Keoladeo National Park, commonly known as Bharatpur is India’s best-known bird sanctuary. It is also a world heritage site. This mixed woodland, wetland, scrub and grass forest spreads over nearly 30 square kilometres and is home to about 400 species of birds – some that are from India and most others that make a stopover on their migratory journeys.
With its paved walkways, trained cycle-rickshaw pulling guides, cycling tracks and a lot of ‘easy to approach birds’ – Bharatpur sanctuary is a bird watcher’s dream-come-true. If you are lucky, you can spot over a 100 species of birds on a good day. All you need is a pair of sharp eyes, though binoculars are a big help too, and patience.
The rare Siberian cranes used to inhabit this park in winters, but the last time they were spotted were several years ago. It is widely believed that the species is now extinct.
Paradoxically, this present haven of the feathered beauties was an erstwhile hunting ground for the maharajas of Bharatpur, and elaborate shoots were organised every year for the British viceroys by the royals.
The park’s strategic location in the Gangetic Plain bestows upon it the honour of being an unparalleled breeding site for a variety of birds including cormorants, storks and herons. The Common Teal, Comb Duck, Indian Shag, Open Billed Stork, Painted Stork, White Spoonbill, Ibis, Sarus and several others make a home here.
Among the land birds, warblers, bee-eaters, partridges, buntings, quails, and many other species can be easily spotted. Peregrine, Tawny eagle, osprey, Crested Serpent-eagle etc are the birds of prey that spot the skies in Bharatpur.
If you are lucky, as I was, you will be able to spot wolves, jackals and jungle cats too.
The park opens from sunrise to sunset around the year, though the best time to go is from November to March – for that’s when the ‘foreign visitors’ come to Bharatpur.
Text and images by Aarti Kapur Singh