Deeg was not on the cards originally, not until we found we had time to spare in Bharatpur on a warm summer day in March some years ago.
Approaching noon, Tom and Anne had gone in search of the Indian Courser the bird-watching guide had promised to show them, disappearing from view along a rutted path that led off the narrow road meandering through the bird sanctuary while we waited under a Peepal tree watching a Tree Pie, its distinctive whites on the tail having betrayed its presence in the lush foliage it shared with a noisy Jungle Babbler unhappy at being abandoned by its six sisters, and an inquisitive Red Vented Bulbul that would turn its head at an impossible angle from time to time to ensure we were up to no mischief, straightening up each time I caught its eye accusingly.
The birds of Bharatpur, I would soon learn, left nothing to chance. With water scarce they could be excused their discretion.
Upon returning to the hotel for lunch halfway through the day following a fulfilling bird-watching trail in the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary it was suggested we try Deeg, the former capital of the Jat kings of the Bharatpur princely state, and under an hour’s drive from Bharatpur along the way to Alwar in Rajasthan.
On learning the palace at Deeg was worth going miles to see, we needed no further convincing and braced for the bumpy ride to Deeg, a little over 35 kms. away.
The road to Alwar cut through open fields, the landscape alternating between the green of standing crop, the driver pointing them out to be Sarson, and the grey of tilled earth awaiting sowing or one recently harvested.
“The Kharif season is a particularly busy time,” the driver explained, his eyes peeled out for tractors laden with sacks of potatoes rumbling past. “Typically Bajra, Jowar, Udad, Til, Moong, Chaura, and Makkai are planted in the Kharif season, though Makkai is not as favoured as the rest.
We passed more tractors ferrying potatoes piled high, often hearing them before they rumbled into view.
“Rabi usually sees Sarson planted though some farmers will plant potatoes and wheat while others will plant Masoor Dal.”
The number of tractors, and trucks transporting potatoes, a long line queuing up outside a storage facility in one particular instance, suggested that potatoes vied with Sarson as the preferred Rabi crop. The distinctive yellow flowers of the Sarson Ka crop lent the ubiquitous green a dash of sprite.
“Along with Sarson, farmers will plant green peas, and Chana, crops that need less water, requiring watering a mere 4-5 times. And usually it rains that much in the winter anyway,” he concluded.
The road to Deeg saw little traffic, made up almost entirely of tractors and trucks ferrying potatoes, and camels carting cattle feed along, their bulging loads chaffing under invisible constraints, inflating the bulbous loads further until the cart-load of feed swelled like a humungous water belly.
The camels nevertheless carried on gamely.
The fields were set back from the road but not by much. If farmers were working the fields they were not easily visible from the road.
However, at many places the fields were dotted by dried dung cakes arranged in circular piles raised waist high, sometimes higher.
The dung cakes the women were stacking high were relatively large compared to those one might see stacked up roadside in Maharashtra or Karnataka, and interestingly they were usually accompanied by kraal-like circular straw structures with tapering roofs fashioned like a toupee using what appeared to be bamboo shoots strung together and covered in dried straw.
Not all roofs tapered, some were rounded, resembling split coconut shells upturned on the floor. Likewise, the shoots strung and strengthened using dung plaster were used in raising the circular walls where bricks were not used for the purpose.
On the roads in the north of India, no driving experience is complete without drivers astride the jugaad smiling and waving out to inquisitive travellers fairly half-way out the window at their first unexpected encounter with the jugaad, that signature improvisation of the pumpset engine, or the one sourced from a 350 CC Royal Enfield Bullet, and fashioned with wheels and a carriage hammered together at a local garage to transport villagers between population centers, its exposed entrails adding to its aura.
We passed many jugaads on our way to Deeg, and I cannot remember seeing any sporting a number plate. A sleeker alternative would've stuck out like a sore thumb in the rugged landscape.
Deeg lay ahead as the heritage of the Jats, and a chapter from India’s history, beckoned.
I lay back in the seat and watched the landscape saunter by as the road slipped between the wheels ever so slowly.
1. Bharatpur's Wandering Waterhen.