Winged visitors: Bharatpur’s loss is Agra’s gain

By Brij Khandelwal, IANS

Agra : Exotic Siberian cranes, Chinese koots and flamingos are among the winged visitors that have chosen to steer clear of the now dry Bharatpur bird sanctuary and make a beeline for Sur Sarovar near here.

Support TwoCircles

Named after Surdas, the famous poet of Braj Bhasha, the lake is situated along the Delhi-Agra national highway, 20 km from Agra city.

For the past three years, the birds have been regularly coming to this 783-hectare lake with more than 300 hectares of land under water. It has been recognised as a wetland by the National Wetland Commission.

“Till some years ago, the whole area looked barren and deserted, now there’s life around with the constant chirping of birds in the wilderness,” Vasudha Mehta of the NGO Wild Life SOS, which runs the Agra Bear Rescue Centre, home to 400 sloth bears in the Sur Sarovar Complex, told IANS.

“The area is developing into a major attraction. There seems to be a major reawakening of interest in this land”.

The bird sanctuary at Bharatpur in Rajasthan, located barely 50 km from Agra, faced a water crisis for the first time in 2000. Since then it has failed to come up with a solution. For several years in a row, it has been receiving only one-third the average rainfall and the neighbouring dams and rivers have dried up.

While the threat of de-recognition from Unesco looms over Bharatpur and the Rajasthan government is busy drawing up alternative plans to rejuvenate the habitat, the birds seem to be in no mood to wait.

Pelicans, painted storks, whistling teels, spoonbills and Siberian cranes, Chinese koots, flamingos are among the 150,000 birds flocking to Sur Sarovar, once called Keitham Lake.

The forest and tourism departments of Uttar Pradesh have drawn up ambitious plans to develop it as an attractive bird sanctuary. The lake is one of the largest artificial water reservoirs built by the British almost a century ago to look after the water needs of Agra.

R.B. Gautam, range officer of Keitham Lake, says a Rs.40-million project has been cleared to add the necessary infrastructure such as artificial mud islands and fencing work.

Various tourism bodies in Agra are lobbying hard to make the state government chalk out plans to convert Sur Sarovar into a tourist hub and a weekend gateway for locals.

Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society, said: “The whole area around Sur Sarovar is of cultural and religious importance. It is the birthplace of Renuka – Parsuram’s mother, the meeting place of Surdas and saint-poet Vallabhacharya, and has an old Shani Dev temple. It is here that the river Yamuna takes a U-turn.”