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Keoladeo Ghana National Park
Keoladeo Ghana National Park, popularly known as 'Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary', is rated as one of the finest waterfowl reserves in the world. The sanctuary gets its name from the ancient Hindu temple devoted to Lord Shiva which has a residing deity called Keoladeo, while Ghana in local parlance implies 'dense' which refers to the thick forests covering the area. More than two hundred years ago, Keoladeo Ghana was once a vast semi-arid region, contiguous with the rest of Rajasthan's dry expanse. The area formed a slight depression, which, during the monsoon season, collected rain water and attracted a few migratory ducks and wildfowl. The then Maharaja of Bharatpur recognized the area's potential and developed it into a beautiful sanctuary. He augmented the water supply by diverting water from a nearby irrigation canal and also constructed small dams, dykes and shooting butts, thus converting the area into one of the finest wildfowl hunting preserves in North India. In just a few years, the new ecosystem flourished to such an extent that it was able to support thousands of water birds. In 1956, the hunting preserve was converted into a sanctuary and then upgraded to a National Park in 1981.
Rajasthan has traditionally been hailed as the 'land of colour, valour and festivals'. It has been as famous for its splendid wildlife as for its amazing forts and palaces. Though for long the Royalty of Rajasthan had indulged in the hunting sport, today, with its famed wildlife preserves, the state is certainly in the forefront of the wildlife conservation movement. The tiger reserves at Ranthambore and Sariska, and the Bird Sanctuary at Bharatpur form perhaps the most popular wildlife triangle in India.
The world renowned Bird Sanctuary of Bharatpur, now a national park, is located about 175 kms from New Delhi and 50 kms west of Agra, and in fact, very close to the popular golden tourist triangle of 'Delhi, Jaipur and Agra'. Over 350 species of birds find refuge in this 29 square kilometers wetland habitat comprising shallow lakes and woodland. Almost one third of the birds seen at Bharatpur are migrants from as far away as Siberia and Central Asia. Approximately 120 species nest in the park itself and the heronry at Keoladeo Ghana is said to be one of the finest in the world.
Bharatpur is a heaven for nature lovers and offers pleasant bird-watching walks along the many fine trails in the marshes which trails branch out from a central metallic road, lined all along with dense Babul trees. Apart from its marvellous stock of birds, Keoladeo Ghana has a bewildering variety of flora representing 64 families, 181 genera and 227 subspecies. Besides the Babul tree, there are several other native species of trees. Several species of grass and reeds cover the rich landscape, providing abundant grazing for the ungulates, and a rich source of food for the birds. The variety of trees and expansive grassy parks make Bharatpur a wonderful grassland and woodland, besides the grand wetland that it in fact is. Consequently, visitors to Bharatpur can see the flora and fauna of a wetland, grassland and a woodland all at once.
Among the migrants, the most sought bird species are the gorgeous Siberian Cranes. These impressive, pure-white birds, with their black primaries, crimson bills and facial patches, are one of four types of cranes in the sanctuary. The Demoiselle and Common Cranes are also winter visitors, the Sarus being the only resident species. Among other notable migrants are the Steppe Eagle, Pale and Marsh Harriers, Osprey and Peregrine Falcon. Even the resident Indian species are no less striking! Some of these are the Tawny Eagle, Pallas Ring-Tailed Fishing Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Brahminy and Black-Winged Kites. Four species of vultures can also be seen. The stately Sarus (Cranes), the multi-hued Kingfishers, White-Breasted Waterhens, Red-Wattled Lapwings, the grey and purple Herons, the elegant Darters, snow-white Egrets and a few smaller species of Herons comprise some of the most delightful sights in the marshes of Bharatpur.
Besides its vast heterogeneity of birds, Bharatpur is also a home to a large variety of animals like the Sambar, Bluebull, Chital, Blackbuck, Jackal, Rhesus Monkey, Porcupine, Wild boar, Leopard Cats and Fishing Cats, Otters, Hares, Mongoose, Indian and common Palm Civet, Hyenas and Foxes etc. One can occasionally spot a Monitor Lizard and also water snakes and pythons which are an added attraction during the peak winter months at the park. Small fresh water turtles basking in the sun are also a sheer delight to watch !
Bharatpur offers a rich and exotic bird viewing experience with each of the four seasons bringing forth varied and characteristic forms of life. The experience of spending the entire day, from sunrise to sunset, in the company of the exotic feathered friends and exploring the marshes of Bharatpur - a veritable mesh of life in all its amazing diversity, will leave you with memories that will last for ever ! Not to be missed, and perhaps the most enjoyable part of one's sojourn to Bharatpur, is the popular boat trip through a small, shallow lake area passing through the nesting colonies of a variety of birds. Also, one must make it a point to see the marvellous movie, "BIRDS OF INDIAN MONSOON", which is screened daily during the season by the park authorities. This superbly made film shows the visitors the changing avian scenario at Bharatpur all through the twelve months of the year.
According to the 1989-90 report of the Ministry of Environment & Forests, the National Wetland Management Committee has identified 16 wetlands for conservation and preparation of management action plans. The plans include survey and demarcation, weed control, soil conservation, control of siltation and creation of public awareness. All this certainly augurs well for Bharatpur and the continued preservation of its splendid birdlife.
Though the park is open for visitors throughout the year, the best months for watching these wonderful birds and animals is from October to March. One can hire a bicycle and explore the labyrinth of romantically laid out trails or simply enjoy a rickshaw ride which takes you along the straight roads bisecting into several sprawling marshes and stopping wherever birds are sighted. One can get a lot of information from the rickshaw-pullers who have over the years acquired the skills of a well trained guide. Many visitors prefer seeing the Sanctuary on foot. Sapan mori is an interesting vantage point from where you can spot a variety of water birds. There is also a splendid boating facility available at the entry point.
Besides the luxury Forest Lodge belonging to the Ashok Group of Hotels and the Government-owned Shanti Kutir, there are a number of private hotels located outside the Sanctuary. For the budget tourist too there is fairly reasonable accommodation available at a number of hotels and guest-houses in the vicinity of the bird-sanctuary. Interestingly, almost all these hotels are named after birds, like SUNBIRD, FALCON, PELICAN, CRANE CRIB and EAGLE's NEST ETC. We highly recommend FALCON guest house. It is basic though - but quite clean, homely, and owned by nice people (and they are very good cooks too!)
The Frontier Mail and Paschim Express trains conveniently connect Delhi to Bharatpur on the Western Railway's Delhi-Bombay route There is also a regular bus service between Delhi and Bharatpur, where one can combine a trip to Bharatpur with a visit to the magnificent Taj Mahal at Agra. Bharatpur is also one of the destinations on-route the prestigious Palace on Wheels train.