Tag Archives: wetlands

Urban wetlands we need : Nela Taalab

Ever expanding cities have engulfed much of the natural habitat in their surrounding areas, including the wetlands, despite knowing it well that how disastrous it is. Thus it was a very pleasant surprise for me to find a haven for migratory birds just a couple of furlongs away from my home at the City of Lakes- Udaipur in Rajasthan.  Actually, I had already seen this residential area surpassing a few wetlands in the course of its ‘development’ in last couple of decades. Similar things would have definitely happened in all the surrounding areas.

Time to rest all together!

Having shifted base to Delhi almost 28 years back, my visits to my hometown are occasional. Thus it was courtesy a childhood friend that I cam to know about Nela Taalab, even though it was very close to my home. Went with him to this place for the first time couple of years back. Taalab is actually the Hindi term for small lake or a bigger pond.

An urban oasis

We went again this year few weeks back. It was a delightful experience, better than the last one. Better actually only in terms of the location we were able to access this year for sightings. I am not sure if it was better in terms of number of birds present this year. That is also because there are more colonies developed around the lake. There are more chances of disturbances to the bird habitat.

Many species right here

The area around has also been so-called ‘developed’ with a bund with lights and walkway often used by morning walkers from nearby areas.

Its really close to the residential area

Urban wetlands are quite important, more so when they have developed themselves into habitat for waterfowls and other avian species.

A flock of shovelers on their morning flight

For developers urban wetlands might be a wasteland but ecologically they are the prized lands for urban areas. They control flooding, they are source of drinking water, they are also source of livelihood, they promote human well-being, they improve air quality and they also naturally filter waste from water.

Painting the sky

They also add to beauty of a neighbourhood, adding to its charm -provided they are protected and preserved as naturally as possible. We need to include them in urban lands planning, besides reducing water consumption and harmful runoff.

Flying high among the high-rise

We have tendency to encroach upon the wetlands whenever we are in need of land. This mindless construction leads to degradation, filling and build upon of the wetlands. Needless to say, if they are restored or preserved, they make urban areas more liveable.

Snipes, Black winged stilts and more

It is also essential to include local residents in the wetlands management as that can check the unsocial use of the area, as often anti-social elements find secluded area around wetlands to their liking.

Few more species..

To my pleasant surprise, I was also able to sight some Egyptian Vultures for the first time in my backyard. Egyptian vulture is one among the globally threatened vulture species found in India.

A pair of Egyptian vultures

Egyptian vultures have been included in endangered category by the IUCN Red List. These are resident birds but they have been included in endangered list due to their declining population and one reason for this rapid decline is mentioned as ‘presumably resulting from poisoning by the veterinary drug diclofenac.

Also read: Don’t we need these hills anymore!

A closer look
…another shot on their favourite tree
Then one of them decided to take a round
…second one was left along for some time
…and then it too decided to follow the suit and join its partner.

It is certainly delightful to capture a bird in such a relaxed manner. But it seemed that tree was favourite place for the raptors. As soon as the vultures left, a kite occupied the place.  It perhaps had the best view of the preys in the area.

This kite was first on a bush
The raptor left the bush and reached for the tree
It took the position, looked around…
…noticed something amiss (a prey or our camera clicks)…
…and flew back.

Than there was a cattle egret watching the proceedings very closely

A cattle egret contemplating its next move

Besides the pintails and shovelers the lake also had a big colony of common eurasian coot.

..running on the water!

However carefree, they might look, but they were quite aware of our moves and took no time to move away from we shutterbugs.

Fly away home

It was a contented walk back home, but also with a worry of how long will this place be able to sustain itself. Lot of efforts will be needed certainly.

P.S. Nela Taalab is just a kilometre and half off the NH 8 on Udaipur-Ahmedabad route in Hiran Magari, Sector 14, Udaipur, Rajasthan. A couple of decades earlier, it was an uninhabited area, but now it is very much the part of the city itself.

DO you have a urban wetland area close to your place? Share your views about it.

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and finally… the pink flamingos

Moving ahead from Devayani, I was asking every other guy the way to Chatri (cenotaph) of Daadu Dayal. The way wasn’t far from Devayani. Just half a kilometre ahead was a railway crossing and the just before the railway line was a dusty path going inside the salt fields along side the now unused railway track. There were many structures in the area, all of them actually remnants of a very well-planned rail network meant for the salt extraction. It looked like a no-man’s land. I kept on moving ahead till there was a way. Till that time I didn’t even had an idea that how the chatri of Daadu Dayal looked like. Track wasn’t easy, but still negotiable and enjoyable. Then, I suddenly saw a man out of nowhere and asked him about the exact location of the cenotaph, and luckily also about the possibility of birds.

Chatri (canatoph) of Daadu Dayal
Chatri (cenotaph) of Daadu Dayal

Thankfully enough, that man told exactly about both the things and all of a sudden I had wings in my wheels. My primary interest was in birds. Cenotaph was bit ahead in the salt fields and I needed to walk. Bird site was towards left. I unhesitatingly turned towards the lake. I was so anxiously waiting for that moment. Already had pink salt and pink sunset as prelude to this. There was a ramp being built to connect the village directly presumably to the cenotaph. Ramp actually bifurcated the water body which sheltered the birds. I parked my bike on the ramp and then walked alongside the mud-mounded wall to separate the salt fields from the normal water body. And then I was filled with joy on seeing this-

Flamingo colony close to railway track
Flamingo colony close to railway track

That was how the flamingos looked from the distance while lake water was filled with different types of waterfowls. I laughed out at the fact that this was the same railway track from where I and Sohan Singh turned left towards the salt fields last evening. We were searching for birds, hardly aware that they were just on the other side of the railway track, but were not visible from that side as track was on high earthen mound. Now, they were, right in front of me.

I kept moving closer to the colony-

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closer-

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and yet more-

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until they decided to move away a bit farther-

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I will admit that my primary objective to go to Sambhar was to see some pink flamingos. The reports of their dwindling numbers were already making rounds for past many years. So I wanted to be there at the earliest available opportunity. Had seen flamingos earlier at few places in India, including Chilika and Rameshwaram. But Sambhar was ought to be quite different from others.

I was so amused that passengers travelling from Jaipur to Jodhpur via train can always enjoy these birds next to their coaches. These images were so interesting-

Saline wetlands of Sambhar have supported large population of flamingos and more than 70 species of other wetland birds. Flamingos have been found to breed in this area. Sambhar is said to be unique ecological habitat for winter avian migrants.

But this place has many challenges which actually threaten its very existence. What can be a bigger irony than this, that though Sambhar Lake was designated as a wetland of International importance under Ramsar convention way back in 1990 and was also marked as an Important Bird Area (IBA) but this is neither a bird sanctuary, nor a wildlife sanctuary or a national park. Hence there is no protection to this site under wildlife protection act. Isn’t this disgraceful to these wonderful creatures-

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After Great Rann of Kutch, Sambhar Lake is the second largest wintering and breeding ground for flamingos in India. Its an ideal habitat. Its vast spread of open waters allows most aquatic birds to land in flocks and find for themselves enough space to remain aloof and separated with no resource competition.

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fall in line!

Sambhar has both-Lesser flamingos as well as Greater flamingos. But there has been considerable decline in number of Lesser Flamingos in last few years.

Flamingos were aware of my presence and they kept moving from one place to other. There were other disturbances as well- grazing cattle, dogs, trains, humans, as this part of the lake was right adjacent to the Sambhar town. What was interesting that they all moved in unison.

Fly away
Fly away

Feeling threatened they will fly together, not high enough-

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and then land to a safer place-

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Even while walking in shallow waters, their movements were very swift-

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All together-

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But what looked most fascinating was their flight. Normally they will daily take rounds of the region in afternoon and then come back in the evening-

Flying high
Flying high

But what gave me best shots of the day was a little game between dogs and the flamingos. Two young dogs first kept playing with each other in the water and then all of a sudden they thought to give the flock of flamingos a chase in shallow waters of the lake, although very aware that it was very futile. But than it was all in the game and to my delight, I was able to get some satisfying images of their flight. See for yourself (click on images to have full view and enjoy)-

These were some low moments but there was also few high and close ones-

I kept on clicking and clicking till I touched the deadline to leave for the return journey of another 350 kms. Otherwise, it was never enough for me-

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… and as if saying goodbye to me-

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I will surely be back, for more time perhaps. But still this isn’t all from Sambhar…

Mesmerising & captivating Chandratal Lake

It has been a long gap from the blog, for almost twenty days owing to a dream trip on my loving bike to some dream destinations of Lahaul & Spiti. Whatever one may say, it is one trip that for most of the travellers will rank quite high above any other in terms of sheer thrill and adventure. And so was it for me. So, basic motive of the trip was to  attend the Naropa 2016 but than it was always just a pretext. Biking to Leh was the implicit story. And, first highlight of the journey was indeed the Chandratal Lake. It was a dream fulfilled. Just the image below can tell it why. Isn’t it.

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Located in Himachal Pradesh at an altitude of 4270 metres, this is one of the most popular and visited high altitude lake in India. Its captivating beauty has made Chandratal a popular destination for trekkers and campers. This natural lake is about one km in length, half km in breadth at its widest part and has a circumference of 2.5 km. The total area of the wetland is about 49 ha. The lake owes its name either to the fact that it is the source of the river Chandra, or by virtue of its crescent moon like shape. It is surrounded by the mountain ranges of Moulkila and Chandrabhaga. You can images of few of the peaks of Moulkila range below.

The clean water of the lake with small marshy patches around attracts many migratory birds. Important species among them are Snow cock, Chukar, Black winged stilt, Brahmni duck, Golden eagle and Chugh, Hoopoe, Yellow Headed Wagtail, Jungle crow, Blue rock pigeon, Common rose finch, Black Redstart, Short toed Eagle, Common Sandpiper, Teal, Magpie Robin etc. The important wild life species found in the region are Marmota Bobak, Snow leopard, Red fox, Snow wolf, Capra ibex, Blue sheep and Lynx etc. Migratory birds were yet to arrive when I visited the lake and to spot the other wildlife, one has to be extremely lucky.

I paid my first visit to Chandratal, immediately after reaching the camp in the afternoon. Lake is said to look quite differently during different times of day. These are few images from the afternoon-

But then, the real charm of the lake is in the early morning when water is more still and light is just perfect for water to reflect the surroundings. The reflections of peaks and mountains around the lake in the crystal clear water of Chandratal is simply magical.  You can see for yourself.

The first set of images are just before the sunlight touches the lake-

And then, see just how the view transforms, as soon as the sunlight is all over there on the lake-

You can just be there for hours or even more… lost in the fascinating atmosphere. But as soon as the day rises and wind starts blowing, the stillness of the water is disturbed and reflections start getting blurred. That is why, you don’t get any reflections post afternoon.

Staying: A lot has changed in the past few years around the Chandratal region. Adventurers now have plenty of staying options and all of them are camps. Until a few years back, there used to be just a few tents at the camping site. But now there are more than 150 tents in all run by different camping operators. Tents are good, clean and cosy and with various size options. Operators also provide meals and breakfasts. Most of the prices of the tents included meals (preferably breakfast and dinner).

Chandratal3

Weather: At this altitude, it has to be cold- whatever time of year you go there. In the peak season time, it could be warm in the day when the sun is out, but things change rather quickly as soon as sun sets or even when there is a cloud cover. It can be chilly when the wind blows. At this altitude, there can be a snowfall at anytime of the year. So, never drop your guards… never. See, even in September I had a lot of frost deposited on my bike the next morning and stored water on the campsites had a layer of ice over them.

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Chandratal is one of the wetlands in country which have been included in Ramsar Convention, hence there is no activity allowed around the lake. Camping sites are good three kilometres away from the lake. Then there is a parking lot around one and a half kilometre before the lake. From there, one has to trek to lake. Alternatively, one can also trek directly from the camping site to the lake. And probably that’s all for good. We need to save the ecology of the place.

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How to reach: Reaching Chandratal is only possible when Rohatng-La or Kunjam-La is open for traffic. Adventurers going to Lahaul or Spiti valley try their best to be at Chandratal, as it is something not to be missed. While going from the Manali side, 16 kilometres from Rohtang Top is Gramphoo. Here roads divide for Lahaul and Spiti valleys. Around 48 kilometres from Gramphoo is Batal. Around two kilometres from Batal after crossing river Chandra, there is another diversion. One of the road takes to the Spiti Valley via Kunzum Pass, which is 14 kilometres from this junction. Another road on the left takes to Chandratal which is 12 kilometres from this junction. Alternatively, one can reach Spiti via Shimla and Kaza and then reach Chandratal after crossing Kunzum pass. Road from Gramphoo to Chandratal via Batal on Manali side and then  from Losar to Chandratal via Kunzum pass on the Kaza side are bad and be prepared for some dirt tracks, boulders. It can be quite challenging drive on this route, specially when there are lots of water crossings to negotiate. If you are early in the season, then quite a fair amount of snow will also be there. So be prepared according to the weather and timing of the visit.

Trekking: One can trek to Chandratal from Kunzum pass directly. It is roughly a eight kilometre trek. Then there is also all-famous three day trek from Surajtal (from where river Bhaga originates) to Chandratal (from where river Chandra originates).

When to go: As I said, approaching Chandratal depends completely on the opening of two passes – Rohtang and Kunzum.  That happens in early June and lasts till end of October.  Actually, closing of roads depends on snowfall. Roads can get closed earlier, if there is an early snowfall. September is probably the best time to go. During August-September you can find the meadows around the lake and camping sites, carpeted with various types of wildflowers.

(You can write to me if you need any further details.)