INDIA. Rajasthan, Bharatpur: In 1985, UNESCO listed the Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary (formerly known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary) as a World Heritage Site. The sanctuary that was declared a national park in 1982 is a heaven for bird watchers and nature lovers. This wintering ground for Palaearctic migratory waterfowl is home to millions of birds of over 368 species every year and also for 379 species of plants, 45 species of fishes, and approx. 30 mammals.
The peak migrating season in the world’s most famous avifauna sanctuary takes place in the winter months of October to March, when aquatic bird families, natives of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Siberia, China, and Siberia like Dalmatian Pelicans, Solitary Lapwing, Dusky Eagle Owls, Demoiselle Cranes and Sarus, Storks, Pelicans, Herons, etc. visit the Bharatpur Lake for breeding.
Besides the exotic birds, wildlife like Sambhar, Chital, Nilgai, wild Boar, etc. also live here. And for humans, this is a place to drown him/her-self in the chirping and nesting of the birds in the waters and trees.
Pandemic travel trends
According to the latest YouGov research conducted in May 2021, during this pandemic era, it is found that 66 percent people prefer destinations that are a short drive away where they can and relax in nature. Also it’s safer to look at travel in newer ways and explore flexible, and nearby travel locations.
The birding season at this bird haven opened in August 2021, and makes it one of best option that is accessible for people in North India between the getaways of Agra and Jaipur.
Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary
Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary was declared as a protected sanctuary in 1971, and is a man-made and man-managed wetland to protect Bharatpur from frequent floods, and earlier was primarily used as a waterfowl hunting ground, a tradition dating back to 1850 for the Maharajas of Bharatpur, and British viceroys.
Created 250 years ago, the sanctuary is named after a Shiva Temple ‘Keoladeo’ inside its boundaries, and ‘Ghana’, i.e. dense or thick woods that cover the region. It was built in the year 1760 as an earthen dam (Ajan Dam) to provide relief to the town from annual floods. The depression created due to the soil extracted to build the dam was later converted into Bharatpur Lake as a duck shooting preserve.
The total area of the sanctuary, one of the world’s best reserve parks for the avifauna, is around 29 sq km with well laid-out forest trails, of which approx 11 sq km is the swampland. The rest of the area consists of the big and dense grasslands and scrublands.
Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary, one of world’s finest birding areas is the property of Rajasthan and a reserve forest under the Rajasthan Forest Act, 1953. This most important bird breeding and feeding ground was also known for the rare and elusive to spot Siberian crane.
Safari in the sanctuary
A rickshaw safari in the sanctuary is an alluring and refreshing experience in the tranquility of nature with the melodious bird chirping everywhere. The safari makes for the most surreal experience along the wetland scenery. The park management has trained the rickshaw pullers in bird spotting, thereby making them extremely knowledgeable guides. You can also use the boating facilities in the lake. Motor vehicles though are not permitted inside the sanctuary.
It is possible to walk along the trail, but if you like cycling, there is nothing like it. You can rent cycles near the park’s entrance. A ride on cycle is an exciting way of traveling inside the sanctuary. There are plenty of bird watching stops along the way, where you can get off the cycle, and take a closer look and pictures of the beautiful birds and wetland wildlife. To see the birds at their best, it’s advised to visit the sanctuary around dawn, when the birds start their day.
Other attractions in Bharatpur
Besides having the most surreal birding experience, there are plenty of other things to do in Bharatpur. Architectural marvels, like the Bharatpur Palace and Museum, the invincible and impregnable Lohagarh Fort, a monumental Palace turned luxurious resort, Deeg Palace, adventure sport parks like Rope Castle Adventure Park, religious places like Banke Bihari temple, Laxman temple, Ganga Mandir, etc. are worth visiting.
You can also go shopping and buy various items like jewelry, handicraft, antiques and even authentic Rajasthani Bandhej clothes. For an extended vacation, you can also stop at Agra to visit the romantic Taj Mahal.
Whether you are a tourist or a local, just over one hour’s drive from Agra (56 kms), or four hours from Delhi (approx. 184 kms), or Jaipur (approx. 170 kms), this wondrous place offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience for families and anyone who loves nature.
Cycling around the amazing oasis of tranquility at Bharatpur Lake and watching the fabulous birds is something you should add to your bucket list, no matter if you are a tourist or a local.