It was during my recent visit at the Kalesar National Park when I finally got a chance to visit the Asan Barrage in Uttarakhand. It was on Sh Bharatlal’s, Forest Guard at the Sultanpur National Park, recommendation as a must-visit that I decided to visit the much talked-about wetland of the region. Situated at hardly a 20-min drive from the Kalesar Forests, it would, in fact, be a good idea to tie up this and nearby wetlands along with a visit to the National Park. I just wanted to do this when the moment finally arrived early this year.
Also known as Dhalipur Lake, the four km sq wetland created at the reservoir of the Asan Barrage is located at the confluence of Eastern Yamuna Canal and the Asan River, claimed to be Asmanvati of the Rigveda, in the Doon Valley which shares its borders with two other states – Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. From the NH 1, the diversion towards Ladwa from Kurukshetra takes straight to Yamunanagar from where the barrage is further 70 km towards Dehradun crossing Paonta Sahib on the way. Accessible from the Paonta Sahib – Dehradun road, the water-level in the manmade reservoir is controlled by the barrage.
From the time when the barrage was constructed in 1967, the water body has been attracting a large number of migrants, passage migrants as well as birdlife from the scrubland and woodlands of the adjacent forests. Although supporting birdlife round the year, the lake transforms itself into a true wetland when the water level goes down. Seeing its popularity grow among birdwatchers, the tourism development authority of the concerned government, the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) made some efforts to develop this site into a picnic as well as tourist spot. Currently, the GMVN runs a cafeteria, a log-hut complex to provide accommodation to the visitors as well as a few adventure activities including water-skiing, rowing, kayaking and boating, etc. Unfortunately (but typically), most of the services provided by the GMVN at the site are nearly in tatters due to bad infrastructure management.
Nevertheless, the average daily bird count at the wetland has been fairly large enough to appease the soul of a birdwatcher. The site was recently declared a Bird Sanctuary by the state government. Providing some natural hides as well as offering near-access, it was, in fact, an ideal site to photograph the waterfowls. The pedal-boats, though crumbling, make it possible to reach the small marshy islands and photograph the birds quite easily in their natural habitat. For me, the prized sighting of the wetland would remain that of the Pallas’s Fish Eagle which I spotted while sipping hot tea at the cafeteria, surrounded by a familiar menace of monkeys, by the lakeside.
As many as up to 240 bird-species, including a few endangered ones, have been reported in the checklist of the area including its immediate surroundings. The wetland has been known to be frequented by up to 53 species including 19 migratory birds from Europe and Asia. Begin winters and the migrants as well as passage-migrants to South India start arriving in large flocks. Common visitors include Shoveller, Ruddy Shelduck, Mallard, Coot, Wagtails, Pintail, Pochards, Gadwalls, Wigeon, Teals, Tufted Duck, etc. Birds of prey such as Marsh Harrier, Greater Spotted Eagle, Osprey and Steppe Eagle, etc. add to the magnificent biodiversity. Winters might be the most exciting season to visit but for serious birdwatchers the remaining time of the year offer just as exciting opportunities to see the local migrants like Cormorants, Storks, Cranes, Herons and Egrets, etc.
The waters of the Yamuna could be accessed a couple of kilometres from the wetland. Other popular destinations within an hour’s reach from the site include confluence of Tons and Yamuna at Dakpathar, Asokan rock edict at Kalsi, Kalesar National Park, Kaleshwar Math, Paonta Sahib Gurudwara, Hathni Kund Barrage, Chuharpur Nature Park, Buria, Sugh, Bilaspur, Kapal Mochan Temple, Saraswati Udgama Sthal, etc.