Photo by: Dr. A.K Mukherjee

BHARATPUR, RAJASTHAN, INDIA.

Keoldeo National Park: Earlier known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary.

FILE FACT: KEOLDEAO NATIONAL PARK.

Status: UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Locale: Bharatpur, Rajasthan, India.
Renowned for: Bird watching and photography.
Bird count: 398 species on last count.

Shedding a violent past of savage bloodlust and slaughter, this erstwhile hunting reserve of kings and high ranking British officials has traversed the path of redemption since becoming a National Park in 1982 and a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985.

Each winter, aviators in squadrons and pairs flock to its protected shores to feed and breed – undisturbed by the guns that brought down thousands of their ancestors for sport as late as 1965 – in what is possibly the world’s largest congregation of birds at one spot. Earlier known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, the Keoladeo National Park (named after an old Shiva temple in 1981) is universally referred to as Ghana (meaning thick) in the local dialect, indicative of the dense jungle that is to be found here.

How the wetland came to be.

The wetland of the 29 kilometer National Park makes-up two thirds of its size, the rest being shared by woodland and dry grassland. During the Indian Monsoon the wetland reaches its zenith while hot and dry seasons barely leaves 10 km submerged.

Originally, a natural depression that filled up with seasonal rainwater, the wetland of the National Park owes its existence to the astute genius of a 17th century Indian king remembered by history as Suraj Mal.

King Suraj Mal, in an attempt to protect his beloved city of Bharatpur from the swelled waters of the rivers Ghambir and Banganga (during the floods) had built an earthen weir in the vicinity that eventually led to the creation of the present day swamp.

Official hunting reserve of the British Raj.

In 1900, the water contained in the weir was used to supplement the monsoon fill and turn the seasonal waterfowl hunting ground into an ecology supportive wetland (see Farbound.Net snippet on wetlands: What a sick planet dreams of) and an officially declared all season hunting reserve inaugurated by the British Viceroy Lord Curzon.

Eminent British personalities who hunted at Bharatpur include the Viceroy Lord Curzon (1899–1905), the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow (1887–1952), and the British Field Marshal, Lord Kitchner (1902-09).

Who goes there.

The Keoldeao National Park is one of the most visited sanctuaries in North India. Besides the winter months that draws in the highest percentage of visitors, ornithologists and avifauna enthusiasts in general, it is not uncommon to find holiday makers and photographers, here through out the year. The park is also popular for those looking to unwind, far from the bustle of the cities – though summers and autumn can get unbearably hot.

Getting there.

The National Park is situated 50 km from the city of Agra (approximate driving time: 1 hour); 184 km from the city of Delhi (approximate driving time: 3 hours); 185 km from the city of Jaipur (approximate driving time: 3 hours); 103 km from Alwar (approximate driving time: 2 hours); and 39 km from Mathura (approximate driving time: 30-40 minutes).

The National Park can also be reached via bus and rail from Jaipur, Agra, Alwar, Mathura and Delhi. The nearest airport is at Agra.

Avifauna.

During the hibernal winter season, an estimated 398 species of birds have been spotted within the borders of the National Park mingling with the other resident wildlife covering reptiles, 27 species of mammals and 47 species of aquatic life including fresh water turtles.

Birds recorded by ornithologists include: Lesser Whistling Duck.  Black Francolin. Grey Francolin. Spot Billed Duck. Oriental Darter. Barred Buttonquail. Black Capped Kingfisher. Little owlEurasian Wryneck. Brown Capped Woodpecker. Yellow Crowned Woodpecker. White throated Kingfisher. Marbled Teal. Greater White-Fronted Goose. Lesser White-Fronted Goose. Eurasian Wigeon. Mallard. Red Crested Pochard. Common Marganser. Yellow Legged Buttonquail. Eurasian Eagle-Owl. Pale-backed Pigeon. Spotted Dove. Lesser Florican. Demoiselle Crane. Brown Crake. Baillon’s Crake.

For the complete list click on Avibase & Birds of India. 

Best season for visiting.

While the Keoladeo National Park is open year around and can be visited in any season, winter usually wins the maximum number of votes by inbound tourists, bird watchers, photographers and ornithologists  – as this is the season when the park echoes with the songs and calls of its star attraction: the numerous migratory and resident birds.

The cold weather also makes it easier to explore the park and the wildlife on foot, via gentle boat rides, environmentally friendly rickshaws or in jeeps.

The Shiva temple with its turtle residents and the sight of rock pythons stretched out under the sun at python point are a few of the other attractions awaiting visitors.

  • Travel tip

Rickshaws offer an environment friendly and pleasurable way to tour the park.Trained by the forest department,the rickshaws drivers can at times be excellent guides.