India is blessed with so many rivers and water bodies. The total river count in India is approximately 400, including eight river systems. These rivers have hugely impacted the lives of Indians. Rivers are crucial for preserving the traditions and culture of the country. It has been a significant source of water for the country. In past decades, rivers are also transformed into multipurpose projects, like dams and hydroelectricity projects.
A dam is a structure built across a water body like a stream, a river, or a bay. It is generally built to retain water to support human activities like irrigation, industrial process, and hydroelectricity generation. The retention of water is responsible for creating artificial lakes around the dams.
Dams also support recreational activities like boating and swimming. When these dams help more than one activity, they are called multipurpose dams, such as Pong Dam.
Pong Dam is surrounded by a lake called Pong Dam lake, a place which has been declared as a bird sanctuary.
The idea of the Pong Dam was proposed first in 1926. After many surveys and planning, the final design and construction map was passed in 1961.
The dam is built on the Beas river, the tributary of the Indus river. Even after planning and precaution, the dam is poorly constructed and was responsible for the migration of lakhs of people. The rising water level in the reservoir is responsible for creating an artificial lake named Pong Dam Lake. The lake is also known as Maharana Pratap Sagar.
Maharana Pratap Sagar is famous as a tourist location and a wildlife and bird sanctuary. The lake was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1983.
Situated in Kangra district, Himachal Pradesh, Gaggal is the nearest airport to the lake. Later, in 1994 the Government of India declared the site as a “Wetland of National Importance” and a Ramsar Site in November 2002.
Access to the Wetland
It is classified as Ramsar Wetland, with a reference number 1211. The lake is spread over 240 square kilometers, which is extended to 450 square kilometers in the rainy season. The Ramsar Wetland Pong Lake is artificial or manmade. It is home to a variety of species of flora and fauna.
The wetland is connected to the major cities of Punjab and Haryana through established roads and airways. Shimla, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Dharamshala, and Kangra are major neighboring cities. The lake is also located in between the way of two major shrines, Chintapurni and Jwalamukhi.
The snowcapped mountains surround the lake, especially during the winter months.
The Pong lake is bounded by the rugged Dhauladhar mountain range and the mountain stream cutting through the surrounding valleys. The Dhauladhar mountain range is located in the low foothills of the Himalayas.
Like other parts of Gangetic plans, the wetland climate is moderate throughout the year. The area experiences hot and humid summers. During June, the temperature sometimes rises to 40掳 C. On the other hand, the winter months are cold and dry.
Ramsar Wetland Pong Lake or Maharana Pratap Sagar is a low altitude reservoir. It is located in the wetland part of Dehra Gopipur Division, a part of Shiwalik hills.
The lake is 42 kilometers long and 2 kilometers wide. The deep basin is 35 meters and can hold up to 8570 million cubic meters of water. The lake is located above 1476 feet above ocean level.
The Pong Lake is an excellent location for tourists and has a rich assortment of lush green forests. It is surrounded by a heavenly atmosphere depicting wild and thick woods and the natural life of the Himachal people.
River Beas and its tributaries fed the Pong lake with annual water. The major tributaries are Gaj, Neogal, Binwa, Uhl, Bangana, and Baner.
The river Beas travels about 116 km before taking a sharp turn at Pong Lake. Out of 4,850 square miles of the reservoir, around 301 miles square is permanently snow-covered.
Apart from river and snow meltwater, the monsoon is also a major water source for the lake. The area receives annual rainfall between July and September.
The dam also prevents the neighboring area from flooding during the rainy season. The surface water temperature of the lake is around 22-25掳 C, while the incoming river water has a temperature from 6-26掳 C.
Tropical and subtropical forests surround the lake area. The plantation is a mixture of perennial and deciduous pine forests.
The major flora species present in the sanctuary are Eucalyptus, Acacia, Jamun, Shisham, Mango, Mulberry, Ficus, Kachnar, Amla, and Prunus.
Despite big trees, various shrubs, climbers, and grasses are also found around the region. But particularly, in lake water, no specific vegetation or underwater plants have been found except some submerged vegetations.
The region Pong Lake is blessed with three varieties of fauna. These include avifauna, fishes, and wildlife.
The Pong Lake has around 27 species that belong to five fish families, including Mahseer, Catla, Mirror Carp, and Singhara. It also consists of some rare species of fishes like sal, rohu, catla, channa, and gad.
The lake is also a shelter for various migratory birds and locals. Each year, around 220 birds belonging to 54 families from Hindukush mountains and Siberia reach here during cold days. It is an important area because of its waterfowl diversity.
The major fauna species are a black-headed goose, northern lapwing, common teal, red-necked grebes, plovers, terns, ducks, waterfowl egrets, black stork, pintail, and ruddy shelduck.
The forests around the Pong lake are famous for barking deer, sambar, wild boars, leopards, and other minor wild animals.
The wetland is surrounded by religious temples, like Jwaladevi, Chintapurni, and Bathu temple.
Bathu temple, which is 7 km away from Kangra, is a cluster of antique and tall temples that remains submerged for eight months of the year. It is visible only from March to June.
There is also an island in the lake, named Ramsar, equipped with accommodation and boating facilities.
The wetland is a potential ecotourist and sporting site. It is considered an area of national importance.
Around five thousand tourists and bird watchers visit the lake during the winter season. A regional water-sports center has also been established around the lake. It focuses on several sports like boating, canoeing, rowing, and water skiing. The lake campus also contains modern infrastructure facilities like hostels and rest houses.
Deterioration of the Wetland
When the Pong dam was constructed, it caused trouble for the local families. Lakh men were displaced due to the poor construction of the reservoir. But now, the area itself is in trouble.
Expansion in human activities and human interference has caused trouble to the lake’s habitat. Water pollution and excessive use of fertilizers in near fields are also damaging the wetland’s ecosystem.
As an area of national importance, the Pong Lake of Himachal Pradesh should be preserved and protected.
The government and the individuals can take the following measures to protect the area:
- Vigilance programs should be launched, awaking the people about the importance of the area and migratory birds.
- The government should regularly check the siltation level of the lake.
- Artificial bird nesting areas should be constructed around the lake to improve the breeding of birds.
- The cooperative activities around the lake, like fishing, should be limited to a particular level.
- The individuals need to contribute and check the pollution levels around the lake and should guard its atmosphere and integrity.
- The government also needs to invest some money in building the sports system around the lake. This can increase the local employment and the number of annual tourists in the area.
In the end, people should remember that our future generations have borrowed this beautiful land, and it is our moral duty to return the same Earth to them.