Bharatpur has long been a place where I wanted to visit. However every-time I tried going there something or the other came up and I ended up changing my plan. I did visit there briefly in 2009 I believe, but that was a 2 day affair at the peak of summer. You can imagine the brilliance of that visit where I was probably the only tourist, testing the amount of sunburn one can withstand. While this was definitely fun and I got to see a few resident birds, this may not be everyone’s hot cup of tea. Despite slower days, I really enjoyed my time in the park and resolved to return in more favorable conditions.
Cut to 2013. Bharatpur automatically became part of my month long journey. I was going there towards the end of November which was right(ish) time. I was sure that I would not be grilled in the hot sun.Then came the part about planning the visit from Bandhavgarh. A quick check revealed that train from Katni (Gondwana Express) would drop me at Agra Cant. station, early in the morning. For accommodation, I got in touch with Davendra Singh who runs a quite little guest house called Iora Guest House. Everyone I knew recommended this place for being a no-frills, cheap and clean accommodation. It turned out to be more than that. I had a large room, with clean washroom and a geyser for hot water (my basic requirements). Booking with Iora was handled by some quick emails and a phone call. There was no need to upfront payment and it was a verbal agreement with him that I will show up at the decided date as I mentioned in the email. Davendra handled everything from my pick up till my drop back to Delhi quite well.
To top it, Davendra offered to send me lunch inside the park everyday. I gladly accepted as I knew park has very limited options (one small shop that sells snacks, tea and cold drinks). Getting lunch in the park meant I would not have to waste time in going out and getting back in. Eating in the park meant quick lunch with a power nap in a cool spot, so that I could get up refreshed for afternoon session. People who had to go out would leave the park by 11:00 am and will be back by 3:00 (ish). I would use this time to relax a bit right there in the park, taking in the sights and sounds.
As you can see from what I have written so far, I strongly recommend Iora Guest House if you are looking for an economical and comfortable place to stay when you are visiting.
On Sudhir’s recommendation I got in touch with Virender who runs a rickshaw in the park. I believe this was the best decision I made. He turned out to be an excellent spotter, guide and a great company during the trip. I know that every-time I go there, I would be checking his availability before making a plan for KNP.
My journey from Agra to Bharatpur was quite comfortable and uneventful, save for a few suicidal truck drivers and fighter jets disguised as Rajasthan Roadways buses. I think I might have caught up with a bit of sleep too. After a quick nap at the guest house, I started for the park in rickshaw. We entered the park after paying the stipulated fee of 50/- rupees.
Within minutes of entering the park, we were treated with a group of Jackals, who were crossing the road near Hanuman Mandir. There was a juvenile amongst them as well. Curiously, if one enters the park early (before the picnic crowd starts building up) Jackals are sure to show up. I saw them every morning. A little down the road and we came to teh painted stork family. The busy colony had parents flying in and out of there to collect food and nesting material. Some of the iconic birds such as Darters were not there in their numbers. Some of the guides around including Virender were of the opinion that it partly due to the numerous large catfishes (and I saw some around) that may make the birds nervous. This could also be due to polluted water being flooded into water via Govardhan Canal. At time the water around the sanctuary have chemical stench that’s strong enough to induce nausea.
A little further down the main path, we came across a small group of cotton pygmy goose. I was delighted to see them. Last I saw them was in Gujrat, where I had distant views. After getting some decent views we looked around and came across the usual suspects. Herons were there doing their thing. So were other birds. Virender and I decided to take a round first to get an idea of what to expect and then start with our targeted approach. This also gave me a chance to relax a bit after an overnight train journey. I saw a couple of interesting spots decided to spend extra time over there. By noon, I had a better grip on the lay of the land and had an idea on what to expect. Photo-ops of hundreds of ducks taking off was not going to happen but I could get some decent opportunities to make some images.
Virender dropped me in the canteen for a quick tea while he sped off to get my lunch. I got a chance to get a power nap by the time he returned. The food was simple but very satisfying affair. I attempted another nap in a quite corner and gathered some energy for the evening session.
In the evening we started towards a part of the park, where a Sarus crane pair was known to be resident. The rickshaw could only take us upto a junction and then there was almost 2-3 KM walk to reach the place and same on the way back. While I accepted the offer from Virender to carry my bag that had a smaller lens and a spare body, I decided to carry the telephoto setup with tripod by myself. My back and shoulders hated me for this, but it would not have been fair to burden someone else with my equipment. We got some splendid views of the cranes, but it was not a good photo-op due to distance and direction of light. “We will try again tomorrow” said Virender. As much as my body was aching, his enthusiasm was infectious. We decided to come again at a better suited time and try our luck. On our way back, the birds were settling in for roost. We slowly made our way to the guest house, taking in the sights and sounds. I was exhausted but thrilled to be in Bharatpur again and had a good feeling for next few days.
To be continued..