Birds bring employment to Gharana – Jammu Kashmir Latest News | Tourism | Breaking News J&K – Daily Excelsior

Sunny Dua
Thousands of migratory avian that create a winter rite for birders at Gharana wetland located close to India-Pakistan International Border (IB) in R S Pura, about 35 Kilometers from Jammu are finally going to bring with them employment for local inhabitants who until now were apprehensive of their lands being snatched by government or tourists’ influx leaving them without a livelihood. Once developed, this site where more than two dozen bird species from Central Asia and Northern Europe arrive annually is going to be a boon for locals.
The department of wildlife protection intends to involve local villagers to the extent that they form a society, register themselves with Registrar of Societies and run the show by setting up souvenir shops, tuck shops as well as other eateries and parking bays to generate self-employment and sustain on tourist influx besides create a niche for themselves by getting involved even in conservation project to protect this wetland that has been declared as Important Bird Area (IBA) in North India.
Having acquired around 410 Kanals of land for an estimated amount of Rs 11.70 crore that has been kept at the disposal of revenue authorities to compensate local villagers, the Department of Wildlife Protection intends to develop this site holistically wherein de-weeding and de-silting will be done at initial stages to create more space for migratory birds and provide them a natural habitat. The department, after acquisition of land immediately raised a temporary fence around the area and now intends to take up civil works, said Chief Wildlife Warden J&K Suresh Kumar Gupta.
Having arrived in November last and provided a treat the eyes of birders, these migratory birds are on a retreat now and will fly away to their summer habitat of high-altitude lakes from Gharana wetland somewhere in the mid of March this year. Thinned number of birds including Bar-headed Geese and Siberian Cranes at Gharana establish that they are almost done with their this year’s stay in South-East Asia and are preparing to fly over mighty Himalayas to return to their natural habitat in Central Asia colonies like Tibet, Mangolia, Kazaksthan and Russia.
As the temperature is soaring, these birds including white wagtail, Garganey, Black-headed Ibis, Grey Heron, Eurasian Spoonbill, Common Coot, Little Grebe, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Painted Stork, Greater Painted Snipe, Northern Shoveler, Comman Teal, Ruff, Lesser Whistling-Duck, Bar-headed Geese and Siberian Cranes all are expected to take a flight back to their heartland in mid-March. Strangely, these Bar-headed geese are believed to take a high-altitude flight of around 21,000 ft elevation over mighty Himalayans to reach their native land in Siberia.
Siberia is a vast Russian province that comprises most of Northern Asia and its terrain is scattered up to tundra, coniferous forest and mountain ranges including the Ural, Altai and Verkhoyansk. Lake Baikal, in its south, is the world’s deepest lake. Temperature in Siberia dips up to -68 °C and it is believed that bar-headed geese that breeds in Central Asia and migrate to Indian states in extreme winters are the same that stay in Jammu for three to four months. Bar-headed Geese are biggest attraction for the reason that they instead of taking a route amid mountain passes flies above them at a very high altitude in a single flight to land in Indian states or return to their native places.
Earlier, Gharana wetland in Jammu had nothing to offer to these migratory birds other than 0.75 Sq Kms of shallow filthy encroached upon pond where over 5000 birds used to land every year. Now that department is serious in developing the area, it is expected that more birds will arrive in still a larger wetland. As per local inquiries, this pond which when was not encroached upon and was clean and free from weeds used to house around 25,000 birds and their multiple species for about four and a half months of harsh winters. This marshland was notified way back in 1982 but a final accord was given only in 2017 after which acquisition was to be done which finally took place recently.
Despite declining number of birds as on now the number of visitors to the site has not diminished. During a recent visit to the site by the writer, a couple of doctors, professional photographers, journalists and people from art world were seen busy in bird watching, clicking their shutters or capturing moments for paintings besides taking down notes to pen down their views on the migratory avian winter fest. The site of landing and taking off of the birds is indeed an experience for which the birders are needed to visit Gharana wetland early in the morning.
Zoom lenses on tripods and binoculars could all be seen busy capturing moments of bird flights, their formations and landings. Those from Wildlife Protection Department looking after wetland said that the birds are so disciplined that they leave and arrive at exactly a fixed time. Their body clocks have been set so meticulously that the flock making several formations arrives and leaves the pond at exactly the same time every day. Many winger friends could be seen drifting little away from the landing ground and then returning by twisting their wings and tails in different permutations and combinations to make safe landings giving a treat to the eyes.
The Gharana wetland which once was not known to the public or was never on the wish list of tourists is today a favourite destination of bird watchers especially when mustard fields on both sides of the approach road greet people right up ground zero. Now that department of wildlife protection intends to re-energise the existing pond by putting in small fish or by de-weeding and de-silting, there are every chances of more birds and subsequently more birders arriving at the site every year thereby generating ample employment opportunities for locals who are going to be educated enough to reap the benefits of this project.
Since all issues pertaining to wetland reserved at Gharana including that of state land, Shamlat Deh, ownership, custodian property or notified area stands resolved the department has no obstacles in developing the area. Earlier, Bombay Natural History Society way back in 2001 had classified this neglected sanctuary on the Indo-Pak border as an Important Bird Area after which little development of the area was taken up. However, guns booming on Indo-Pak border used to force these birds to not to settle in their natural habitat but when in 2013 guns fell silent the birds returned to Gharana wetland.
Today also, as per local inquiries, it was revealed that Pakistan hunters were still aiming at birds and some of the injured birds that fell on this side of the fence were treated by the department and again left into the wetland to join their flock. The department of wildlife protection anticipates constructing a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) to stop waste from village homes going into the main pond. It plans to construct an embankment to protect entire wetland from being encroached upon in near future.
The department also has plans on cards to construct sluice gates and install submersible water pumps to control water level due to which the depth of water could be maintained for comfortable stay of birds for a longer time. The biggest project is of constructing a wider approach road and parking slots so that visitors could park their vehicles little away from the site and not disturb the birds. The department over a period of time has also fixed sign boards from R S Pura right up to the bird site for the convenience of visitors which earlier were missing.
It’s been ages since bird watchers, officials, visitors, tourists and cinematographers besides wild life film makers had been thronging this site but no one has ever cared to do anything about the Gharana village due to which locals also showed least interest in the conservation of this wetland. They have no love for the wetland which is evident from the fact that not even a single person from the village has even been roped in as a guide or conservator by any department.
There is a lot of pressure on this wetland that has destroyed the reserve. The problems of degradation of wetlands from pollution, encroachment, groundwater withdrawals, improper drainage and other actions also require attention especially that of people of R S Pura. Wetlands conservation initiatives must also be declared as an important part of our National Heritage so that it becomes a centre of attraction for neighbouring states especially after the erstwhile state has been converted into a Union Territory.
(The writer is a senior journalist)
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