Glimpses of exotic birds are an everyday experience in India. Flocks of parakeets careen between the trees; Brahminy kites wheel overhead and electric-blue kingfishers flash across paddy fields. Nowhere, however, is the local birdlife as prolific as at Keoladeo in eastern Rajasthan.
Midway between Agra and Jaipur on the ‘Golden Triangle’ circuit, the park was formerly the private duck shooting reserve of the Maharaja of nearby Bharatpur. It is centered on a shallow lake and surrounding marshland, to which 190 species migrate each winter, joining the 230 resident species. They include pelicans, painted storks and the majestic Saras crane, a man-sized bird venerated by farmers across the northern plains.
Safaris are conducted on foot or by bicycle, by following a network of sandy, tree-lined paths across the marshes. Accommodation is a real treat. Close to the reserve, the regal Laxmi Vilas offers luxury rooms in a converted royal palace set amid orchards and fields, while a little further out of town in the depths of the countryside, Chandra Mahal is an exquisite sandstone haveli locked in its own charismatic time warp. Both places have gorgeous pools.
As well as the wonderful sights of Keoladeo – such as the spectacle of whole flocks of storks roosting in broken trees on the water, or pythons writhing through the shallows – the cacophony of bird calls is what lingers longest in the memory after a visit to this extraordinary reserve, famously described by Sir Peter Scott as ‘the world’s best bird sanctuary’.