Tag Archives: Bhangarh

Some wild moments in Sariska!

SO finally the cliché of the visit. Earlier four accounts- Bhangarh, Kankwari, Neelkanth and the Birds were quite fascinating and actually different from usual routines of visit to the national park. But then what about the wild inside you? Bhangarh might not haunt you but not sighting a tiger in the tiger reserve is certainly going to haunt you to a certain degree for a considerable duration of time. Purely on that terms Sariska has been third time lucky for me. My first trip to Sariska was almost thirty years ago when tiger safari was not a fancy idea, and second one 17 years ago when tiger was always second in my thought. (What was the first?)

Sariska Safari1
Foggy entry through the Sariska gate to the tiger reserve

But then as I have always said that though its always fascinating to watch a tiger in the wild, but not watching it doesn’t creates a sort of disappointment until I have given full time to the jungle. I thoroughly enjoy the jungles sans tiger too, as the most true wildlife enthusiasts will actually do. In that sense as well, safari in Sariska was quite satisfying.

Sariska Safari2
Reflections!

Jungle was as beautiful as always. But interesting part is that no two jungles and no two visits to the same jungle look the same. The  three hour safari had its moments of joy, admiration, awe and pure love. I am revisiting the safari only on those moments, and they are absolutely not in any particular order.

Well, we had the tiger sighting within first 25 minutes into safari, so once we had it, it made the rest of safari time relaxing and anxiety free. Tiger sighting was close but not from front as he chose to just walk in front of the cavalcade of the safari vehicles.

So here are the few glimpses of the mighty cat-

But this sighting was not without a drama and slightly unpleasant one. I always believe that one should enjoy the wildlife that comes their way during safari. It can be and it should be your luck to see an animal, not your right. There has been long debate about use of radio collars on tigers. Still they were accepted as way to track them and save them from poaching. But to use radio collars to help tiger sighting in safari is a bit ugly practice. Here too, while we were waiting for the tiger at a nullah, a supposedly VIP came on another safari vehicle along with a radio tracker, who kept on tracking the exact location of tiger and thus the whole group of six safari vehicles kept following the tiger guided by radio tracker. Look for yourself-

Talking about cats, I have not been so far fortunate to see them hunting in the wild. But we got to see a kill of a leopard who hunted a sambhar and then dragged him up on a tree. Leopard was not there but the kill was still hanging up on the tree-

As per numbers, it is the deer family which rules the jungles. You can find them everywhere and actually observing their behaviour patiently is also very interesting-

Another scene worth remembering from the safari was the cheetal-monkey play. Deer-monkey friendship is always take about in jungle tales. It was so warming to see them play and then drink water together from the same pond-

I had already written in earlier posts about the number of peahens and peacocks in the region. Same was here inside the park. They were everywhere- playing and dancing. How beautiful this bird is!

Talking about birds, here is another one, a Jungle Babbler that I will not forget for its sheer sharpness, alertness and daring behaviour-

And while returning see, who was there to see off from the park after the end of the safari-

These forests always remind us of what we are and what we are supposed to be.

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Khajuraho of Aravalis : Neelkanth

Immediately after Bhangarh, I landed to this place. And, I am sure that less than 10 percent of people present at Bhangarh would have heard about this temple and among those who would have heard, less than 10 percent would have ever visited it. As a day later at Kankwari fort, here too, we were the only travellers. There were some locals to pray, although. Besides, we also came to know that there were many tourists a day earlier (on first day of the new year).

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Neelkanth Temple

Well, this is all about Neelkanth Temple, how it is commonly known. The board here says its name as Neelkantheshwar Temple (not any difference in the meaning of both words). Actually, if you go on searching online, all the pages will lead you to Neelkanth temple near Rishikesh in Uttarakhand. You would have been lucky enough to land on this post.

The board outside temple
The board outside temple

I have been to the Neelkanth temple in Uttarakhand as well. Despite the number of tourists & pilgrims that the temple attracts and despite its location on a beautiful hill with glorious views, that doesn’t fall in the league of this Neelkanth temple that I am writing about- lonely, deep inside a jungle valley of Sariska National Park.

Side view of the temple from out
Side view of the temple from out

The title of the post says a lot about, what I mean to say. Comparing any temple to Khajuraho might be seemingly a big deal, but while doing that I also have in mind, besides what is there; what is lost as well. Khajuraho is known for its sculptures and Neelkanth has got lot in common with Khajuraho. There have been many temples around the country, built around the medieval times, to have erotic sculptures. Most of them get a Khajuraho adjective prefixed to their names. Is Neelkanth a similar phenomenon?

Not much is known about the history of this temple. There is nothing here which puts any light on the origin of the temple. Locals say it is there from the time of Mahabharata and Pandavas had established the temple. Actually, in this area especially the Sariska National Park, there are a few places which are attributed to Pandavas, Pandu Pole being the most famous one. Its said that more recently, King Ajaipal built the Neelkanth temple in 1010 A.D. By that account, this temple is almost contemporary to Khajuraho temples. Neelkanth is Shiva temple (most prominent of Khajuraho temples is the Kandariya Mahadev Temple, which is also a Shiva temple). But unlike Kandariya Mahadev Temple, this Neelkanth temple is a functioning temple, where pujas are performed regularly.

Sanctum sanctorum of the Neelkanth temple
Sanctum sanctorum of the Neelkanth temple

Actually, from what is known, this place is a treasure trove of archaeological findings and perhaps Neelkanth is a part of it. It is said that this valley used to have 360 temples at some point of time in history. Most of them were destroyed- either by attackers, pirates, looters or got weathered down. One can still see ruins of many temples scattered around in this area. So rich has been discoveries here that at the Neelkanth temple complex on both sides of the entrance the sculptures excavated from the area have been kept behind big locked iron grills. There is a round the clock presence of police for the security of these priceless sculptures. There is a police post, while the temple itself is under the supervision of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). You can still find a lot of sculptures in the open, on the temple walls, pillars, panels etc.

An erotic sculpture at Neelkanth temple
An erotic sculpture at Neelkanth temple

Sculptures at Neelkanth are in many ways similar to Khajuraho temples- in postures as well as human figures. Have a look at them-

Just opposite to the main temple are samadhis (memorials) of the the siddhas from the different generations who have been priests to this temple.

Samadhis of the priests
Samadhis of the priests

There are few other notable structures near to the Neelkanth temple. There is also a small pond-

A small pond
A small pond

Just besides this pond are ruins of another temple-

Few hundred metres away is another important temple complex with one main temple and a platforms of few smaller temples left. Locally this is called an Naugaja (नौगजा) as it is nine gaja (गज or yards) above the ground level. Here in the main temple there is big 16 feet high statue of a Jain Tirthankar (tough to name, might be Mahavir or Adinath or someone else). Considering the condition of the temple and the statue, it also can’t be surely said that whether this statue was always here or was it brought later on. The platforms of other smaller temples in the complex have many sculptures of dancers and musicians, which indicates that this temple had something to do with dance and music. Have a look-

There is lot more to explore in this area. Besides these sculptures and archaeological wonders, this valley is naturally very beautiful. Interacting with the villagers is fascinating. But what also attracts you here is the number of peacocks and peahens, and I actually mean that the number is unusually huge then whatever I have seen at any other place in India. You will simply love their presence-

Vital Details:

Now the turn of some important details. As I said that the Neelkanth temple, other temples and the village are inside Sariska National Park territory. But this is not the core area of the tiger reserve. Here is a village which has escaped relocation probably because of the Archaeological importance of the temple. Only way to reach Neelkanth Temple is through Tehla. Tehla also has a gate to Sariska Tiger Reserve, but the way to Neelkanth temple is different from that. Tehla is around 65 kms from Sariska gate of the tiger reserve. From Sariska (or Alwar side) one has to reach Gola turn (मोड़). From here one road goes to Bhangarh and then to Dausa. Another one goes to Rajgarh via Tehla. Tehla is roughly 15 kms from Gola mod. From Tehla a road goes to Neelkanth. Temple is around 10 kms from here.

Sunset at Neelkanth Temple
Sunset at Neelkanth Temple

From Tehla, a jungle road goes towards park area. You pass through Mansarovar Dam on the right. Roughly after seven kms you will hit a hill and then one has to climb (drive) on a very rough winding road upto the top. There is a fort gate on the top. The hills surrounding the park have a fortified wall on the top, which used to be part of Rajaur Garh (राजौरगढ़) .  From the gate through the fort wall, you move another kilometre downhill to Neelkanth village and through village to the temple.

There was no fees, entrance fees to be paid anywhere. Police at the temple prohibits you from taking photos inside the sanctum ( surely if they see a large DSLR hanging around your neck). But you can argue and convince. Ironically, nobody stops you from clicking image from your mobile, even if your mobile camera resolution is far better than any DSLR. But then, this is how it works in India.

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Haunted fort of Bhangarh : Nothing spooky about it!

SO much has been written and told about Bhangarh fort in recent times as the most haunted place of India (some claim to be in Asia) that if you just blindfold somebody and take him or her to a place and whisper in ear that- you are in ‘BHANGARH’ and that person will just get spooked and run out of horror. We did something similar. We didn’t blindfold but kept telling all the way that we are going to some other place (fort) and kept all hints of Bhangarh out of the view of that person. Once we entered the fort and the person came to know about the truth that we were in Bhangarh, we could see the horror written on the face. But with no scope of running for anybody, we continued. Rest all is history and we came out laughing on all the spooky stories of Bhangarh.

The main fortress
The main fortress

With extent of writings on Bhangrah in past many years, ironically when you go on searching for Princess Ratnavati on Google, all initial results take you to ‘haunted’ story of Bhangarh fort, whereas in our childhood, the only Ratnavati we had heard about was the Princess of Jaisalmer who fought bravely against the forces of Alauddin Khilji. But then, we never read about Bhangarh even!

The gate just before the fortress
The gate just before the fortress

In times of Harry Potters and Vampire Academies, there is always a good market (perhaps it always had been) for spooky stories on haunted places and paranormal activities. Hence the Bhangarh story  got a perfect scoop. Mass media has made it more and more spicy, dramatised and indeed thrilling.

What we all are sure about is the documented part of the Bhangarh’s history. That, this was founded by Raja Bhagwant Das of Amber in 16th century. During that time this whole area came under the Amber rule. Bhagwant Das was the close lieutenant of Mughal emperor Akbar and also the elder brother of Akbar’s Rajput queen Jodha Bai. Perhaps from Bhagwant Das came the name Bhangarh. His eldest son Man Singh was the one of the nine jewels of Akbar. Madho Singh was his younger brother and father Bhagwant Das handed over Bhangarh to Madho Singh.

Bhangarh13

Bhangarh was not just a palace but a fort city. Whatever is left now is just the ruins of what would have been a sprawling city at one point of time. What is now left of the city part is just few temples, old havelis and the main market Johari Bazar, whose name will remind you of its namesake in pink city Jaipur. This city would have been magnificent at its peak with big havelis, palaces, temples, houses, markets. Even the shops in the Johari Bazar were all identical and double storied. The pathway to the palace now passes through this Johari Bazar.

At some point of time the fort city was abandoned and hence got ruined, may be because of some local power struggle leading to a war with nearby rulers. There are some stories about a war between Bhangarh and nearby Ajabgarh. Amidst the ruins emerges a story which everybody would like to tell with a lots of juice.

Hotspots for some spine-chilling stories are trees like this in Hindu mythology.
Hotspots for some spine-chilling stories are trees like this in Hindu mythology.

Ruins like this are always hotbeds for folklores and some paranormal stories. The sad part is that there isn’t much of documented history of Raja Madho Singh (if it is, then not known too much). When there is no proper documentation, then there is every possibility of additions and subtractions in the orals history that passes from generations to generations. History of ruining of Bhangarh has gone through that. Stories of haunt refer to Ratnavati but whereas some people say that she was Madho Singh’s daughter while other say she was Madho SIngh’s wife. In any case, there are two different stories of ruining of Bhangarh and only one can be true  and in that race the juicer story of Princess Ratnavati holds the fort. That says that fort ruined due to curse of a black magician (tantrik) who was in love with Ratnavati. I don’t want to detail any of the stories as they are everywhere on the net.

This Canatoph on the hilltop adjacent to ruins is said to be in memory of the black magician who cursed Bhangarh.
This Canatoph on the hilltop adjacent to ruins is said to be in memory of the black magician who cursed Bhangarh.

The Bhangarh story is more of abandonment and neglect. The palace was said to be seven storied, whose three stories are completely lost. Rest of it is in ruins and in danger of further irreparable damage due to influx of tourists and bad handling of the property. ASI is probably doing nothing than opening and closing the gates at schedule times. Whole property is left to hundreds of selfie-crazy and haunt-fancied tourists with no sight of any guards anywhere. Inside the palace, there are no signages, boards or information boards. This is further ruining the property which at some point of time in history would have been a glorious one. See the images below-

One of the more intact structures in Bhangarh complex is the Gopinath Temple but ironically it has lost its main idol to the thieves. This is a Krishna temple (hence the name Gopinath). Perhaps the theft of the main statue prompted authorities to be more stringent.

Gopinath Temple
Gopinath Temple

There are some stories about Princess Ratnavati being a devotee of Lord Krishna. But the main temple courtyard had something to do with dance & music, I presume; as the roof of the hall just outside the sanctorum is decorated with some beautiful statues of musicians. You can see it for yourself-

There are some other carvings too, resembling to other temple structures of north India, just like this one-

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Another intriguing structure is right behind this Gopinath temple which local people say was place for cremation or burial (different stories!). Any such place inside the palace and that too so close to a temple is a rarity.

Cremation place!
Cremation place!

Another interesting fact about this place (palace) is a large number of aromatic Pandanus fascicularis (commonly Kewra or केवड़ा) plants which fill the air with a natural fragrance.

Pandanus fascicularis (Kewra)
Pandanus fascicularis (Kewra)

This place is still worth a visit for all those interested in history, architecture, forts, palaces… and in those things, this palace is known for. Not bad even, just to travel and see a new place, but always travel responsibly.

Internet is also strewn with many accounts of people who suffered when they tried to stay in the palace in night. All of them are mere hearsay, with no real account from anybody with a personal experience. As a proof of paranormal activities in this fort, people foolishly also indicate the ASI board which says that nobody should stay here after sunset. But as far as I know, most the ASI controlled forts and other properties in country open only from sunrise to sunset or within fixed timings. Nowhere one is allowed to stay in night. It also is meant to deter all those who want to extract something more out of it- some stories, some weird experiences and some pieces of history, et.al.

How, when and where:

Bhangarh is located in Alwar District of Rajasthan. You can go here from either Jaipur, Dausa or Alwar. It is close to Sariska National Park and Tiger Reserve. Tehla gate of the Sariska reserve is just 20 kms from here. But normally tourists use main Sariska gate for the tiger reserve which is almost 50 kms from Bhangarh. People coming to Sariska will always like to go to Bhangarh for a half day trip. (Please write to us for detailed road instructions.) Jaipur is roughly 80 kms and Alwar on the other side is also the same around 80 kms from here.

Avoid going there in summers as it will be too hot. Since this place is witnessing steady increase in influx of tourists, small level hotels and restaurants are coming up at Bhangarh village and other nearby villages on the route. But they are still to develop good value. You can always try some local food in the region.

(Any queries? Please write to us.)