Bereft of birds, Bharatpur falls off tourist map

By Anil Sharma, IANS

Bharatpur (Rajasthan) : Gone are the days when the famous bird sanctuary here seasonally drew over 300 species of winged visitors, bringing in thousands of tourists from all over the world.

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With barely 50-80 bird species arriving this year at the virtually dry sanctuary, located 175 km from New Delhi, tourists have either started skipping it or have been cutting short their stay here.

“I came here to watch birds and stay here for at least five to seven days. I am a bird lover, but there is nothing, almost nothing, to see here. So I am curtailing my number of nights and I plan to go back in a day or two,” Robert Bell, a tourist from England, told IANS.

Some bemoan that the government is doing nothing to save the bird sanctuary while others are critical of tour operators who are marketing Bharatpur as a bird haven despite knowing the true state of affairs.

“I am surprised. Why can’t the government do something for it? I had come here around five to six years back at the same time around October and November, and there were lots of birds to see. But the place is now pathetic. Does the government want a famous place to die?” asked Diana, another tourist from Britain.

The bird sanctuary, known officially as the Keoladeo Ghana National Park, wears a deserted look with very few birds and tourists in sight.

“I was fooled by my travel agent. He told me that it is a lovely place for bird watchers. There is nothing to see. Very few birds and parched land – that’s all you see here,” Matthew, a tourist from Canada, added.

“Being a travel agent, he should have known and at least not fooled us,” he added.

Many of the water bodies in the sanctuary have turned dry. Several birds used to come to breed in this wetland that has grass and shrubs alternating with water bodies – an ideal environ for them. But the entire area has been receiving scanty rainfall for the last few years.

The Keoladeo Park, spread over an area of 28.73 sq km, was artificially created by the Maharaja of Bharatpur in the 19th century.

By erecting small dykes and dams and diverting water from an irrigation canal, he converted the low-lying area into a fine wild fowl shooting preserve. The new wetland surrounded by marginal forests was able to support thousands of water birds in a few years. The park was a delight for bird watchers.

Over 300 species of birds, including open bills, spoonbills, egrets, cormorants, white ibis, harriers, fishing eagles, kingfisher and local and Siberian cranes, were to be found here.

But this time, just about 50-80 species have reportedly arrived.

The Rajasthan government is going ahead with its plan to ensure a proper water supply to park, which has long been facing acute water shortage. The government plans to lay a 16-km pipeline from the Govardhan drain to supply 350 MCFT water to the Keoladeo Park.

A senior forest official said over 500 million cubic feet (MCFT) of water is required annually at the sanctuary and the 350 MCFT would certainly help in easing the crisis.

(Anil Sharma can be contacted at [email protected])