Pong Dam Migratory Birds

Pong Wetland – A Lost Heritage or a Birding Paradise?

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

These epic lines spoken by Confucius come to my mind every time I pay a visit to these lost temples of Pong Dam. Located right in the middle of the Pong Dam, these temples go underwater and stay underwater for more than six months.

Come winters, and these temples emerge out of the frozen waters of the lake, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

Bathu Ki Lari, Pong Dam Submerged Temples
Bathu Ki Lari, Pong Dam Submerged Temples

The other side of Pong Wetland is thousands of winged tourists visiting from across the globe, some of them coming from the far flung floes of Siberia and Tibet. Unlike my previous visits, this year I couldn’t see much birds at the wetland. There are primarily two sites where these birds gather together in great numbers. One of them being the site close to the submerged temples and the other one near Nagrota Surian.

These sites have been turned into agriculture fields by the locals and they make the best use of free land made available to them by the receding waters of the dam during winters. And because of this reason only, birds flock at these two sites in great numbers. Agriculture means food.

As of December 10, 80,000 + migratory birds were recorded holidaying at the Pong wetland. The Great Bittern was spotted for the first time at the Pong Wetland, taking the total number of winged species to 421.

However, all I could spot at these sites was bar headed geese and some Siberian Cranes. Even the Dhauladhars’, that had received fresh snowfall the last night were still hiding themselves behind a thick layer of fog.

Pong Dam Migratory Birds
A Flight of Fancy!
Pong Dam Migratory Birds
Pong Dam Migratory Birds
Pong Dam Migratory Birds
Pong Dam Migratory Birds

Despite waiting for more than an hour, we couldn’t see the sparkling Dhauladhars’ bathing in the fresh morning light.

And while we waited, looking at the submerged temples providing the much needed shelter to these migratory birds, a question suddenly cropped up in my mind.

Why do we need to preserve our heritage? Why should we protect and preserve our forts, our ancient temples?

Our ancient temples were just not a place of idol worship. If we look closely at our temples, they were modelled as per our body composition. Outer parts consisting of aesthetics while the inner parts, the ‘garbh griha’, signified the creative energy , the aatman, of the body.

Moreover, these temples are made without the help of cement and steel. Every year these temples go underwater and still come out unscathed, stronger than ever. Some engineering there! And great architectural wonders without any doubt.

These temples are symbol and carrier of our identity through times gone by. If we look at these temples solely from ‘religious’ angle, we will be committing a grave mistake. These temples are also an expression of art and culture during a particular era, which goes back to 7th Century in some cases.

And being a selfish race that we are, there must be something for us in it? Right?

I had a word with a good friend and a famous blogger from Himachal, Aadarsh Rathore and he aptly put in words what I had been thinking about preserving our temples.

These temples tell about our history. And preserving history is important because that tells us about our journey that was initiated hundreds of years ago by our forefathers. He also added, we are always nostalgic about our childhood memories. A broken gramophone, or an old cycle always finds a great place in our hearts and our living rooms. Why can’t the same be done with our ancient temples?

A debt ridden state that we are, we must be thankful to our ancestors for giving us these amazing structures, amazing spectacles of indigenous architecture.

All we need to do is to use some common sense and turn it into a great tourist destination.

Meanwhile, the birds had started moving as the sun was finally out. The golden sunshine spread all across the ocean lake.

Pong Dam Bathu Ki Lari
Golden Sunshine

The sky was overcast and birds were hurrying to avoid getting drenched in the rain that was about to start.

Today, the wetland is known as a ‘Birding Paradise’. It has been reported that birds are being killed at the wetland and administration can’t do anything about it. I read somewhere that there are no returning birds at the wetland.

If this trend continues, the goalposts will change again, new terms will be coined, and this birding paradise will be forgotten, again. 

How I wish we too could hurry to avoid these beautiful temples from being ruined.

Bathu Ki LKari Submerged Temples
Bathu Ki Lari ‘Emerged’ Temples

This is how these temples look when completely out of the water.

P.S. If you wish to visit the Pong Wetland, make sure you have a camera tripod stand and also a two wheeler at your disposal. Because these birds keep changing their position, a two wheeler helps you move quickly from one place to another.

13 thoughts on “Pong Wetland – A Lost Heritage or a Birding Paradise?

  1. बहुत बढिया भाई जी… सर्दियां आते ही मुझे इस स्थान की याद आ जाती है। लेकिन जाना नहीं हो पाता। इस बार देखते हैं।

  2. I have been going there since last few years. The early morning count appeared less to me. But that might be just an odd observation. Stats only will tell the truth.

  3. Tarun Sir,
    I am from Barial village near Nagrota Suriyan and I love your blogs.Pong Dam is such a nice place but still due to the ignorance of the govt it still doesn’t attract a lot of tourists.I hope your travel blogs will help in increasing the inflow of tourists,not just for the financial aspect but for showing them the beauty of this place.

  4. Hey Tarun,

    Need some info from you, hope you can help me.

    Since it covers huge area

    1. Which part of entire dam is best suited for birding (from Jawali, Dhameta, Nagrota-Surian, Haripur, Guglara, ….) ? I will come to Nagrota surian from gaggal road.

    2. Till what time migrated birds stay there (Mar/ Apr)? and what are the chances of spotting local birds in Apr?

    looking forward for these answers.
    Sandeep
    we.charm@gmail.com

  5. Hello Snadeep,

    If you are coming from Kangra/Gagal, head towards Nagrota Surian. Be there early in the morning. As early as 6 A.M. You ‘might’ find birds until March Mid, after that the density decreases gradually.

    From Nagorta, if you are lucky, you can ask a local boatman, to take you to the submerged temples (500-600 Rs) and then that area is equally good for birding.

    Personally, my favorite is Guglara, close to my in-laws place.

  6. Thanks Tarun…

    I am from Rajol (near gaggle) and wd visit in April 1st week and will focus on shooting birds for one week may be in upper Dharmsala once again. So far focused in forest areas near Naddi, Gallu Temple….. and have 20+ in my list from that area.. and target is to cover atleast 100+ in next 1-2 years..

    Wanted to visit Pong dam …. but other work took priority. May be next time….

    Generally I try to load some of them on my FB page….

    https://www.facebook.com/sandeep.gupta.7946

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