Renuka lake, India

by AFP/Baldev Chauhan, Mar 1, 2004 | Destinations: India / Shimla

SHIMLA, India, Feb 20, 2004 - Attempts to clean up a scenic Himalayan lake in northern India that is shaped like a sleeping woman are paying off with migratory birds starting once again to winter there, forestry officials say. The vast Renuka lake is named after a Hindu goddess and is a key tourist attraction in Himachal Pradesh state, surrounded by temples and nestled among lush green forests in the picturesque Shiwalik hills.

Silt from eroded soil that ran into the lake from surrounding hills and the rapid growth of weeds shrank the lake by almost a quarter. But now scientists say they have checked up to 90 percent of the silt coming into the water, helped by a small wall and a network of dams. "We've been regularly removing weeds besides checking silting from the overlooking hills among other steps," senior state forestry official Lalit Mohan said.

"The improvement is evident this year as the lake attracted migratory birds after several years," he said. "Hundreds of birds of at least five species, mostly from Central Asia and even Russia, have made the Renuka wetland a winter home this year."

The lake with a circumference of 3,200 metres (yards) is the largest natural body of water in Himachal Pradesh and lies some 165 kilometres (110 miles) from Shimla, a hill station resort.

Scientists and environmentalists of the State Council for Science and Technology along with the state forestry department have been working to save the rapid decline of the lake. "The visitors (birds) have been attracted by the water body largely due to the improvement of the quality of water of the lake besides removal of weeds," said Deepak Sethi, the scientist heading the clean-up. "Shallow clear waters are perfect ground for the migratory birds to look for fish and the de-weeding makes them feel more secure as they can look out for predators," said Sethi.

According to Hindu lore, the lake is the embodiment of the goddess, Renuka. Each November, a fair is held to celebrate her immortality. The forestry officials and scientists have been painstakingly desilting the lake, Mohan said. Workers have built "a network of check dams and other civil works to check soil erosion caused by almost 20 minor streams and water sources which drain into the lake." Retaining walls to prevent silt from entering the waters have also been built.

"This (silting) is a major cause for deterioration of the lake besides affecting aquatic life," he said. A nearby wildlife sanctuary has also been fenced to check runoff from it into the lake and there are plans for bio-engineering works to halt soil erosion. Fast-growing grasses and weeds will be planted to cover overlooking hills while trees will be planted to provide good forest cover.

* * * * *