There is nothing ‘fishy’ going on in the sacred natural Dal Lake nestled amidst lush green deodar forests in the foothills of Dhauladhar range on the countryside of McLeodganj, the abode of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, in Himachal Pradesh these days.
As old as the memory of the locals and their ancestors, the sacred lake with some 200-year-old Lord Shiva temple located on its banks is on the verge of renouncing the world, but that has not left the people high and dry.
They are religiously saving the fish by reintroducing it into nearby water bodies — an arduous task but nevertheless fulfilling.
Like previous years, the Dal Lake located at an altitude of 1,775 metres above sea level at a distance of 11 km away from McLeodganj in Kangra district has shrunk to a small pit of slush.
Experts blame warming climates, scanty precipitation, and lack of mechanical management are draining crucial water sources, threatening habitats and cultures.
Locals, comprising a large number of exiled Tibetans from McLeodganj, are busy these days in rescuing the fish gasping for breath in the muddy waters.
“For the past one week we have been catching the fish from the lake by using nets and then immediately transporting them to nearby water bodies. Otherwise, they will die owing to asphyxiation,” Ramesh Thakur, a resident of Tota Rani village located close to the lake, told IANS on Thursday.
He said every winter the lake dries up and the locals come to the rescue of the fish.
“During monsoon the lake is brimming with water. But in winter it dries up fast. The reason is that the water seepage is at an alarming rate owing to lack of the lake restoration by the local authorities,” he said, adding “the phenomenon of lake drying has been occurring for the past eight-10 years”.
Another resident Deepak Verma said every winter they catch the fish from Dal Lake and release them to nearby water bodies and private fish farms. “This helps give them a new life.”
Nearly 300 people, largely locals and volunteers from Tibetan organisations, have been involved in the dawn-to-dusk exercise largely at their own resources.
Government official Shilpi Beakta, a Subdivisional Magistrate in Kangra district, told IANS a majority of the stock of fish has been rescued from the lake.
“Our teams were there to assist the local volunteers (in the fish rescue operation),” she said.
Admitting that for the past many years the natural water system of the lake has been drying up, she said the Deputy Commissioner has called a meeting in Dharamsala on Friday to look into the reasons for its shrinking and to adopt mechanical steps to save and restore its glory.
Even the Jal Shakti Department has been recharging the lake by pumping water into it to enable the fish to survive.
The area of the Dal Lake is around one hectare (i.e. 10,000 sq mt). On the bank of the lake the famous Lord Shiva temple is located. According to one legend, a sage named Durvasa prayed to Lord Shiva there.
The experts attribute the lake’s decline to man-made problems like pollution, siltation, construction activities and overgrowth of weeds.
They recommend treatment of catchment area by taking vegetative and mechanical measures, clearing of streams, management of excreta of the livestock near the water body and awareness about the lake’s multifunctional role.
Similarly, rapid development activities in the area have also put tremendous pressure on the water body.
They recommend studies to document hydrological status, rate of sedimentation and biodiversity of the lake.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)