The ceaseless search for a great weekend destination often boils down to a trade-off between time and exquisiteness. Everyone has a bucket list of destinations that he would love to flock to only IF HE HAD THE TIME. This weekend I tried to break away from the monotony of the proverbial concrete jungle that Delhi has come to be. I decided to tick off a destination that has been on my list for some time. And the destination was Bharatpur.
Situated on the borders of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan is the town of Bharatpur. The principal center of attraction is the "Keoladeo National Park" previously known as the "Ghana National Park". It is approximately a 3–4-hour drive from Delhi. I left for Bharatpur at around 11:30 PM. The roads are predominantly good however the toll taxes are sure to cause a pinch on your pocket. By the time I reached Bharatpur, it was freezing cold and the wind did not make the situation any better. I decided to sleep for an hour or two in the car before I could start my day.
At around 6:30 AM, I entered the sanctuary. Hiring a bicycle or a rickshaw is a must here because of the expanse of the park. The rickshaw-pullers are generally trained enough to tell you every detail of the birds can be spotted here. However, they tend to charge you heavily and can con you into paying way more than you expected. It must be mentioned that the best time of visiting this paradise is during the winters.
"Keoladeo National Park" is approximately 29 square kilometers large and is home to nearly 400 species of birds. It was formerly used as a "hunting ground for waterfowls" however in the year 1976, the government declared this to be a bird sanctuary. Later in the year 1985, the UNESCO included this in the list of "world heritage sites". The park was originally named as "Ghana" but later its name was changed to "Keoladeo", after the name of a deity whose idol found under a banana tree. Orinthologist and naturalist Salim Ali, was instrumental in the declaration of the bird sanctuary. An "interpretation center" named after him is present inside the campus of this bird sanctuary.
Anyway, I was lucky enough to spot a few pelicans, an Indian hornbill, a few kingfishers, coots, parakeets, and a few other birds. I also got to see a few wild boars and a python. If you have a powerful camera or DSLR, the fun of spotting birds is multiplied. If however, you do not have a camera you can always rent a pair of binoculars. You can then use your mobile phone and binoculars for a perfect shot of the birds here. If one wishes to stay at this place, he can always choose to stay at a guest house inside the premises of the national park. I had no such plans and after a few hours of visiting the national park, I decided to witness the other aspects of the rich cultural fabric that Bharatpur is.
Bharatpur was a princely state under the Raj and was ruled by Hindu Jat rulers. These rulers were originally peasants who revolted against a crumbling Mughal Empire and asserted their autonomy. Most significant of these rulers were Maharaja Suraj Mal. The history of these rulers is long forgotten and are generally not mentioned in textbooks. The Lohagarh fort was built by these Jat rulers. The Bharatpur Museum inside this fort is not only beautiful but also very serene. Other parts of the fort are also devoid of the large crowd of visitors that are so atypical of all monuments of the subcontinent and provide a very tranquil setting for an afternoon walk.
The decreasing number of migratory birds is a major cause of concern for this avian paradise. The lack of security inside the premises is another cause of concern. Furthermore, a majority of the historical monuments of this area are perishing under neglect.
All in all, if you are a lover of nature and you want to spend a day in the wild, Bharatpur may be a good choice for you, as it has been for me.