Bharatpur: A rare retreat for migratory birds

It is said that, “Good things come in small packages”, and this holds completely true for the Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur. This World Heritage-listed bird sanctuary is one of the smallest national parks in India, but is has an astonishing number of bird species within its 29 sq km. There are some 375 bird species within the park…and for the avid bird-watcher, it is possible to see as many as 100 of them in 24 hours. These include waders, thrushes, rubythroats and sleeping nightjars, eagles and harriers. Up till a few years ago, the majestic Siberian Crane was also a regular visitor but sadly, not any more. But, one can spot the sarus crane, demoiselle crane and common crane. One may also spot porcupines, wild boar and palm civets.

This sanctuary is the creation of the Maharaja of Bharatpur who, in the late 19th century recognized the area's potential and augmented the water supply by diverting water from a nearby irrigation canal. He also constructed small dams, dykes and shooting buttes & in a few years the new ecosystem so flourished that it was able to support thousands of water birds. The Maharaja celebrated his success in style, with extravagant shooting parties for the dignitaries of princely India. Their exploits are recorded to this day on a sandstone inscription in the park. There are many good paths & trails through the dense park, but a ride with your expert rickshaw driver will be a rewarding experience as he has been trained to recognise the different species of birds.

The town of Bharatpur has become a major tourist destination for bird lovers from the world over owing to this bird sanctuary - the finest in Asia. If history fascinates you, visit the Bharatpur palace and take in the remnants of the royal past, a rich repository of ancient exhibits dating back to the early 15th century.

The best time to visit Bharatpur's Keoladeo Ghana National Park is from October to late February when many migratory birds can be seen, such as the bar-headed geese from Ladakh and pied-crested cuckoo from East Africa. You can enjoy a cycle rickshaw ride through the park to spot the birds that take refuge in its shallow lakes & woodlands. Also on offer is a tour of the wetlands by boat. This is perhaps the most enchanting way to view birds from up close.

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