StarGazing near Delhi
Astronomy inside books or on YouTube is one thing. A rendezvous with the stars, at a remote location under the clear sky, is a totally different experience! Thanks to a friend who is quite into astronomy, we set out to a campsite close to Delhi for our star-gazing nightout on 22nd April, 2018.
Stargazing near Delhi : What, Where, How?
The prime purpose of being at the camp was to observe meteors originating from a constellation named Lyra. April Lyrids are meteor showers occurring between April 16-26. The radiant of the meteor shower is located in the constellation Lyra. On April 22 this year, which is usually the time when peak of the meteor shower is attained, the constellation Lyra rose from the Eastern Sky at about 11:00 pm.
Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and summer Milky Way were also predicted to be visible, along with a rich cluster of stars and nebulae. Equipment used for the observations were one 10″ dobsonion made by AAAD during a telescope making workshop earlier this summer, 8″ dobsonion made during last year workshop and 4″ refractor with Celestron Advanced CG-5 mount for astro-photography. Attendees could bring DSLR cameras and their own telescopes.
The campsite, The Maria’s Braveheart, was located close to Gotoli, Rajasthan, about 10 km from Bhiwadi, and closer to Patan Kalan village. The village is situated in Tijara municipality of Alwar district. Maria’s Braveheart is an eco-camp site mainly for school children’s outdoor camping, but also used by large groups for specific activities like stargazing. My friend and i took an Ola Outstation rental cab, which cost around Rs. 3,155/ – for the round trip. Will discuss more details on getting to the camp in the next section.
The accommodation for close to 45 people was arranged by site manager Nilanjana, who was prompt and helpful with advice. Per person cost was Rs. 1,500/- including tent accommodation and food (welcome snacks, dinner, breakfast). The scheduled time to arrive for the group was 5:00 pm on Saturday evening.
Stargazing near Delhi: Reaching the Camp Site Maria’s Braveheart
If you are looking for the exact coordinates of the location, here they are: 28.045606, 76.880928 Getting the camp site on Google Maps by it’s name was a bit tough, so the coordinates helped. Mobile network may be a little patchy in the area – it was wise to download an offline Map. The village Patan Kalan lies in Tijara municipality of Alwar district in Rajasthan, India.
From Delhi, we took National Highway 48 towards Jaipur via a stop in Gurgaon, at HUDA City Centre Metro, in Sector 29. From here, the distance to the camp site was about 71 kms. We had extra miles at the end of the round trip, which were utilized for some sightseeing!
Toll had to be paid at Rajasthan Border (next to a popular south Indian food chain, Rao’s) for both onwards and return trips, as we had an overnight stay and the return journey would be the next day.
For food enroute, one could stop at McDonalds in Manesar, just off the highway. During heavy evening traffic, it took us 1.5 hours to reach the final destination.
So basically this was the route followed to reach Patan Kalan, just before Gotoli:
- Delhi-Jaipur Expressway (National Highway 48) from Delhi-Gurgaon
- Papari Road from Bhiwadi onwards
- Taking left into Patan Kalan Road, right after Gailpur/Gelpur Masjid (Mosque)\
The ride itself was hassle-free, as the Ola cab driver was quite cooperative. It was a girls only trip, and safety-wise too we had no issues. The camp managers had arranged for the driver’s meal and stay as well.
Stargazing near Delhi: Camping at the Maria’s Braveheart
We had good quality tents to our disposal in the grassy front yard. At night, few structures were visible, but the venue was quite pleasant and i don’t recall encountering mosquitoes to say the least 🙂
See the night view and day-light view of the tent in the picture below!
Clean, comfortable and convenient sums up the place – and the tents! Food was decent, with an India buffet-like spread and sweet dishes. The staff also served tea throughout the stay and during the observation.
As for the facilities, there was one huge bathroom. A couple of smaller toilets. For a short stay that was ok since most of the group members left early morning, so no one had to take a bath. But for a longer stay this may not be sufficient with a larger group. They did have an auxiliary block in case of larger footfall.
The location with a clear sky was a much needed respite from the polluted air of Delhi-NCR. And needless to say, ideal for setting up astronomical observations!
I saw Jupiter and Saturn at close to 11:30 pm and Lyrid meteor shower was observed around 3:30 am.
On the way back, during the day, i could spot Aravalli Hills in the distance from Patan Kalan road. The surroundings were rural and charming in their own little ways. You can find cattle, open fields and village folk along side the road!
Sightseeing in Tijara
Maria’s Braveheart eco-camp also offers avenues for spotting bird. If you make all the effort to reach the campsite, few more hours can be used for exploring Tijara and Jain Temple. If you like touristy accommodation, book a stay at Neemrana’s Tijara Fort Palace. It is not possible to see the Fort without prior booking and is located ~23 km from the camp site.
A lesser known cousin of the famous heritage hotel Neemrana Fort Palace in Alwar, the 19th Century Tijara fort has over 71 suites. Most visitors prefer to arrive during the day time, as the remote location has rugged roads for over 1 km.
Other venues for Stargazing near Delhi
There are several weekend getaways from Delhi which are suited for stargazing and astronomical observations. A major upcoming venue is Astroport in Sariska Tiger Reserve. Also located in Alwar district, it is a 130 km drive from Maria’s Braveheart. Astroport is India’s first astro-resort, close to Aravalli Hills. This is a luxurious camping facility and there are guides for budding astronomers as well. Astroport also happens to be in the 2nd most darkest region in India.
A good way to locate ideal stargazing sites is through the “Dark Site Finder” light pollution map. Mostly Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan are the popular regions for this purpose, where you will find most of the astronomy enthusiasts are headed!
Other options could be slightly far off compared to Alwar in Rajasthan, but you could still make it from Delhi:
- Spiti Valley (750 km from Delhi)
- Nubra Valley, Leh Ladakh
- Taregna in Bihar, far from Delhi, but this is the place where ancient Astronomer Aryabhatta used to count stars!
- Jaisalmer-Bikaner in Rajasthan
- Chail in Himachal Pradesh (350 km)
To conclude, i found Astroport and Maria’s Braveheart quite conveniently Located. If you would like contact details of the camp site where i stayed, drop an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy astro site-hunting! 🙂