Keoladeo national park for years has been blessed with a wide array of animals and avifauna. The park of 29 sq km boasts a staggering bird count of close to 400 species of indigenous as well as migratory feathered life forms. Whoever enters the park is welcomed with a medley of bird calls and the sights of massive congregations of ducks, geese, storks, pelicans and many other waders, gracefully partaking in a feeding frenzy. Not only do you see the sheer numbers in waterfowl species but you also have a great chance to spot Cuckoos, Drongos, Warblers, Vultures, Wheatears, Shrikes, Pipits, Eagles, Owls and Eagle Owls. It is indeed a birder’s paradise. There are plenty of reasons why most tourists visit Bharatpur. But first…
A Brief History of Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary
Formerly known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, Keoladeo National Park is considered as one of the top birding destinations in the world. It is the natural depressions in the ground that forms vital catchment area for monsoon waters. This observation led the then Maharaja of Bharatpur (Maharja Suraj Mal) to create more dykes and canals that would ensure that the birds were there to stay for a considerable time. The position of this sanctuary became a crucial pit stop for many migrants that used South Asia as passage. It had all the favourable conditions in terms of the weather and the availability of food. This made it the perfect ‘Traveler’s Inn’ for the many migrants, as it served a buffet of irresistible plankton and aquatic vegetation round the clock. It was only a matter of time that this eden tucked between in a semi-arid region soon became shooting reserve for the Maharaja of Bharatpur. The birds of Bharatpur and many winter migrants were subjected to the royal hunting which drastically decreased their numbers. It was in 1956, that the Maharaja decided to protect this reserve as a bird Sanctuary, however that did not stop the shooting. To resurrect the bird population in park, the government also took certain measures and elevated Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary to ‘Keoladeo National Park’ (based on a Lord Shiva temple situated in the park) in 1982. Three years later it was declared as the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Though the park had received a guardian angel in the form of official protection, it was still prone to the impending threat of drought as the rivers that fed the park had been barricaded with a dam. This had consequentially stopped the perennial supply of water to the park and instead began to favour hectares of agricultural land, leading the park to turn into a barren dryland.
It was in recent years, after receiving much critical acclaim, that NGOs nudged the government to find solutions to tackle the water crisis faced by the park. They released the water from the Panchana Dam and also created a pipeline from the Chambal river to ensure that the wetlands wouldn’t go dry and continue to provide a steady haven for life present in the national park.
Now coming to why one must visit this treasure of nature.
1. It’s a Birder’s Paradise
With approximately 400 species of countless birds, it is one of the top ten places in India if you would like to engage in a birding watching tour. Whether you look left or right, the national park has birds galore. The diversity of waders, geese, ducks and storks makes it a vital birding hotspot. A place where bird nerds can come and check off their bucket list of species they’ve always longed to see. Keoladeo is a thriving national park and it’s the sightings and activity here that make it an exciting prospect for any visitor. One can see Marsh Harriers swooping down at incredible speeds, trying to catch an oblivious Eurasian Coot, the park also has roosting sites on top of a trees for Dusky Eagle Owls. Islands in the midst of bogs become jostling sites for many water birds to establish nesting site rights. Along the walking trails, lined with reed beds, you might even see a Cinnamon or a Black Bittern skulking about, staring intently at the water, trying to catch is prey. The park has so much to offer that wherever you are, there is something happening. If you have the right guide and open your senses to the surroundings, you can easily tune in to such fascinating sightings of the national park.
Imagine yourself soaring over Bharatpur having attained a bird’s eye view. And for a moment while you were gliding through the sky, you looked down, you would probably witness the most splendid tapestry of habitats, interweaving into one another. Keoladeo is park that has grasslands, wetlands, woodlands and scrubland spread across its area of 29 sq km. The title ‘Ghana’ meaning dense, does more than justice this green oasis. It is this remarkably versatile landscape that has become increasingly inviting for guided bird watching and is also considered as one of the top destinations for birding in India. From misty winter mornings to silhouette shots of birds flying in the sunset, there is no better place to watch birdlife unfurl.
3. Cycle Rickshaws and Boating
When one isn’t walking, there are ways to transverse the park that is effortless and eco-friendly. Cycling through park, whether it’s on a rickshaw or riding by yourself, is a silent yet effective way to cover the park. It has the comfort and pace to help you navigate through the trails and its presence leaves the wildlife unperturbed. This not only gives the viewer ample time to engage in bird watching but also gives you the luxury of riding through national park, which very few permit. If the cycle ride alone isn’t enough to captivate your senses, then a boat ride through the canals of the park will most certainly do the trick. You would enjoy your day slowly drifting under green canopies, watching the dappling light falling through and listening to soothing bird calls. If that doesn’t put your mind in a state of absolute bliss, we don’t know what will.
4. Not just Birds
Apart from birds, the park has a plethora of fauna and flora. Sights of wild pigs burying their snout in the mud, Cheetal (Spotted Deers) giving alarm calls for jackals on the prowl, roving males of Nilgai or Bluebulls galloping across the wetlands are some you may come across. The park also has smaller mammals like the Grey Mongoose searching for nests to feed on eggs and civets such as Palm Civets as well as the elusive Small Indian Civet which are nocturnal. Rhesus Macaques leaping from tree to tree trying to establish their territory and troops and during the heat of the day, around sunlit areas you might even find reptiles such as Common Cobras, Indian Rock Pythons, and Monitor Lizards basking in the sun to regulate their body temperature.
5. Close proximity to Major Cities
Another reason why one should definitely visit Bharatpur is the proximity it has to the major cities of North India. Nestled at the base of the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur) one can even include this in their itinerary as a bird watching trip. For tourists, it is also serves as a centre to visit the monumental sights of Agra, Jaipur, Fatehpur Sikhri. With Ranthambore and the Chambal River (Dholpur) also nearby, it leaves birders and nature enthusiasts with plenty to explore. It is the ideal hub if one would like to indulge in not only sightseeing but also immerse themselves in one of the many wonders of nature.
A Few more things to keep in Mind
Best Time to Visit Bharatpur
The best time to visit the park for resident birds is between August to November and if one wants see passage migrants then December to March is ideal. However, if one visits during winter then they get the liberty to stay in the park longer as the weather is contusive for extensive excursions. Winter also creates an environment that is perfect for bird photography as the sun is far gentler on the eyes and the camera. Besides that, the morning mist that engulfs the woods calls for some of the most enchanting fairy tale like images.
Water Birds – Demoiselle Crane, Sarus Crane, Jacanas, , Pochards, Teals, Northen Shoveller, Garganey, Pelicans, Mallard, Greylag Goose, Spoon Bills, Darters, Northern Pin Tails, Grey Headed Swamp Hens and Common Moorhens
Raptors – Marsh Harriers, Greater and Indian Spotted Eagles, Imperial Eagle, Dusky Eagle Owl, Indian Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Tawny Eagle
Others – Larks, Pipits, Kingfishers (Common and White Throated), Indian Roller, Shrikes, Black Drongos, Green Bee Eaters, Golden Orioles, Common Mynas, Cuckoos, Wagtails
How To Reach Bharatpur
By Air:Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi (216 km), Jaipur International Airport in Jaipur (187 km) and Agra (56 km) are the closest airports. From both the airports, tourists can take a bus or a private taxi to reach Bharatpur.
By Road:An excellent network of roads connects Bharatpur to all the major cities of Rajasthan and the neighboring states like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana. Tourists will be easily able to get buses and taxis from Agra (56-kms), Delhi (184-kms) and Jaipur (176-kms).
- Fatehpur Sikri to Bharatpur – 19 Km
- Mathura to Bharatpur – 39 Km
- Agra to Bharatpur – 55 Km
- Alwar to Bharatpur – 103 Km
- Jaipur to Bharatpur – 183 Km
- Delhi to Bharatpur – 199 Km
By Train: If you are planning to travel by the railways, then tourists will have to deboard at Bharatpur Junction Railway station. It is an important station of the West Central Railway zone (WCR) and is well-connected with the major Indian cities like Delhi, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Mumbai, and others. The station is about 6 Km from the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary.