Founded by the Jat ruler Suraj Mal in 1733, the city of Bharatpur is famous for the Keoladeo National Park (also known as the Ghana Bird Sanctuary), once the duck-hunting forest of the local maharajas. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to many mammals and reptiles—blue bulls (antelope), spotted deer, otters, and Indian rock pythons—but birds, especially waterbirds, are the main attraction. It's an ornithologist's dream—29 square km (10 square miles) of forests and wetlands with 400 species, more than 130 of which are resident year-round, such as the Saras crane, gray heron, snake bird (Indian darter), and spoonbill. In winter, birds arrive from the Himalayas, Siberia, and even Europe.
The best way to see the park is on foot or by boat (Rs. 200 per person, per hour, depending on boat type, though these are usually unavailable due to lack of rains even in the monsoon; check at entrance), but there are plenty of other options. The park's main artery is a blacktop road
that runs from the entrance gate to the center. Surrounded by marshlands but screened by bushes, this road is the most convenient viewpoint for bird-watching and is also traveled by cycle-rickshaws (the best option Rs. 100 per hour, but drivers usually expect more, plus a tip of at least Rs. 50), bicycle (Rs 60 per trip), and the park's electric bus (Rs. 200 per person). The rickshaw drivers, trained by the forest department, are pretty good at finding and pointing out birds. You can also rent a bicycle and head into more remote areas; just remember that most roads are unpaved. The excellent guides at the gate (Rs. 150 per hour; Rs. 250 for groups of five or more) are familiar with the birds' haunts and can help you spot and identify them.
Try to bring a bird guidebook: former royal-family member Salim Ali's The Birds of India is a good choice. The best time to see the birds is early morning or late evening, November through February; by the end of February, many birds start heading home. Stick around at sunset, when the water takes on a mirrorlike stillness and the air is filled with the calls of day birds settling down and night birds stirring.
A simple government-run restaurant at the Ashok RTDC offers decent Indian food, sandwiches, and drinks, but service is slow.
5 km (3 miles) south of city center, Bharatpur, Rajasthan, 321001, India