SULTANPUR, NEAR GUARGAON, HARYANA, INDIA.

Sultanpur National Park.

When Peter Jackson, an avid ornithologist, first discovered the site, it was just another inconsequential water filled ditch, in the great North Indian plains. That filled up due to seasonal water logging, irritating tired travelers hesitant to get their feet wet and a local hunting spot for huntsmen out to bring home a bagful of game meat. Today, nurtured by the Haryana State Government, it is the replica of an Indian jungle and a heaven for birds.

FACT FILE: SULTANPUR NATIONAL PARK.

Status: National Park.
Locale: Sultanpur, Haryana, India.
Popular for: Bird watching and picnics.
Bird count: 250 species, last count.

In winters, when the sun is a zero powered blip in a post apocalyptic grey sky and the wind is still, the Sultanpur National Park can be a wonderful little reminder of a world that lost its significance in the rush to build a concrete one. Protected behind fences,

the 352 acres natural landscape with its shallow marshland and dense growth of dry deciduous woodland is a charming portrait of the Indian jungle that one can explore alone and on foot without having to plan out a detailed expedition. On weekdays, when the level of holidaymakers is at its lowest ebb, it can also be an ideal place to spend the day, whether you be an ornithologist, an amateur bird gazer or a passer by in need of a much needed mental relaxation.

“The Haryana State Government wasn’t content leaving the bird reserve as they found it.”

Birds were plentiful and the land around the wetland fertile. What if it could be turned into a tourist spot for bringing in some much needed revenue? Investing in manpower, flora and fauna they redesigned the landscape into a jungle park for bird watching and families looking for a little recreation.

The bank of the lake at this time of the year is a canvas of somber tones that blend into each other in an easy and non invasive way. Trees filled with leaves that are green year round stand with interlocked branches creating a beautiful display of light and darkness in the shadow of their canopy.

Where the trees become sparse, thick marsh vegetation take over. Huddled close to each other they hide from view pot holes of water and muddy puddles, till you are standing at the every edge. Here on the shores, there are plenty of dry patches for you to be a part of the tranquility. And if you are still enough, there is a good chance a hog deer foraging for food will pass you by with cautious steps – uninterested in your presence if you do not alarm it with sudden movements.

Snakes are common in the area but during the cold season, and being the cold blooded reptiles they are, most will prefer to remain coiled up in the warmth of their deep earth burrows than venture out to scare the living daylights out of you. There is a ribbon of a road that spreads out in opposite directions. Paved with simple bricks and running in an irregular arch, the path makes for a good way to explore the park and keep your bearing.

The Mittals, business tycoons based in the UK, own a country house right in the vicinity and following the path on the right will give you a partial view of the premises. There are no large predators here that you need to be wary of and in your wanderings you are likely to meet the robust north Indian domesticated cattle, Neilgais, hog deer and naturally a bevy of birds that the park is famous for.

Sultanpur wasn’t always a bird heaven. 18 kilometers to the North, existed a larger lake in a place known as Najagragh. Birds flocked to the ecological wetland every winter till in the early years of the 1960’s Delhi’s flood control department had it drained. Deprived of their original winter resort, the birds in numbers came home to Sultanpur and took up residence. Peter Jackson, the ornithologist who discovered the place and persuaded the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi into declaring the area as a protected bird sanctuary wrote:

I had a great time for the next eight years, and, was there frequently. It was then a plain sheet of water, with no mounds or trees as there are today. Further on, across a railway line, was another large jheel on the right, quite good for birds, but I think that has gone now.

– Peter Jackson

The origin.

Sultanpur Bird Reserve was created in 1972 and declared a National Park in 1989. The area was initially a plain sheet of water (as described by Peter Jackson, the ornithologist who first realized the potential of the site as a bird reserve) till the Haryana State Government in an attempt to improve tourism in the area, redesigned the landscape and turned it into a miniature Indian Jungle – seeded with trees, benches, watch towers and a paved road that allows for easy movement. The blue bull (Neilgai) and the hog deer are two among the non indigenous species of mammals that has been introduced in the region. Tube wells are also an additional feature to maintain the water level in the hot summer seasons. Presently the sanctuary is under the care of the Haryana Forest Department and sprawls over 352 acres.

Getting there.

The National Park is 15 kilometers from the city of Gurgaon connected via the Gurgaon-Farrukh Nagar road. Visitors will need to turn right from Rajiv Chawk (in Gurgaon) and head straight down the one lane highway. The park is located on the left. A little farther down is the Rosy Pelican Guesthouse. Identification papers such as a passport or a voter’s ID is not a necessity but may come handy.

Avifauna.

Sultanpur harbors both migratory and resident birds.  Since the draining of the larger ecological reserve at Najafgarh in 1962, the inconsequential water filled ditch, nurtured by the Haryana Forest Department has grown into a recognizable wetland of its own and continuously attracted a large percentage of birds.

Out of the 250 species of birds recorded within the park are the Common kingfisher. Darter. Malabar Pied Hornbill. House Swift. Little Heron. Great Egret. Emerald Dove. Montagu’s Harrier. Himalayan Flame Back. Jungle Babbler. Scaly Thrush. Green Shank. White tailed lap wing. Plain Prinia. Great White Pelican. Rock Bush Quail. White Billed Minivet. Oriental Honey Buzzard. Redstart. Osprey. Golden Plover. Caspian Tern. Tufted Pochard. Lesser White Throat.

For the complete list click on Avifauna at Sultanpur.

Facilities.

There is a well maintained lawn and picnic tables for lunches upfront. The main gate opens into the parking area which is a modest one. Public toilets are present at the extreme end of the parking lot. Upon entry there is an information centre with a selective list of reptiles, birds and mammals that you might find worth reading about before venturing in farther. There is also a small room containing photos taken by India’s celebrated birdman Salim Ali.

A souvenir shop can be found right near the gate next to the ticket counter. The National Park also provides guides and spotting scopes if required. There are four watch towers located within the park. However, the staircase has a steep incline and narrow at places – making them difficult to use.

Walking distance away and adjacent to the sanctuary is the Rosy Pelican Guesthouse where you can stay the night or drop in for meals. The dinning hall is near to the entrance and comes with a bar. Toilets are located right behind the dinning hall.

Gearing up.

A powerful binocular and camera with telephoto lens will come handy as many of the species roost in distant parts of the lake. In winters, warm jackets, monkey caps and pullovers are essential as it can get very cold out in the open. In summers a wide brim hat helps block out the sun.

Visit.

Sultanpur National Park is closed on every Tuesday. Entry is permitted from 9:00 am in the morning till 4:30 pm in the evening. Photographers and ornithologists who wish to enter the premises before 9:00 am require special permission from the office of the divisional wildlife officer located in Gurgaon, a day before. The sanctuary can be visited in any season though touring the park in the months of summer can be a sweltering experience.

Recommended months for visiting.

December to February. The park can get crowded on weekends as families from nearby cities come in for a bit of relaxation and finding accommodations can be difficult at the adjacent tourist complex. The park charges a separate fee for every single camera. On January 2014, fee charged per camera amounted to Rs. 25 each.