In spite of a comparatively hostile terrain, Rajasthan surprisingly is the abode of a number of mammals and birds. Its vast size and latitudinal variations above the sea level of 1,700m provides it with varied vegetation. It provides semi green forests of Mount Abu to dry grasslands of the desert, and from the dry deciduous thorn forest of Aravali to wetlands of Bharatpur. So today let us have a look at the Keoladeo Ghana National Park.
The Keoladeo Ghana National Park or Keoladeo National Park was formerly known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Bharatpur, Rajasthan. It is a famous avifauna sanctuary that plays host to thousands of birds especially during the winter season. It was declared a protected sanctuary in 1971 and a World Heritage Site in 1985.
Keoladeo Ghana National Park is a man-made and man-managed wetland. The reserve protects Bharatpur from frequent floods, provides grazing grounds for village cattle. The 29 km reserve is locally known as Ghana, and is a mosaic of dry grasslands, woodlands, woodland swamps, and wetlands. These diverse habitats are home to 366 bird species, 379 floral species, 50 species of fish, 13 species of snakes, 5 species of lizards, 7 amphibian species,7 turtle species, and a variety of other invertebrates. The Sanctuary is one of the richest bird areas in the world.
Historical records describe the park as a depression supporting thick forest (hence the name ‘Ghana’)’ which was subjected to seasonal flooding by the waters of river Banganga. The first conservation effort for the wetland would probably have been the fencing of the forests towards the end of the 19th century to prevent the resident feral cattle from raiding surrounding croplands. The ruler (Maharaja) of Bharatpur handed over Ghana to the government of Rajasthan, which, on the advice of the National Committee for Bird Preservation, India, notified it as Ghana Bird Sanctuary in 1956. In the year 1967, the area of Keoladeo Ghana was finally declared as a protected forest under the provisions of Rajasthan Forest Act, 1953. When India became a Contracting party to the Ramsar Convention in 1981, Keoladeo became one of the first wetland in the country to be listed as Ramsar site. In the same year, Keoladeo was declared as a National Park.
Bharatpur falls in the Punjab plains biotic province of semi-arid bio geographical zone, which is a flat dry area of the Indus-Yamuna watershed. The Park’s vegetation is a blend of xerophytes and semi xerophytes consisting predominantly of Acacia nilotica, Capparis deciduas, C.sepiaria, Mitragyna parviflora, Prosopis cineraria, Salvadora oleoides, Syzygium Cumini and Zizyphus sp. The most widespread grasses in the Parks are Paspalum distichum, Paspalidium punctatum, Cynodon dactylon, Desmostachya bipinnata, Dicanthium annulatum and Vetiveria zizanioides. Kadam (Mitragyna parviflora) trees, distributed in scattered pockets, dominate large sized trees and the woodland, while thorny Acacia sp. dominates shrub lands. The major plant species found in woodland are Mitragyna parviflora, Syzygium cumini, Acacia nilotica, Salvadora sp., Capparis sp. and Zizyphus sp. Altogether, the park supports 372 plant species, which includes 96 aquatic plants.
Mammal fauna of the parks is rich with34 identified species. Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), Chital (Axis axis) are abundant while Sambar (Cervus unicolor) and Hog deer (Axis porcinus) are rare. Hyaena (Hyaena hyaena), Jungle cat (Felis chaos), Fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), Common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphrodites) and Small Indian civet (Viverricula indica) are found here. As many as 57 fish species are found in the park waters of which 37 enter along with the water from Ajan Bandh. Seven species of turtles occur in this small park while the whole of Rajasthan state has only eleven species. Other herpetofauna include 8 species of lizards, 14 snake species and 8 species of amphibians. 71 species of butterflies can be found in this park and the commonest being Common Grass Yellow (Terias hecabe). Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus). Small Orange Tip (Colotis etridas), Yellow Orange Tip (lxias pyrene familiaris), Large Salmon Arab (Madais fausta) and Common albatross (Appias albino darada).
Keoladeo National Park is popularly known as “Bird Paradise” due to the rich avifaunal assemblages it supports. One of the world’s most spectacular heronries formed by of 15 species of birds is located here. The park has four resident species of storks namely Openbill stork (Anastomus leucocephala). Painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala), Black necked stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus) and Woolly necked stork (Ciconia episcopus). During a well year, 42 species of raptors have been recorded in the park (excluding owls and nightijars). Migratory eagles and harriers dominate the scene at the wetland during peak winter. Nine species of owls are found in the park, of which the Dusky horned owl is a unique attraction, which regularly breeds here. Common migratory ducks in the park are Brahmini duck, Pintail, Common teal, Northern Shoveller, Gadwall, Greylag and Bar headed geese, Wigeon, Common pochard. White eyed pochard, Tufted duck and Coot.
Food and accommodation facilities are available within the precincts of the park. Visitors coming to Bharatpur can also stay in palaces, havelis and other heritage properties converted into hotels. It is always advisable to have one’s accommodation pre-booked, especially so during winters. An array of 3 star hotels and resorts are also located in the vicinity of the park where visitors can stay cosily.
Nearby places of interest are the Government Museum at Bharatpur, which gives a glimpse of past splendour. Not far from the museum is the Bharatpur Palace, which is an excellent blend of Mughal and Rajput architecture. There is the Lohagarh Fort, which remained invincible despite several attacks by the British. Just 32 km from Bharatpur, is the Deeg Palace. This strong and massive fort was the summer resort of the rulers of Bharatpur and has many palaces and gardens.
The nearest airports are in Delhi, and Jaipur. Daily flights are available between Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai, Varanasi, and Lucknow. The nearest railway station is Bharatpur Junction (5 km). There are regular bus services from Delhi (184 km), Mathura (39 km), Jaipur (176 km), Alwar (117 km) and adjoining areas. Many trains from New Delhi (New Delhi – Mumbai and Agra – Jaipur route) stop at Bharatpur. Bharatpur is easily reached by train or bus, although private taxis from New Delhi or Agra can be employed. The Park gate is close to the bus stand and railway station.
By virtue of being one of the best bird watching sites of Asia, more than 100,000 visitors come to the park every year. So, when are you planning on visiting this beautiful Park?