Bharatpur in Rajasthan, India is known for its world-famous bird sanctuary, the Keoladeo National Park. With birds migrating here during winter months, November to February is a wonderful time to come and enjoy this habitat of hundreds of species of birds.
Hire a rickshaw at the entrance of the park to take you around, or hire a bicycle to go at your own pace. The advantage of the rickshaws is that the drivers also double up as guides, in case you don’t know how to differentiate your cattle egrets from your rufous treepies! The park also has some dedicated guides from the acclaimed Bombay Natural History Society, who come highly recommended. I was guided by an excellent naturalist who had worked with the late great Dr Salim Ali, known as the ‘birdman of India’. My knowledgeable guide was also working with a Dutch entomologist on a book about dragonflies and shared stories of a lifetime of adventures in and around the bird sanctuary.
My favourite birds in Bharatpur? The very noisy young ones of the painted storks, who were just learning how to fly out of their nests. Flapping their wings as hard as they could, all they could manage was to jump up a tiny few inches despite their best strongest efforts! They still had a long way to go before they could fly gracefully like their parents! And what were the parents doing in the meantime? They were flying to and fro bringing more material to repair and expand the nests for their growing babies.
My other favourite birds? The gracefully shiny black darters or snake birds drying their wings in the sun. These are named after their long thin snake-like necks.
How can I forget the spoonbill? This is named after, yes, its curious spoon-shaped bill.
And then there was the black drongo, with its distinct forked-tail. The beloved kingfisher, with its bright turquoise colours. The adorably cute spotted owlets, baby and adult. And so many, many more beauties. Which will be your favourites?
Of course, it’s not just birds that one gets to see in the national park. Graceful spotted deer, speedy foxes and quietly still bats are the other wildlife I came across.
This article is titled ‘Bharatpur: Birds and Beyond’ as there is much beyond birds to be explored in Bharatpur and its surroundings. In Bharatpur town itself, there is a fort with its newly renovated small but excellent museum. The museum stays open until 8 PM and it is a great idea to go there after dark when it is beautifully lit up. The building itself contains a colourfully decorated Hamman. The charming museum houses displays of sculptures found in the Bharatpur area, ceramics, woodwork, metalwork, weapons and more.
An hour outside Bharatpur is Deeg Palace, which used to be the Bharatpur royal family’s summer residence. This palace really does take you back in time, being one of the few palaces in India that has its rooms decorated with furniture and Persian carpets just like in royal times. Some buildings and gates in the palace were even brought back from the Red Fort in Delhi and rebuilt at Deeg Palace when the rulers of Bharatpur won these in battle. The palace is most famous for its 2000 historical coloured fountains that are run twice a year with song and dance performances taking place in the palace gardens. Certainly a sight I would love to go back to see!
And what beyond birds and palaces? I was in Bharatpur during the festival of Govardhan Pooja. During the festival, people pray to Lord Krishna, a Hindu god. The festival marks the legend of the occasion when Lord Krishna lifted up Mount Govardhan to protect the people from torrential rains unleashed by the rain god Indra.Driving through the narrow streets, I found the curious sight of people making images of Lord Krishna outside their homes using cow dung. They were decorating these with greenery and would later pray to them. There are interesting cultural experiences and adventures to be had wherever one travels in India!