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KEOLADEO GHANA NATIONAL PARK
Over 350 species of birds find a refuge in the 11sq miles (29 sq. km) of shallow lakes and woodland which makes up the park. A third of them are migrants many of whom winter in Bharatpur before returning to their breeding grounds as far away as Siberia and Central Asia. Some 120 species nest in the park and the heronry at Keoladeo Ghana is said to be one of the finest in the world .The park is open throughout the year although most visitors choose to come between the months of October and March when wintering wildfowl assemble in their thousands on the lakes or jheels. No less than 415 kinds of birds have been recorded at the Keoladeo Sanctuary, 117 of which migrate from as far away as Siberia and China. The sanctuary was formerly a vast semi-arid region, filling during the monsoon season only to rapidly dry up afterwards. To prevent this , the maharaja of Bharatpur diverted water from a nearby irrigation canal and, within a few years, birds began to settle in vast numbers .
Today some 80 types of ducks are among the species which nest in the sanctuary. The food requirements of the bird population can be enormous and it's hard to believe that these shallow lakes would be capable of meeting it - yet they do. For example, as many as 3000 painted storks nesting in a sq. km need about three tons of fish every day, which amounts to over 90 tons of fish over their 40 day nesting period - and that's just one species. There is an entry fee for camera, video camera, cycles, scooters and cycle-rickshaws. Vehicles are prohibited in the park, so the only way of getting around is by bicycle or cycle-rickshaw only those cycle-rickshaws authorized by the government (recognizable by the yellow plate bolted onto the front) are allowed inside the park - beware of anyone who tells you otherwise ! Although you don't pay entry fees for the drivers of these cycle rickshaws . Some of the drivers actually know a lot about the birds you'll expect a tip on top of that. Some of the drivers actually know a reasonable request. If you wish to hire an experienced ornithologist . The best way to see the park is to hire a bicycle . This allows you to easily avoid the bottlenecks which inevitably occur at the nesting sites of the larger birds. It's just about the only way you'll be able to watch the numerous kingfishers at close quarters noise or human activity frightens them away. You can also avoid clocking up a large bill with a rickshaw driver. Some of the hotels rent bicycles; otherwise, they can be hired from near the hotel saras, but these are not cheap. If you plan to visit the sanctuary at dawn (one of the best times to see the birds), you'll have to hire your bicycle the day before. The southern reaches of the park are virtually devoid of humans or tourists and so are much better than the northern part for serious bird-watching.
Boats can be hired from the ticket checkpoint . They are a very good way of getting close to the wildlife in its park. There is a snack bar and drinks kiosk about halfway through the park, next to the so called Keoladeo Temple (hardly a temple more a small shrine). This is one bird sanctuary which even non-ornithologists should visit. It is open daily from 6 am to 6 PM (exit by 7 PM).
There's quite a good range of accommodation in Bharatpur, although it can get very busy during holidays, particularly around Christmas and the New Year. Since the railway station is about seven km from the park, it's best to stay somewhere between Mathura Gate and the park entrance. A place that is popular with travelers is the friendly Tourist Lodge (Tel: 23-742), near Mathura Gate. The shagun Tourist home , inside Mathura Gate, is run by a friendly guy. Directly opposite is the Hotel Eagle's Nest with 12 rooms . Further along the road is the Hotel Sunbird, but the four rooms in this popular little place fill up quickly. They are clean with attached bath and constant hot water .Nearby is the Hotel Pelican, run by the same people as the Tourist Lodge. There are basic rooms with common bath . It's also a good place to rent bikes. Next is the Annex , expensive rooms with attached bath. The outdoor restaurant here is an excellent place to eat, and the staff are very friendly. In the eucalyptus grove beside the Annex is the Keoladeo Resort, a tented camp. Cover yourself from head to toe in mosquito repellent if you're going to stay here. Just behind the Hotel Saras is the Spoonbill Hotel & Restaurant. There are just two rooms , both with bathroom attached. Good meals are available. You have to pay for the privilege of staying in the national park itself. The ITDC Ashok Forest Lodge (Tel : 22-722) is about one km beyond the entrance gate. It's a very pleasant hotel. Meals are available and there's also a bar. All the other hotels are much closer to the railway station. They also seem to pay the rickshaw drivers commission, so you pay more. These hotels include :
Hotel Alora (Tel:22-616), Kumher Gate;
The Hotel Avadh (Tel : 22462), Kumher Gate;
The Hotel Tourist Complex;
The Hotel Nand (Tel : 23-119); and
The Hotel Kohinoor (Tel : 23-733)
. The Park Palace Hotel (Tel : 23-222) near Kumher Gate is a good, clean and friendly place .
Bharatpur is on the Agra to Jaipur road, just two hours by bus from Agra of an hour from Fatehpur Sikri . The Fatehpur Sikri buses pass the front door of the Hotel Saras Tourist Bungalow and will stop there if you ask. Buses from Jaipur take about 4 and 1/2 hours . However , as the RSTC seems to select their most decrepit buses for this run, the train is preferable.
Bharatpur is on the Delhi to Bombay broad-gauge line as well as the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur-Ahmedabad metre-gauge line, ensuring a good choice of trains. Be certain that the one you choose is going to stop at Bharatpur - not all trains do . The line between Jaipur and Agra is currently being converted to broad gauge so you may find it closed.
You can use tongas, auto-rickshaws and cycle-rickshaws to get around town, and the state tourist office has a minibus (see the tourist officer).
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