One morning while going through my regular social media feed, I saw a photograph of a darter in silhouette sitting on a tree with the sun setting behind it. The photograph was an inspiration, urging me to travel to that place. I started researching about the place to find out that it was none other than Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, Rajasthan, India. My family hails from Rajasthan and I never knew that such a beautiful place existed in the same state where I spent my summer holidays as a child.
So last December, I planned a five-day trip to visit Keoladeo Ghana National Park. My flight from Dubai to Jaipur took off three hours late, forcing me to cancel and re-book the train for the onward journey. I was lucky to get a seat on the train. As I reached Bharatpur and got out of the station, the place would give you a feel of an earthen village with a touch of concrete Delhi. I took an auto-rickshaw and reached Iora Guest House, where I had booked accommodation. The place was filled with plants, pictures of birds and animals, and a living room showcasing a beautiful shelf with amazing books on wildlife. The proprietor Devendra Singh himself is a very passionate wildlife photographer. Their cook makes amazing food, and you will never go hungry. The rooms are clean and meet all the basic requirements, and it is near to the park.
There are four different modes of transport – walking, bicycles, cycle-rickshaw, and tonga (horse carriage). On entering the park, we took our tickets and sat in the cycle–rickshaw. Our guide who was riding the Rickshaw told us the history of the park. He said the sanctuary was created 250 years ago and is named after a Keoladeo (Shiva) temple within its boundaries. The park was a hunting ground for the maharajas of Bharatpur, a tradition dating back to 1850, and duck shoots were organized yearly in honor of the British viceroys. But now the Park has declared a World Heritage Site under the World Heritage Convention.
In the hustle-bustle of today`s life, this place is a pleasing opposite – It will relax you completely, you can walk a few miles here and feel liberated. Nature lovers like me will enjoy the exploration of the off-road possibilities which can lead to some unique sightings of Sarus Cranes, or darters hunting spotted owlets basking in the sun.
If you are a bird photographer, this place is no less than heaven. There are over 400 bird species in the park and the best part is that being accustomed to humans they are easily approachable. Better yet, many designated areas allow you amazing vantage points for photography. One of the most notable points is right at the entrance of the park where you can always see beautiful peafowl sitting on the tree, giving you a beautiful silhouette.
Then there is another vantage point which is also called the famous sunset point where if lucky you can witness a bird against the setting sun with a beautiful frame of branches. Though I didn’t get any picture in that vantage point, I got a different sunset picture of a painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala).
This place is pure addiction, the locals out there always say,” If you visit the sanctuary once you will come back again.” But at the same time, it is facing a lot of issues with the level and availability of water. During my trip, I gathered that there were only 30% of birds present as compared to last year.
Birds, including painted stork that visit the park for nesting and breeding every year, have gone to other lakes due to water shortage. Each painted stork that lays 2-4 eggs, needs fish to feed the chicks that need more than 500g of fish every day, and hoped to receive 150 million cubic feet of water from the Chambal Canal project to fill the six blocks in the park. Apart from migratory birds, local species including open bill stork, cormorant, snakebird, egret, painted stork, spoonbill, grey heron, purple heron, cattle egret, large egret, medium egret, Indian seg come to the park to breed before the monsoon.
Birds that nest on babool trees near the lake need fish, vegetation to survive and water from the Panchna Dam brings fish, vegetation to the lake. I hope that local sources of water are revived with support from local communities living in and around Keoladeo, who depend on it for their livelihood.