It was one of those weekend evenings, when during a crib session with a group of friends we suddenly decided to take off in our car & drive down to what I call ‘a birders’ paradise’, Bharatpur.
Bharatpur is a tiny dot in the state of Rajasthan – would have been just another city had it not been for India’s largest avifauna protected reserve situated there. A 180kms drive from Delhi, Bharatpur can easily be reached via the Agra-Mathura highway in about three and a half hours. Bharatpur’s main attraction, the Koladeo National Park, formerly known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary stretches over 29 square kms playing host to thousands of birds that migrate to India during winter to escape the harsh cold of the West.
While October to March are the best months to visit the sanctuary to spot migratory birds, the months of August-September are the mating months & lots of domestic birds are spotted nesting. However, my recommendation would be to travel in February-March after the foggy weather in the North gets cleared as you would want to visit the park on a bright sunny day to be able to clearly spot the birds that are perched far away on the trees.
Once there, make sure you have atleast one entire day to explore the entire park – if not more. Best time to catch the birds is when they come out of their nests to the lake – either early in the morning or later in the evening around 5ish. While the mornings are more for the birds, the animals get spotted more in the evenings.
You can travel around the entire national park either in a rickshaw, hire a cycle or just walk. Walking just gives you the liberty to leave the motorable road & discover the forest through the bushes & tall grasses, giving you the feeling of an expedition, adventure. Make sure you are wearing comfortable covered shoes as the terrain may not be very easy to navigate.
What you will surely need is a guide who can, not only show you around, but also explain clearly all the history behind each bird that gets spotted. Sometime you will walk by, not even knowing that there is anything special about a normal sparrow perching somewhere – wait till you hear tales from these guides. We chanced upon Babulal guide, experienced, born and brought up in Bharatpur, who knew every corner of the jungle like the back of his palm.
Once there we realized, even the rickshaw walas pretend to be guides, even looking at a domestic sparrow & managing to convince you that it has flown all the way from Siberia!! Hence the suggestion, while you may want to go around the forest in a rickshaw, do opt for a guide – preferably one who looks experienced & mature – its lovely to hear them narrate.
Hike around the park with substantial time to enjoy flora, fauna & birds in their most beautiful natural surroundings.
Despite its popularity & a great foreign tourist attraction, you will not find any 4 or 5 star properties in Bharatpur. However, there are many hotels all lined up next to the sanctuary that offer comfortable stay. Post all our researches, we stayed in this hotel called Hotel Sunbird, a minute’s walk from the sanctuary & a great hotel to be in – totally worth the money in terms of the rooms, food, location, hygiene & landscape. Try and get yourself booked in one of the cottages that border the beautiful greenery & foliage, bang in the middle of the property.
After a hard day of trek, nothing tastes as good as Laal Maans, roti & some onions to go with it. In and around the park, the food is very basic – however, the dhabas are decently good to grab a meal. Anda bhurji-paratha, daal-roti, chai-pakora, some combinations that are worth the try.
The ‘Clicking’ Nomads 10 travel tips for Bharatpur
- Get yourself a hotel, walking distance from the National Park
- Please walk around the park & try to avoid the temptation for the rickshaw!
- Make sure your guide is one from the elder lot & has greyed enough!
- Carefully follow the track that your guide chooses to take instead of detouring him – trust me, he knows more about the forest than anybody else!
- Carry binoculars – will be helpful unless you have absolutely brilliant eye sight!
- Do not forget to try the Laal Maans – Rajasthani’s generally don’t make a mistake preparing this!
- Whatever whoever may say – February-March are the best months to visit the sanctuary
- Odomos/ mosquito repellent – a good idea to carry
- Comfortable walking shoes – a must
- Lastly, remember that you are the guest to the birds in their home & not vice versa – respect the serenity & enjoy the natural surroundings along with them!