As a kid in Ghaziabad near Delhi, I remember, my father planning a visit to the sanctuary. I was a mere nine-year old then and my younger sister just six and we were very upset with our father, for dragging us in the sanctuary for hours together even when the sun was up, in hope of seeing the migratory birds. Our age was such, that neither could we appreciate his enthusiasm and nor the reason for roaming in the forest.
A memory however had formed in my young mind….that of scorching heat, grasslands, trees, ponds, swamps…but no memory of birds!! So years later, when my husband planned to visit Bharatpur from Agra, I cringed slightly and tried to dissuade him but failed.
More famously known by its former name “Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary” in Rajasthan, Keoladeo Park is a National Park and a World Heritage Site popular among ornithologist and other tourists and is home to around 230 species of birds. Every winter the migratory birds visit this man-made wetland for wintering. This sanctuary is the world’s best and richest bird area.
The area, was once a hunting ground for the royals of Bharatpur where hunting games were organised for the visiting British Viceroys. The last organised shoot was in 1964 and later in 1976 it was given the status of bird sanctuary.
Bharatpur is about 50 km and roughly an hour and half drive from Agra. Taxi services from New Delhi, trains from Jaipur, Mathura, Delhi all make it an easily accessible place.
We started around 8am for Bharatpur from Agra as it was a foggy December morning. By the time we reached the sanctuary around 0930hrs, sun was up smiling benevolently allowing us to not shiver from chill of winters.
Many rickshaws were parked for visitors to ride inside the sanctuary. A signboard, in a blatant effort to murder the native language of those very viceroys for whom duck shoots were organised once, warned everyone strictly to not take cars beyond the parking in the park.
Obviously we ‘straightly’ agreed with the sanctuary guards and men behind the counter issuing entry tickets because nobody wants birds flying away with the vehicular noise.
A little negotiation and we hired two rickshaws to take us inside. The two rickshaw-pullers boasted about being able to name birds and to take us at spots where we could actually see birds. They offered their binoculars free for bird watching!
We were lucky to have hired our ‘guides’ as they preferred to be addressed as , because ‘Santosh Singh’ and ‘Ramlal‘ were the ones whom the sanctuary authorities approved and recommended because of their honest and amicable nature. And we did not once regret hiring them. They were indeed aware of birding sites and few names of birds having worked around the park for ten years.
Our kids, thankfully were enjoying the slow rickshaw ride since they could easily climb up and down plus they had the binoculars!
Soon we reached the denser parts of the sanctuary. That, the park boasts of variety of flora and fauna was clear from the deers, blue bulls, turtle, monitor lizard, butterflies and many birds we saw there. The park was a collage of dry and wet lands allowing various animals to survive and breed there.
We spent about four hours at the park and by the last leg we were hungry, kids had become cranky and it was time for animals and birds to hide from the bright sun. There is no restaurant close to the sanctuary. We chose to drive further and explore some ‘dhaba’ (a road side small eatery), which could give us with the Rajasthani ‘Lal Maans’ a spicy mutton or red meat local dish.
The trip to the park was successful as far as bird sighting was concerned and enjoyable….the kids did not mind the trip as long as we let them be free to roam to a distance within our view.
There were many bird enthusiasts who had put up their tripods and were willing to wait for the sun to go down to see birds returning to their perches. We did spot a white sleeping owl but we did not wish to see it or any other nocturnal bird ….. this was a good enough trip for us!
After having found our dhaba at some distance ahead we made a u-turn for Agra.