We left our annual vacation planning too late last year. As November rolled around with no destination in mind, I knew that it would be next to impossible to put together a proper itinerary and get reservations at decent hotels. So we decided to reduce our vacation dates – since no time to plan means you can’t visit multiple cities – and go back to Rajasthan. This time, we chose to visit Bharatpur. Famous for its bird sanctuary, it’s one of the few cities in Rajasthan that we haven’t been to yet.
Most of the hotels were, as I had feared, booked or way out of our budget, so we settled on the Falcon Guesthouse. It had got some rave reviews on TripAdvisor, and even though there were no pictures of the place online, I hoped that at least some of those reviews were genuine.
The real charm of the guesthouse is the owners. The rooms themselves are very basic and functional. They owners, though, are warm and welcoming. They treated us like house guests rather than tourists. They’re knowledgeable about the bird sanctuary and the surrounding areas. They’re genuinely interested in the people who stay with them. They make interesting and fun conversation. And the food there is absolutely yummy! I would heartily recommend it to anyone visiting Bharatpur.
Most people who visit Bharatpur go there mainly for the bird sanctuary, and we were no different. We didn’t visit any of the other sights in town – the Lohagarh fort or the palace – we had eyes only for the birds.
If you’re driving down, you can take your car a little way into the sanctuary and proceed from there on foot, on bicycle or on a cycle rickshaw. The driver of the cycle rickshaw doubles up as the guide. Make sure you take one of the authorized cycle rickshaws – you’ll recognize them by the little yellow sign that tells you they are authorized guides – because those guys sure know their birds. And they will help you get as close to them as you can so you can take some good pictures. And did I mention that they’ve been trained by the World Wildlife Federation? So yes, you want to do at least one trip into the sanctuary with them.
Almost all our visits to the park bar one – when we took a cycle rickshaw – were on foot. You’ll have tons of bird sightings every few steps along the little path that winds through the sanctuary. Even if you’re walking along with no idea about where a bird perched high above you on a tree, one of the cycle guides will happily point it out to you as he rides along with his set of tourists.
Take your time. Take out your binoculars and just watch the birds at play, at rest, hunting or foraging for food. The peace and quiet, broken only by birdsong and the flapping of wings, makes this a serene spot to visit.
Each day that you go back will be slightly different. Some days you’ll see new birds or beasts, on another you might be lucky to chance upon a darter as it hunts for fish, on a third you might spot a neelgai or a sambhar grazing in the trees.
The sheer varieties of birds there is mind boggling – grey herons, jungle babblers, painted storks, saras cranes, snake birds (darters), spotted owls, different varieties of ducks, to name just a few – and also some spotted deer, neelgais, jackals and sambhars.
We hoped to see pythons, but they proved to be elusive. We did see one particularly lazy snake, though – it had a squirrel dancing all around it, but just gave it the royal ignore and slowly, languorously, crossed the walking path and disappeared into the bushes.
It was good fun to walk around the sanctuary, spotting birds, sitting on a bench watching them groom themselves or catch fish. In fact, being able to walk around the sanctuary made it a completely different experience from zipping through a wildlife park in a jeep with pesky, noisy tourists scaring the animals away. Most people we saw around us were serious bird watchers, pointing out birds, standing and admiring them through their binoculars, and capturing them on camera with lenses that gave my poor little 55-250 mm lens a serious complex!
Our three days at Bharatpur just flew by, and before we knew it or were even ready to leave those beautiful birds and long walks through the sanctuary, it was time to return home.