Known for one of the world’s seven wonders, Taj Mahal, Agra attracts a huge number of tourists every year. While one indulges in the beauty of Taj and other forts and museums around, short detours from Agra can also be up a traveller’s mind. From wildlife sanctuaries to lakes and temples, these places around Agra make for the perfect, short and beautiful experience.
Soor Sarovar & Wildlife SOS
Just 26km from Agra in the direction of Mathura is the Soor Sarovar Bird Sanctuary. Drive along a babul flanked forested path to reach the Keetham Lake on your left. Winters are a brilliant time to see migratory birds. On the right of the lake, a small path leads to a temple made in the memory of the blind poet, Sur Das, along the shimmering Yamuna. Even though it is difficult to spot many animals here, a peacock call and the rustle of leaves caused by monkeys jumping from one tree to another is a constant backdrop.
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While you’re here do stop over at Wildlife SOS, a rehabilitation centre for performing bears (an illegal practice that started at the time of the Mughals) – the centre houses more than 220 bears at present. You can even meet Rani, who came to the centre in 2002 and led the way for hundreds after her. You can spend a day here as a volunteer and see the well-managed facility and its workings at close quarters. If you are only visiting, it’s best to go during feeding times at 8am, noon and 4pm and watch the bears gorge on porridge, fruits and other goodies. Wildlife SOS also runs an elephant rescue centre 12km from here. The 14 chain-free residents are a delight to interact with. Do call and seek an appointment beforehand.
Chambal & Bateshwar Temple
The untamed Chambal Valley, once feared for its dacoits, is still a largely unexplored area. Today, you can experience birdwatching, river cruises and its rich cultural heritage, using as a base the peaceful Chambal Safari Lodge. Just 68km (an hour-and-a-half’s drive) from Agra, Mela Kothi and its stables were established as a field camp at Jarar in the late 1890s.
Today, the resort, a 20-minute drive from the National Chambal Sanctuary (NCS), is located within a 35-acre plantation of the original woodland, surrounded by extensive farms. The owners conduct trips across the region, among the best being the three-hour Chambal river safari that gently weaves its way through the NCS, providing visitors with spectacular views of the ravines as well as resident river life, including the endangered Gangetic dolphin, gharials, turtles and water birds. You can also visit the Sarus Crane Conservation Area, around 30km from the lodge. The blackbuck jeep safari is another worthwhile excursion, taking you southwest towards the Chambal ravines. It promises fantastic sightings of blackbuck and dry-land birds.
A short distance from Mela Kothi, sandwiched between the River Yamuna and the ravines, lies the ancient Bateshwar Temple Complex with more than a hundred gleaming white temples dedicated to Shiva (Bateshwar). The maha aarti, every full moon, is an enthralling experience. Bateshwar is also known for the annual cattle fair (the second largest in India) in October-November. A 2km drive from here is a serene Jain temple in Shouripur – the birthplace of the 22nd Tirthankara, Lord Neminath.