Thursday, January 17, 2019

Ujani; Habitat of Hope!

 “Men will spend billions making inhospitable distant planets habitable. And yet we spend trillions destroying the abundant ingredients for life on our home planet.” … Freequill.

Activist and writer who goes by the alias FREEQUILL and chooses to remain anonymous though I wonder who can write such wonderful quote & yet remain anonymous as I personally feel that unless the words gets a face behind them however wisdom they carry yet they seldom reach to masses & above words too are not exception to my logic! Well, if you are finding me a bit philosophical then it’s about my latest trip of birding to Ujani a backwater hardly some 90 odd kilometers from Pune & whenever you go to meet nature in its raw form if you are not having a philosophical effect then you really haven’t meet the nature is what I will say! And I am very much human so the philo effect while I start sharing my Ujani time with flamingos & loads of them along with many other wonderful creatures we just tag under the specie birds! I had been to Ujani some six years back & for those who are unaware about the place, it’s a water-body created by Ujani dam on east side of Pune hardly two hours drive. Actually Ujani has catchment area of entire Pune district but as there are some five odd dams on upstream as well located at flat terrain, Ujani dam get filled only when all upstream dams are full & its overflow is what makes Ujani dam’s storage. Spread on huge area because of flat plateau, it’s this geographical location which has blessed Ujani to become home (read breeding ground) for hundreds of species of migratory as well local birds. Because the flat land makes shallow water body so the formation of algae is more in this stagnant water which is food for many insects as which then becomes food for fish & all this makes this as a perfect shelter for birds like flamingo to breed here. Still a wonder that how these birds travels for thousands of miles from places like Siberia & few from Ran of Kuchh but every year come winter & the back water of Ujani becomes a heaven for bird watchers.

And not just flamingos many other species like ducks, gull come here in winter for breeding & brings along prey birds like Marsh Harrier & Falcons & Eagles too. Though the main attraction is flamingo & I wanted to click them on the background of sunset so I started by early noon with two of my friends towards Ujani & reached there by late noon. In six years not much has changed the same scene of no signage to place like this which could be one of the best tourism attractions. No public facility (as usual) leave apart toilets etc & no garbage beans as we the Indians are such a great community when its displaying our civic sense that we leave behind all signs of what we have ate & drank in form of carry bags, bottles, cartons & what not while we visit place like Ujani! Then there is no proper way to actual water body which is accessible only by boat. One good thing was the boats now are fitted with diesel engine so as the distance can be covered faster to the birds nesting & when you close in the guide as well boat driver cuts of the engine & rows to a safe distance from the bird. Another good change was now the guides cum boat men were available (local boys only) who has been having good knowledge about birds & with information of birds’ breeding grounds. This year rains were pretty less, obvious the dam wasn’t full & water shallow making a better situation for flamingos which loves shallow water & there they were, from shore itself we can see the pink white wall on one side of the water & as the boat started travelling towards the flamingo wall my eyes (read mind) were mesmerized by this wonder of nature. Hundred, thousands of birds silently moving in lines searching for food, some sleeping, some communicating with each other’s by touch, doing all sorts of moments of that long turning neck supporting a pink beak! For a moment I forgot to click as such sights makes you realize what a wonderful creator nature is & suddenly few of the flamingos started running & spreading their wings lifted themselves up in sky. Because of its heavy body structure, flamingos can’t fly like most other birds i.e. strait lifting their body up in sky but needs a start just the way our bigger aero planes does. May be the idea in the mind of first aeronautical engineers about flights take-off, must have come by looking at such flight of some flamingo itself, such is the similarity between to watch a flamingo took flight & a plane taking off from the ground. As we were watching the stylish take-off of these nature’s aero planes one by one, in next moment entire sky above us was shade of pink & white & red leaving us below to envy these birds which can fly so gracefully! 

And if this isn’t enough to make our appetite full for nature’s wonder then up ahead the water surface was covered with thousands of common coot with glossy black wings & white beak, rudy shell ducks, bramhni ducks, spotted bill ducks & Gulls of many types. As the boat advanced through them towards another group of flamingos, the ducks took of flight in hundreds at a time, making us feel like we are moving through black clouds on our head! And obvious there were prey birds like marsh harrier silently awaiting their chance for the kill among these so many smaller birds! Though the prey birds you can get to see mostly at late morning or noon as that must be the time when the prey i.e. other birds can be found in bit relaxed phase post their meal, is what my guess. And then as the sun started touching horizon on western sky, the entire backdrop got washed in crimson gold color making the water glow in its reflection & on that background flamingos silhouette were moving & if this is less the on sky also like warli painting flying flamingos were making sketches indifferent form! Trust me I have been lucky enough to witness many nature wonders but so close to city & so unprotected by human encroachment, Ujani back water is one of the best of them!

Now if you have had visualization of what I experienced then let me tell you my sharing is not to make you awe about Ujani back water but to make you aware that this habitat is in grave danger & it’s none other than by we the Punekars! As whatever garbage, sewage, chemicals & what we generate upstream, finally flows here polluting the fresh water of this reservoir which is most essential for the formation of algae which in end becomes main reason for these birds making this place as their home. And then there is literally no protection to the birds from scavenger dogs as well humans by any govt official. Neither the place is known to outer world except die hard birding people! The only way we can conserve such places is by making the locals love the place as well join in conservation of the same. Fortunately there are locals like Sandip Nangare who along with his fellow friends doing a wonderful job to not only guide the visitors about the rich heritage of Ujani (bhigwan) but assisting them for basic things like stay as well rest rooms via his home stay facility! Had this place been in some European Country or in USA, those people would have made it a world tourist site by now such is the potential of Ujani back water but its only fault is it’s here where people (read from govt to Pune citizens) are more interested in things like traffic, fsi, water supply (read cuts) & Metro. Just 90 km away from our city we have one of the best treasures of nature & as it’s free we are ignoring it rather killing it by our negligence!

So many things can be done on our own as why to blame just govt, but the private tour operators from Pune must be taking thousands of tourists to hundreds of destinations but they seldom think of arranging tours to places like Ujani as that can be good source of earning for locals around as well get these places on the map of world tourism. Schools also should make it compulsory for one day trip to Ujani like spots by being associated with Sandip Nangre like locals as the nature can be best taught by meeting it where it exists than just reciting some lines from text book in closed class room! PMRDA or PMC or PCMC can join hands with local authority & help them to make such places grow on the front of infrastructure as it can be a good revenue model if marketed properly but before marketing the place has to be well equipped with supporting infrastructure like proper signage from main road, a drivable road till end, rest rooms as well stay arrangement; there isn’t even a safe jetty to park as well climb in the boats!

I really wonder how with all odds places like Ujani back water has survived still with no factor is in their favor, may be this also a natural wonder in itself! May it be water bodies like Ujani which is home to thousands of birds or forests around Pune city supporting fast vanishing wild life, all these places are like hope for not just the wild life but humans too! Because with our greed & ignorance (read negligence) we are not only becoming major threat to our own-selves but for many innocent species too & though hope still exists in the form of place like Ujani; do mind no hope can save any life unless its backed up by sincere efforts & Ujani too is not exception to this law of nature!

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Sanjay Deshpande 
Sanjeevani Dev.

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