ON THE ROAD TO AGRA the air was foggy and seasoned with cook-fire smoke.
KEOLADEO GHANA NATIONAL PARK and bird sanctuary at Bharatpur
This World Heritage Site, once-arid scrubland, was first developed by the Bharatpur rulers in the mid-18th century by diverting the waters of a nearby irrigation canal to create a private duck preserve. Extravagant shooting parties for viceroys and other royal guests were held, with horrifying numbers of birds (up to 4,000) shot in a single day. That ended in 1964. Today, the park is closed to motor vehicles, spreads over eleven square miles of wetlands, and attracts a wide variety of migrant and water birds. Usually. Because the monsoons have been weak for the last two years, water is again being pumped into the park, and it is still too dry for the usual boat rides. Bicycle rickshaws were out in force on the paths, however, and we loaded up and went to see what we could see: a serpent eagle, purple heron, boa constrictor, wild boar, yellow kingfisher, gray heron, graylag goose, spoonbill, and spotted-bill something. A modest good time was had, and we rounded off the morning with a pleasant meal served outdoors.
UTTAR PRADESH STATE
We crossed the border into a different state along the historic Grand Trunk Road, otherwise known as the Silk Route. Some of the watering holes along the two-lane highway are still periodically marked with large monuments that date back one-thousand years.
Southwest of Agra is the deserted Mughal city of Fatehpur Sikri, a sprawling complex of forts, palaces and mosques built of red sandstone in 1571. It served as the regional capitol for only twelve years before being abandoned, apparently due to a lack of water. The city is in excellent condition architecturally, kept quite spotlessly clean, and guarded by relentless battalions of very aggressive hawkers with all sorts of tourist-y items.