" I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine", Caskie Stinnett
And so on one balmy winter morning, while my husband suggested going to the movies and afterwards a nice lunch, I tried cajoling him to take me for a long drive( some 500kms and 10hrs away) instead. We eventually settled for something inbetween – The Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, a short 3-4 hour drive away from Delhi.
A quick reservation call, some add-ons dumped in my travel ready suitcase, a little cribbing on my better half's part; and we were ready for our jaunt.
KEOLADEO National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site is touted to be the richest bird areas in the world and is a habitat to rare and endangered species of birds. Thousands of migratory water fowl flock the sanctuary for safe haven during the winter months and if you are lucky enough, chances are you might spot rare Siberian cranes during extreme winters.This expansive avi-fauna sanctuary ironically, was originally, a duck shooting preserve for Maharaja Surajmal of Bharatpur. It is rumoured that in 1938, over 4000 birds were hunted in one shoot alone. It was only after 1964 that hunting was banned here. It was declared a protected sanctuary in 1971 and in 1985 it was declared as World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Soon our rickshaw strutted down ( cars/motor vehicles not permitted inside beyond a point) the muddy trail past prancing peacocks and grazing cattle oblivious to the visiting tourists. The chirping of the birds, the tweets, the chirrup, reververated through the solitude. This bird watcher's paradise also is home to wild animals like sambars, spotted deer, jackals and bengal fox. You could spend hours in this beautiful, lush mosaic of grasslands, woodland swamps and wetlands; listening to the cuckoo calling,watching the painted storks nurse their fledglings or capture a picture of a cormorant diving to prey on a fish!
Tired after meandering through the vast stretches of wilderness, playing hide and seek with the elusive deers, trying to locate the camouflaged spotted owl couple, juggling the camera and the binoculars and taking mental notes of the 'authentic' general knowledge our rickshaw puller imparted; we finally headed for our rendevouz with the royalty – The Laxmi Vilas Heritage Hotel, a Palace to the erstwhile king's brother and our abode for the night! The hotel, though, slightly expensive for the basic amenities it provides ( always remember that the heritage tag discounts for certain level of compromise with blissful luxury), was an experience in itself. Huge chandeliers in the lunch room, quaint lanterns adorning the corridors, stained glass windows and picture galleries speaking volumes of an era gone by- we were bathed in its resplendence, bowled over by its charm.
That night, instead of watching the stars on the big screen; we watched the stars embellishing the sky, listened to the chitter chatter of birds returning to their nests and drank in the nectar of life along with the flitting fireflies. And, we were so glad for this little detour!
P.S. * Bharatpur, Rajasthan lies on the Golden Triangle Route, enroute Jaipur from Agra, India
*Rickshaws or Tongas have to be hired from inside the sanctuary as motor vehicles are not permitted.
*October to March is the visiting season, though, January is when you can spot the Siberian Cranes
*Over 366 bird species, 50 species of fish, 7 turtle species, amphibians and reptiles besides 379 floal species inhabit the area. Its an unrivalled breeding site for herons, painted storks and cormorants
*Sarus crane with its spectacular courtship dance can be spotted here. Recently, Greater Spotted Eagle has been reported. Great Indian Monitor lizard is of common occurence
*As of now there are very few options of boarding and lodging, though, Claridges chain is coming up with a heritage hotel soon