When travelling to India to discover its amazing wildlife destinations, one should not miss the famous Bharatpur bird sanctuary, yearly harbour of an impressive array of migratory and resident birds.
Bharatpur is the name of the city in Rajasthan which is the gate to Keoladeo National Park, a protected area of roughly 29 km2. Every year, during the winter months, over 350 different species of birds elect its grasslands and marches their home.
This incredible diversity makes Bharatpur one of the best destinations for bird watching in India and in the entire world.
Nestled in the marshes of the Gangetic plain, the sanctuary hosts many aquatic species, such as storks, cormorants, herons and ducks. If on a lucky day, one can hope to witness the fascinating courtship dance of the Sarus crane, looking for a companion to whom it will exclusively stick for life.
The dreamy landscape of Bharatpur is also home to raptors such as ospreys, falcons and eagles. Owls and owlets share the avian space of other species like the beautiful purple sunbird and the Indian grey hornbill.
But not only birds inhabit the misty marches of Bharatpur. Many other animals can be spotted in the sanctuary, such as nilgai (Indian blue bull), chital (spotted deer), the odd sambhar deer, wild cattle, snakes and other reptiles and amphibians.
A fairly unexpected guest
There are no large predators in Bharatpur bird sanctuary. This makes it an oasis of peace for its residents, unlike in other protected areas where the fight for survival can be much more difficult.
That’s why in 2010 a straying tiger from Ranthambhore dreaming to find its own territory decided to seize the opportunity of being the undisputed ruler of Bharatpur.
T7, a male in its prime, found its way from the famous Tiger Reserve and made it all the way to Bharatpur’s neighbouring villages. Pugmarks and cattle kills were a certain indication of the unexpected presence of a striped predator in the area.
A few days later, the presence of the tiger was recorded inside Keoladeo Wildlife Sanctuary after a nilgai kill was found by the Forest authorities.
The hunt for the rebellious animal started. It lasted four months. It’s easy to imagine the chirping sounds of Bharatpur being interrupted by the loud call of the spotted deer, an undoubted indicator of a tiger lurking in the grasslands.
But in the end, even the most solitary of all big cats must have felt lonely. The Forest Department eventually managed to lure the animal in the open using the recorded sound of a female calling for a mate.
T7, instead of fulfilling his dreams of starting a new tiger dynasty amongst the birds of Bharatpur, found himself tranquillised and was then relocated to Sariska Tiger Reserve.
A tiger with an attitude, he is now the dominant male of Sariska and has managed to survive in the hostile environment of a complicated history of tiger relocation.
With the tiger gone and the order finally re-established, birds started once again to be the undisputed stars of Bharatpur Sanctuary.
How to visit Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary
One of the most peaceful and easy going wildlife destinations in India, the park can be enjoyed in different ways.
Here no vehicles are allowed, no advanced booking is required since you can get your ticket just before entering the park. The ticket is valid for the full day and the park is open from sunrise to sundown, the hours varying according to the seasons.
The ticket price is 75 rs for Indian citizen and 500 rs for non-Indian.
Unlike in a Tiger Reserve, it is possible to walk through the protected area. This is of course the cheapest way to enjoy Keoladeo, but if your aim is hard core birding it’s probably better to look at other options.
It is possible to rent a bicycle and enjoy the ride in the park, but the best way to visit Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is to hire the services of a rickshaw driver and guide. These experienced people will cycle you around and show you the hidden treasures of the national park. That’s the best option if you are a photographer because it will help you carry all your material.
When to visit Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary
The best time to visit Bharatpur is during the winter months, when the migratory birds settle down in the sanctuary. Anytime between October to March is when you’ll have the chance to see a maximum number of species.
The weather is pleasant but it gets colder from December to February where the temperatures can go down to 05°- 12°C.
Summer months are quite harsh (it’s Rajasthan, after all) and the migratory birds fly back to their original countries. Those are the months you’d rather go to a tiger reserve !
How to reach Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary
Reaching Bharatpur is very easy given its very convenient position in the northern part of Rajasthan.
The closest airport is Agra (56 km) but one can reach the sanctuary quite easily even after landing in Delhi (184 km). Then the easiest solution is to ask your resort to send a car to pick you up.
There is a railway station in the city of Bharatpur ( 5 km from the bird sanctuary) with daily connection to all major centres such as Delhi, Agra, Mumbai and Jaipur.
If you are travelling throughout Rajasthan, you can also catch a bus from the most popular destinations like Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Ajmer.
A daily bus from Agra also connects Bharatpur if you are looking for a cheap travel option.