Disappointing ‘Wular’ – The largest fresh water lake in Asia

Each year during Amarnath Yatra we try to cover one new place of Kashmir excluding Srinagar. By this method we have covered Aru Valley, Betab Valley, Lidder valley, Pahalgam, Anant Nag, Avantipura, Verinag spring ( the chief source of the river Jhelum) Sonamarg, Gulmarg,  Mansabal lake etc. During 2009 Amarnath Yatra, we had planned to visit Wular Lake. After Darshan we started returned journey from Baltal towards Srinagar early in the morning.

Journey was very pleasant as we were passing through beautiful landscapes and waterfalls. Roaring Sind River flows along the road enhancing the beauty of highway. After journey of one and half hours we asked the driver to stop the vehicle at one appropriate place near the bank of Sind River. We took bath in chilled water of Sind River at the outskirts of Kangan City (Ganderbal district).

Me at the bank of Sindh River

Me on the bank of Sindh River

After the break of one hour we again started journey and after passing through Kangan and Manigam we reached Ganderbal City. From here there is a diversion on right side which is Ganderbal –Mansabal road and it leads to Wular Lake. As none of us have visited the Lake earlier, we missed this point and came towards Srinagar. 3-4 Km further down, there is a bypass to Srinagar City on right side of the Leh- Srinagar highway.

At the crossing there was a signboard showing way to Wular Lake. We took that bypass road. Road condition was very good and traffic was very less. After 15-20 KM, we took the right turn again following the direction from sign boards along the highway to reach Wular Lake.

The road passes through many villages and one of them is village of Tula Mula. The village is well known for the Kheer Bhawani temple dedicated to the Goddess Kheer Bhawani  (originally just Bhawani) constructed over a sacred spring. It is the most important temple for the followers of Historical Vedic Religion in Kashmir, known as the Kashmiri Pandits. The temple is managed by the army now days. As our destination was Wular we did not stop here and kept on moving.

After passing through many villages and army posts we reached Mansabal Lake.

Manasbal Lake

It is located in the Jhelum valley, north of Srinagar city in the State of Jammu and Kashmir in India. The name Manasbal is said to be a derivative of the Lake Manasarovar. Lake is encircled by three villages’ viz., Jarokbal, and Ganderbal and is stated to be the deepest lake (at 13 m/43 ft depth) in the Kashmir valley. The lake is a good place for bird watching as it is one of the largest natural stamping grounds of Aquatic birds in Kashmir and has the sobriquet of “supreme gem of all Kashmir Lakes. View of the lake was engrossing and environment around it was very peaceful. We did not saw any tourist or locals here so we stopped here for just 10 minutes and then moved to Wular.

Manasbal

Manasbal Lake

The Manasbal Lake is approached from Srinagar by a 30-kilometre road via Shadipur, Nasim and Gandarbal. Road to Wular Lake, the largest lake in Kashmir, passes through this lake, via Safapur.

The drive to Wular Lake was simply fantastic but getting dreadful as we were moving into deeper and deeper Kashmir Villages. Villagers were surprised to see us as we have come from another world but they kept telling us the way to reach Wular. At last we reached Wular vintage Park which was being developed on the bank of Wular. It is situated on a small hill and we were told that we will get a fantastic view of Wular from here.

Wular Lake (Courtsey Google.com)

Wular Lake (Courtsey Google.com)

How to get there

Road: Buses leave the tourist reception centre in Srinagar in the morning for day trip around Wular Lake and back. The bus first stops at Anchar Lake, then onto Safapur, to stop at Manasbal Lake, thence to Bandipur, 56-km away. The lake can be reached by river as well as road..

Wular on map

Wular on map

Wular Lake

Wular Lake

Wular Lake

It is approximately 40 km from the city of Srinagar, between the towns of Bandipora and Sopore. Spreading over an area of 189 sq km, The Lake lies at an altitude of 1,580 m. Its maximum depth is 14 metres; it has a length of 16 km and a breadth of 10 km. The lake is surrounded by mountains and dense forests .

Wular Lake is said to be one of the largest fresh water lakes in Asia. The Wular Lake of Kashmir changes character after every few miles of its course. The lake serves as a natural flood reservoir for Jhelum River, draining off the excess water. The beauty of Wular Lake is beyond description of words. Devoid of any artificial feature, the Wular Lake in Kashmir reflects the beauty of nature at its best.

Set amongst scenic locales, the Wular Lake is also home to an exotic and wide variety of avian life. Other attractions of the Wular Lake are some ruins standing in the middle of the LAKE. These remains are that of an island of Zaina Lanka, built by King Zain-ul-abidin in 1443, it is said to have been built as a storm refuge for boatmen in the lake.

Legend describes Wular as a ‘cave’ where a city was once swallowed up by the earthquakes and floods. Wular is a mystic lake that still finds same takers who are interested to see its vastness and its surroundings. It is believed that the lake is a remnant of the Satisar Lake, which used to be here in the per-historic times.

The tour of Wular Lake generally includes the neighboring town of Bandipore. This town is quite famous as a shopping destination for the purchase of woolen carpets manufactured in this area. Another must see place near Wular is the Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary, bird watcher’s paradise.

Inside the park

Inside the park

Wular Lake

Wular Lake

Wular Lake plays a significant role in the hydrographic system of the Kashmir Valley by acting as huge absorption basin for annual floodwater. The lake and its surrounding extensive marshes have an important natural wildlife.

The rivers Bohnar, Madamati and Erin from the mountain ranges and the rivers Vetasta (Jhelum) and the Ningal from the south bring hundreds of tons of silt into the lake every year. This rampant siltation and the human encroachments have devastating effects on the lake.

In recognition of its biological, hydrological and socio-economic values, the lake was included in 1986 as a Wetland of National Importance under the Wetlands Programme of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India for intensive conservation and management purposes. Subsequently in 1990, it was designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Work in progress in the Park

Work in progress in the Park

Our group, Wular Lake in the background

Our group, Wular Lake in the background

Birds: Wular Lake is a sustainable wintering site for a number of migratory waterfowl species such as Little Egzet, Cattle Egzet, Shoveler Common Pochard and Mallard. Birds like Marbled Teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris) and Pallas´s Fish-eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus) are species listed in the Red List of IUCN. Many terrestrial bird species observed around the lake are Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), Little Cuckoo (Piaya minuta), European Hoopoe (Upupa epops), Monal Pheasant (Lophophorus impejanus) and Himalayan Pied Woodpecker (Dendrocopos himalayensis.

Ornithologists often visit this lake and the nearby Hygam wetland reserve and bird conversation area. Birds such as Himalayan golden eagle, short-toed eagle, Himalayan pied woodpecker, eared kite, sparrow hawk, blue rock pigeon, alpine swift, cuckoo, Kashmir roller and golden oriole can often be seen here. As the wetlands surrounding Wular Lake have increasingly gained the attention of environmentalists, efforts have begun to recover much of the former wetland area and increase eco-tourism

 Fishing : Wular Lake is an important fish habitat, the main species being the common carp (Cyprinus carpio), rosy barb (Barbus conchonius),mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), Nemacheilus species, Crossocheilus latius, and various snowtrout [disambiguation needed] species in the genera Schizopyge and Schizothorax. Snowtrout species identified in the lake include the Sattar snowtrout (Schizopyge curvifrons), Chirruh snowtrout (Schizopyge esocinus), Schizothorax planifrons, Schizothorax macropogon, Schizothorax longipinus and Chush snowtrout (Schizopyge niger), catfish, loaches, sheatfish, killifish, salmon and trout.

The Indian government estimates that between 8,000 and 10,000 fishermen earn their living from fish caught on Wular Lake, providing 60% of the entire fish yield of Kashmir. Kashmir residents grow water chestnuts on the swampy shores both for food and export. Fish from Wular Lake make up a significant part of the diet for many thousands of people living on its shores and elsewhere in the Kashmir valley and the non- native carp. Hundreds of other local villagers are employed by cooperative societies that trade the fish catch.

Vegetation of Wular Lake: vegetation is an important component of the lake ecosystem providing both ecological and economic benefits. The communities within the lake area have been utilizing aquatic vegetation for various purposes particularly food, fodder and other purposes. The water nuts grow in a large quantity in some portions of lake; this provides a living to many and a nut to relish for others. Water chestnuts (Singhara) occupy an overall 21.2 sq km of lake area representing 49.8 % of the lake vegetation. It is distributed throughout the lake but the maximum concentration is found on the eastern side which is relatively deeper area. Many other families harvest plants such as the grass Phragmites and the waterlily-like Nymphoides from the lake for animal fodder .However, dense growth of some species has chocked the lake area thereby reducing water flow and overall potential to provide ecological and economic benefits.

The processes and functions of Wular Lake are inextricably linked with the hydrological regimes of River Jhelum. Almost all the lakes located within different altitudinal gradients are directly or indirectly interlinked with River Jhelum. The impacts within the river system upstream and downstream are bound to have impacts on overall ecological functioning and socio-economic benefits derived from these wetlands. An integrated water resources management approach recognizing interconnectedness of wetlands with their catchments is imperative for their sustainable management. Sectoral developmental activities have, however, failed to recognize the immense role of the Wular Lake leading to its degradation.

In the park

In the park

No, no… it is not a playground, its the lake

No, no… it is not a playground, its the lake

Why disappointing: The scenario of the lake from the Wular vintage park was a tale of misery… It was not quite beautiful… the lake was dying due to encroachment and weeds. It may have some beautiful view from some other point but from here this was quite disappointing. We had reached here (Wular vintage park) following the direction from sign boards put by state Govt. along the highway and asking the locals to reach Wular Lake.

(Local people pronounce it as ‘Volar’) After reaching here and looking at Wular, we were not happy. Water was not visible from the top. It was covered with weeds and grass. A lot of parts were covered with vegetation.

ENCROACHMENT: The rampant siltation and encroachment has devastating effects on the lake. There is a serious risk of losing the biological diversity including loss of some important endemic and endangered species due to human encroachment, increase in pollution level and heavy siltation. The maximum depth of the lake at present is about 14 meters but as the rampant pollution level is increasing, the depth too has got reduced to about 2 meters at some places. According to the environmentalists depth reduction has threatened a number of endemic species of the lake, thereby making them figure in the endangered list of species.

Overall there was reduction the lake area by 45% mainly due to conversion for agriculture (28%) and plantation (17%). One fifth of the water holding capacity has been lost over last three decades due to siltation from degraded catchments and wetland conversions for agriculture and willow plantations.

Direct discharge of solid and liquid wastes from the settlements all along River Jhelum mainly from Srinagar city and other towns in the upstream area have led to degradation of water quality and health hazards to the communities living around the Wular Lake

Decrease in water levels and degradation of its quality has led to decline in fish and water bird diversity, shifting of vegetation belts and drastic loss in productivity of some economically important species. Invasive species have proliferated leading to decline in native species.

Revenue centric approaches followed aimed at short term economic gains without realizing their long-term implications on the overall sustainability of the lake ecosystem. The developmental activities in the upstream reaches have further created severe downstream impacts, thereby threatening the tenability of the overall ecological and economic efficiency of resource utilization.

Despite wetland based livelihoods, particularly tourism being the major sectors of economic growth in the valley, no attempts have been made for the management of Wular into developmental planning. The major thrust has been on the Dal Lake ignoring Wular although it is the largest wetland within Jhelum basin. Although the state government has recently constituted Wular and Mansbal Development Authority under aegis of Department of Tourism to develop the surrounding area but it will take time to show the results.

The pollution from fertilizers and animals as well as human wastes, the conversion of vast catchment into agriculture land and the hunting pressure on waterfowl and migratory birds are the biggest problems in the region. Lack of effective institutional mechanism to coordinate the activities of various state government departments for conservation and development of Wular Lake and its catchments is the major factor for degradation of the lake environment.

Although several agencies are involved in implementation of sectoral activities for socio-economic development but often they lead to impacts on regenerating capacity of the lake ecosystem. Further conflicting interests of the stakeholders and lack of involvement of local communities in the planning and implementation have leaded to inter sectoral conflicts.”

Though the view of Wular was disappointing but the Wular Vintage Park was well maintained. There were few local people there in the park. We were the only tourist. After spending around one and half hour there we went to Srinagar where we have planned to stay at Night.

Last view of Wular

Last view of Wular

Ready to return

Ready to return

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