Want To Go Birdwatching? Head To Bhoj Wetland In Madhya Pradesh

The Bhoj wetland, comprising the upper and lower lakes, holds a historical significance traced back to King Bhoj's 11th-century creation of the upper lake. Despite persistent threats, this sanctuary shelters 179 bird species
Bhopal's Upper Lake
Bhopal's Upper Lake Rohit Lokhande / Pixahive

Bhoj wetland is located in the centre of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, and made up of the upper and lower lakes. King Bhoj built an earthen dam across the Kolans river in the 11th century to create the upper lake, which is the earliest of the big artificial lakes in central India. The lower lake came up about 200 years later, primarily due to seepage from the upper lake.

The wetland is a vital component of Bhopal's sociocultural landscape. It has been listed under the Ramsar Convention, the global intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The Convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975. Though constantly threatened by human settlements, Bhoj wetland maintains its position as a thriving ecosystem.

The Origins of the Wetland

Although manmade, the Bhoj wetland has become a near-natural ecosystem in the 900 years since it was first conceived by a visionary king. Paramara Raja Bhoj (1005-1055 CE), the benefactor-ruler of Malwa, after whom the state capital Bhopal is also named, had the lake built by raising an earthen dam across the Kolans. The Lower Lake came up much later, in 1794, when Chhote Khan, minister to Nawab Hayath Mohammad Khan, decided to beautify the city thus.

More recently, the Bhadbhada dam came up on the southeast corner of Bhojtal in 1965.

Of the 26 Ramsar sites in India, the Bhoj wetland is among the most accessible, with a road going all around the twin lakes. It is debatable if this should be celebrated, of course. Fortunately, aquatic ecosystems have been known to accommodate and survive considerable external influences and remain self-sustaining.

Aerial view of the expansive Bhoj wetland
Aerial view of the expansive Bhoj wetlandPaulose NK on Shutterstock

A Vibrant Ecosystem

The manmade waterbodies of Bhojtal and what&rsquos called the Lower Lake together make up the Bhoj wetland, listed under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of national importance.

Being so close to the urbanisation of Bhopal has done it no good, naturally. And while Bhojtal is protected somewhat by the Van Vihar National Park to the south and agricultural fields to the west (settlements occur on its east and north), the Lower Lake is overwhelmed by human settlements.

The lakes are very rich in biodiversity, particularly for macrophytes, phytoplankton, zooplankton, both natural and cultured fish species, both resident and migratory birds, insects, and reptiles and amphibians. 

Recent reports say that nature-based solutions such as growing city forests and arresting soil erosion by targetted plantations have helped address water quality issues and biodiversity loss to an extent in the Bhoj watershed that is primarily rural but is rapidly urbanising.

A Haven For Birdwatching

Despite the threats it faces, the Bhoj wetland is a sanctuary to 179 species of birds, 43 species of fishes, over a dozen species of reptiles and amphibians (including five species of tortoise), 206 species of phytoplankton and 98 species of insects, all of which add up to a vibrant and thriving ecosystem.

In recent years, over a hundred sarus cranes (they are India's largest avian species) have been observed congregating here annually. Other species sighted at this birders' paradise are Eurasian wrynecks, roufous-tailed finch larks, white-throated kingfishers, white-bellied drongoes, black-headed orioles, western reef herons, grey-headed canary-flycatchers, Egyptian vultures and bay-backed shrikes.

According to the Ramsar Convention, since the implementation of a management action plan in 1995 with financial support from the government of Japan, a number of bird species have been sighted which had rarely or never before been seen in the region.  

You can find more information on the Ramsar site here.

Getting There

Bhopal is accessible by air, with Raja Bhoj Airport being the major airport located 15 km from the city center. The city is well-connected by various airlines to major metros and other cities. It's also connected by rail via Bhopal Junction, a main railway station served by West Central Railways, connecting to Delhi, Mumbai, and southern state capitals like Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Thiruvananthapuram. Additionally, there are extensive bus services, both private and state-operated, connecting Bhopal to cities within the region and interstate.

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