National Park, Rajasthan
in eastern Rajasthan, about 176 kms away from Delhi, and 50
km west of Agra, is the Keoladeo Ghana
or Bharatpur National Park, one of the most spectacular
bird sanctuaries in India, nesting indigenous water- birds
as well as migratory water birds and water side birds. It
is also inhabited by sambar, chital, nilgai and boar. More
than 300 species of birds are found in this small park of
29 sq. km. of which 11 sq. km. are marshes and the rest scrubland
Keoladeo, the name derives from an ancient Hindu temple, devoted
to Lord Shiva, which stands at the centre of the park. 'Ghana'
means dense, referring to the thick forest, which used to
cover the area. While many of India's parks have been developed
from the hunting preserves of princely India, Keoladeo Ghana
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 earthern 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 Keoladeo 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. Hunting was
prohibited by mid-60s. The area was declared a national park
on 10 March 1982, and accepted as a World Heritage Site in
350 species of birds find a refuge in the 29 sq km of shallow
lakes and woodland, which makes up the park. A third of them
are migrants, many of whom spend their winters in Bharatpur,
before returning to their breeding grounds, as far away as
Siberia and Central Asia. Migratory birds at Keoladeo include,
as large a bird as Dalmatian pelican, which is slightly less
than two meters, and as small a bird as Siberian disky leaf
warbler, which is the size of a finger. Other migrants include
several species of cranes, pelicans, geese, ducks, eagles,
hawks, shanks, stints, wagtails, warblers, wheatears, flycatchers,
buntings, larks and pipits, etc.
But of all the migrants, the most sought after is the Siberian
Crane or the great white crane, which migrates to this site
every year, covering a distance of more than half the globe.
These birds, numbering only a few hundred, are on the verge
of extinction. It is birds from the western race of the species,
that visit Keoladeo, migrating from the Ob river basin region,
in the Aral mountains, in Siberia via Afghanistan and Pakistan.
There are only two wintering places, left for this extremely
rare species.One is in Feredunkenar in Iran, and the other
is Keoladeo Ghana. The journey to Bharatpur takes them 6,400
kms from their breeding grounds, in Siberia. They arrive in
December and stay till early March. Unlike Indian cranes,
the Siberian crane is entirely vegetarian. It feeds on underground
aquatic roots and tubers in loose flocks of five or six.
Seventeen species of birds, namely, grey heron, purple heron,
night heron, large egret, median egret, little egret, cattle
egret, large cormorant, Indian shag, little cormorant, darter,
painted stork, open-billed stork, black-necked stork, white-necked
stork, white ibis and spoonbill are known to breed at Keoladeo
heronry and the heronry here, is said to be one of the finest
in the world. Talking about the heronries of the world, Roger
Tony Peterson wrote, "Perhaps the most impressive spectacle
of all is the great assemblage at Bharatpur, near Agra, India,
where half a dozen species of herons and egrets nest in association
with painted storks, spoonbills, ibises and cormorants..."
What is peculiar to Bharatpur, is that many of the species
are specialist feeders, like the Siberian crane. Each helps
itself to one ingredient of the wetland soup. Flamingos sieve
the water for plankton, spoonbills rake the mud with their
lower mandibles for mollusks, tadpoles and weed, while egrets
and herons spear their prey, and geese and brahminy ducks
graze at the water's edge.
The Keoladeo heronry is full of fervent activity. Besides
the avian fauna, a large variety of mammals and reptiles are
also common in the park.These include the nilgai, sambar,
chital, leopard and the wild boar. A bonus to reptile-lovers
are the large rock pythons which can be spotted, sunning themselves,
especially at Python Point, beyond the Keoladeo Temple.
The unique mix of marshes, pastures and woodland and the floral
communities at Keoladeo is the key to the high density and
diversity of flora and fauna.
When to Visit
The park is open throughout the year, although most visitors
choose to come between October and February, when wintering
wildfowl assemble in thousands on the lakes. The breeding
season is between August and October.
How to Get There
The nearest railhead is Bharatpur (2km) and the nearest airport
is at Agra (50 km).