‘You know migratory birds come here; from as far as Siberia’; These words are not faint memory, however a repetition of what I have read, experienced and shared with friends, travelers and wanderers from almost everywhere and every time some one asks me about Kangra and Dharamshala beyond Mcleodganj and Triund.
Well, Pong Reservoir is a little distant from these ‘Instagram’ destinations, maintaining its tranquility, solemnly gazing at the Dhauladhars, from its cascading waves. The onset of the fall every year, it welcomes the winged visitors from across the Himalayas and springs to life for us, mere mortals, seeking refuge in activities (read kayaking, scuba, angling), merry or simply retreating to seek some silence.
Pong looks like an inland sea, blessed with fabulous views of the towering ‘Dhauladhars’, the outermost intermediate range of the western Himalayas and is not far from Dharamshala and Chamba. Ideal spot for Angling, Cycling and water sports (Kayaking, Canoeing, Scuba/Snorkel etc).
Anurag had been insisting for long that when on a trip to Kangra or Chamba next time, I should try and visit his native village on the banks of the reservoir. So umpteen trips to and fro from the regular tourist destinations and I never got a chance to visit, till there was a purpose, and a wandering recce of trying to establish a cycling route along the dam finally bought me close to his village. I was fascinated. And the fascination lasted till I visited again, once more on a recce for a travel show, looking for the most offbeat places in Himachal Pradesh. That is when I came to identify that ‘certain itch’ to keep coming back here again and again.
The small – sprawling place they (Arun and Anurag) have christened ‘Campong’ draws on its hospitality tradition from ‘Giri camp – The slice of heaven’, which the brothers run near Solan, and renders its tune from the idlewild splendor of nature, resplendent here.
In their words, “It has taken us almost eight years to take the next step since we ventured into the woods at GIRI CAMP. The journey, as expected, has been an intoxicating one. Taking the exhilaration a one notch higher, we have settled our second camp, Campong, next to the waters of Pong Lake in Kangra. We invite you to explore the calm waters and the serene surroundings. One can easily get lost in the energetic view with Dhauladhars providing a perfect backdrop”.
Remember, Dont plan, The important thing is to Go.
Maharana Pratap Sagar, also known as Pong Reservoir or Pong Dam Lake was created in 1975, by building the highest earthfill dam in India on the Beas River in the wetland zone of the Shiwalik Hills of the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Named in the honour of Maharana Pratap, the lake is a well-known wildlife sanctuary and one of the 26 international wetland sites declared in India by the Ramsar Convention. The reservoir covers an area of around 40 km in length and 2 km in width, and the wetlands portion is 15,662 hectares (38,700 acres).
The Pong Dam is an important fishing reservoir. A wide variety of commercially viable fish, 27 species of 5 families, such as mahseer (golden ‘rare’), catla, mirror carp, singhara (native) and others are found in abundance. Before the reservoir was built, catfishes, mirror carps and a few coarse fish were the dominant fish fauna in the Beas River. With the emergence of the reservoir, commercial fishing was encouraged as an important programme not only to provide employment to about 1500 fishermen but also to promote the eco-tourism.
It was declared a Ramsar Wetland site on account of its rich waterfowl diversity for conservation and sustainable use of the wetland. The Dam attracts migratory birds from the plains of India and Central Asian countries and Siberia. More than 220 bird species of 54 families have been recorded over the years. Around 1,05,000 waterfowl of 87 species were spotted during the three-day census conducted from February 2, 2017. Ornithologists from the Bombay Natural History Society, the Chandigarh Bird Club, the Himachal Bird Club, the Asian Waterfowl Census, wildlife enthusiasts, bird watchers and volunteers participated in the dawn-to-dusk bird counting exercise.
The reservoir peripheral land area has mixed perennial and deciduous pine forests on hills. The forest growth provides enough sustenance to the migratory birds. The tree species of the forest area are acacia, jamun, shisham, mango, mulberry, ficus, kachanar, amla and prunus. A variety of shrubs, grasses and climbers also make the place their home.
The periphery above the water surface area of the reservoir has recorded fauna species such as barking deer, sambar, wild boars, leopards and oriental small-clawed otters.