Backpackers guide to Keoladeo Ghana National park
In my brand new backpackers guide to Keoladeo Ghana National park, I will be talking about the many reasons why you should not miss this place. The biodiversity is extraordinary, and it is incredibly beautiful. Most importantly, for those of us who need to watch the pennies, you get all of this at very affordable rates.
This tiny national park is only 29 Square kilometres, but it is regarded as one of the most important bird breeding sights in the world. Over the monsoon period, much of the park becomes submerged. By October and February, The park plays host to scores of migratory birds from Afghanistan to Siberia including the incredibly rare Siberian crane. There are 366 species of birds in the park, and some are very conspicuous indeed.
Many people say there is no point coming here outside of the peak season. For me, this is one of the national parks closest to Dehli, and that is a big draw when you want to escape the dust of the big city.
I have come often so I can say with some confidence, you will see different species at different times of the year. That means if you do come outside of the peak season that runs from October to February, then you will get this place largely to yourself. Having that luxury is something you will seldomly experience in any of the countries premier parks.
It is inexpensive to visit and packed full of biodiversity so for any intrepid backpacker looking to experience a little of India’s natural wonders this park is a must. India’s wildlife, while incredible tends to cost a fortune to experience and Kheladeo Ghana is one of the few exceptions. So let us take a look at how to get the most out of this little gem without breaking the bank.
Rajasthan’s affordable glimpse into the wild.
Most people just come here for the birds but, the park is also home to 379 floral species, 50 species of fish, 13 species of snakes, 5 species of lizards, 7 amphibian species, 7 turtle species, a variety of other invertebrates and 27 mammal species. Including; the Indian Mongoose, porcupine, Golden Jakal, smooth-coated Otters, Nilgai and Chital.
It is not hard to get off the beaten track, and it is possible to get close to the animals if you are walking and don’t talk. Something that is just not possible in other national parks in the area. There is a helpful map available with your ticket, and the paths are easy to follow. There are useful placards dotted around the park to help you better understand the animals you are seeing.
Inside the park is a small temple with a Baba (holy man) who resides in the park and has done so for years. Many tourists go to see him as most cycle rickshaws will take you there. He has been feeding the animals for some years and offering a home to injured or orphaned deers.
He is also known to be able to “talk” to the many turtles that live in his tiny lake. The turtles do indeed come to feed at the sound of his voice where he gives chapati dough to there waiting mouths.
I suspect this started in earnest, but it is really popular, and it is hard not to wonder how much damage is being done feeding the turtles flour however many times a day for the tourist buck.
I don’t think other than looking after animals, he has any other income, but his intentions seem genuine. But some of the turtles are massive, and I suspect the population has far exceeded their normal density, so it gives birth to a moral dilemma for the individual to address. Quite frankly the massive turtles are not shy, and you can often spot them basking in the sunshine along the many riverbanks in the park.
Even if you see nothing at all, the park is incredibly beautiful. If you come in the season, it is a wildlife laden water world. Almost every turn creates another photographic opportunity. There are a few lookout towers that offer panoramic views. These towers can keep the wildlife enthusiast fixated for hours. It is clear that a lot of money has been invested in its preservation and tourism. Curiously to the local people, this incredible place is merely grazing pastures.
Getting around the park.
The Big advantage of coming here is its tiny size and lack of apex predators. That means you can actually walk around if you like with no guide and no jeep needed. This will save you loads on your daily spend as India’s national parks may be astonishing, but they tend to come at a cost. The guides that frequent the front gate often look confused when you say you want to walk, but I strongly recommend doing so if you are serious about spotting wildlife. Those die-hard guides who wish to accompany me change their minds quickly when I say I will be walking for at least eight hours.
The beautiful part is you can! When I visit, I am always the first one in and the last one out. You can sit out the heat of the day in the government restaurant a little over one kilometre from the entrance. Plan your walks in a loop that ends about eleven o’clock at the restaurant if you can. There is no point walking around in the heat of the day as there will be no movement from the animals and all you will achieve is over-heating yourself. You are not allowed to leave the park and come back as you will have to buy another ticket. Don’t ask me why? It is just the policy here.
You can hire a bike from the entrance, but these things are noisy and have absolutely no suspension. You will spend a lot of time off-road so get yourself ready to get really really sore if this is your chosen method of getting around. You can also hire a cycle rickshaw up and down the main road, but this will leave you short as the main road is busy and there are a lot of scenic areas you won’t see in the back of a taxi.
I will mention there have been reports of lone young woman being harassed in the park So if you can find someone to buddy up with, then that would probably be a good idea if you are walking. Seldom have I seen this myself other than near the temple that borders a village. There are often groups of woman in the park who are illegally stealing firewood, but, they pose little threat to anyone except the environment. I have written a detailed post on tips for lone female backpackers staying safe and if you are interested check out the link.
There are a lot of signs inside the park, stating tourists should not venture past here. I have been reassured many times that it is ok to go anywhere in the park. The signs were put there because of Leopard sightings, but there have been none anytime recently, and it is just they have never been taken down. I am presuming this is true as I have been walking alone way past those signs and rangers have passed and not said anything.
The cost to visit the park.
The park costs 500 rupees for foreigners plus camera costs. I think I paid 600 a day in total and that’s a bargain for a national park. There is such a lot to see here it kept me entertained for days. There is no real need for a taxi as the entrance is very close to where the guesthouses are. If you are smart, this might be one of the most affordable national parks on the subcontinent to visit.
Getting a nights rest.
I always stay in hotel falcon. It is well within walking distance to the park, the rooms are beautiful, and the family are friendly. Just ask for the home-cooked food and see if you are disappointed. They are amazing chefs here, but if you want meats, you will probably have to tell them in advance. The family room at the top is beautiful and has a balcony.
The rooms are modestly priced, but as usual, it depends on the time of year, how long and your bargaining skills. However, the family are very reasonable and accommodating. You can book booking.com if you want a room in advance and if you go in peak season, I strongly advise you do.
Another Quality option is the Forest Lodge inside the park. It is the only hotel inside the park and is run by the government. Its a little overpriced for what you get, but it is the only chance for you to see the nocturnal animals of Keoladeo Ghana.
Giant Porcupines, Rock Pythons and the Indian Flying Fox all frequent this hotel after dark. It is where the restaurant is that I suggest you sit out the midday sun. When you go, have a look and see if you like it before you commit as it is rarely full. The food in the restaurant is out this world, so don’t be afraid to order while you wait for the sun to ease up a little.
Getting there and away.
The main port of entry is Bharatpur, and it is a long way from the main bus stand or the train station. The only way you can get close without paying for a rickshaw is if you on a bus that is coming from either Jaipur or Agra. Both of which stop near the gate so ask the conductor to let you off. Bharatpur is a big city, so it is well connected to the surrounding towns including Agra, Jaipur, Delhi, Alwar and Fatehpur Sikri. If you want a full bus time table from here just hit the link provided.
The train is your other option, and given the cities proximity to Dehli, there are many options. I usually get the morning sitting only train as it is fast and comfortable. There are also good connections to Sawai Madhopur, Alwar, Agra and Jaipur. Take note that there is no tourist window in this town, and that means booking a train from here can involve long waits in queues for seats that may not even happen. So if you can book a ticket in advance from somewhere, that does have tourist services such as Dehli or Jaipur. Save yourself the stress!
Auto from the bus stand should cost about fifty rupees and from the train station maybe eighty. You are very unlikely to be able to bargain them down that far, and I would be happy with one hundred. No one likes to lose money, but that is just realistic as they drive a tough bargain in this town.
In summary of a Backpackers guide to Keoladeo Ghana National park
This national park is overlooked a lot more than it deserves to be in favour of the nearby big hitters. While it lacks the apex predators you can find elsewhere, wildlife enthusiasts can get a more intimate experience with India’s natural wealth. As a short journey from two of the countries most significant cities, this little place can be a way to get away from it all. It is affordable and for its tiny size really packs a punch.
I have been here many times, so if any of my readers can think of anything else they need to know, then do not hesitate to ask. That just about wraps up this post so until the next time my fellow intrepid travellers, happy trails.
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