While Jaipur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer take the most significant chunks of Indian and foreign tourist footfalls, other less frequented destinations are worth visiting in Rajasthan. Bharatpur and Deeg are two such hidden, unsung gems of Rajasthan that deserve more tourist traffic.
Bharatpur is known for its Keoladeo Ghana National Park, known as the Mecca for bird watchers. (There is a separate travelogue written for it.) But there is a lot one can explore beyond the national park like the Bharatpur Fort and museum for one. Another hidden gem Deeg is located 35kms away and has a palace and fort. Trust us; the drive will be worth it once you set your eyes on the Jal Mahal or Water Palace in Deeg.
Bharatpur got its name from Lord Rama’s brother Bharat and was ruled by the Jats, and King Suraj Mal was its most prominent ruler. After visiting the national park, we decide to explore the city. Our driver drives us to the busy market and drops us off on the main road. Cars are not permitted in the narrow streets of markets between 8 am and 8 pm. My son and I begin walking but soon realise that other vehicles are blatantly breaking the rules and driving through the main market street.
The market is buzzing with locals since it is the day after Diwali. There are sweets in all colours flavours on display, and locals are having piping hot kachoris and sipping on tea. Shopkeepers are making a brisk business post the lockdown as locals scamper to buy Diwali stuff.
We pass an enormous gateway called Mathura Gate, and soon we see the ramparts of the Lohagarh Fort. Translated into English, it means the ‘Iron Fort’, which is so-called as it was unconquerable by the Mughals and British rulers.
We stop to enquire where are the palace and museum. We get confusing looks as people wonder what we are looking for. Undeterred, we keep walking and soon aqre directed to the Banke Bihari temple.The by lane next to it leads us to Kishori Mahal. This palace was made by Maharaja Suraj Mal and named after his wife, who resided here. An enormous statue of Maharaja Suraj Mahal on a horse with a sword in his hand is at the entrance.
On entering the palace, we find ourselves in a courtyard with a tree in the centre. On the periphery of the courtyard are galleries in which paintings depicting various historical events are exhibited. The galleries are locked, so we satisfy ourselves merely admiring the paintings through the glass windows and leave.
Moti Mahal and Museum
We had seen a multi-storeyed dilapidated structure that looked like a palace from Kishori Mahal and set off in search of it. We soon find ourselves not near it, but Moti Mahal that houses the Bharatpur Museum. The doors are closed, and it is written ‘Monday Closed’, but it is a Friday, so how come it is shut? Just then, staff enter the palace on a motorbike, and the doors open. We decided to enter and take a sneak peek. We are relieved when the staff informs us that the palace and museums will open at noon. It is 11:55 am, so we decide to wait and watch the museum and palace.
A fusion of Islamic and Rajasthani styles are used for the palace and museum architecture. In the centre are four gardens or Choubhaga Chaman Bageecha surrounded by majestic buildings. The ground floor has open galleries with numerous statues and relics. The Darbar Hall where the king met his people is also on the ground floor. On the first floor are several other galleries. The Arms and Ammunition Gallery houses Persian, European and Indian weapons. The Metal Art Gallery and several others, including the Darbar Mahal, are choc a block with artefacts and curios which provide a glimpse of the grandeur and opulence of a bygone era.
The Miniature Painting gallery has paintings in Rajasthani, Mughal styles that depict scenes from the life of Radha Krishna, gods and goddesses of Indian Mythology, and the royal family. The highlight in this gallery is the traditional hand-operated ceiling fan with cords pulled and released to circulate air. Soon we enter the Kamara Khaas, which has European style furniture, chandeliers and other paraphernalia. I am impressed by the wooden doors embellished with mirrors and miniature paintings of European men and women. On the terrace is the Baradari, a pavilion with several pillars, and from the terrace, one gets an aerial view of the gardens.
The Bharatpur museum, with its exquisite collection, is well maintained and taken care of, unlike some other museums that are dusty and in sincere need of attention. The challenge is that even with google maps, we kept getting confusing directions, so finding these palaces within the fort isn’t that easy.
We planned to visit the Deeg palace and museum post-lunch, but since it was a Friday, the palace was closed, so we had a change of plan and visited it the following day on our way back to Delhi. While researching Bharatpur, I had stumbled upon a picture of the palace with its reflection in the water. It was love at first sight! How could a palace so stunning and magnificent not be on tourist maps? These unknown gems have always found a place in our itineraries, and we have always been suitably rewarded when we visited them. Charting the unknown is what distinguishes travellers from tourists.
Before entering the Deeg market, an obscure pathway leads us to the Gopal Sagar water tank that touches the palace. We are mesmerised seeing the reflection of the palace in the water. The palace’s architectural design is an amalgamation of Rajasthani and Mughal styles, and this palace is the Venice of India.
After purchasing entry tickets, we find ourselves in the central courtyard with four gardens and numerous water fountains. During the festival of Holi, colours are released through a mechanism, and one can witness an array of myriad coloured water fountains. The numerous buildings of the palace are on the periphery of the courtyard. Since Deeg is a part of Brij Bhumi or ‘Krishna’s Land’, each building is christened with his various names.
Gopal Bhavan is the largest and most magnificent building in the palace, converted into a museum. It is flanked on either side by pavilions Savan and Bhado -specific Hindu calendar months representing the monsoons. Photography inside the museum is prohibited, so no pictures can be shared. As we enter the museum, a large granite bed lies in front. The Jat kings brought it from Delhi, thinking it was a Mughal royal bed only to realise that it was used to give ablutions to the dead.
As we move from room to room, we see European era furniture, dressing tables with Belgium glass, a stuffed tigress killed by the royals. The two front feet of the elephant, that broke open the Red Fort door. are preserved and proudly displayed.
On the first floor is a room with mattresses where the royals sat and played chess. Next, we see a sit-down dining area and a European dining area with a table and chairs. The bedroom has an enormous bed with silver legs, and on the ceiling are hand-operated fans with ropes attached that servants pulled and released.
Near the Gopal Bhavan, a Hanuman temple has an idol of the monkey god in brown jade. Close by on the floor is a game of maze. In front of Gopal Bhavan is a marble swing called Noorjahan Ka Jhoola. When King Suraj Mahal defeated the Mughals, he is said to have brought this back with him.
The Suraj Bhavan was originally a madrasa used for Islamic studies in Delhi, and it was dismantled piece by piece, transported to its present location and reassembled. The Mughal architectural designs and marble structures in it are reminiscent of the Taj Mahal.
It lies beyond the Suraj Bhavan. The Charbaug Garden, with a water fountain in the centre, lies in its front.
Next, we visit Kishen Bhavan, which had paintings of various kings and royal family members. Photography inside is not permitted. The Purana Mahal is close by but is out of bounds for visitors.
The Deeg Palace is flanked on the other side by another water tank called Roop Sagar. The Keshav Bhavan is the Baradari or pavilion with several pillars overlooking the Roop Sagar. From here, we can see the Deeg Fort and the Sheesh Mahal on the opposite banks of Roop Sagar.
The last building is the Nandan Bhavan which houses the akhada/wrestling arena. In the good old days, wrestlers would wrestle in the sandpit as the spectators watched. Jharokhas or balconies from where the royals observed these games overlooked the sandpit. There are several pillars with a series of ornamental paintings.
Deeg, with its Jal Mahal or Water Palace, has charmed its way into our hearts. It deserves more visibility and prominence and is waiting to be discovered.
Bharatpur and Deeg are the hidden gems of Rajasthan. A visit to the palaces and forts will transport you back in time and leave you amazed. Their mesmerising beauty, rich history and architecture are worthy of greater appreciation and admiration.
|GETTING THERE |
Nearest Airport: Delhi
Distances: Delhi-Bharatpur: 220 km (4 hours by road via Taj/Yamuna Expressway)
Bharatpur- Deeg: 35 km (1 hour by road)
Agra- Bharatpur: 56km (1 hour by road)
Fatehpur Sikri– Bharatpur: 23 km (1/2 hour)
Where to stay: From Forest lodges to hotels for every budget are available in Bharatpur. Deeg doesn’t have any decent accommodation, so you should stay in Bharatpur.