A paradise for winged beauties

A paradise for winged beauties

If your tour to the Hyderabad-Karnataka region has to be complete, you have to see Bonhal Lake,” declares Bhaskar Rao Mudbul, convener of Historical Research Centre at Bhimarayangudi in Kalaburagi district. For a while, I presumed Bonhal Lake as just like any other lake. But Bhaskar enlightens me, “Bonhal lake is three times bigger than Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary. Like Ranganthittu, it is also a favourite place for birds.”

So, one fine morning, we find ourselves standing on the banks of this lake. No matter where we looked, all we saw was water. Birds flying north dotted the sky while pigeons cooed below alongside the lake. Greenery enveloped us. To reach the lake, we had to trudge on a red muddy road and bear the foul smell of pesticides. But all our travel fatigue vanished the moment we stepped into this green abode.

Many stories
So, how did this place come into existence? Historical records reveal that in the olden times, there was once a lake nestled amidst hillocks north of Bonhal village in Surpur taluk. In 1845, a British officer, Philips Medos Taylor, fell in love with this lake. At that time, Surpur province was under the rule of Hyderabad Nizams. In 1848, Philips showed this lake to Frazer, a British citizen.

Then, on the instructions of Frazer, the Nizam took necessary steps to convert this lake into a bird sanctuary. The then chief engineer, Major Bucklery played a pivotal role in the development of this lake. A cottage along with a watch tower was constructed. Oral history indicates that the king of the Surpur province, Raja Venkatappa Nayaka, used to ride in a boat right in this lake.

With time, the lake faced new challenges. The farmers of Bonhal tell us about the challenge this lake faced in 1984-1985. Fuelled by vested interests, outside people started harming the ecosystem of the lake. They even demolished the southern spillway of this lake. But they faced stiff opposition from Bonhal residents, who protested the move and saved the lake from destruction.

Thereafter, the government entrusted the development of the lake to Krishna Bhagya Jala Nigam Ltd. But this led to a rise in the numbers of fishermen in the area, which meant less fish for the birds. Consequently, many birds stopped flocking to this lake. When this was brought to the notice of the district administration, the government ordered the Forest Department to take the necessary action to protect the bird sanctuary and the lake. While the fishermen protested this, the court of law declared that preserving the sanctuary is of utmost importance. After this ruling, the sanctuary slowly started to reverberate with the sounds of birds once again.

Today, ornithologists have identified several species of local birds in the area. “During the winter season from November to February, the lake attracts migratory birds from Argentina, Nigeria, Siberia and Sri Lanka,” says Bhaskar, who is also an avid bird watcher. Every January, birds like flamingo, wooly-necked stork, white ibis, bar-headed goose, black ibis, common tern, snakebird, little cormorant, kingfisher and many more visit this particular sanctuary for reproduction.

During this period, the grandeur of the lake is even more mesmerising. The lake has a depth of 15 feet. Hence, the Tourism Department has started pedal-boating
activity in those parts which are free from bird settlements. Tourists who come here feel that the department has to provide them with life jackets for a safer ride.

“The district administration has taken special interest in this lake and has released Rs 1.5 crore for its development. In order to make this bird sanctuary the best one in the State, we are planning to construct guest houses, watch towers, children’s park, a canteen and many more facilities,” says B C Satish, additional deputy commissioner. But all is not well with this beautiful waterbody.

Although the State government has banned fishing and bird hunting in this area, instances of the same have been reported in certain patches of the lake. Many birds have also fallen prey to the fishing nets. The sanctuary staff know about the illegal fishing activities that happen in the night, but turn a blind eye towards it, allege local residents.
(Translated by A Varsha Rao)

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