Dharamsala district in Himachal Pradesh has been a bird-watchers’ delight since a long time now. Getting off at the Mcleodganj bus stand, the bird enthusiasts travel to nearby villages like Haripur, Dehra Gopipur and Nagarota Surivan near Pathankot. The Pong dam,1 one of the biggest wetlands of Asia, attracts avian visitors by the thousands every year from as far as Russia, Siberia, Central Asia, Tibet and Ladakh.
Rare terns like the gull-bellied tern and little tern breed here. The Pong also attracts waders like lapwings and plovers. Twenty per cent of the bar-headed geese that breed on the Tibetan plateau winter at Pong. The Pong is also a refuge for threatened species like the sarus crane, woolly-necked stork, painted stork, red-necked falcon, black-bellied tern, white-tailed eagle, red-headed vulture and white-rumped vulture. Kangra Bird Club, formed by a few bird enthusiasts, has recorded about 480 species of birds in Kangra District and 370 species at Pong wetland itself. According to one of the members of Kangra Bird Club, these birds have been a way of life in Kangra. The villagers of the Kangra valley live in perfect amity with the birds and normally do not disturb the birds whilst going along with their daily work. The villagers do not mind even if the birds feed on their maize fields.
According to Lajja Devi of Haripur village, even when sometimes flocks of 100 bar-headed geese raid their fields, villagers refrain from harming or killing them; instead they accept the losses considering that the birds have come to their village after travelling long distances. Besides plentiful food and shelter on little islands on the lake, the winged visitors also get ample peace and quiet.