Know About The Wetlands Of Punjab

Punjab is blessed with a wide variety of wetlands, wildlife, forests, and cultural diversity. From picturesque rivers, ponds, and lakes, to freshwater marshes and more, wetlands are stunningly beautiful
Birds fly into the sunset at a wetland in India
Birds fly into the sunset at a wetland in IndiaShutterstock

The National Wetlands Atlas of India has mapped over 1,000 wetlands in Punjab, small and big. They serve as irreplaceable habitats for various plants and animals, including migratory and native birds. These sites also filter pollution, replenish groundwater, and are subtle indicators of the health of the natural world. Of the list of wetlands in Punjab, several are designated Ramsar sites. These include the Keshopur-Miani Community Reserve, the Beas Conservation Reserve, Nangal, Ropar, Harike, and Kanjli. Of these six, the Beas is the first river in the country to be included in the list. Here's a look at wetlands in Punjab - natural and man-made - that are rich in biodiversity.

Wetlands Of International Importance In Punjab

Harike or Hari ke Pattan is where the Sikh army had once infiltrated British territory in the days of the Raj
Harike or Hari ke Pattan is where the Sikh army had once infiltrated British territory in the days of the Raj

Harike Wetlands

Harike or Hari ke Pattan is where the Sikh army had once infiltrated British territory in the days of the Raj. Today this area is home to one of India's most important wetlands, a vast shallow lake created by the confluence of the Sutlej and Beas rivers. The ecosystem, with its rich aquifer and fauna, is an important conservation site for Punjab and also one of the Wetlands of International Importance designated by India under the Ramsar Convention in 1990 for being an important breeding ground for waterfowl.

The wetlands stretch across Punjab's districts of Amritsar, Firozpur, Kapurthala and Jalandhar. Every year, thousands of migratory birds - from Russia, Europe, Kazakhstan, the Himalayan regions and other cold places - come here to stay from November till March. There are several roosting points for migratory birds like salara yellow-eyed pigeons, tufted duck, northern pintail, many species of warblers, the Sind sparrow and white-crowned penduline tit. Much of the area is covered by grasses such as munj, kahi, batter, kabbala, dab and khas. Stands of shisha and acacia, and other varieties of trees line the embankments. It is also home to the smooth Indian otter, jackal, Indian wild boar, mongoose and jungle cats. Several important medicinal plants and trees also grow here.

Location: It is 68 km from Tarn Taran Sahib and 94 km from Amritsar

A woodpecker searches for the perfect spot on a tree trunk
A woodpecker searches for the perfect spot on a tree trunk

Ropar Wetlands

Situated in the Shivalik foothills of the Lower Himalayas, on the bank of river Sutlej, Ropar wetlands is one of the Ramsar sites listed under India. These man-made freshwater riverine and lacustrine wetlands, also known as Ropar Lake, are home to more than 250 species of migratory birds. Some of the rare birds that have been spotted here include the opium bengaline, golden-backed woodpecker, crimson-breasted barbet, and the zeylanica green barbet. Check out the birdwatching centre in the Sadabrat Protected Forest.

Sadabrat is part of the wetland and includes an interpretation centre where you can access information about birds that visit the area. There are three birdwatching towers here, a boardwalk which takes you through the densely forested area, and a Bat Park where you will spot hundreds of fruit bats hanging from branches. On the Sadabrat nature trail, you will be able to learn about different tree and plant species as they have been labelled and documented quite well. Watch out for the datura trees, the fruit offered to Shiva.

Habitat of Importance

According to the IUCN Red List, the wetlands are also home to several endangered species, like the vulnerable snake Python molurus and the endangered turtle Chitra indica. The biological diversity here supports various fish species, arthropods, and rotifers. The site is also an important breeding place for the nationally protected Smooth Indian Otter, hog deer, sambar, and several reptiles. Reports say the endangered Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) has also been spotted here. While you are here, do visit the Ropar Headworks. The water gushing into the Sirhind canal from the vast expanse of the lake makes for quite a sight. For refreshments, you can head out to the food stalls that dot the area around Ropar Lake.

Location: 8 kms from Ropar town

Keshopur-Miani Community Reserve

This wetland area is situated between the Ravi and Beas rivers and is around 12 km from the Indo-Pak border. Before barrages and dams tamed their swirls, the region was considered a floodplain of the two rivers. This unique freshwater ecosystem is India's first-ever notified community reserve under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. It is managed by five village panchayats, including Miani, Dalla, Keshopur, Matwa, and Magarmudian, and is also known as "Chhamb". The natural wetland, composed of freshwater marshes, illustrates how to use a community-managed wetland wisely because it promotes regional biodiversity and provides food for locals. The wetland has a wide variety of flora, with 344 species of plants recorded in the area, including herbs, grasses, trees, and climbers. One of Asia's biggest wetlands, it attracts over 20,000 migratory birds every winter. It has been hosting winged guests from the Middle East, Siberia, Afghanistan, Tibet, China and Russia. Some birds also migrate here yearly from Manasarovar Lake - a high-altitude freshwater lake fed by the Kailash glaciers near Mount Kailash in the Tibet Autonomous Region, China.

Geese and cows on the banks of a wetland
Geese and cows on the banks of a wetlandWikimedia Commons

Around 80 bird species, including uncommon ones like the northern lapwing, sarus crane, bar-headed geese, ruddy shelduck, osprey, pallid harrier, and brahminy kite, were reportedly observed at the marsh in 2020. The wetlands lie on the Central Asian Flyway, and it supports several local and migratory populations of vulnerable species of birds, such as the sarus crane, common pochard, woolly-necked stork, and greater spotted eagle. It is known to be the only habitat for common cranes in Punjab. The Interpretation Centre here is a delight for the senses. The building is immersed in the natural environment visitors would later experience on their tour through the wetlands. The entire site is interconnected by ramps making barrier-free access possible to almost every point. Roofs with large overhangs provide shade to the visitors to picnic, rest and play while on their trip to the wetlands. Some roofs are made accessible to visitors for bird viewing and other activities.

Location: It is 6 km from Gurdaspur.

Other Wetlands In Kanjli Region

There are about 50 species of birds visiting the Kanjli Lake area
There are about 50 species of birds visiting the Kanjli Lake area

This man-made wetland that includes the Kanjli Lake was established in 1870 by building headworks across the perennial Bien rivulet, a tributary of the Beas River, to offer irrigation services to the hinterland. Located in the Kapurthala district, this artificial wetland has been internationally recognised by Ramsar Convention since 2002 due to its rich aquatic, mesophytic, and terrestrial ecosystems. The wetlands cover an area of 490 hectares, of which the Kanjli Lake is spread over 184 hectares. The area has over 50 species of birds, 35 taxa of invertebrates and 12 taxa of fishes. The migratory birds include mallard, pintail, sizeable whistling teal, common teal, wigeon, and white-eyed pochard. The mammalian fauna includes common Indian hare, porcupine, mongoose and Indian civet.

Location: It is 4 km from Kapurthala town.

Kali Bein Conservation Reserve

The Reserve is spread over 520.824 acres and spans 29 villages. Originating in Mukerian, Hoshiarpur, the rivulet of Kali Bein is considered holy. The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, is said to have attained enlightenment here during his stay in Sultanpur Lodhi. He delivered the message of universal brotherhood here - "na koi Hindu, na hi Musalman." Due to its ecological importance, the state government has declared Kali Bein a conservation reserve.

State government has declared Kali Bein a conservation reserve
State government has declared Kali Bein a conservation reserve

Nangal Wildlife Sanctuary

View of the Nangal dam
View of the Nangal damWikimedia Commons

This unique wetland with blue-green water is located in the Shivalik foothills of Punjab and occupies a reservoir built as part of the Bhakra-Nangal Project. The site is a mix of hilly terrain and plain land, which draws sustenance from the Sutlej River. It is home to both resident and local birds. It attracts around 8,000 to 15,000 migratory birds yearly, including the Greater Spotted Eagle, the Common Pochard, Pallas Fish Eagle, the Painted Stork, and more. Several endangered species exist here, such as the Indian pangolin, the Egyptian vulture, and the Greater White-Fronted Geese.

Location: It is 15 km from Anandpur Sahib City

Beas Conservation Reserve

A 185-kilometre stretch of the Beas River in northwestern Punjab has been designated a Ramsar wetland. The river's islands, sand bars, and braided channels create a complex environment that supports significant biodiversity. More than 500 bird species and 90 fish species have been identified along this stretch. The Reserve is also home to India's only known endangered Indus River dolphin population. It is the presence of "human," as the dolphin is locally known, and the reintroduction of the long-snouted gharial, also critically endangered, into the Beas that led the Punjab government to declare the 185-km Beas stretch a conservation reserve in 2017 - the first river in India to be accorded this status. Also found here are the endangered masher, hog deer, and the vulnerable smooth-coated otter. In 2018, 47 gharials, a fish-eating crocodile that had become locally extinct in the 1980s, were added to this river ecosystem. The gharial is a fish-eating crocodile native to the Indian subcontinent. They are a crucial indicator of clean river water.

Location: It is 59 km from Amritsar and 33 km from Tarn Taran

A barking deer making its way
A barking deer making its way

Ranjit Sagar Wetlands

An ecological zone of significant importance in the Shivalik Hills, this wetland is home to over 150 different types of birds and over 22 other species of fish. Spread over an area of 87 sq km, it is one of the largest wetlands in North India. The wetland is also home to three different species of endangered vulture, the red-headed vulture, the white-rumped Indian vulture and the long-billed vulture. Many terrestrial animals like the nilgai, leopards, and barking deer can be found here.

Location: It is 62 km from Pathankot and 65 km from Gurdaspur

Shalapattan Wetlands

Shalapattan is the only wetland in Punjab that witnesses the wintering of common cranes.
Shalapattan is the only wetland in Punjab that witnesses the wintering of common cranes. Gitanjali Kanwar@WWF-India

The privately owned and maintained wetland by several villages attracts a staggering number of migratory birds during the winter. A World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report states that it is the only one in Punjab that witnesses the wintering of common cranes. The sarus cranes, declared vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), inhabit this wetland throughout the year. The Punjab government designated 50 acres of land in Shallapattan Wetlands as a protected area in 2019.

Location: The wetland is 15 km away from the city of Gurdaspur

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