It is difficult to imagine something dreamier than cycling gently through the travel wonder of Keoladeo Ghana National Park. The main road (vehicle-free except for rickshaws and bikes, both available for rent) cuts through the middle of a large lake with surrounding wetlands and forests. Smaller paths allow exploration for the more than 220 resident bird species and 140 migrants along with various deer, wild boar, civets and other small animals.
Sandwiched in India’s golden triangle of Delhi, the famed pink city of Jaipur and the home of the Taj Mahal (Agra), Bharatpur makes for a superb one day excursion.
Now a UNESCO-listed world heritage site, its existence is owed to the Maharaja of Bharatpur who did not share the same conservation values. This parkland was deliberately flooded to attract birds so that the maharaja could ensure a consistent supply of waterbirds for the regal dining table or to issue much sought-after invitations to a day of duck shooting. A monument inscribed with bag counts attest to the incredible success of both the design of the park as a bird sanctuary and the maharaja and his friends as sharp-shooters. The most “successful” single day witnessed the shooting of over 5,000 ducks and partridges.
Today, Keoladeo is a bird paradise simply teeming with owls, vultures, kingfisher, ducks, herons, egrets, storks, ibises, spoonbills, cormorants and bee-eaters all exuberantly mating, nesting, feeding, flapping and fluttering around the lakes, grasslands and trees. The cacophony of sounds ranges from the highest pitched tuneful chirps to deep-throated squawks.
Though our party never saw one, the pin-up bird is the rare and highly endangered Siberian Crane which migrates here with a flight of over 6,400 kilometres (4,000 miles) to avoid the savagery of the East Russian winter. Easier to spot creeping around the reeds are the towering Saras Cranes at around human-height with scarlet red heads, yellow beaks and steel blue bodies
For those that, like me, can’t tell the difference between a babbler and a warbler, a guide with a rickshaw is a worthwhile investment. They tend to know where the various nests are and can point out a wide variety of the more interesting birdlife. Once you have your bearings, swap the rickshaw for a bicycle, or simply walk. Take time to simply wander the small pathways or sit near one of the lakes and enjoy the antics of the waterbirds tending to their day’s business. An electric-blue kingfisher stalked his prey for fifteen minutes before proudly producing a small grasshopper – he seemed aware of his small but appreciative audience!
So add Keoladeo Ghana National Park to your Indian itinerary, considered by many as the finest bird travel wonder in the world.
Sadly, Bharatpur is undergoing a severe drought with all the available water being used for the farmers and none being diverted into the national park. A number of news articles reference the difficulty that the park is currently experiencing.