India still stuns with the abundancy of its wildlife.
The Keoladeo Ghana National park almost bursts at the seams with creatures out of 'The Jungle Book' and you can get a real taste of wilderness India amongst its lakes and watermeadows. You may spot sambar, nilgai, pythons, wildboars, jackals, otters and hyena's but it is most famous for its migration of thousands of birds which added to the year-round residents creates an incredible spectacle. Even if you are not interested in birdlife then the open lakes and jungle make a relaxing environment. A world away from the tourist frenzy of Jaipur and Agra.
The best way to see it is with a guide. We hired a turbaned Schwammi and his cycle-rickshaw for about 200 rupee (£2.30/£3.40 - a steal!). The Schwammi had been a guide in the park for twenty years and was very knowledgeable, and once you have paid your entry fee (100 rupees) you are free to explore.
The main route is the raised road which runs across the lakes and watermeadows for about five miles eventually finishing at python point. The road overlooks the lakes which are home to thousands of birds. The whole experience is very relaxing with the only sounds being the cawing of the birds and the creaking of the cycle-rickshaw.
We arrived at the park late in the day when the heat was less and the animals more active. Our first animals were not far from the entrance gates and were a pair of jackals on the road - they soon vanished into the undergrowth.
The jungle was now either side of the cycle-rickshaw and we scanned the trees and bushes for any sign of life. The Schwammi was more experienced and soon pointed out hornbills, grey mynah birds and brightly coloured kingfishers. The lakes around us were turned into watermeadows by the dry season and the great green expanses now housed storks, egrets, herons,ducks, betas (partridges), cranes, ibis' and spoonbills. One bird particularly amused me, "grey heron" said the Schwammi, "all the way from England."
The day was so hot we got out of the cycle-rickshaw and walked along the roadway allowing us to see the animal-life from a better angle. We were marvelling at huge weaver-bird nests in the tree's (see photo) when movement caught our eye. A herd of nilgai (antelope) was plodding across the watermeadow. One big bull nilgai stopped and watched us (see photo) without fear and was magnificent with his russet-red colouring.
The Schwammi thought he saw a watersnake in the marsh and not far from us sitting in the bole of a tree was a wood owl. The denizens of the park must be very used to tourists as we could approach within 10 ft for photos.
But now dusk was falling and the animals were coming out to hunt or settling down to roost so there was a flurry of activity. As we creaked back to the park entrance the Schwammi pointed out Jacaranda's and the sound of peacocks could be heard from the tree's. My favourite moment was when a small-cat like mongoose ran across the road. The Schwammi puffed up at this.
"He on the hunt. He looking for cobra to eat."