Keoladeo Ghana National Park, popularly known as Bharatpur is India's best known bird sanctuary. This 28.7 square kilometre 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.
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 we counted 152 species on a very crowded day in January 2004.
Keoladeo has been famous for the wintering western race of the Siberian Crane. Unfortunately, the last pair visited the park in 2002-3. This species is now considered extinct in India.
Siberian Cranes - Image: Ron Saldino
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 Sociable 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.
Greater Spotted Eagle
Habitat: The park constitutes wetland, woodland, swamp, scrub and pasture. Wetlands comprise about 30% of the area. Aquatic vegetation includes water lilies the true lotus, duckweed, water fern, sedges and lesser reed mace. The other vegetation is typical of a semi arid zone dominated by Kadam (Mitragyna parvifolia), Jamun (Syzygium cumini), Babul (Acacia nilotica), Kandi (Prosopis cineraria), Ber (Zizyphus), Kair (Capparis decidua) and Piloo (Salvadora oleoides).
How to reach: 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.
Where to stay: Bharatpur has any number of hotel and private lodges. Santi Kutir and ITDC Forest Lodge are inside the park. Popular places include Wilderness Camp, Hotel Sunbird and Birder's Inn.
Recommended are Hotel Sunbird (firstname.lastname@example.org) and The Birder's Inn. Both are close to the gate, are well-managed and have knowledgeable guides. They are much in demand with visiting birders, so please book in advance.
Park particulars: 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 @ INR 100/ hour. You will need naturalist Guides in case you want to explore areas outside the beaten track. Bharatpur has a network of tracks and many run along the water-bodies. They are best explored on foot.
Strategy: 4-5 days are recommended if you are new to Keoladeo. Use a Cycle-rickshaw guide for a couple of days to get your bearings. Explore on foot thereafter.
Best Time: November to March
Location: 27*07'-27*12'N, 77*29'-77*33'E