Three days of holidays and all my husband and I wanted was a vacation to loosen the joints, shed our official demeanour and be children once again, preferably in the lap of nature, far away from the Delhi smog. The idea of being surrounded by a canopy of trees, feeling the moistness of winter dew and making out the trill of early morning birds and animals was irresistible.
A friend suggested the Bharatpur bird sanctuary in eastern Rajasthan. “Not too much time lost in travel and the ideal place to either be a child or to take children to, if you swear by the mantra of explore, discover, find out,” he said.
That clinched it. Bharatpur, or Keoladeo Ghana National Park as the bird sanctuary is known, it was – at a distance of a four hour car drive from the nearest metro, Delhi. Maybe we would see some of its famous winter visitors – the Siberian cranes – though the numbers of these famous long distance travellers are on the decline now.
How did the birds come?
More than two centuries ago, much of the land around Bharatpur used to be semi-arid and dependent on the monsoon’s caprice. It was used more for ‘shikar’ or hunting by the erstwhile rajas of Bharatpur.
But, in the 18th century, the then Maharaja of Bharatpur brought water through an irrigation canal, and the area began to get a greener look. And soon enough, birds began to settle there in vast numbers.
Interesting! A living example of ecology, the interrelationship between humans and nature.
The best season for birds
The best time to visit Bharatpur is between October and late February. This is when you are likely to see birds of the same as well as different feathers flocking together. The park houses around 354 species of birds, which include the greatly endangered species of Siberian crane.
The best time to watch birds
Visit the park at dawn, for that’s when birds leave their nests to hunt for food. The best way to see the park is on a bicycle or in a rickshaw. There are ornithologist guides whose services can be retained for a nominal fee to take you around.
Or, if your are determined to do it on your own, get into the bookshop in the premises, buy a copy of ‘Common Birds’ by Dr Salim Ali and Laeeq Futehally, and learn to identify a bird from an insect and then a bird from a bird! You’d be surprised how quickly you can learn.
Keep your binoculars ready to get a close look at the birds, for trying to get close physically will only frighten them away. You can also get binoculars on hire at the park.
Activities for children and adults
- Get into the spirit, for there are only children and older children on such trips!
- Carry a pen and a paper and write down the name and the characteristics of the birds seen. This can be an excellent learning trip, especially for children who will plough back their experience into their schooled universe at some point.
- Be it a sketch, a photograph or a word picture, these activities will enhance the ability of children to observe, document, express or articulate emotions.
- Take a walk into the town, and talk to the people who live there. Compare their views about Bharatpur with your whirlwind impressions of it.
- Carry insect repellents that are not too harsh for children.
- Pack oral rehydration salts.
- Keep boiled or bottled water. Walking can make you thirsty.
- Take well-fitting, enclosed shoes for children.
- Baby backpacks to carry your infant in, would be ideal, as you will have to walk around a lot.
- Keep a ready supply of munchies and snacks to keep you going inside the park. You might not get anything to eat once inside the park.
- Carry pre-mixed baby formula for your infant.
- Wear long sleeved clothes to keep away bugs.
- Keep medicines for common allergies, band-aid for minor cuts.
- Carry old shopping bags to deposit used diapers and tissues.So, are you ready to hit the road?
There are a number of buses to Bharatpur from Agra, Delhi and Jaipur. (Delhi: the Inter State Bus Terminus, and Bikaner House). Bharatpur has rail connections from Delhi and Mumbai.
For those interested in a slightly longer travel plan, it might be worth the while to include Agra and Fatehpur Sikri as well.