Friday, January 04, 2008

Bharatpur : Keoladeo Ghana National Park

Once inside the Keoladeo Ghana National Park for birds at Bharatpur, I had realized how beautiful this place had been 3 / 4 years back. But no more. The place is crying for water. Migratory birds have gone away. They may come again next year because they have been coming here for centuries. If situation do not improves then probably they will never come to this place again.

Bharatpur has been India’s only national park for birds. I remember reading about Bharatpur in my school books. The lake, surrounding wetlands and water bodies have been attracting large number of migratory birds for centuries. A wide enough metallic / black tar carpeted road runs across the park’s length. Several other well constructed peripheral roads lure you to explore other areas of the forest. The main road runs right through the main water body. Thus this probably gave visitors excellent opportunity to watch the birds from very close vicinity. The deserted nests atop the acacia tress are barely few feet away from the road. Further one could even enjoy boat rides through the canals to get still better views. Compare this to Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary near Gurgaon, where I went last month. The lake was very far away from the trek. Thus you do not get a chance to see the birds from close. The park authorities at Sultanpur have constructed 2 approach roads to let you get close to the water. But birds decide to stay away from these points. So all that you can see at Sultanpur, is large groups of birds several meters away. You need a good binocular. But it certainly was different at Bharatpur.

Unfortunately, the water in Bharatpur had dried up. Jungles of bushes and thorns have come up in areas which once used to wetlands. The ricksaw puller– cum guide told us that it had rained very little for last two years. But you can understand that it probably had not rained for many years, because the jungles and bushes are well growned. Up somewhere there is a dam which used to feed the lake. But water is not coming from that because of some political issues and agitation. In an effort to provide some succor, the park authorities have set up two deep tube-wells operated by DG sets, which keeps pumping water day and night into the canals. How can you fill a lake with water from tube well. Yet, most of the animals and birds that we got to see in the park, was seen around these two spots where water has sustained the wetlands. We saw several birds, herds of Sambhar deers and Nilgais feeding in water some 30 – 40 feet away. I must admit that this is the best view of Sambar deers I had ever had in wild. They were so relaxed, almost like domesticated. I had few fantastic photos of 3 Sambhars waiting to cross the road.

The ricksaw puller- cum - guide introduced to us many varieties of land birds seen on trees along the road. We have grown up seeing most of these birds in backyards at home (in Assam, not Delhi). Thus they had very little appeal to us. But we had enjoyed the atmosphere and feel of the jungle. It was unique in its own way. Apart from those common birds known to us, this is list of what else we saw : A fair of Saras crane which was really special. A Black Ibis, a pair of Rhodesian ducks, 3 midsize cranes, several Indian Mud Turtle, 2 different species of owls.

How to visit the Park :
You can visit the park either by riding a ricksaw or hire a bi-cycle. If you hire a bi-cycle, then you should also hire a guide. You will not see anything without a guide. The ricksaw pullers are trained as guides. Rickswas are available at the gates of the hotels or also at the gate of the park.

We had hired a ricksaw right from the gate of our hotel. Ricksaws can be hired @Rs.50/- per hour. Be assured that a trip will last about 5 hours. They will take you around 10 -12 km inside the park at a very slow pace. They certainly want to extend it as much as possible. But the slow traveling also helps you in spotting many varieties of land birds. We started the trip at 7:30 am, which was just after sunrise. The entry fee is Rs.25/- per head per trip. Children upto 15 years is free. The best thing is that there is no charge for still camera. For God sake, do not carry handycams.

We came back to the hotel for lunch. After lunch, we went to the park again at around 3 pm. This time we had hired bi-cycles which are available at the park gate @Rs.25/- per trip. I rode a bi-cycle after several years. It took few minutes for me to get adjusted to the cycle. I took Swathi with me while Mono rode a lady’s cycle. We knew the jungle well by now. So we rode at our pace and went straight to the spot where there is water. This cycle ride was one of the best parts of the trip. We rode into one of the by-lanes and had met some Nilgais returning home at sunset. I shoot a couple of not-so –spectacular sunsets. By the time we were back at the gate, it was almost dark.

Accommodation at Bharatpur :
There are several hotels located within 200 meters from the gate of the national park. This landmark is called Saras chowk, because of the RTDC hotel by the same name. This point is on the Agra – Jaipur highway and is located some 4 -5 km from the railway station. The railway station and the main town is on the other side of Bharatpur. Do not stay in the main town. You should come to this Saras chowk. To my estimate, there are around 10 hotels here. You can easily find accommodation here and it is not very costly either. We had traveled from Agra by a cab. The driver took us to Hotel Pratap Palace. We got very good room @Rs.500/- nett inclusive of taxes. Such rooms were quoted 1200 & above in Agra. Do not book online as rate quoted on the net are very high and also you lose the option of on the spot selection. The location is away from the town and crowd. We had stayed there for 2 nights.

There also is an Ashoka group hotel, probably by the name Bharatpur Ashok, located inside the park. This is an ITDC Hotel and is costly, in fact very costly.

Bharatpur town :
It had very little worth seeing other than the national park, which also is fast losing its charm. But located just 170 odd km from Delhi, it is a good drive out weekend gateway. There is fort named Lohagarh Fort, which appeared to me very ordinary. We had tour of the town on a ricksaw by paying Rs.50/-. Pritam Singh, the ricksaw puller took us to the market, to the Lohagarh Fort and to the Ganga Temple. The town reminded me the narrow laned market at Paltan bazaar in Dehradun. All the shops are in the market only. There is no shop around the hotel area, not even a pan shop to buy cigarettes.

The most notable thing you will observe in Bharatpur, is that most of the ricksaw pullers are Sradars or Sikhs. The image of a Sikh conjures up in mind the image of big 8 – 10 – 16 wheeler trucks riding majestically on the highways, not ricksaws. But here they are pulling ricksaws for livelihood. I could not stop asking Pritam Singh about it. In his middle age, Pritam Singh told me that his parents have migrated to Bhatartpur during partition. They could afford other livelihood earlier. But now they had no other option. And they are in real danger of losing that too as number of tourists are dwindling every year.





(Read more about Bharatpur on my second trip artcile on this link)

2 comments:

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Sumana Ganguly said...

Thanks Rups. Your blog has been extremely helpful. We just visited Bharatpur on the last weekend(22/23/24 April, 2011) when we had holidays for Easter in Delhi.We put up at Hotel Spoonbill, located in Saras Chowk, just beside the RTDC hotel. The owner was extremely friendly and it was a family like situation where my kids enjoyed with the owner and his wife at their room. We put up in a big double room and it costed us just Rs 500 daily and as you said there is not retaurant around, we had to depend on the hotel for food. The cook was highly talented and we enjoyed each morsel.Since it was hot, we visited the park early morning and were lucky to see quite a few birds,sambars and deer. The rickshaws charge Rs 70 per hour but it will be better if one can hire a cycle as it is much cheaper. Also, we visited Deeg, the summer palace of the Erstwhile maharaja of Bharatpur. Amazing palace, as the interiors are very cool and we could actually feel the change in temperature. But road condition is not satisfactory , specially the moment we left Bharatput towards Deeg, we came across a Railway Crossing and that took us an hour of horrible struggle in the scorching sun of 2pm to cross. But overall, the trip was very nice and we look forward to visit it this December once again. But one night saty is more than enough. Drive in the saturday evening, stay in hotel, visit park early morning and drive back...Thanks anyway.....Keep updating as and when you travel to a new place.