Keoladeo Ghana National Park
The Bharatpur National Park (Keoladeo Ghana National Park) or, as many people prefer to call it, the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary lies between two of India’s most historic cities, Agra and Jaipur. This north Indian sanctuary is situated in the country’s northwestern state of Rajasthan, about 190 km from the national capital of Delhi.
The name ‘Keoladeo’ is derived from the name of an ancient Hindu temple devoted to Lord Shiva in the sanctuary’s central zone while the Hindi term ‘Ghana’ implies dense, thick areas of forest cover. The coverage area of this National Park is 29 sq km. One of the finest bird parks in the world, Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is a reserve that offers protection to faunal species as well. Besides nesting indigenous water-birds as well as migratory water birds and waterside birds, this sanctuary is also inhabited by Sambar, Chital, Nilgai and Boar.
While many of India’s parks have been developed from the hunting preserves of princely India, Keoladeo, popularly known as Bharatpur Wildlife Sanctuary, is perhaps the only case where the habitat has been created by a Maharaja. In earlier times, Bharatpur town used to be flooded regularly every monsoon. In 1760, an earthen dam (Ajan Dam) was constructed, to save the town, from this annual vagary of nature. The depression created by extraction of soil for the dam was cleared and this became the Bharatpur Lake.
At the beginning of this century, this lake was developed, and was divided into several portions. A system of small dams, dykes, sluice gates, etc., was created to control water level in different sections. This became the hunting preserve of the Bharatpur royalty, and one of the best duck-shooting wetlands in the world.
This spectacular bird sanctuary is historical in its own way. The Maharaja of Bharatpur is credited for its creation in 1890, though conservation was the last thing on his mind. He got a large area enclosed with embankments and further divided it with earthen dams called ‘bunds’ creating a large number of marshes and lakes. Thus, Bharatpur is mainly an artificial creation. The government banned the indiscriminate shooting of birds in 1965. Conservation efforts originally started by Dr. Salim Ali received a further impetus when the area was deemed a National Park in March 1982. In 1985, Bharatpur was accepted as a World Heritage Site.
Prime Attractions of Bharatpur National Park
The city centre is a mere 3 km from the park and has its own fair share of oddities, bazaars and night markets that are definitely worth a visit. Also worth visiting is the Laxmi Vilas Palace that houses a museum. The city of Agra, which is just 55 km from Bharatpur, has one of the most magnificent monuments ever built – the romantic Taj Mahal, a veritable poem in stone built by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan.
Bharatpur Government Museum – One of the major attractions after the Bharatpur sanctuary is the Government Museum of Bharatpur, which provides a glimpse of the past royal splendour of Bharatpur.
Bharatpur Palace – Not far from the museum is the Bharatpur Palace, a marvellous structural blend of Mughal and Rajput architecture.
Lohagarh Fort – The invincible Lohagarh Fort, which remained unconquered despite several attacks by the British regime.
Deeg Palace – Situated just 32 km away from Bharatpur is the Deeg Palace. A strong and massive fortress, Deeg Palace was the summer resort of the rulers of Bharatpur and houses numerous beautiful palaces and gardens.
Flora and Fauna – ‘Ghana’ means dense, referring to the thick forest, which used to cover the area. Bharatpur hosts a variety of bird species from across the globe. Close to 380 species of birds are found in this 29 sq km stretch, approximately 10 sq km of which comprises of marshes and bogs. The rest of the area comprises of scrublands, grasslands and more than 44,000 trees that are used for nesting by birds each year. This rather intriguing blend of marshes, woodland and flora found here represents and, at the same time, substantiates the density and diversity of the region’s forest cover.
Main wildlife found are Sambar, Chital, Nilgai, Boar and Migratory Birds. The major attractions for tourists visiting the Park are the numerous migratory birds, who come from as far away as Siberia and Central Asia and spend their winters in Bharatpur, before returning to their breeding grounds. Migratory birds at Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary include several species of Siberian Cranes, Pelicans, Geese, Ducks, Eagles, Hawks, Shanks, Stints, Wagtails, Warblers, Wheatears, Flycatchers, Buntings, Larks and Pipits, etc.
Some 377 species have been spotted at Bharatpur Sanctuary, making it one of the most inviting destinations in the world for ornithologists, amateurs and nature lovers. Various species of indigenous water birds, waterside birds, migratory water birds, land migratory birds, and domestic land species are found here. There are approximately 56 different families of birds, of which the Passeriformes (156 species) and Charadriformes (56 species) dominate. One-third of birds at Bharatpur are migrants, many of whom spend their winters before returning to their breeding grounds in the Arctic and Central Asia.
The bird most popular among tourists and ornithologists is the Siberian crane. According to field experts, this bird is known to travel distances of up to 6,500 km migrating from the Ob River basin region (Aral mountains, Siberia). Conservationists are working hard to protect the Siberian crane species as they are on the verge of extinction. Apart from Feredunkenar in Iran, Bharatpur Sanctuary is the only place where the Siberian crane migrates. The Siberian Cranes arrive in December and stay until early March. According to ornithologists, unlike its Indian counterpart, the Siberian crane feeds on Cyperus grass. The intriguing fact is that Siberian Cranes have a mixed diet of vegetation, fish and other small creatures back home, but they adopt a vegetarian diet during their stay in India.
Bharatpur National Park is a bird watcher’s paradise. Bird watching trips are very exciting. The Park, with its rich bio-geographic diversity, is home to around 380 species of birds – about quarter of the total species found in the entire Indian subcontinent! It is considered one of the true bird parks of the world. Migratory birds at Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary include several species of Siberian Cranes, Pelicans, Geese, Ducks, Eagles, Hawks, Shanks, Stints, Wagtails, Warblers, Wheatears, Flycatchers, Buntings, Larks and Pipits, etc. The numerous water bodies provide an ideal habitat for Ducks and Waders which are migratory. The Park forms a natural crossroad and meeting ground for avian species from high altitude areas, plains and eastern and western regions. Because of this unique location, the bird population is pretty high throughout the year, with winter visitors, summer visitors, altitudinal migrants, passage migrants and local migrants. The Park is an avid bird watcher’s destination.
There are well-defined forest trails, which can easily be covered on foot, by bicycle or in one of the rickshaws that are available for hire. Rickshaw pullers have been trained by the park management in bird watching and are quite knowledgeable. Boats are also available for hire. An early morning boat trip or a late evening one is a rewarding experience to check out the hidden surprises of Bharatpur.
Do not forget to carry binoculars for watching the birds. Bird watching depends greatly on season, timing, and patience, so please ask for advice if you wish to see a particular species.
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