Road trips are an essential part of any car ownership. After all, a vehicle is a lot more than its functional needs, and it’s essential to enjoy the true essence of driving beyond the needs of a simple commute. Be it with friends, family or even by yourself, a road trip needs no sense of occasion but is itself an occasion of its own. One doesn’t need a fancy destination or car, just a worthwhile journey come rain, sun or snow. Well, I intended to venture out in pursuit of a similar journey with the keys of the all-new Hyundai Verna in my hand, a tank full of petrol and my bags packed; the destination was irrelevant.
I was in the capital city of Delhi and decided to hop, skip and jump away to Rajasthan. Though the summer heat was harsh, Rajasthan is home to some genuinely diverse wildlife, and it would be a shame I decided to travel all the way and miss the chance to see some up close. So located about 200 kms away from Delhi lay a bird sanctuary formerly known as Bharatpur and is now more popularly known as Keoladeo National Park. The journey to it consisted mostly of endlessly straight highways and across the state of Uttar Pradesh.
The journey to Keoladeo was rather exciting as I discovered the all-new Verna is quite the machine armed with its punchy 1.5-litre turbo petrol motor that produced segment-topping numbers. With a power and torque figure of 158 and 253, respectively, the Verna made short work of most overtakes and was thrilling each time you floored it. The 7-speed DCT complimented this brisk performance and made haste with each shift, rarely missing a beat with its precise upshifts and downshifts.
After a four-hour journey, we were finally at the park. We couldn’t take our vehicles inside but could walk, take a cycle rickshaw or a good old bicycle. I opted for the bicycle, peddled my way into the forested park, and was instantly met with various birds. Keoladeo national park is the perfect place to visit for all you ornithologists out there. The park has 2 essential aspects, the first being its location, a favourite of the migratory waterfowl in the Indian subcontinent before it goes to different places. These bird species meet here before they leave for their breeding grounds in the western Palearctic region.
These birds usually arrive here around winter, counting the bird species to about 400. However, we came here during winter, when there was an average of 75 bird species. Flocks of waterfowl can be seen in the wetland area, including the endangered Siberian crane. Some land birds found here are bee-eaters, warblers, quails, chats, bulbuls, partridges, and buntings. The birds of prey here comprise of Pallas’ sea eagle, crested serpent eagle, osprey, peregrine, spotted eagle, tawny eagle, imperial eagle, short-toed eagle and even the greater spotted eagle.
Located in the Gangetic Plain, Keoladeo national park is a perfect breeding area for cormorants, storks and herons. The rich bird ecosystem is impressive, but so is the host of mammals living here. Around 27 identified mammal species have been recorded in Keoladeo National Park like, Sambars, Feral cattle, Nilgari and Chital deer being the most common ones.
The deer are surprisingly friendly and will often walk up to you for a good pet and some snacks. It was my first time interacting with wild deer in such close proximity, and they can be truly remarkable and gentle creatures up close. I even heard rumours of leopards being spotted in certain parts of the park, but I highly doubt we would encounter any out in the sun. The park spanned as far out as 29 square kilometres, of which 11 square kilometres were wetlands.
Fishes are an essential part of the park’s ecology, and 43 species of fish are found here, out of which 37 species get into the park via a water stream from Ajan Bund. Another cool creature found here is the turtle, or, should I say, types of turtles. Around 10 kinds of turtles in Rajasthan, and 7 are found here. There are also 13 species of snakes, 5 species of lizards and 7 species of other amphibians.
If you’re wondering if it’s safe to cycle around the park, I can assure you the animals are pretty peaceful and will generally cross your path and continue peacefully. Fortunately, there aren’t giant predators around but the smaller ones that prey on rodents. Like striped hyenas, Bengal foxes, jackals, fishing cats, jungle cats and small Indian civets.
All this diversity is just a day’s drive away! After spending a lovely day at the park bird watching and enjoying the rather pleasant time, it was time for us to head home. The Verna being as fun as it was, made short work of the journey, and we were back in time for dinner. A fun road trip with a fun machine, what more could I possibly ask for. This is just another way to beat the metropolitan heat, and I’d highly recommend taking a trip to this beautiful location and checking out the sights and scenes of some truly unique species.
Photography - Aatman Singh