Quick Guide: Harike Bird Sanctuary, Punjab

Quick Guide: Harike Bird Sanctuary, Punjab
A juvenile heron, a freshwater bird, perched atop a branch at the Harike Bird Sanctuary

A haven for bird-watchers, the Harike Bird Sanctuary, located on the confluence of the rivers Beas and Sutlej in Punjab has migratory birds visiting from as far as Arctic and Siberia.

Our Team
July 16 , 2015
05 Min Read

Fast facts
Location: At the barrage at the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej at Harike town
Distance: 507 km NW of Delhi
When to go: October to March
Wildlife/ Forest Dept Offices: Range Officer (Wildlife), Harike
Tel: 08872317800
Divisional Forest Officer, Amritsar
Tel: 0183-2585480
Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife), Ferozepur
Tel: 01632-279412, 222312
STD codes: Amritsar - 0183; Ferozepur – 01632

Getting there
Nearest airport: Raja Sansi Airport, Amritsar (55 km/1 hr).
Rail: Amritsar Station
Road: from Delhi take NH1 to Amritsar via Ambala, Ludhiana and Jalandhar


Harike is home to one of North India’s foremost wetlands, a vast shallow lake created by the confluence of the Sutlej and Beas rivers. The 285.1 sq-km Harike wetland ecosystem stretches across the districts of Amritsar, Ferozepur, Kapurthala and Jalandhar in the state of Punjab. About 198.6 sq km of the wetland is used for agriculture and much of the area is covered by grasses such as munj, kahi, bater, khabbal, dab and khas. Stands of shisham and acacia, along with other varieties of trees, line the embankments. Dense floating beds of water hyacinths cover approximately 70 per cent of the lake, wreaking havoc on its ecosystem.

Keeping in view the numerous species and large congregation of water birds, both migratory and domiciled, attracted to the wetlands, a considerable part of the area was declared a bird sanctuary in 1982 by the Punjab government authorities. In 1990, Harike Lake was declared a Ramsar Site. With its splendid natural setting, the area provides extremely favourable conditions for nesting and roosting. It is one of the six Wetlands of International Importance designated by India under the Ramsar Convention in 1990, being a prominent breeding ground and habitat for migratory and resident water fowl; it is also included in the list of 19 wetlands selected for intensive conservation and management by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

Today the Harike Wetlands eco-system, with its rich aqua flora as well as fauna, is a vital conservation site for Punjab. With over 368 recorded species, the rich and varied birdlife at Harike has increased further after the massive effort by the army along with the Punjab Wildlife and Forests Department to rid the wetlands of the deadly water hyacinth weed.

The Harike Wetlands also supports other rare and endangered species, some of which are listed in the Inter-national Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Redlist of Threatened Animals. It is also home to the smooth Indian otter, jackal, Indian wild boar, mongoose and jungle cat and several important medicinal and decorative plants and trees. In fact, the fruit of the kigelia pinnata is used to treat rheumatism, and the wood of the dilbergio sisso is utilised for making furniture as well as charcoal.

For tourists there is only one main entry point into Harike Wetlands. This is from the Nanaksar Gurudwara across the barrage at the southern end on the Ferozepur side of Harike. At the Harike Police Station, turn off from the Amritsar-Ferozepur Road, and then head left for the Harike Wildlife Office (opposite the canal Rest House) and the barrage, the former issuing permits for entry.

Drive straight towards the barrage from here, cross over to the gurudwara on the left and park your car there. From the gurudwara precincts, there are birding trails leading into the sanctuary on both sides. On the left is the 22-km dirt track of the bund passage. Watchtowers punctuate the passage and there are two checkposts along the way where you need to show your permit. Further down there’s another checkpost near Bhootiwala where you can find the rare and vulnerable Indian skimmer. There are also some birding trails in the 100-acre tract of sarkanda grass to the right of the gurudwara. Tourists are permitted to drive their petrol vehicles (speed limit 20 kmph).

Things to see and do
Though boating is sadly not possible at Harike without special permission, there are plenty of trails offering rich sightings of birdlife. While entry to the sanctuary is free, an entry permit is required from the Range Officer (Wildlife), Harike. Note that photography of the Harike Barrage is prohibited.

Jeep Safari
Birds can be sighted from various points of the sanctuary but the finest trails are along the Left Bund passage. Hop off the jeep to walk along the trails to explore the sanctuary at close quarters. In terms of sheer numbers, coots are the largest migrants, followed by the common pochard, red-crested pochard and the tufted duck. Among non-diver birds, the widgeon is the most abundant, followed by the gadwal and shoveller. The vulnerable species found at Harike Lake include the ferruginous duck, Pallas’ fishing eagle, greater spotted eagle, imperial eagle, black-bellied tern, pale-backed pigeon and Syke’s nightjar.

Other birding spots include the area behind the Nanaksar Gurudwara, the acacia as well as shisham woodlands, the marshlands, weedy embankments and sandbars along the canals, especially downstream. Amid the forested tracts north of the Sutlej and west of the main road, you’ll spot species like the penduline tit and slaty-blue flycatcher. Along the banks of the Sutlej, about 5 km away from the barrage, look for Syke’s nightjar near the tamarisk bushes.

Jeeps are allowed only along motorable roads. There are no Forest Department jeeps for tourist activities, so it is wise to hire one from Amritsar.

Where to stay and eat
There are no standalone restaurants or luxurious hotels in Harike. The Canal Guest House opposite the Harike Wetlands Complex is perhaps your best bet. They do not accept advance bookings. The attendant stationed there will guide you once you reach. Another good option to stay is the Satluj Bhojan Bhandar (Cell: 09417393163; Tariff: INR 1,500) on Amritsar Road. They have three comfortable rooms with attached baths and TVs. Their on-site restaurant serves good vegetarian fare.

You can try GK Hotel (Cell: 08437688003; Tariff: INR 700-1,200) on Amritsar Road in Makhu, about 3 km from Harike. It has 10 rooms with a restaurant, attached bath, hot water and TV in a few rooms.

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