Bharatpur, 60km west of Agra, was founded in 1733 by the Jats, a caste of Hindu farmers/peasants. In the late 17th century, they were bandits who would loot caravans between Delhi and Agra. By 1750, Badan Singh and his armies controlled almost all land between Delhi and Agra and succeeded in defeating the Mughals. In Bharatpur you can visit the ruins of Lohagarh Fort, known as the Iron fort, built in the early 18th century. With its impregnable defenses, (the town was once surrounded by an 11 km wall), it sustained itself even after a number of British attacks. A few of the eight imposing towers still stand within the fort.
Nearby Keoladeo was once the royal hunting reserve of the princes of Bharatpur. Some 200 years ago, this semi parched region formed a slight depression that collected rain water and attracted a few migratory ducks and wildfowl .The then Maharaja Raja Singh, augmented the water supply by constructing small dams and dykes and contrived a duck shooting reserve.
Duck shoots were organised in the area every year, and after independence (1947), this reserve was notified as a bird sanctuary but the former rulers of Bharatpur continued to enjoy their shooting rights over the area till 1972. It became a National Park in 1981 and was declared a World Heritage Site in December 1985.
This famed bird sanctuary hosts thousands of birds, especially during winters. There are over 230 species of birds nesting in this sanctuary and it is also a major tourist centre, as numerous ornithologists arrive here in hibernal season. Exotic migratory birds from Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Tibet come here to spend the winters in the warmer climate. Colonies of cormorants, spoon bills, storks, egrets, herons, pelicans, ibis and grey herons can be spotted all over the park. The park is also rich in Pythons, Monkeys, Deer, Jackals, and Otters.
Of all the migrants, the most sought after is the Siberian Crane or the great white crane, which once migrated to this site every year. On the verge of extinction now, these birds number only a few thousand. There are only two wintering places left for this rare species – Feredunker in Iran and the Bharatpur Sanctuary. They would arrive after a 5000km journey in December and stay on until early March. The birds decline in numbers has been put down to poaching in Afghanistan and hunting in Pakistan. The last sighting of Siberian Cranes in Bharatpur was in the winter of 2001/2002. Since then, a breeding program has been introduced, but whether the Cranes will ever return to Bharatpur is anyone’s guess.
Visit Bharatpur with us on our Big Cats of India Wildlife & Heritage tour.