The Keoladeo National Park or Keoladeo Ghana National Park formerly known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, India is a famous avifauna sanctuary that plays host to thousands of birds especially during the winter season. Over 230 species of birds are known to have made the National Park their home. It is also a major tourist centre with scores of ornithologists arriving here in the hibernal season. It was declared a protected sanctuary in 1971. It is also a declared World Heritage Site.
Keoladeo Ghana National Park is a man-made and man-managed wetland and one of the national parks of India. The reserve protects Bharatpur from frequent floods, provides grazing grounds for village cattle and earlier was primarily used as a waterfowl hunting ground. The 29 km (18 mi) 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.
Every year thousands of migratory waterfowl visit the park for wintering breeding etc. The Sanctuary is one of the richest bird areas in the world. It is known for nesting of its resident birds and visiting migratory birds including water birds. The rare Siberian cranes used to winter in this park but this central population of Siberian Cranes is now extinct. According to Sir Peter Scott Keoladeo Sanctuary is the world’s best bird area.
Keoladeo (Bharatpur) National Park (27°10'N, 77°31'E) is a World Heritage Site situated in eastern Rajasthan. The park is 2 kilometers (km) south-east of Bharatpur and 50 km west of Agra. The Park is spread over approx 29 square kilometer area. One third of the Keoladeo National Park habitat is wetland systems with varying types of microhabitats having trees, mounds, dykes and open water with or without submerged or emergent plants. The uplands have grasslands (savannas) of tall species of grass together with scattered trees and shrubs present in varying density.
A similar habitat with short grasses, such as Cynodon dactylon and Dicanthium annulatum also exists. Woodlands with thickets of huge Kadam trees (Neolamarckia cadamba) are distributed in scattered pockets. Richness and diversity of plant life inside the Park is remarkable. The Park’s flora consists of 379 species of flowering plants of which 96 are wetland species. The Wetland is a part of the Indo-Gangetic Great Plains.
In an area characterized by sparse vegetation, the park is the only spot which has dense vegetation and trees. The principal vegetation types are tropical dry deciduous forests intermixed with dry grasslands. Where the forest has degraded, the greater part of the area is covered with shrubs and medium sized trees. The park is a fresh water swamp and is flooded during the monsoon. For most part of the year, effective wetland is only 10 km2. The rest of the area remains dry.
Dykes divide the wetland into ten units. Each unit has a system of sluice gates to control its water level. Depth of water ranges from 1 metre to 2 metre during rains (July, August and September). In subsequent months, October to January, the level gets lowered. The area starts drying from February. In May and June, the entire area dries. Water remains only in some depressions. This alternate wetting and drying helps to maintain the ecology of the fresh water swamp, ideal for water-fowl and resident water birds. Arrangement to pump water from deep tube wells to fill small depressions to save seeds, spores and other aquatic life also exist. They are also helpful in extreme years of drought.
During 1988, mean maximum temperature ranged from 20.9° Celsius (C) in January to 47.8°C in May, while the mean temperature varied from 6.8°C in December to 26.5°C in June. The diurnal temperature variation ranged from 5°C in January to 50°C in May. Mean relatively humidity varied from 62% in March to 83.3% in December. The mean annual precipitation is 662 millimeters (mm), with rain falling on an average of 36 days per year. During 1988 only 395mm of rain fell during 32 wet days.
A semi-arid biotype, the park is the only area with significant vegetation, hence the term 'Ghana' meaning 'thicket'. The principal vegetation types are tropical dry deciduous forest, intermixed with dry grassland in areas where forest has been degraded. Apart from the artificially managed marshes; much of the area is covered by medium-sized trees and shrubs. Forests, mostly in the north-east of the park, are dominated by kalam or kadam (Mitragyna parvifolia), jamun (Syzygium cumini) and babul (Acacia nilotica). The open woodland is mostly babul with a small amount of kandi (Prosopis cineraria) and ber (Zizyphus).
Scrublands are dominated by ber and kair. It is unlikely that the site would support such numbers of waterfowl as it does without the addition of water from Ajan Bund, a man-made impoundment. Soils are predominantly alluvial – some clay has formed as a result of the periodic inundations. The mean annual precipitation is 662mm, with rain falling on an average of 36 days per year.
Macro invertebrates such as worms, insects and mollusks, though more abundant in variety and numbers than any other group of organisms, are present mostly in aquatic habitats. They are food for many fish and birds, as well as some animal species, and hence, constitute a major link in the food chain and functioning of the ecosystem. Land insects are in abundance and have a positive effect on the breeding of land birds.
Keoladeo National Park is popularly known as “bird paradise”. Over 370 bird species have been recorded in the park. Ornithologically, the park assumes significance in two respects: One because of its strategic location as a staging ground for migratory waterfowl arriving in the Indian subcontinent before dispersing to various regions. Further waterfowl converge here before departing to breeding grounds in western Palearctic region. In addition, the wetland is a wintering area for massive congregations of waterfowl. It is also the only regular wintering area in India for the Critically Endangered Siberian Crane.
The park's location in the Gangetic Plain makes it an unrivalled breeding site for herons, storks and cormorants, and an important wintering ground for large numbers of migrant ducks. The most common waterfowl are gadwall, shoveler, common teal, cotton teal, tufted duck, comb duck, little cormorant, great cormorant, Indian shag, ruff, painted stork, white spoonbill, Asian open-billed stork, oriental ibis, darter, common sandpiper, wood sandpiper and green sandpiper. Sarus crane, with its spectacular courtship dance, is also found here.
Among landbirds are a rich assortment consisting of warblers, babblers, bee-eaters, bulbuls, buntings, chats, partridges and quails. Grey hornbill and Marshall's iora are also present. There are many birds of prey including the osprey, peregrine, Pallas' sea eagle, short-toed eagle, tawny eagle, imperial eagle, spotted eagle and crested serpent eagle. Greater spotted eagle has recently been recorded breeding here, a new breeding record for the species in India.
Mammalian fauna of Keoladeo National Park is equally rich with 27 identified species. Blue bull, feral cattle, and spotted deer are common while sambar are few. Wild boar and porcupine are often spotted sneaking out of the Park to raid crop fields. Two species of Mongoose, the small Indian mongoose and the common Indian Gray Mongoose, are occasionally found. Two species of lesser cats – the jungle cat and the fishing cat and two species of civets – common palm civet and small Indian civet though rare are present. The smooth Indian otter can be seen attacking birds such as coots and at times crossing the woodlands. Jackals and Hyenas are also sighted and have taken up the role of predators and feed on birds and rodents. Many species of rats, mice, gerbils and bats are also found in the Park.
Fish fauna of the park comprises 43 species, of which 37 enter the park along with the water from Ajan Bund, and six species are breeding residents. During a good rainy season the park receives around 65 million fish fry and fingerlings. The fish population and diversity are very important as they form the food source of many birds.
World Heritage Site:
To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. These criteria are explained in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention which, besides the text of the Convention, is the main working tool on World Heritage. The criteria are regularly revised by the Committee to reflect the evolution of the World Heritage concept itself. The UNESCO convention for listing goes on to explain the criteria the selection of Keoladeo Ghana National Park as a World Heritage Site under the Natural Criteria iv of Operational Guidelines 2002 and the description which follows is that the park is a “Habitat of rare and endangered species.
The park is a wetland of international importance for migratory waterfowl. It is the wintering ground for the rare Siberian Crane and habitat for large numbers of resident nesting birds.” According to the revised Operational Guidelines of 2005, the park falls under Criteria (x) which states that to be conferred the status of World Heritage, the site should “contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-site conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.”
Tourism And Visitor Facilities:
By virtue of being one of the best bird watching sites of Asia, more than 100,000 visitors come to the park every year. The range of visitors varies from very serious birdwatchers to school children. Of the visitors, 45,000 are foreign tourists. In addition the location of the park is such that tourists visiting Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Jaipur invariably stop over at Bharatpur. The Park opens from sunrise to sunset around the year. The ticket is Rs 200 per foreign visitor and Rs 25 for Indian visitor.
Vehicles are permitted up to Shanti Kutir about 1.7 kilometers inside at Rs 50 per vehicle. After this you can choose to walk, bicycle, or go by cycle rickshaw, Tonga or boat when the water level is high. The cycle rickshaw wallah’s displaying yellow plate meaning authorized double up as guides also carry binoculars. Hotels do supply packed lunches and you can get a bite at a canteen on the second gate and even at Forest Lodge.
Food and accommodation facilities are available within the precincts of the park. The only accommodation inside the Keoladeo National Park is available in the property of government Bharatpur Forest Lodge and lesser expensive Shanti Kutir, which is maintained and run by the ITDC. Bharatpur Forest Lodge is a quaint hotel in the vicinity of natural treasure trove of the park and has a total of 16 rooms to offer to visitors. Circuit house and Dak bungalow also offer good accommodation options.
Visitors coming to Bharatpur can also stay in palaces, havelis and other heritage properties converted into hotels. It’s 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 cozily. Besides the normal tourism activities and self arranged bird watching tours of the Keoladeo National Park, visitors can also opt for a tour of this birding destination by selecting from an array of luxury tourist train services. Luxury trains like Palace on Wheels include Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in its tour itinerary.