Straddling the pristine Beas River in the Shivalik foothills in Kangra, Pong Dam Wetlands serve as an ideal getaway in the midst of nature for jaded city dwellers. Flanked by golden fields of wheat on both sides, the Pong Lake is set against a magnificent backdrop of the snow-capped Dhauladhars. This vast reservoir was constructed to supply water for irrigation and power, and to prevent flooding in the neighbouring plains of Punjab. When the dry season shrinks the post-monsoon shoreline, vast tracts of muddy and alluvial flats remain. These fertile flats are farmed by the villagers every year. It is their belief that they must sacrifice the land to rain gods every monsoon.
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The one-of-its-kind combination of shallow and deep waters, mudflats, stone-scattered ground, village groves and cultivated wheat tracts attracts thousands of winter birds from Europe and Central Asia, in addition to the regional avifauna.
At Pong Dam Wetlands, you will spot some of the most vulnerable bird species of the world, including the thousands of waterfowl which congregate here between the months of October and February.
The 42km long and 19km wide reservoir was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary by the state government in 1986. The central Ministry of Environment declared it as a National Wetland in 1994 and a Ramsar Site in 2002. For the uninformed, a Ramsar site is a wetland designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention international treaty of 1971. The area attracts birdwatchers from around the country and also offers a fair range of water sports in which one can partake. These include kayaking and water skiing.
Over 220 bird species belonging to 54 families and a total of 27 fish species of six families have been identified at Pong. The main reservoir is home to four islands. These are Rancer, Karu, Kajal ka Tapu and Jatan ka Kawal. Lined by rich farmlands along the right bank of the Beas, the wetlands are encircled by a 5km buffer zone.You can easily drive a four wheeler close to the water’s edge. And while you do so, keep your eyes peeled as you scan the skies, the fields and the bulrushes along the water’s edge.
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Some of the most commonly spotted birds here include oriental skylarks and bar-headed geese. In fact, Pong offers one of the largest concentrations of bear-headed geese anywhere in the world. Also seen here in large numbers are Pacific golden plover, Eurasian oystercatcher, Kentish plover and gull-billed tern.
While here, you may also fancy another birding trip to the wetland area at Haripur. You will be able to spot flocks of darters, or a posse of pochards and numerous ducks. Hike up to Rancer Island for stunning views of the surrounding hills.
On the Beas River in the lower Kangra Valley, 34km from Pragpur; 227km from Chandigarh and 465km from Delhi
When to go
Between October and March, the migrating season
Pong Dam is best visited from Pragpur.
Air: Gaggal and Chandigarh are the nearest airports
Rail: Una is the nearest railhead. Taxis are available from Pragpur
Road: Suggested base Pragpur is 34km from Pong Dam and is a 227km drive from Chandigarh. From Pragpur, take the state road to Pong Dam via Nagrota Surian. From Delhi, Pong Dam is a 10 hour drive via Ambala, Zirakpur, Chandigarh, Nangal and Una