Mrs. Shakti & Mr. A S Bishnoi

Nalsarovar: Losing its glory


The Nalsarovar Lake, spread over 120.82-sq-km, is in a low-lying area between Central Gujarat and East Saurashtra. It is a serene marshland, with shallow waters of 4 to 5 feet, containing 36 small islands, and serves as a Bird Sanctuary. Nalsarovar located near Sanand Village is about 60kms from Gujarat’s capital city of Ahmedabad. The Nalasarovar is used by migratory birds as their wintering ground. Nalsarovar was declared as a Bird Sanctuary in April 1969 and as a designated Ramsar site since 24 September 2012.

More than 200 types of birds mainly waterfowl inhabit this lake and come from as far as Siberia making it a bird watcher’s paradise. One can find rosy pelicans, lesser and greater flamingos, crakes, brahminy ducks, purple moorhen, herons, white storks, various species of bitterns, grebes etc in the lake. The best time to visit Nalsarovar is in winter between November to February. However, migratory birds start arriving in October and stay until April, and their numbers its peak in mid winter.

We were en-route to Ahmedabad from Gir Sanctuary and Nalsarovar was one of the destinations in our itinerary so that our daughter is able to see flamingoes and other migrants. So we took diversion from National Highway and headed towards Nalsarovar. Our last visit to this birds paradise was in 2004 and now after a decade I was visiting again along with my extended family members. All three of us were equally excited.  We were short of 10 km from Nalsarovar, when we spotted a Sarus Crane family, a bird which is an all time favourite. It is a delight to watch a sarus crane pair and this time more with a young one as a family. We clicked a few photos and as day was coming to an end, we headed straight to Nalsarovar.

One of the surprising things that I noticed in Nalsarovar, was that locals have maintained strict cleanliness policy as per swatch bharat abhiyan and one can find the water so clean that u can clearly see the sheval plants growing inside the lake. Sheval plant is food to the birds as well as the fish inside the lake. Generally guide charges are Rs. 400 to Rs. 500 but as we both are ornithologists (We attended course from BNHS, RISHI valley, ELA foundation) and visited several bird sanctuaries, we headed directly to interiors of village and took responsibility on us to teach our daughter. I am well versed with Gujarati so I could converse and found our way to reach the point where, paradise is just to be felt.

The best time to reach there is just before sunrise as the lake is calm and quiet and flocks of birds having their food or sunset if you have specific thing in mind to click the particular photo.

We sat near the sand dune to hide us from the flock of birds enjoying their food. We slowly marched ahead like Army person crawling to have the first glimpse of Flamingos. They are shy and will fly away if there is even a slight disturbance, and then it becomes difficult to sight them. Soon we saw our first flock of flamingos through our binocular. I took out my camera to click this amazing sight. That day was cloudy and we were clicking against the blue sky background. Even though it was boon for eyes, but our photos were not. Still managed to click few photos and headed towards the other end to take a closer look. To my surprise, there was a drastic reduction in bird count. Lot of land in the nearby lake was converted into irrigation land due to encroachment. Water is being continuously pumped out for the cash crops in and around the lake. There is also extensive exploitation of water for personal usage. No wonder our guests i.e birds suffer.

It is sad that our brains can’t fathom the fact that our wellbeing is linked to the natural world and hence we ought to protect the birds and their habitat. The guano of the birds bring back essential nutrients to the lake and help nourish fish species which helps the livelihood of a lot of families. There was a time, when a tiny noise near the lake used to send a signal of danger to the birds and the sky used to be dark with blanket of birds around you. Unfortunately, now after a decade, we see a completely different picture. The migrants are not happy or comfortable with the existing mind set of humans and with the governance also. We even visited Thol, and the bird count in Thol was more than the Nalsarovar. This stark reality should make people think.

Nalsarovar wetland is facing a tough competition by another nearby wetland named Thol. Birds count in Thol is almost double the Nalsarovar. Estimated number of birds per sq km in Thol is around 9000. While in Nalsarovar is only approx 2500 birds per sq km and the most birds are local and not migratory.
The reasons are many but prominent are as appended below:-

(a) Fishing: Extensive fishing by locals as their livelihood.

(b)   Poaching: Poaching in today’s era by the locals has major role in scaring birds away from Nalsarovar sanctuary. Everyone is aware of this fact however, the governance is lacking.  Poachers lay nets to trap exotic birds of Nalsarovar, Gujarat. It is a bitter truth that locals of at least 15 surrounding villages are (said to be) involved in illegal fishing and poaching activities. Only seven to eight foresters and guards combined safeguard Nalsarovar. Locals take advantage of this staff scarcity to poach birds and sell them into the black market.

(c)   Lack of Guards at Lake: Ideally, for every 10 sq km there should be one person to guard the lake. Nalsarovar’s guard count should be of eight guards, six foresters and two rangers but these posts remain unfilled since long. Moreover, there are some watchtowers but the guards lacks the basic equipment such as binoculars. Nalsarovar Forest department also lack adequate boats and are not the expert enough rowers to chase the poachers.

(d)  Narmada Water: Diversion of excess Narmada waters to Nalsarovar Lake. This is happening since the past few years is probably another reason for it. The excess Narmada water in Nalsarovar Lake has altered water quality of the marshland and has led to consistently high levels of water in Nalsarovar. It is a turnoff for migratory birds. Especially the birds like greater and lesser flamingos that thrive in shallow waters of about 2ft, which Nalsarovar once used to be. The water is for irrigation, to earn at the expense of life of migratory birds.

(e)  Thol the Competitor: It is  an artificial lake near Thol village in Kalol area of Mehsana District in Gujarat, India. It is a reservoir made for irrigation in 1912. It is a fresh water lake same as Nalsarovar and is a marshland. Thol is a Bird Sanctuary since the year of 1988.


Urgent Actions Required to Regain Glory

The grass inside the Nalsarovar Lake is more than 10 feet high. And it is easy for a person to hide behind it and go undetected. One of the solutions is to trim the grass. Trimming the grass is so effective that this alone can make life difficult for the poachers.

Nalsarovar forest department can only take care of the few things. It is time the government does something for the people who live in and around Nalsarovar sanctuary. The Padhar community that lives in villages around the sanctuary and Nalsarovar city for Poaching in Nalsarovar, Ahmedabad are mostly engaged in poaching. It is also a fact that from centuries they have killed the birds for food and business. It is difficult for them to leave their way-of-life and stop without the government providing them with parallel lifestyle. Unfortunately, one needs to understand that in the past the population of people was less and birds were more. So trapping and killing a few birds earlier didn’t threaten the entire population, the way it is doing now. Today, with the number of birds and animals so less, any poaching activity can easily push the birds into extinction.

Nalsarovar Forest department had plans to grade the boatmen based on their education and the quality of service they provide. For example, one grade of boatmen, would only offer exclusive services to big groups like schools. But the authorities did nothing after a single guide-training program. Most of the guides are poor but educated and unemployed, providing them with a job opportunity would have ensured that they do not indulge in poaching activities.

The classic example of Chilika should be followed where erstwhile poachers became the saviour and guides with money earned in just four months enough to last for a year. Chilika model should be adopted for overall success.

Creating in-depth awareness by Government/forest officials or campaign involving NGOs to explain the importance of Nalsarovar and impact on environment will bring everlasting change. The change has to start from lower level and it will be a boon for migratory birds. Once the birds gain confidence they will start revisiting Nalsarovar in large numbers. For generations it gets registered in their brain. Once it is fixed in their brains that this place is not to be trusted, then it will be too late to try and regain their confidence. Chilika took one decade to regain its glory. We need to start now before the fusing of data in their brain (migratory birds) takes place.

It is a do or die situation, Now or Never. Else, our next generation will only read in books about Nalsarovar like Harappa and Mohenjedaro. So time for action is Now.

Mrs. Shakti & Mr. A S Bishnoi
Latest posts by Mrs. Shakti & Mr. A S Bishnoi (see all)