Watching open-billed storks descending into a babul tree with their extended red legs, oriental darters splashing through water, black-headed ibis raising their wings or grey herons holding their black head plumes erect is an experience that bird lovers would even battle a pandemic for. They live for this. If you too are willing to risk your life to live, maybe this is the perfect time to be in Bharatpur.
Winters is the time when the Keoladeo National Park comes alive with maximum avian activity. Even though monsoon too is a great season for birding, winters get all the attention, thanks to the migratory birds that arrive in Bharatpur when the chill sets in.
Exploring the national park with a trained naturalist and a cycle-rickshaw-puller-cum-guide beside you should be on the top of your bucket list for this rainy season. Despite the fact that the Keoladeo Ghana NP is surrounded by human habitation, it has held on to its wild and natural habitats quite well.
Maharaja Ramsingh, Bharatpur&rsquos ruler from 1893 to 1900, was the brainchild behind developing Keoladeo into a birding haven. The maharaja was inspired by the duck shooting spots that he had visited in England. The park derives its name from the local deity Keoladeo due to the presence of the shrine of Lord Shiva at the centre of the park.
Sprawling over an area of 29 sq km, the park is divided into several blocks in which water is contained by earthen dykes forming a system of freshwater marshes. These blocks are flooded every monsoon via the Ghana and Jatoli canal with water drawn from Ajan Bund, Goverdhan drain and the Chambal-Dholpur drinking water project.
Falling in the Punjab Plains biotic province of semi-arid bio-geographical zone, the Keoladeo National Park supports 372 plant species including 96 aquatic plants. The park is also blessed with a rich faunal diversity. Around 34 species of mammals have been recorded in Keoladeo. These include Nilgai, feral cattle, Chital and Sambar. The park is home to 57 species of fish, 5 species of lizards, 3 species of geckos, 14 snake species and 8 species of amphibians. The common Indian monitor can be commonly seen sunning itself. Seven species of turtles are also found in the park.
Keoladeo is known as the bird paradise all over the world because of the rich avifaunal assemblage it supports. About 375 bird species have been recorded in the park. Keoladeo is home to one of the world&rsquos most spectacular heronries formed by 15 species of birds which nest in huge numbers.
The park has four resident species of storks, namely Openbill stork, Painted stork, Black necked stork and Woolly necked stork. Nine species of owls are found in the park, of which the Dusky horned owl regularly breeds here. As many as 104 species breed in the park.
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The park has many routes but you must opt for the ones near the swamps for the maximum sightings. It&rsquos best that you reach the park early in the morning as morning is the best time for birdwatching. You can take a cycle rickshaw or rent a bicycle. It&rsquos recommended to opt for the former as the rickshaw pullers are trained by the Bombay Natural History Society and make for great birdwatching guides.
If you want to make the most of your visit, don&rsquot forget to carry a pair of binoculars. The park has a number of well-maintained paths and the best place to take a break is the Keoladeo Temple compound. Various books on Indian wildlife and souvenirs can be bought from the book shop near the ticket counter.