Get to the park early or the bicycles that you can rent will run out. Very affordable.
Much of the interior path is not paved, which is good for some realism, but you will certainly not feel like you are riding on a cloud by the end of the day. Still beats walking I think. Besides, how often do we get to travel by bicycle anyway!
The Keoladeo Ghana national park is open from 6:30am to 5:30pm but the most lively time to see the park is if you break the rules a bit. Around sunset, when you should be outside the park, is when the birds and animals come out to play in full force. You might get to see more in the last one hour than you did all day. Especially deers. It is like these gentle big-eyed pups have taken over the entire park. I have never seen so many deers out in the open at one place before! The photos will prove my point.
It is a long ride back to the exit, so don't get carried away like someone did =P
Birds and birding are the main nature draw at Keoladeo National Park. But, as I mentioned in an earlier tip concerning mammals and reptiles, there are other living beauties to enjoy on your park visit.
My daughter is a huge butterfly fan. She has a zillion butterfly t-shirts, she has a butterfly garden at home here in Florida, and her motto is literally, "I have a thing for wings". One of her favorite things we've ever done on vacation is to visit the Key West Butterfly House in south Florida.
So, the occasional exotic and different (to us, anyone) butterfly that frittered across our pathway always coaxed ooohs and ahhhhs from my daughter Sara. As you'd guess, I did snap a few photos and with Sara's help, I'll present and name them for you here.
When one is discussing Keoladeo National Park, it's easy to focus on the birds, the mammals, the reptiles... it is, after all, one of the world's great nature preserves. But, don't forget to just take in the gorgeous scenery, the intensity and peace of the wilderness itself. And, if you're into photography (as I am), this is a great place for incredible landscapes.
So, find the sun, frame your shots, and use my "secret weapon".... a slight underexposure for highlights and extra color.
Let me share a few of my favorite photos with this tip. Enjoy.
With its extensive marshlands and abundant supply of small fish, it stands to reason that this part of India would be home to large colonies of storks. In the accompanying photo, you see a group of "painted storks" hanging around a nest. So, that means that young storks are part of the group as well, which would lead the silly guy in me to muse about "the stork club" being "visited by the stork". ;)
Again, just a wonderful place to see these beautiful birds in large, healthy numbers.
It could have something to do with a popular Indian beer being called "Kingfisher", but.... I was really, really good at finding and spotting Kingfishers. A colorful bird with a large beak, these guys enjoy living around water and.... well, fishing. And come to think of it, maybe that's the connection on the name. Growing up in the American south, I was well familiar with the concept of fishing + beer. :)
Anyway, the kingfisher is a beautiful bird, and is quite easy to find in Keoladeo. Even novice birders like myself had no problem checking them off my list within the first ten minutes of a birding session. Now, don't ask me WHICH one of the 20-something KINDs of kingfishers it is... I leave that to experts like my wife and daughter.
Ok, having a little fun with this bird's name. Keoladeo is home to many of the raptor species, and we got a real good look at several. One of my favorites was the "honey buzzard". Get it? Two husband names.
"Honey, take out the garbage...."
"You should be ashamed of yourself, you old buzzard..."
Note, double-click the photo for a better look. I wanted to keep the background, so I didn't crop.
As much of Keoladeo is marshy, it's not surprising to know that there is a huge and very healthy population of larger water birds. Herons, storks, etc. These birds feed on the plentiful small fish, amphibians and reptiles resident in the park's marshlands.
For we photographers, these marshy areas really do present some beautiful landscapes, especially in the late afternoon. Get yourself a bit of a sunset, do a little "underexposure" and see how it all comes out. (Please see my opening page photo, which is a late afternoon shot of a Keoladeo marsh)
As for here, we have a look at two of the larger water bird species in the area, the black-faced ibis and the small egret. I'll bet you'll have no problem figuring out which one is the "black faced" ibis. :)
Keoladeo has a fine population of exotic birds, the sort of winged wonders you'd find in pet stores. And seeing these beautiful birds in the wild gave me the same feeling that I had several years earlier when we visited Tambopata in Peru... namely that I'd never quite feel the same seeing these gorgeous creatures in a cage.
Enjoy their color and freedom on your visit to the park.
The photos accompanying this tip are three shots of a beautiful rose-chested parrot. We got a good look at him on our first afternoon at Keoladeo.
Keoladeo National Park is known far and wide and primarily as a birding refuge and sanctuary. But, there are plenty of non-winged residents waiting for your visit. And considering the number of park visitors, some of these furry critters have lost their fear of humans. Sure, you'd best not reach out and touch them - they are wild animals. But, you'll be amazed at how "up close and personal" some of your animal encounters at Keoladeo will be.
In the accompanying photo of a resident antelope, let me point out that I used a standard camera lens. This is NOT a telephoto shot. This guy just walked right by our cycle rickshaw.
One of the biggest reasons that people visit Bharatpur is to enjoy the magnificent Keoladeo National Park, one of the world's great birding sites. There are several ways to enjoy the park, including on foot, via cycle rickshaw, and (depending on the time of year) via flatboat. Regardless of your method of visit, you will want the services of a good and eagle-eyed naturalist/guide. Who to call? I have a recommendation.
We used Mr Harish Kumar, and he was terrific. Patient, knowledgeable, and possessor of a cat's eye for spotting all sorts of birds, Harish made a great two days at Keoladeo even more specatacular. In another of my tips, you'll see a list of the birds we saw in the park over our two visits. One of the more rare sitings - according to Harish - was the golden oriole, a notably shy creature. Considering how difficult is was for my wife, daughter and I to eventually even find and see this beautiful bird with Harish's help, I still can't believe that he found it to start with.
Anyway, Harish will give you your money's worth and more. He'll tailor your experience to the things you specifically enjoy. For example, my daughter adores butterflies... so in addition to the birds, Harish made a special effort to point out the various different butterflies crossing our path on our visits.
The cost for Harish's services? He charged 450 rupees per 3 hour park visit, which is slightly less than $10 US. Well worth it, in my opinion. I'm sure you can find cheaper guides, but why visit if you don't want the best in naturalist services, right?
To contact Harish, here's what you need to know:
Harish Kumar, Naturalist/Tour Leader
LLFN - India (Life Life for Nature Society)
c/o of the Hotel Spoonbill, which is near the Saras Hotel
Bharatpur, 321001, Rajasthan, India
His Mobile number is 0-94140233246
Other numbers are
0091-5644-223571 or 226981 or 231006
Fax number 0091-5644-227734
His email is email@example.com
The desk at your hotel can probably get in touch with him for you. MY advice would be to make contact with Harish a few days or a week ahead of your visit, to insure that you procure the services of this great and personable guide.
As promised (or threatened) in the previous tip, here is a list of the birds we saw on our two visits (one morning and one afternoon) to Keoladeo. We chose to explore the park both times via cycle rickshaw, and we employed Mr Harish Kumar as our naturalist/guide (see separate tip). For photos of many birds seen during our visit, please see my travelogue(s) on this Bharatpur page.
Birds sighted in Keoladeo, October 7-8, 2008
rose ring parakeet
jungle babbler (VERY apt name!)
oriental magpie robin
purple heron (sounds like a Jimi Hendrix or a Prince song, doesn't it?)
peacock (THE national bird of India, by the way)
Indian saras crane
eurasian golden oriole (VERY rare and shy)
blue-tailed bee eater
Indian Silverbill finch
yellowfooted green pigeon
oriental honey buzzard
We also saw scores of antelope and deer.... and my daughter and Harish managed to find and chase a small black cobra into the brush. I'm glad they didn't catch it.
And again, if you really want to see the birds and animals, look at my photo travelogues on this page. :)
I know, I know, "Birdland" is the name given to the jazz enclave of Manhattan and the village in NYC. But, calling Keoladeo National Park (also called the Ghana Bird Sanctuary) in Rajasthan, India has parallels, given the sweet music of the ornitholocial cacaphony present in the park's 29 square kilometers of unspoiled beauty.
Keoladeo was, for years, a royal hunting sanctuary. The park was designated a birding sanctuary in 1956, and became an official national park in 1981. In 1985, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The park has some 200 species of year-round resident birds, and is also frequented by migratory visitors from all over Central Asia and as far afoot (or aflight) as the vast steppes of Eurasian Russia. Additionally, a large number of mammals and reptiles call the area home. There are stories of a female tiger being sited recently in the area, but I didn't find anyone on the ground in Bharatpur who confirmed that story.
Visiting the park costs 200 Rs (approx $4) per person, and 50 Rs (per vehicle) for entry. If you're going to use a video camera, you'll also need another 200 Rs ticket. Options for exploring the parks many paths are 1> on foot, or 2> via cycle rickshaw (50 Rs per person), or by self-biking (bikes rent for 25 Rs/hour), or 4> via gondola longboat during the winter. (these are 100 Rs and begin renting in late October) It is said the park is at its fullest and most beautiful between October and March. Summer visitors miss migratory birds, but will catch some nesting activity.
I do suggest that you acquire the services of a naturalist/guide. The park advertises them as being available at the gate, the charge being 70 Rs/hour for up to five people. However, my advice is to book an independent guide.... probably more knowledgeable, and will probably speak your language more clearly. Please see my separate tip concerning Mr Harish Kumar, and excellent choice.
On a separate tip, entitled Birdland II, The List, I will denote all of the birds that we saw and recorded on our two visits to Keoladeo. I also will be building a travelogue or two just to share additional birding photos for aficionados of the winged.
For my birder wife and daughter, visiting Keoladeo was heaven. For me, it's just a relaxing afternoon and morning, and the glorious opportunity for some excellent photography. If you appreciate nature, birds or just a bit of glorious tranquility, Keoladeo is worth the visit. And considering how crowded and noisy other parts of Indian life are, it's even more of a treasure.
Visit Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary to see 375 species of bird, spread out over 30 sq. kms, which will be pointed out to you by your guide/cycle-rickshaw driver who acts as an ornithologist too! The Park was originally set aside as a deer hunting site in 1850 and was frequented by Royalty. It was made into a bird sanctuary in 1956, a National Park in 1981 and a World Heritage Site in 1985.
Entry is approx. 200 rupees for foreigners, plus 200 rupees for video camera fees. Still cameras are free. Cycle-rickshaws charge around 50 rupees per hour. Best time to visit is Oct-Feb.
Recent lack of water (nearly no rain, not even during the monsoon-months since last three years) caused, that many birds disappeared and official map of the park (showing huge lakes) does not reflect the reality at all.
in spite of that the park remains worth visiting, mainly due to the possibility to spend here relaxing day without being part of organised group in a jeep like in other parks (cars are not allowed here at all!).
Recommendable idea is hiring a bicycle at the entrance as the area is not so small and this way you can quickly cross over the less interesting, dry parts of the area.
As mentioned you will not see as many birds as you would expect in a "bird reserve" but other animals (antelopes, monkeys) are not uncommon. Taking some peanuts or bananas for macaques is not a bad idea!