An hour drive from Agra and a few hours drive from Delhi and Jaipur is Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary or Keoladeo National Park (pronounced as Kevladev), one of India’s most pedestrian friendly national parks and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spread over 28 square kilometers, the national park was created in the 18th century by the Royal family of Bharatpur as their personal hunting grounds. Shooting rights of the royal family were abolished in 1972 and in the 1980s the area was fenced off by a brick wall to prevent farmers from grazing their cattle.
Indian Scops Owl
Part wetland and part grassland along with woodlands, Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is a bird haven especially during the winter months (October to March) when it sees visitors from as far as North America. With an abundance of fresh water, shrubs, grasses, trees, marshes and swamps, over 300 species of birds make Keoladeo their home. Many of these species are migratory and visit in big numbers as part of the annual winter migratory route.
Mammals too are abundant in the Park and include sambar and spotted deer, jackals, hyenas and jungle cat to name a few. In the warm winter sun, reptiles such as monitor lizard and Indian python can often be seen basking just off the pedestrian friendly tracks.
Needless to say, the best time to visit Keoladeo National Park is in the winter. The weather is perfect to explore the Park on foot or by renting a bicycle or if you’re not in the mood to burn calories then by rickshaws and golf carts (limited and generally reserved for VIPs). Rickshaws are manual non-motorized ones and driven by approved drivers. Many of the rickshaw drivers have been going up and down the tracks for years and have a fairly good command on their birds and also some words of English and other foreign languages. But that doesn’t mean you should not engage a guide.
A good guide that has previously been tried and tested definitely has more knowledge of the birdlife, carries a book on Indian birds and a scope or a pair of binoculars. A scope or binoculars is essential as the area is large and birds are not always seen up-close. We can arrange for an English speaking and experienced guide for you.
A sleepy Spotted Owlet at Sunrise
The Park opens its doors from sunrise to sunset. There is also an option to stay inside the park in the government run hotel however, the services provided are questionable and most chose to stay in one of the many private hotels and homestays within a few minutes drive from the Park’s entry.
Most people visit the Park early morning or in the afternoon till dusk. It is during these times that birds are most active giving you ample opportunity to see flocks of various species of ducks, storks, cranes, pelicans, rails etc. Park entry, rickshaw tickets and a guide can be purchased on the spot or online. Normally, a three hour visit is sufficient unless of course you’re an avid birdwatcher or photographer in which case we recommend you stay a night or two in Bharatpur to get the most out of your trip.
There is a very basic canteen inside the Park that provides tea, soft drinks, chips and other snacks. As such it is recommended to either bring a picnic basket and you can eat in a benched area near the temple at the far end of the Park. There are restrooms as well and you can also order a hot cup of tea in the cold winter months. The other option is to exit the Park for lunch in a hotel outside but then you have to buy the tickets again if you want to go back in.
If you go off the main track and in to the marshlands you may spot birds of prey such as the marsh harrier, greater spotted eagle, eastern imperial eagle and mammals such as the golden jackal and sambar deer. If you’ve rented a rickshaw you can always ask the rickshaw driver to stop at any point and the guide can accompany you inside one of the pedestrian friendly tracks. These tracks are generally are less crowded and hence quiet offering you plenty of surprises provided you tip toe your way in and speak in hushed tones.
Marsh Harrier finishing of a meal
Dusky-eagle Owl at dusk
On occasion the rare ones also make an appearance. These include the nocturnal birds such as the long tailed nightjar, Indian scops, collared and dusky eagle owls and mammals such as the striped hyena or the jungle cat.
Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is a great alternative from the loud and busy city life and can be combined when you’re on your way to Jaipur or to Fatehpur Sikri. You also have the option to do a day trip to Bharatpur and return in the evening back to Agra as the roads are good and it’s just an hour drive. You can also do a morning session in Bharatpur and in the afternoon we can take you on the Chambal River Safari also an hour drive away.
Indian Pythons basking in the winter sun
Painted Stork feeding chicks water
Keoladeo is one of the few parks that given families to spend a day outdoors surrounded by nature and birds. The Park provides several opportunities for children to appreciate the flora and fauna of India. If you’re an amateur photographer, it is here that you can test and fine tune your photography skills as the birds are friendly and you have the opportunity to shoot them in various modes, habitats and conditions with ease.