There are some 100 odd men plying these quaint three wheeler cycles in Bharatpur. From identifying the near extinct Siberian cranes, to guiding photographers to the best spots within the sanctuary, to speaking at length about the breeding habits of painted storks, these rickshawallahs will amaze you with their stupendous knowledge.
The Keoladeo Ghana National Park, formerly known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, is a famous avifauna sanctuary that plays host to thousands of birds, especially during the winter season. Over 230 species of birds are known to have made this national park their home. It is also a major tourist centre with scores of ornithologists arriving here in the hibernation season. It was declared a protected sanctuary in 1971. It is also a declared World Heritage Site.
What is impressive about this sanctuary is the way it is managed. There are many people – foreign tourists, nature lovers, bird watchers, and weekend travellers who visit often as Bharatpur is not very far from Delhi and Jaipur. The place is off-limits for vehicular traffic unlike many other zoo-parks where you can buy a ticket and take the vehicle inside. However, you don’t need to walk long distances to get around in Bharatpur. There are cycles on hire and guides with rickshaws, who charge a very reasonable sum of Rs.100 per hour.
These rickshaw guides have acquired their knowledge of the birds over many years. But it isn’t just experience that makes them such amazing ‘ornithologists.’ Most of them have attended a three-month rigorous course conducted by the forest department of the park and are authorised to be guides.
Amarchand is one such rickshaw guide. He can identify 230 species of birds and he gives a running commentary of the surroundings to his passengers as he ferries them around.
The park management has also arranged for professional binoculars, guide books and more, that are a must to fully understand, watch and enjoy Amarchand’s commentary.
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The rickshaw guide idea is a novel one and definitely needs to be replicated in other sanctuaries too. However, there is a downside to it. There is hardly any work for the rickshawallahs in the summer months. They have to then ply their rickshaws in town or look for alternative employment.
They would like to become permanent employees of the park. As it is, they say, they pick up trash left by the visitors and help keep the place clean. These rickshawallahs are not just guides, they also help preserve the environment in the parks.
Nevertheless, whether the park gives them employment or not, these enterprising rickshawallahs have carved a niche for themselves. Besides improving their English speaking skills, they have even learnt some broken French and German to converse with the tourists who come here. These guides may not have been given the status they deserve by the Rajasthan tourism department but those who regularly visit the park have complete faith in their knowledge and even ask for their assistance when making documentaries or researching and writing about migratory birds.
There are very few places like this sanctuary and its unique rickshawallah guides – not just in India but in the world. So the next time you are anywhere near Delhi or Jaipur, please visit this place while it still stands and plays home to several rare migratory birds. Taj Mahal can wait, but beautiful birds cannot!