To the west of Bhopal are two very important manmade waterbodies, the Bhojtal and what’s called the Lower Lake, which together make up the Bhoj wetland, listed under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of national importance. Being so close to the galloping urbanisation of Bhopal has done it no good, naturally. And while Bhojtal is protected somewhat by the Van Vihar National Park to the south and agricultural fields to the west (settlements occur on its east and north), the Lower Lake is completely overwhelmed by human settlements on all sides. However, despite the threats it faces, the Bhoj wetland is sanctuary to 179 species of birds, 43 species of fishes, over a dozen species of reptiles and amphibians (including five species of tortoise), 206 species of phytoplankton and 98 species of insects, all of which add up to a vibrant and thriving ecosystem. In recent years, over a hundred sarus cranes (they are India’s largest avian species) have been observed congregating here annually. Other species sighted at this birders’ paradise are Eurasian wrynecks, roufous-tailed finch larks, white-throated kingfishers, white-bellied drongoes, black-headed orioles, western reef herons, grey-headed canary-flycatchers, Egyptian vultures and bay-backed shrikes.
LOCATION AND HOW TO MAKE THE BEST OF IT
The Bhoj wetland is a hugely important part of the socio-cultural fabric of Bhopal, which has grown densely around the twin lakes and relies on it for its drinking water needs. Bhopal is exceedingly well-connected; there are regular flights and trains to the nawabi city from virtually anywhere in India. The city also teems with infrastructure for travellers. In www.bhopalbirds.com you will find a very useful resource to the Bhoj wetland.
Although manmade, the Bhoj wetland has become a near-natural ecosystem in the 900 years since it was first conceived by a visionary king. Paramara Raja Bhoj (1005-1055 CE), the benefactor-ruler of Malwa, after whom the state capital Bhopal is also named, had the lake built by raising an earthen dam across the Kolans. The Lower Lake came up much later, in 1794, when Chhote Khan, minister to Nawab Hayath Mohammad Khan, decided to beautify the city thus. More recently, the Bhadbhada dam came up on the southeast corner of Bhojtal in 1965. Of the 26 Ramsar sites in India, the Bhoj wetland is among the most accessible, with a road going all around the twin lakes. It’s debatable if this should be celebrated, of course. Fortunately, aquatic ecosystems have been known to accommodate and survive considerable external influences and remain self-sustaining.