It happened during last Durga Puja all of a sudden. That evening, my husband and me were relaxing at the varandah, chatting with a cup of tea when suddenly the idea of watching birds at Bharatpur bird sanctuary dropped in. Bhartpur is not far away from Delhi. It is near Agra falling in the State of Rajasthan. We both love birds and seeing the internet found that the season has already started to watch beautiful birds over there. Accordingly, we booked rail ticket to Bhartpur, as this time we didn't want to drive down. Luckily we got accommodation in one of the popular resort out there named "The Bagh Resort".
It was early morning when we got down in Bhartpur railway station – a neat and clean small railway station. Renamed as Keoladeo National Park or Keoladeo Ghana National Park, Bharatpur National Park is a UNESCO-recognized World Heritage Park. To mark its identity, the walls of the rail station are painted with photographs of various beautiful birds. The resort property of Bagh resort is pretty huge with big garden area with swimming pool to relax. Peacocks in the garden welcomed us and we really felt at home with the warmth of the working people in the resort.
Now known as the Keoladeo National Park, earlier the area was used as a duck shooting preserve by the Maharaja of Bharatpur. After seeing the diverse range of flora and fauna flourishing in the park, the UNESCO declared it as a World Heritage Site in 1985.
The place is dotted with medium size trees and shrubs. Kadam, Jamun, and Babul trees cover a major portion of the park. The aquatic vegetation of the park is rich and suffices the food requirement for waterfowl. The 29 sq km area of Keoladeo National Park is not just known for birds. It is also a great place to watch mammals like golden jackal, jungle cat, nilgai, sambar and wild boar. It's a treat to watch them play, pounce and move around freely in their natural habitat. During the month of winter, pythons can also be found moving around sluggishly.
One of our friends suggested and gave phone number of a knowledgeable guide Mr. Vijendra of the Bird sanctuaryand we were lucky to get his time as he is a very busy guide. As contacted earlier, at the time given by him, we reached the sanctuary in the morning. There are four ways to roam around this Bird sanctuary and enjoy its various flora and fauna – by walking, by Rickshaw, by Tonga or by bicycle. Motor vehicles are not permitted inside the sanctuary premises. We took the third option as I am very much fond of cycling.
It was really an enjoyable day started in the morning till afternoon paddling the Bicycle, watching various species of birds, listening to their behaviour, fascinated by their livelihood. It was a great learning to know that so many species are available. In the same time it is very much heartening to know the extinction of some species which are slowly becoming very rare.
Mr. Vijendra is equipped with his very powerful telescope which he was carrying on his shoulder. When he finds any bird sitting at a distant, immediately he gets down and place his telescope on tripod and showed them to us. Not only he showed us, he explained their behaviour, history, livelihood, etc. He knows every bit of the sanctuary, so in some places he stopped and showed us those birds where they always had been there. Not only birds, he has the knowledge of dragonflies also. There are various varieties of dragon flies available in that area. Accordingly we had seen lot many birds like cranes, pelicans, geese, ducks, eagles, hawks, shanks, stints, wagtails, warblers, wheatears, flycatchers, buntings, larks, pipits, peacock, parrot, haron, stork, etc, etc. Migratory birds also used to come in this area, however of late their population is alarmingly decreasing.
The bird sanctuary is also a heaven for photographers as it gives lots of opportunity to the photographer by its human friendly birds. Also there exist lot of beautiful spots to take photographs like Sunrise point, Sunset point, etc. Vijendra helped us taking beautiful close up photographs of birds by using his powerful telescope.
The bird sanctuary is having both wetland as well as grass land. Few of the species need water, so for the dry days to suffice the needs of these species , solar powered pumps are installed at various places to pump the water from deep tubal.
In one place, we saw a beautiful area covered with huge trees on the bank of a wet land. On top of those big trees, we saw many Storks relaxing and enjoying sunbathing. These Stork birds are really beautiful with long legs. We saw few of them standing on the treetop opening their big wings giving shadow to their babies. As it was morning time, few of them were feeding their babies too. That scene was really nice to watch.
Continuing cycling, enjoying beautiful surroundings, seeing lots of birds we went ahead and finally reached Keoladeo temple. It is a very old Shiva temple situated at one end of the park. Near it, there exists a small cafeteria where one can enjoy a cup of tea or drink a coke and relax for some time to get energised for the return journey. When we returned, the sun was at the top and activity of the birds stopped as they were relaxing and might be taking afternoon nap.
The way Mr. Vijendra explained to us about each and every species, both of us became so interested and fond of the park that, next day also we planned to visit the park again to feel and see the afternoon and evening atmosphere of the jungle.
Accordingly Mr. Vijendra accompanied us next day. The evening atmosphere in the park particularly sunset over the jungle as well as over the wet land was really nice. Vijendra took us to a beautiful site to enjoy the sunset. Enjoying the sunset sitting comfortable on the ground we chatted with Vijendra and asked him about his life journey in the jungle.
Vijendra lived with his parents in the nearby village when he used to come to this jungle with his herd of buffalos. When he was a teen age boy, he was told by a man in the jungle to fetch birds using net and put rings in their leg and send them off. The man was Late Dr Salim Ali, who was one of the renowned Ornithologists of India. He carried out study of migratory birds in that region. Working in his group Vijendra got interested in the subject of birds and dragonflies exist in the region. We are really surprised to see how an illiterate person like him speaks English and can spell all species in their English names. It is also surprising to know that he is one of the authors of a dragonfly book published for Bharatpur bird sanctuary, which later on I bought from its shop.
It became dark while listening to Vijendra. While talking he was also forgetting the time. Suddenly he said, "Let's move, it's getting dark. To me, he said, "Madam, come fast."
Yes, I was paddling as fast as I could. We never knew that after sunset, the place would get dark so soon. On the way, we saw few Neelgais standing on the road. May be they were waiting to receive their babies. Seeing us they got afraid and ran towards the jungle. Equally with them I too got frightened. I was really afraid thinking what else would come out next! But, I also enjoyed looking at the sparkling stars at the top and the surrounding darkness in that dense forest.
With lot of memories of Bharatpur we returned back. Of course before returning we visited beautiful Palace of Maharaja of Bharatpur. It is now preserved as a museum keeping the old memories alive.
While returning, in the rail station we saw the pictures of beautiful birds again. They were smiling at us inviting us to visit them again. I told them, "Surely will meet you again."