site. Every year, during the month of Bhadra according to the Hindu calendar, many Vaishnavs visit the region as part of the Banyatra. Religious reasons aside, Kaman also draws crowds for the ruins of the religious structure—the Chaurasi Khamba—that consists of 84 pillars.
Bharatpur is well-connected by road, rail, and air. The closest airport, Agra Airport, is roughly 55 kilometres away. A number of buses link this quiet town to several cities—within and outside the state. Those travelling by rail can disembark at Bharatpur Junction railway station.