Birdwatching in Bharatpur

Dates of the trip: 29th Nov 2019 to 1st Dec 2019

Read this post to see how you can plan an exciting long weekend loop road-trip from Delhi to Bharatpur to Agra with a half day trip to Fatehpur sikri.

Are you a Birdwatcher ?

Are you a Wildlife enthusiast?

Are you a Nature photographer?

Are you a History buff?

Are you an Architecture nerd?

If YES is your answer then Bharatpur (an all rounder city of sorts) is just the place for you! as it was just the one for us!!

And this is how you can reach it:

By train: Trains come to Bharatpur station from all major cities in northern India like Delhi, Agra, Jaipur.

By flight: Although Agra has an airport, no flights land there as it’s mainly an airforce station. Making New Delhi the nearest airport.There are many options on Delhi airport to hire a taxi. Some hotels in Bharatpur send taxis to the airport to pick up their guests. 

By road: Driving to Bharatpur or hiring a taxi is the easiest way of transport (although might not the cheapest) and gives you the flexibility of visiting multiple places without wasting too much time. There are intercity bus services too which are frequently available. There are a couple of websites for self drive car rentals too. For our trip, we took my father’s Honda city via Yamuna expressway.

After exiting the buttered Yamuna express near Mathura a thin crampy city road goes straight to Bharatpur. Large stretches of green fields with eucalyptus trees dotted all over continue to fascinate all who travel. Welcome to the central plains on India.

Dead fallen trees make a perfect place for birds to roost, reptiles to climb and animals to hide.

Best places to visit in Bharatpur:

Keoladeo National Park: Man made bird sanctuary with highest density of resident birds in the country and home to many migratory birds

Lohagarh Fort: A fortress built by Maharaja Suraj Mal includes a museum. It’s a great place to visit to see and to appreciate the historic statues and architecture. It’s well kept and gives a  glimpse of the architecture brilliancy and grandeur. Read more here about this fort.

In this post, I would concentrate on Keoladeo National Park as that’s where me and my family went as part of our road trip. Main intention of our trip was bird watching and wildlife photography which was highly rewarded.

Sunbathing, lesser whistling ducks

Weather reports: 

Bharatpur is an all year round destination. The fort and museum can be visited at any time between 10AM and 8PM (Monday closed).

For the national park,

Summers (March-June) can be very hot but that is when the resident birds are nesting and breeding in Keoladeo National Park. Roaming in the sun can be daunting (hello Rajasthan!) and continuous re-hydration and body cover is recommended.

Monsoons (July-October) are pleasant and rains are rare, although the the side lanes for birding in the park may get muddy and slippery. This though is the recommended time to see nesting and breeding of waterfowls in the park.

Winters (October – February) is by far the most suited time as that’s when the migratory birds come in and paint a different tone to the park’s beauty.

Couple goals, Sarus cranes

::Keoladeo National Park::

The name of Keoladeo National Park (also known as Bharatpur bird sanctuary) is named such because of Keoladeo Shiva temple which is inside the park. The park is the home of many foreign and domestic migratory birds. Major attractions are Owls, Painted Storks, Egyptian vultures, Sarus crane, different varieties of ducks and many more. It is also home of Spotted deer, Nilgai, Jackals, turtles, Pythons, Sambar and Hyenas. Check out this page for details of history and functioning of the park. As this is a man made hunting ground turned into a natural preserve, located in at the confluence of Gambhir and Banganga rivers (tributaries of Yamuna) it’s water inlets are limited and any drought conditions in the surrounding areas directly affects the number of birds that nest here. It’s location as swamp gives it a remarkable diversity of habitats and is an ideal haven for aquatic, semi aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.

The national park brochure picked up at the ticket office | Paths followed during the two day trip

Essential information:

Open time: Sunrise to Sunset

The souvenir shop, ticket office, tourist interpretation center and forest office etc.. opens only by 8am and close by 5pm.

Relishing breakfast, Egyptian vulture

Ticket cost for an Indian: Rs75

Ticket cost for a Foreigner: Rs500

Tickets can be bought on the spot and is valid for the whole day – single entry. (I kid you not, once your interest builds… even the whole day would feel short). Do not hesitate to ask for a map and pamphlet. They are free and will help in understanding park orientation and history.

Bird Guide fees: Rs250 per group / per hour. It’s government regulated and there is no point trying to negotiate it.

The fee might sound steep and may not seem like a necessary expense but I can not insist enough to hire one for your first trip inside the park. Even if you are not a bird watcher, they will make the trip enjoyable and more successful than it would be if you go solo (might inspire you to pick up the hobby after-all!). Always try to get a guide with a monocular. They are excellent to observe the birds hidden away in the foliage and helps the guide to show you the bird instantaneously without wasting time in describing you the location and making it fly away. Even if you have an excellent DSLR or a high end binoculars, just take a moment and enjoy the bird’s expressions and actions through these powerful instruments. You will not regret it. Ours was Tarun Singh, a great companion for birding in the park. We were very impressed with him and would definitely recommend him to all amateur or professional birders out there. (Please send me a mail for his phone number and book him directly). He was excellent at spotting as well as keeping our enthusiasm high during the whole trip. He has a lot of knowledge about birds, their habitats and the parks history. He has been trained by the birding pioneers around the world and puts his knowledge to good use.

Still sleepy, spotted owlet

Transport inside the park:

Cycle rickshaw fees: Rs150 per hour . It’s government regulated and there is no point trying to negotiate it.

Our choice of transport every-time, the rickshaw pullers are authorized guides and are pretty fluent in English. They know almost all spots and names. If you have an option, opt for the older ones. They will have a lot of old stories for you about the park. Ours was working there since 1983 and regularly participated in friendly conversations and storytelling. Keep in mind, though they have a keen eye for birds they can not replace the naturalists working as guides. Although many times we felt that they were faster in spotting birds like snuggled up owls and far away cranes than the naturalists/guides. The drawback is also that they can not leave their rickshaw and walk on the side paths with you, restricting their support unlike the guides who can walk around with you at your pace. If you let them know about your next day plans, they agree to pick you up from your hotel and drop you back.

Our rickshaw was being cycled by Pratap Singh. His rickshaw name is Crested serpent eagle. There are around 105 rickshaws with valid licence to ride inside the park and each is named after the birds found in the park.

Bicycle fees: Rs50 for half day

It’s in my wish-list that I would cycle across the Keoladeo National park one day (and almost did in this tip). But unfortunately, Sunny and his bazooka of a camera can possibly not fit on a bicycle. Undoubtedly this is a great idea if you are really not interested in guidance for birding or have had your first few trips with a guide and have a general idea of the park and it’s residents. It’s a cool idea to explore the park at your leisure. It is an excellent way (and my way of romantic!) to spend a winter day.

Walking: Free (Yeii!!!)

Excited as I might sound, I would not recommend this way of touring the park. The park is spread across 30sq kms(aprox). It would be challenging to walk across the length and enjoy birds and walk back the whole length. Everyone knows the real bird action is in the bi-lanes and not on the main road being used by the tourist crowd. Even if you take the rickshaw, you will need to walk in these bi-lanes as rickshaws don’t go on the crooked roads. So, better to save your energy for these shorter routes.

The naturalist/guide would take the same mode of transport as the visiting employer would. There are other modes of transport too like the golf cart and horse driven tonga for Rs 300 per hour for 6 people. Boating facilities are available on the swamp for Rs 75 per hour per person. I rarely saw people use these , maybe because of the costs.

On cycle rickshaws, alert for bird calls

Accommodation around the park:

There are many many options of accommodations in the city for all budgets. Starting from comfortable good guest houses like ‘Iora’ to bigger luxury hotels like ‘Laxmi vilas Palace’ and ‘The Bagh’.

We stayed in a hotel right opposite the park called ‘Hotel the Park’. The hotel is recently renovated and I think the work is still going on in some sections. Though the interiors, comfort and look was first class. The staff did not match-up. They were friendly and helpful as good humans but not trained or groomed enough to cater a good hotel like this nor were they ready for guests on a weekday. The cook was good and the food was well prepared according to our instructions. As their proximity is closest to the bird sanctuary we were hoping that they would cater to any typical birdwatcher by having the facility of providing bed tea before sunrise or having the option of packing breakfast/lunch but no such option was available, disappointing. A lesson learnt, it’s best to confirm such things before booking any accommodation for birding purposes. They may be new to business, and may learn about these things as they develop but I won’t shy away from staying here again as they have the best location and very comfortable, clean rooms. Always keep in mind that if you are booking accommodation through an aggregate website like Booking.com or GoIbibo.com etc.. – Always, ALWAYS call the hotel and confirm the booking. It has twice happened with us wherein we were welcomed by a surprised receptionist, having no idea of our booking in his/her hotel. It’s always such a fuss.

There are a couple of stay options inside the park as well (we saw them while walking on the bi-lanes before the first checkpost  like Shanti Kutir and Ashoka Forest Lodge. They looked pretty good. I am a bit unclear on how to book rooms here as these don’t seem to be listed online. But calling the park office seems to be a good start.

Looking out for trouble, painted stork

Food in and around the park:

Although, according to our itinerary we were outside the park during meal times and our hotel did not have the facility to provide packed meals, many hotels & guest houses provide packed breakfast and even send fresh lunch to the canteen near the Keoladeo temple. The guest houses inside the park also provide food facility. For a short chai and snack break, stop at the Keoladeo temple and feast with babblers, mynas & bulbuls in the garden outside the canteen next to the temple.

Always hungry, hoopoe

Money matters : All payments in the park are cash only.

Alternate suggestions:

We were in the park for an afternoon & early evening birding session the day we reached and another session early morning the next day as soon as the fog cleared up a bit. During this trip we did not get a chance to see the Lohagarh fort and museum. Instead we visited the neighboring old city of Fatehpur sikri, location of India’s most popular mughul emperor Akhbar’s palace.

Rare spotting, bluethroat (male)

Birds we saw on this trip to Keoladeo national park:

For more visual treat, make sure you follow us on Instagram and to see some great wildlife pictures check Sunny’s Instagram account too!

Check out the e-bird website link for bird list.

Chilling in the shade, monitor lizard

Animals & reptiles we saw on this trip to Keoladeo national park:

  • Neelgai
  • Spotted deer
  • Sambhar deer
  • Monitor lizard
  • Green watersnake
  • Turtles & Terrapin
Basking in the sun, terrapin

Birds to watch-out for in our next trip:

  • Siberian ruby throat
  • Nightjar
  • A better look at the dusky eagle owl
Jumping around to catch a lizard, green watersnake

Is Bharatpur worth it?

Absolutely worth the detour, if your destination is Agra, a strong contender as a destination on its own too. This place is a must visit if you are around the city or have a weekend to spare. Although it has a bloody history (above 4000 birds killed in one of the hunting trips conducted here – check out the boards near Keoladeo temple to see the number of waterfowls killed in each hunting trip), the cycle ride across the park with a loved one can be an excellent way to spend a morning. If you are a birdwatcher, this is the first chapter of ‘Indian birds for dummies 101’, get your camera/binoculars out and get clicking/spotting. Even if you are not and don’t have these instruments, just go with the guide and let him show you the avian treasures hidden away among the dense forest.

Most congenial bird in town, white breasted waterhen (I named it kur-kur, it loves munching on kurkure)

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