Keoladeo National Park is India’s premier birdwatching sanctuary – an avian wonderland that attracts vast numbers of feathered creatures thanks to its strategic location, protected status and extensive wetlands (although the last are currently much reduced). Some 375 species have been recorded here, including around two hundred year-round residents along with 150-odd migratory species from as far afield as Tibet, China, Siberia and even Europe, who fly south to escape the northern winter. Keoladeo is probably best known for its stupendous array of aquatic birds, which descend en masse on the park’s wetlands following the dramatic arrival of the monsoon in July. These include the majestic saras crane and a staggering two thousand painted storks, as well as snake-necked darters, spoonbills, pink flamingos, white ibis and grey pelicans. There are also various mammals in the park, including wild boar, mongoose, chital, nilgai and sambar.
The best time to visit is following the monsoon (roughly Oct–March), when the weather is dry but the lakes are still full and the migratory birds in residence (although mists in December and January can hinder serious birdwatching). Unfortunately, the drought suffered by Rajasthan in the past decade has taken a massive toll on Keoladeo. Diminished rains over recent years have left the park’s lakes at a fraction of their customary size, with a huge consequent reduction in the number of aquatic birds in residence. A plan to artificially irrigate the park may have improved the situation by the time you read this, but don’t hold your breath. For the time being, even a waterless Keoladeo is still a richly rewarding place to visit.