I was only one week into my trip to India when I realized that I needed to escape the hustle and bustle of North India’s most famous tourist destinations. I was craving peace and quiet but I didn’t want to spend hours and hours on a train or bus, so I my interest was immediate piqued when I looked at my map of Northern India and noticed a little place called Keoladeo National Park, less than fifty kilometers from where I was staying at the Taj Mahal.
I read a few different websites and found that Keoladeo National Park was in a town called Bharatpur, and it was home to a national park that was famous for its native and migratory birds. With regular bus and train service from Agra, Delhi and Jaipur, I hoped that spending a day here would give me some respite from big city life. Read on to learn more about Keoladeo National Park, the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and how to plan your own trip to this natural area in Rajasthan.
Where is Bharatpur?
Bharatpur is a city in Rajasthan, India. It is located about fifty kilometers west of Agra, 175 kilometers south of Delhi and 175 kilometers east of Jaipur. The border with the state of Uttar Pradesh is only ten kilometers away from Bharatpur. You can reach Bharatpur by bus or train from Agra (and the Taj Mahal) in less than two hours.
Where is the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary?
The Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is located inside the Keoladeo National Park. You may hear locals referring to Keolado as Ghana National Park, as that is its local name. The bird sanctuary and national park span eleven square miles on the south side of the city center. Every taxi and rickshaw driver will know the entrance, which is about ten minutes by foot from the “Saara Circle” roundabout and the cluster of nearby hotels, guesthouses and restaurants.
What are the prices and opening hours of Keoladeo National Park?
The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. You can always find the current opening times by doing a Google search for “Bharatpur sunrise time” and “Bharatpur sunset time”. At the time of my visit in mid-October, the gates opened at 6:30 am.
Ticket prices are clearly posted at the gate. Currently, the rate is 91 INR for Indians and 571 INR for foreign tourists. Unfortunately, the ticket only allows a single entry, so you can’t enter Keoladeo National Park in the morning, leave for lunch and then return in the evening. Personally, I spent four hours in the park, from 6:30 am to 10:30 am, before it got uncomfortably hot and I decided to leave.
How can I get around Keoladeo National Park?
There are four main ways to travel around the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Keoladeo National Park: by foot, by bicycle, by rickshaw or by tonga (horse-drawn carriage).
I don’t recommend traveling by foot, as the paths don’t offer much shade and it’s a fairly long walk through the park (and then back, along the same main path).
My personal recommendation would be to travel by traditional rickshaw (a carriage pulled by a bicycle). The rate per hour will be posted at the gate – at present, it is 150 INR per hour for up to two passengers. There are lots of rickshaw drivers waiting at the park entrance and at the entrance to the hotels nearby that cater to bird-watchers.
As a solo female traveler in Bharatpur, I wanted to make sure I was going into the park with a safe and reliable rickshaw driver, so I found a recommendation online. I toured the park with Raman, an expert local driver who knew exactly where to stop to see the best birds and animals. With Raman, I didn’t feel like I needed to hire an additional guide (for INR 250 per hour) because he was very knowledgeable. Also, his binoculars were way better than mine, and he is happy to let you use them for INR 150 (total) for the duration of your tour.
If you’d like to arrange a tour of the park with Raman, contact him the night before via WhatsApp (easier) or phone at +91 99820-56749. I didn’t get a discount or anything for mentioning him, I just know that in India it’s nice to have a personal recommendation (especially when you’re venturing into the wilderness alone with someone!).
There are lots of bike rentals at Keoladeo National Park’s entrance, and I believe the rate is about 60 INR per hour. You can go solo on the bicycle or you can hire a guide (250 INR per hour) who will cycle with you and point out different birds and animals along the way. The main trail through the park is wide and paved, and even the smaller side trails looked like easy riding.
I didn’t see any tongas (horse-drawn carriages) during my visit, although the price of 300 INR per hour was listed on the sign at the entrance. My guess is that travelers looking for a tonga need to ask at the ticket booth, and the staff will arrange to have a horse and carriage come in to meet you.
Is the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary really worth visiting?
Yes! The Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and Keoladeo National Park are definitely worth visiting, especially if you’re visiting between mid-October and mid-April. They say that birding season really “begins” on October 15th. I arrived the next day (October 16th) and was very impressed by the variety of birds and animals that I saw (mostly thanks to Raman, honestly).
In just four hours I saw more birds than I could count: sleepy owls, tiny bee-eaters, colorful kingfishers, magestic raptors and gawky storks, just to name a few. Within a few weeks more migratory birds will be arriving, including two kinds of flamingoes, pelicans and even spoonbills.
In terms of animals, we saw lots of deer and a herd of antelope. Raman took me to the trees that are most popular with giant fruit bats, and he pointed out a number of different turtles, snakes and lizards that I never would have noticed if I’d been on my own (honestly, the thought of not noticing some of those snakes is pretty scary!).
What should I bring to Keoladeo National Park?
There aren’t any shops or services inside Keoladeo National Park, so you need to bring everything with you.
The most important thing to bring or borrow is a pair of binoculars. I have a pair of travel binoculars that “do the job”, but I was really happy to borrow Raman’s higher-quality binoculars for the tour.
Of course, you’ll also want to bring a camera. If you’ve got a great zoom lens, bring it too! I took the photos above on my regular point-and-shoot camera – I’m pretty happy with them, but I know that professional gear could have got even better photos!
This was the first place in India where I really felt the mosquitoes biting. I had used a DEET-based mosquito spray on my exposed skin, and it was very effective, but I found the mosquitoes were biting through my clothing to the skin that I hadn’t treated. Spray your body well first, and pack extra spray for on-the-road touch-ups.
You’ll also want to bring a bottle of water. I recommend packing 500 ml for every two hours you’ll spend in the park. The stores around the Saara Circle may not be open at 6:30 am, so make sure to buy your water the night before.
During my visit the sun came out around 9:00 am the temperature started to rise. Make sure you’ve got sunscreen with you, and consider packing a hat and sunglasses as well.
What are the best Bharatpur hotels?
There used to be a hotel inside Keoladeo National Park but it is currently closed. Instead, I recommend that you check out one of the guesthouses and hotels between the the park and the “Saara Circle” roundabout, as these properties are all within a fifteen-minute walk of the park gates.
I stayed at Jungle Lodge, a family-run guesthouse near the Saara Circle. From here, it’s a twelve-minute walk to the gates of the national park. My room was clean and spacious, but I accidentally booked a room without air-conditioning – I definitely think the extra 150 INR per night is worth it.
Jungle Lodge has an on-site restaurant. I ate brunch here twice and was happy with both meals – once I had curd (yogurt) and banana, and the next day I had a masala omelet with chapati. The family offered to make me breakfast before my morning tour of the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, but I thought it would be more comfortable if I ate after the tour (and I’m glad I didn’t need to use the toilets in the park!).
If you want to stay right beside the park, I’d recommend looking into The Birder’s Inn. It is located on a busy main road, but it’s only three minutes away from the gate to the park. Lots of rickshaw drivers wait here in the morning to take guests to the park.
Alternately, for a more upscale experience, check out The Bagh. It’s not walking distance from the town or the national park, but it has lovely gardens, a pretty outdoor pool and an on-site restaurant. Staff here can organize transfers by taxi or auto-rickshaw to anywhere you need to go in Bharatpur.
Are there other things to do in Bharatpur, Rajasthan?
Again, yes! It’s worth having one full day in Bharatpur because there is more to see than just the bird sanctuary. I highly recommend that you take two or three hours to see the city center – preferably in the late afternoon after a morning visit to Keoladeo National Park.
From your hotel, hop in an auto-rickshaw (the local price for a one-way trip is about 60 INR – don’t pay more than 100!) and have the driver take you to the Government Museum, inside the old fort. The 100 INR entrance fee for foreigners is totally worth it just for the views of the city from the museum’s rooftop, and it doesn’t hurt to spend an hour wandering through the different exhibits as well. In particular, I thought the old hammam area and the preserved family sitting room were quite interesting.
From the fort, follow the main road down the small hill back to the entrance gates and the moat. Along the way, stop at Nehru Park and at the different temples you will pass enroute. It’s totally possible to walk all the way back to Saara Circle from here, but it will take about forty-five minutes and you’ll have to dodge a lot of traffic (and cows!). Instead, spend a few minutes wandering around the markets, shops and temples outside the fort, then hail an auto-rickshaw back.
Questions About Visiting Bharatpur’s Bird Sanctuary and Keoladeo National Park?
If you’ve read it all and you’re still not sure about something, please let me know in the comments! I will do my best to answer based on my own experiences visiting this national park in India and the surrounding city. And of course, if you have any tips for travelers in this area, please share them below too!