Bharatpur is small town (by Indian standards – which means a population of about 200,000 people) that is half way on the train route from Ranthambhore to Delhi. Bharatpur is home to one of the best bird sanctuaries in India – namely the Keola Deo Ghana National Park. I left for Bharatpur for a week in the first week of February.
Bharatpur has a number of small and big lodges but the only one that I stay in is The Birder’s Inn. The owner of The Birder’s Inn – Teerath Singh is a great friend of mine. Besides owning and running this lodge he also leads wildlife tours on a freelance basis. My guides (or Gurus – to be more precise) in Bharatpur are Laxmi Mudgal (who is by far the best birder in Bharatpur) and Rajeev (who owns and runs a drug store – that is when he not busy taking pictures in the bird sanctuary). If I go to Bharatpur and do not stay with Teerath, he would probably kill me. Birder’s Inn is a small 12-room lodge but a great place – good food, clean room and great company – and they sure know how to get you drunk on dark rum.
Situated at the confluence of the Gambhir and Banganga rivers in the Bharatpur district of Rajasthan, the sanctuary was originally a natural depression prone to seasonal flooding. Over a period of time it developed into a lush, thriving system of freshwater marshes that attracted a large and diverse population of migratory birds. The Maharajas of Bharatpur added some bunds (dykes) and developed it as a duck shooting reserve. You can see the list of their exploits inside the park. Later, when hunting was stopped, it was deemed a Bird Sanctuary and later a National Park.
The park is generically called Bharatpur, after the town but its official name is Keoladeo Ghana. “Ghana” means dense while Keoladeo is derived from the Shiva temple situated at the heart of the park. Shiva, in his form of Pashupati or Lord of the Animals is the protector of the park’s various species. The fascinating mix of wetlands, woodlands, woodland swamps and dry grasslands has blessed the park with a rich biologically diverse birdlife. Keoladeo and its surrounding area host over 400 bird species and a single day trip may yield 140 species.
Bharatpur is paradise for outdoor photographers, particularly when there is no water shortage in the Park. Most of the water for the Park in Bharatpur comes from the Pachana dam on the non-perennial river Gambhir. However, for the last few years some local politicians have been ensuring that this water is diverted for a small group of rich farmers, who grow mustard in their field around the dam. Diverting this water makes a small group of rich farmers (who are politically very vocal) richer. However, there are many small and marginal farmers (who are not so politically influential) who make a living growing vegetables on the river bed of Gambhir, whose economy take a big hit when the water from Pachana dam is not released for Bharatpur. The once thriving tourism industry of Bharatpur (that employs over 20,000 people – directly and indirectly) also takes a huge hit, whenever the water from Pachana dam is not released for Bharatpur.