On the map it is nestled within a wide meander of River Yamuna and the Fatehpur branch of the lower Ganga canal. Large enough to find a prominent mention in a national road atlas it had been a cherished destination since we started on our Yamuna discovery. So when Jaykant at the Ikdala village mentioned Alwara Taal in passing as an attractive and rich bird area our wish turned into a resolve.
Geo-morphologically rivers are fascinating. Their propensity to meander (winding) and to braid (multi channel) imparts them character. Often great meanderers are not great braiders and vice versa. Good examples are Rivers Yamuna and Ganga. Between them the Yamuna winds its way along prominently, while the Ganga braids more.
The vast alluvial plains of the Ganga and Yamuna are composed of material eroded from the slopes of Himalayas. But in the case of the Yamuna differently from the Ganga it is also the former’s proximity first with the Aravali range and later the central Indian plateau which perhaps invests it with a kind of river bed material that helps it maintain a more playful (read meandering) character.
It is in the aftermath of a high flood that meanders find new definitions and often leave behind ox-bow lakes big and small as relict channels. But Alwara Taal is too big and of the wrong shape to qualify for an ox bow status as ox-bows – a part of former meanders – are horse shoe in shape. A Google earth search revealed Alwara to be a saucer. Locals confirmed that during floods the Yamuna’s waters do overwhelm the lake giving it a floodplains water body status but the Taal (lake) is of greater vintage than what an ox bow lake would normally be.
Sir, kalp vriksha dekhana chahenge? (Would you be interested in looking up the Kalp Vriksha)? It was Udai Bhan, head of the Nadi Mitra Mandali (NMM) at Merapur, a village on the outskirts of the district town of Hamirpur. We had decided to reach Ikdala via Hamirpur which like Ikdala sat on the river Yamuna. Hamirpur town is spread like a wedge resulting from the manner in which River Betwa has squeezed itself close to Yamuna before merging into it. A picturesque railway bridge straddles the confluence point. This was my first visit to the NMM at Merapur.
Yes, why not? Though I wasn’t sure which tree Udai Bhan was referring to as Kalp Vriksha (boon bestowing tree). Popular in all the three ancient Indian religions namely Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism and mentioned in Vedic scriptures as a product of the samudra manthan (churning of the seas) it reputedly graced to begin with the Dev Lok (Abode of Lord Indra, the king of Suras). Like many other mythological references its exact identification is shrouded in mystery. Based on archeological and iconographic references and Sanskrit texts number of claimants to the honour exists. These include Parijat (Erythrina indica), Vat (Ficus bengalensis), Pipal (Ficus religiosa), Mahua (Madhuca indica), Coconut (Cocos nucifera) and Khejari (Prosopis cineraria) etc.
So when we reached the spot overlooking the River Yamuna from a high bank I was more amused than surprised to find an African tree complete with a temple beside it, being worshipped as the ‘Kalp Vriksha’ by the local devotees. “But it is a Baobab”, I blurted out!
Interestingly two ‘fading’ notice boards one eulogizing the virtues of the kalp vriksha and the other by the forest department correctly identifying the tree as Baobab (Adansonia digitata) grace the complex where the tree reigns supreme.
Later we found another much older and larger Baobab tree enroute Ikdala, presumably a witness from the times when the British indulged in their long distance floristic transfer skills.
Popularly called Behenji (sister) Sushree Mayawati is a seasoned political figure in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Four times the Chief Minister (between 1995 and 2012) she once a school teacher was groomed politically by Sri Kanshi Ram, the founder of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which is presently led by her. In gratitude she has never lost any opportunity to celebrate the memory of her ‘guru’ in form of memorials.
One such memorial is a guest house at a place called Manjhanpur the district town of Kaushambi district enroute the Alwara Taal from Ikdala. It is an imposing building but hardly inhabited since as we learnt while enjoying its hospitality that soonest the building had been completed and formally commissioned the progenitor lost elections and her power and the succeeding government was still contemplating its future use. The lake at Alwara in the Kaushambi district of UP takes its name after a nearby village. Some ten villages surround it and a rural ring road circumscribes its 1250 hectare spread where water level varies over the year with about 5meters as its maximum depth during the monsoon season. The wetland was last filled till the ring road during the 1978 floods in the Yamuna. Its connection with the river is active although tenuous.
Its bird richness can be gauged by the fact that few of us (Dr Sitaram Taigor in particular) recorded in one bird listing session of four hours some 1200 birds of 55 species including 57 Sarus cranes. This is when large flocks of birds were seen flying beyond identification and counting distance.
It is not often that one finds one’s wishes translated into action. We had in January 2013 after two fields visits written a popular article1 about it with following as a hopeful suggestion:
“… Alwara Taal needs a person or a group to first appreciate its richness as well as its fragility and then to champion its cause with a missionary zeal … with Universities at Allahabad and Kanpur being not far away, it is our hope that a ‘Salim Ali’ for Alwara should not be too difficult to find”.
Interestingly since then at least two scientific papers one dealing with the fish biodiversity2 and the other on Phyto-plankton diversity3 of Alwara Lake have been published in scientific journals. Both have been authored by Allahabad based researchers.
Certainly more research is called for but on priority the State needs to accord Alwara Taal a legal status of a bird sanctuary or a Community Reserve. Anyone listening!
- Misra, M. (2013). Wetland in search of a ‘Salim Ali’. The Hindu. New Delhi. (January, 20. 2013)
- Verma, A.K. & Sri Prakash. (2016). Fish Biodiversity of Alwara Lake of District Kaushambi, Uttar Pradesh, India. Research Journal of Animal, Veterinary and Fishery Sciences. Vol. 4(4), 5-9, April (2016)
- Verma, A.K. Sri Prakash & Mishra, B.K. (2016). Phyto-plankton diversity in Alwara Lake of district Kaushambi (U.P.) Journal of Entomology and Zoology Studies 2016; 4(1): 170-172
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