I saw my first photo (self) in the backdrop of Taj Mahal, the world famed UNESCO World Heritage site in the year 1959, at a young age of about 4 years. Who took this photograph and why? How did I reach Taj Mahal? I was told that one of my maternal uncles was getting married in Agra. That is how I was taken to attend the marriage and since marriage party used to stay for a minimum period of 2 days in those golden days, the guest used to spend their time in sight seeing and enjoying the delicious food. In fact, people used to visit different destinations on marriage occasions or for religious destinations when they grew old. In the present times, people have time and money to spend and visit lot many places.
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The next visit to Taj was in 1983 when I was a Probationer in the Customs and Central Excise Department and gone for an industrial visit to Agra. I went there once again in 1989 with my daughter and son. We have sweet memories through photographs taken on a film camera. After being posted out of Delhi for about 8 years, when I came back to Delhi in the year 2010, I came to know that state of Uttar Pradesh has allowed viewing of Taj Mahal in the moonlit night. Later on, it was gathered that it had stopped somewhere in 1998 and then public demand and Courts intervention it was again allowed from 28th November 2004 for 5 nights in a month including the full moon and two days before and two days after except Fridays and month of Ramzan.
My desire of seeing the Taj in the full moonlight was fulfilled in Nov 2010 but it was not an easy affair. As a photographer, I was in possession of Canon 1D Mark IV with a wide lens of 16-35mm. I had to go through a lot of hassles to enter the premises. I was asked ‘Is it a camera that you’re carrying or something else?’. Most of the staff deployed for security check was seeing this type of a camera for the very first time and there were security threats to the Taj Mahal. After satisfying the staff deployed at various locations, somehow, we faced the Taj from about more than 150 meters. The visit lasted for about 30 minutes. The weather was cloudy and after adjusting the ISO, I could take reasonable photographs as the tripod was not allowed inside.
Next day in the morning I entered the place again and clicked photographs in daylight from a different perspective. I was, still, not satisfied. In the afternoon, I got a way to go to opposite side of Taj, i.e. the north of Taj on the opposite bank of Yamuna river. In the afternoon, we covered the Fatehpur Sikri about 30 km, a place developed by Akbar and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Next day morning, I was in Mehtab Bagh, a garden developed about 300 years back. It is said that Mehtab Bagh is the ideal place to see Taj Mahal in the moonlit night. Although I could not avail that opportunity but I could visualize it. In fact, I was longing to shoot Taj in the wee hours but the weather ditched me again; instead of being a clear sunny morning, it was a bit foggy.
I remember I saw a pair of Egyptian Vulture, five to six bar-headed geese and a large number of cormorants on the Yamuna river bed opposite the Taj Mahal. Apart from architectural beauty at Taj, you may be lucky to see the winged beauties.
The guides, as well as the literature, tells you that Shah Jahan, the king who got Taj Mahal built in white marbles, was interested in building a similar structure on the opposite side of the river in black marble with a connecting bridge embedded with diamond and precious stones. However this will of his could not be fulfilled as he was imprisoned by his own son, Aurangzeb, and confined in the Agra Fort which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. From his imprisoned room he could his baby i.e. Taj. What a destiny?
There are 32 sites natural or man made in India which has been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One may not believe that 4 of them; 2 at Agra, 1 at Fatehpur Sikri and the 4th at Bharatpur (KEOLADEO National Park); are within the radius of 30 km. Any visitor interested in UNESCO sites may want to cover them in one go.
One of the most unique bird sanctuaries in India known as Keoladeo or Ghana bird sanctuary is a few hours’ drive from the capital of India, Delhi. Now the question is, what is so special about this place? First of all, it is one of the richest bird areas in the world. It enjoys fame as a nesting site for the resident as well as the migratory birds, including water birds. It is the nearest UNESCO natural world Heritage Sites to Delhi.
It is a fact that many of the parks in India have been developed from the hunting grounds of princely states. This park is the only one where the Maharajas created a lake as a safeguard against flood and draught. Later, in the beginning of 20th century, the lake was developed and divided into several portions. Further a system of dams, bandhs and sluice gates was developed to control water in different areas. It, thus, became the best duck hunting ground in the world.
It is a fact that migratory birds start arriving at different wetlands of the country from Central Asia by November as their habitat starts getting covered with snow and the food becomes scarce.
My daughter Nitya Goel Aggarwal and son in law Kaushal Aggarwal expressed their desire to visit the well-known bird sanctuary in Bharatpur as both of them had not visited it in the past. Even my grandson Ayaan Agarwal, who is hardly 5 years old, told me, “Nanu, I would go for a jungle walk’. I could not say no as I too was excited to be amidst nature and enjoy the beauty of birds at Bharatpur; I was to observe it after more than a year. The last time I visited Bharatpur was in Oct 2014.
During my morning stay for about 4 hours, I could have a bird count of 44 species. Not bad considering the fact that not even a single winter migratory bird had arrived.