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Keoladeo National Park of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India

A paradise for the avian world and the pilgrimage for the bird lovers, the Keoladeo Ghana National Park or Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary lies between two of India's most historic cities, Agra and Jaipur. This north Indian sanctuary is situated in the country's northwestern state of Rajasthan, about 190 km from the national capital of Delhi. The Keoladeo National Park or Keoladeo Ghana National Park formerly known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Rajasthan, India is a famous avifauna sanctuary that sees (or saw) thousands of rare and highly endangered birds such as the Siberian Crane come here during the winter season. Over 230 species of birds are known to have made the National Park their home. It is also a major tourist centre with scores of ornithologists arriving here in the hibernal season.

The foundation of this Bharatpur wildlife sanctuary was laid in 1760 when the Maharaja of Bharatpur made an artificial lake and the dam at this very site to store the water brought by the annual floods in this area. It got its name as Keoladeo Ghana Park on account of an ancient Hindu temple at the centre of the national park devoted to Lord Shiva. The term 'Ghana' is derived from Hindi, which means dense and refers to the thick forest, which covers the entire area. Bharatpur became a national park on 10 March 1982, and was given the status of a World Heritage Site in December 1985.

Kadam Kunj and  Keoladeo Commonly referred to as Bharatpur, the Park is a delight for bird watchers. Over 375 species of birds are found here and raised paths, camouflaged by babul trees and undergrowth make viewing easy. A quiet ride by boat in the early hours of the morning is also un unforgettable experience. There fare mixed heronries on the half submerged babul trees and the cacaphony is unbelievable as painted storks, open bills, spoon bills, egrets, comorants, white ibis and multitudes of others, tend their young. Jacanas with their iridescent colours and elegant tail feathers and purple moorhen can be seen delicately treading over the floating vegetation.

Keoladeo National Park of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India

Every year Bharatpur waits with bated breath for the arrival of the Siberian cranes. The tourists mainly visit the Bird Sanctuary, as it is the second habitat in the world that is visited by the Siberian Cranes in winter. There are only two wintering places for this rare species one in Iran and the other Bharatpur and these beautiful birks with their distinctive red beaks and facial patches, fly over 6400 kms from their summer retreats in Siberian cranes with a young one made an appearance in Bharatpur after a lapse of three years. When the rivers of Siberia are frozen due to the extreme winters, the Siberian Cranes visit the sanctuary to spend their winters in India. As soon as the winters are over in Siberia, these huge cranes return to their breeding grounds.

History of Keoladeo National Park of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India

The sanctuary was created 250 years ago and is named after a Keoladeo (Shiva) temple within its boundaries. Initially, it was a natural depression; and was flooded after the Ajan Bund was constructed by Maharaja Suraj Mal, the then ruler of the princely state of Bharatpur, between 1726 to1763 AD. The bund was created at the confluence of two rivers, the Gambhir and Banganga. Prince Bhamji of Morvi state in Gujarat converted this area into a world famous wildlife reserve. Duck shoots were organised in the area every year by the rulers of Bharatpur, in honour of Viceroy Lord Curzon and his party on 1st December, 1902. The exploits of all visiting dignitaries since 1902 have been engraved on stone plaques standing near the Keoladeo temple.

Largest number of birds (4273) were killed on 12th November, 1938, by Lord Linlithgow, Viceroy & Governor General of India and his party. After independence, this reserve was notified as a bird sanctuary but the former rulers of Bharatpur continued to enjoy their shooting rights over the area till 1972. The area was notified as a National Park in 1981 but made effective only in Novemeber,1982. In 1982, grazing was banned in the park, leading to violent clashed between the local farmer and Gujjar communities and the government. Conservation efforts originally started by Dr. Salim Ali received a further impetus when the area was deemed a national park in March 1982. In 1985, Bharatpur was accepted as a World Heritage Site.

In late 2004 however, the Rajasthan government led by Vasundhara Raje succumbed to pressure from farmers to prevent water from being diverted to the sanctuary. The water supply to the park dropped from 540,000,000 to 18,000,000 cubic feet (15,000,000 to 510,000 m³). The result was an ecological disaster with the marshlands turning dry and inhospitable. Most of the birds flew off to alternate avenues as far as Garhmukteshwar, Uttar Pradesh (90 km form New Delhi) on the river Ganga for breeding. This resulted in many of the birds being hunted for their meat.
 
Wildlife of Keoladeo National Park of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India

If you are new to birding or you are visiting India for birding, Bharatpur should certainly be at the heart of your plans. With its paved walkways, trained cycle-rickshaw pulling guides, cycling-tracks and, best of all, an abundance of easy to approach birds, Bharatpur is geared for birding like few places in the world. A day's birding can throw up 150 + species and over 152+ species on a very crowded day in January 2004.The geographical location of Keoladeo National Park is ideal as it is on the main North - South avian route of India. Although small in size, 29 sq. km only, it boasts to house more than 375 species of beautiful birds, and more than 132 of them breed inside the Keoladeo Ghana National Park and nearly every year new ones are added to the list. The sanctuary not only attracts birds from India but also from places like Europe, Siberia, China and Tibet. The sanctuary hosts a small wintering population of the rare Siberian Cranes. Other species include the ruddy shelducks, gulls, northern shovelers, northern pintails, coots, garganey, tufted ducks and common pochard.

Before monsoon hundreds of these exotic birds roost and nest building activities start on the babool and kadam trees of the park. Water coming through the Ajan Bandh starts filling the various ponds and lakes of the Park. When assured of enough food, hundreds of large, medium and little cormorant, darter, purple and Grey heron, various species of egret, painted, open-billed, white necked and black necked stork, white ibis, spoonbill, night heron and other birds get busy in courting and mating. The trees are over flowed with nests, one can observe a tree housing nests upto fifties and sixties in number belonging to different species of birds looking after their loving young ones. The nests on the trees look like pearl necklaces.

Gracious Saras cranes, the tallest flight birds nest in exposed and open area, both partners share the duty of hatching, while chanting incubating duties, they come together, raise their neckand give out shrill trumpetic calls in unison and at the same time fan their feathers. The newly born chicks are only 10 cm. in size but grows  upto one meter in height within a year.

Keoladeo National Park of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India

As the monsoon arrive birds from every part of the country start pouring into the park. Migratory water-fowls, including the pride of Keoladeo Siberian Cranes form the indispensable part of Park. The tourists mainly visit the Bird Sanctuary, as it is the second habitat in the world that is visited by the Siberian Cranes in winter. When the rivers of Siberia are frozen due to the extreme winters, the Siberian Cranes visit the sanctuary to spend their winters in India. As soon as the winters are over in Siberia, these huge cranes return to their breeding grounds.

Siberian Cranes - Ron Saldino in Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan, India

Keoladeo has been famous for the last visiting pair of the western race of the Siberian Crane. Unfortunately, the pair did not winter in Bharatpur for two years in succession ( 2003 & 2004) and it is likely that this species is now extinct in India.

But, the sanctuary is not only about Siberian Cranes. Any 1st time visitor is bound to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of waterfowl and waders which congregate on the shallow marshy lakes of Bharatpur. Winter (Nov - Mar) is the best time to visit the sanctuary when Palearctic migrants join the residents. An average day can still throw up many rare and threatened species like the Solitary Lapwing, Indian Courser, Imperial, White-tailed, Greater and Indian Spotted Eagles, Darters, Black-necked, Painted and Asian Openbill Storks, Common, Sarus and Demoiselle Cranes, Dalmatian Pelicans, Black Bittern, Greater Painted Snipe, Large-tailed, Indian and Grey Nightjars, Dusky Eagle Owls, Marshall's Iora, Siberian Rubythroat and Brook's Leaf Warblers. The 20 species of ducks, innumerable waders and raptors, water-seeking birds and approachable passerines all add to make Keoladeo a true birder's paradise.

The story of Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is incomplete without an account of the migratory waterfowl. The water-fowls visit the park in millions during the month of October. The most prominent water fowl coming to this park are bareheaded and greylag geese. Ducks also create a lot of fluttering in the lakes. The ducks spotted here are pintail, common teal, ruddy shelduck, mallard, widgeon, shoveler,common shelduck, red crested pochard, gadwall etc. predatory birds like imperial eagle, steppe and tawny eagle spotted eagle, marsh harrier and laggar falcon are attracted towards the park completing the avian food chain of the ecosystem. Some of them like short-toed eagle, lesser spotted eagle and shikra are the residents of Park.

About 11 sq. km. area of the park is covered with water the remaining portion is rich with Kingfisher, Red Vented and white cheeked Bulbuls, Babblers, Quails, Partridges, Sunbirds, Sparrows and Parakeets which live in bushes and burrows. The year round activity of the winged beauties has made the park a pilgrimage for bird lovers and an omithologists delight.

The animal populace also shows their presence although they are thoroughly dominated by feathers, wings and beaks. The animals include the Black Buck, Sambhar - the largest Indian Antelope, Spotted deer, and Nigais. Pythons can also be observed at some places lazing in the sun.

Vehicles are only permitted upto Shanti Kutir inside the park. The Electra Van of forest department can be engaged in the sanctuary, although the best way to explore the park is on foot  or bicycles which are available on hire. Cycle rickshaws can also be hired.

Attractions near Bharatpur National Park in Rajasthan, India

Lohagarh Fort of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India

Lohagarh Fort or the Iron Fort is situated at Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India. It was constructed by Bharatpur Jat rulers. Maharaja Suraj Mal used all his power and wealth to a good cause, and built numerous forts and palaces across his kingdom, one of them being the Lohagarh Fort(Iron fort), which was one of the strongest ever built in Indian history. Conceived and designed to last for years-Lohagarh Fort, true to its name, stood solidly against many attacks by the British, frustrating them to no end. The inaccessible Lohagarh fort could withstand repeated attacks of British forces led by Lord Lake in 1805 when they laid siege for over six weeks. Having lost over 3000 soldiers, the British forces had to retreat and strike a compromise with the Bharatpur ruler.

It is very different from the other forts in the State. There is no flamboyance associated with this fort, but it radiates an aura of strength and magnificence. The fort is surrounded by a moat, which was filled with water to ward off the enemy attacks. Sandy battlements strengthened the sandy ramparts, thus the enemy guns proved of no avail. Some interesting monuments in the fort are Kishori Mahal, Mahal Khas, Moti Mahal and Kothi Khas. Jawahar Burj and Fateh Burj, inside the fort, were built by Suraj Mal to commemorate the victories over the Mughals and the British. Of the two gates in the fort, one in the north is known as Ashtdhaatu (eight metalled) gate while the one facing the south is called Chowburja (four-pillared) gate. The Ashtadhatu (eight-metal) gateway has paintings of huge elephants.

Bharatpur Palace of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India
 
It is a fine fusion of Mughals and Rajput architecture and was built in various phases by different maharajas. The magnificent apartments are richly decorated with patterned floor tiles having exquisite and intricate designs. The building –Kamra Khas, within the fort, has been converted into a museum displaying a rich collection of antiquities, exquisite sculptures and some ancient inscription.
 
Government Museum of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India

The building Kamra Khas within the fort has been converted into a museum, displaying a rich collection of antiquaries, exquisite sculptures and some ancient inscriptions. The sculptures speak volumes about the art of a by gone era and culture typical of this area. The inscriptions are of immense historical vault and helps in tracing back the royal lineage as well as the local life.
Timings : 10 AM to 4 PM
Entry Fee : RS. 3/-
(Closed on Friday)

Deeg Palace of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India

This fort built by Raja Suraj Mal, stands majestically over a slightly elevated point. It is surrounded by impressive moats, ramparts and gateways; the interiors are mostly in ruins now, but the watch tower still stands among the ruins, keeping an eye over the city and the palace; over it is placed a gun captured from Agra Fort. Another defunct cannon, which was captured from Ahmad Shah Abdali ( 1761 AD) – who seized the fort for six months guards vantage point.

Location and Transport of Bharatpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan, India

Bharatpur in Rajasthan is south west of New Delhi on National Highway 11  and is connected by road to Agra (60km), Jaipur (180 km) and New Delhi (175 km via Fatehpur Sikri and Agra). Many trains from N Delhi (N Delhi - Mumbai and Agra - Jaipur route) stop at Bharatpur. Bharatpur is easily reached by train or bus, although private taxis from New Delhi or Agra are most often used. The Park gate is close to the bus stand and railway station. Bharatpur is on the Agra. Jaipur highway, just a two-hour journey by bus from Agra (55 km) and an hour from Fatehpur Sikri. The nearest rail junction is Bharatpur, which is well connected to Delhi, Bombay, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and many other parts of India.

By Air
The nearest airport Agra is 56-kms from Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. The place is also well connected with Delhi Airport, which can be reached from Agra.

By Rail
The Bharatpur railway station is 6-kms from the national park. The regular trains connect Bharatpur with all the major cities of India such as Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur and Agra.

By Road
An excellent road network connects Bharatpur to all the major towns of the Rajasthan like Agra, Jaipur, Delhi and its neighbouring states like Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

Within the Park
One can hire taxis, rickshaws or boats to explore the park well. The forest department also operated mini buses and boats in the national park.

Facts of Keoladeo National Park of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India

Keoladeo Ghana National Park, popularly known as Bharatpur is India's best known bird sanctuary. This 28.7 square kilometer mixed wetland, woodland, grass and scrub is home to 400 plus species of birds. Only 175 kms from New Delhi, Bharatpur is on the Agra - Jaipur road and a pleasant 3 hour drive from the capital. Keoladeo is both a Ramsar and World Heritage site.

Climate of Keoladeo National Park of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India

During summers (April. June), the temperature of the national park varies from 38°C to 45°C. In The Month of monsoon the temperature to about 27°C. In Winter season the temperature of the park falls below 10°C.

Best Season
The park is open throughout the year. Best months are August-November for resident breeding birds and November-March for migrant birds.

Light cotton clothing for summers and woolens for the winters would be suitable. Vehicles are prohibited within park confines.

Accommodation near Keoladeo National Park of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India

Bharatpur has any number of hotel and private lodges. Santi Kutir and ITDC Forest Lodge are inside the park. Popular places include Wilderness Camp, Pelican and Sunbird ( all three close to the gate). I stayed at the new Kadam Kunj Hotel on the Jaipur - Agra road, 2 km from the park gate. I found it to be clean, well-appointed, reasonable and hospitable.

Particulars of Keoladeo National Park of Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India

The Park is open all year from dawn to dusk. In winter the cycle-rickshaws get out of the Park by 6 pm. Entrance and camera fees (both nominal) are paid at the gate and checked inside at the barrier. Cycle-rickshaw guides charge INR 50/hour. Freelance naturalist guides are also available. Bicycles are available on hire at the gate or lodge where you stay and can be used to tour the Sanctuary. Always carry binoculars for bird watching. All the tourists visiting the Keoladeo Ghana Park, Bharatpur must have an entry permit available at the the entrance to the park. The foreign tourists have to pay an entry fee of Rs 200 whereas the Indian tourists have to pay Rs 25. The extra charges have to be paid for cameras and other electronic equipments.

Bharatpur has a network of tracks and many run along the water-bodies. They are best explored on foot or bicycles. Use a Cycle-rickshaw guide for the 1st day to get your bearings. Explore on bicycle/foot thereafter.

 

 
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