Photos and Text by Farooq Soomro/Mohsin Ali Soomro
This is my third trip to Chotiari Dam and I still can’t get enough of this place. There's something about this 'getaway' that makes you want to come back again and again. I was awestruck by the sight of a rare ecosystem when I visited the place for the very first time. The second time around, it was the sight of a non-polluted clear night sky which made me feel like a certain Alice in wonderland. It was the deafening silence this time which made the trip special. Solitude!
Chotiari is nature at its best; a sanctuary for migratory birds, a heaven for star gazers, home to different species of fish. Chotiari Dam has a rare ecosystem consisting of wetlands, crocodiles, wild boar, migratory birds, lakes and marshes. So entrench deep into its wild nature, sleep under the starry night and try to identify various constellations. Different cultures have identified them differently, connecting the dots according to their liking. Connect dots yourself. It is much easier doing that here.
Chotiar Dam is located at the tail end of Nara canal, near the Achro city (the door step to the Thar desert), on north east side of Sanghar. Construction of Chotiari reservoir was the result of the government and World Bank’s sustainable environmental strategy (1989) to preserve irrigation land. However, the construction of reservoir was completed in late nineties, mainly for the purpose of storing water and irrigating Thar Desert.
Before the construction of reservoir, the site was home to six natural lakes namely Baqar, Akanwari, Tajar, Phuleli, Seri and Sao Naro. These lakes were fed by the end tributaries of Nara Canal. It also contained legendary Makhi forest. In spite of the hot climate the site was, and still is, biologically diverse. Hence, it is not just a water reservoir but a complex ecosystem.
The Chotiari reservoir is home to 14 species of large and 19 species of small mammals, 109 species of birds, 58 species of reptiles and amphibians and about 53 species of freshwater fish (WWF-Pakistan, 2008). This reservoir is also a home to endangered species listed in the IUCN Red list.
Chotiari Dam can be accessed from two different sides. One is to reach Jamrao Head, (locally called “Mundh Jamrao”) which is approximately 80 km from Nawabshah city, and then take road along with Ranto Canal, a tributary of Nara Canal to reach north embankment. The second option is to go to Sanghar city and then reach Achro, the official entrance of Chotiari reservoir.
Jamrao Head is also part of Chotiari wetlands; however, the reservoir is located approximately 30 km away from Mundh Jamrao. Jamrao Head is an irrigation headwork where Nara canal terminates in to Jamrao and Ranto canals. Mundh Jamrao has major historical significance. First, it was a part of Hakra – Saraswati River system delta. The archeologists estimate that Jamro head area was part of the delta until 70 A.D when Hakro – Saraswati dried due to unknown reasons. There was another large water body named “Khipro Lake” which was almost at the same place where Chotiari reservoir is located today. Also, Jamrao Head is one of the first irrigation structures in the subcontinent. It was constructed in 1899 and the foundation stone is present to date.
From there it took us almost an hour on a dirt road to reach the banks of the reservoir. We parked our cars there, and started climbing the embankments which were almost 10 meters high. On the other side, we found boats waiting for us to take us to the island where we were going to spend the night. It was a cold winter night but it was pleasant inside the dam. After leaving the boats we took a walk to the highest sand dune on the island, and on the top we found our resting hut. The thatched hut was front open and more like a “landhi” (a temporary structure made in villages for cattle’s and small social gatherings); but it had warm quilts and a bonfire. A local musician along with his entourage made the night memorable.
Next morning we walked back to our boats. The bird watching party was divided in two boats. I have mentioned earlier that the reservoir was a unique system of lakes, swamps, sand dunes; and it was quite visible as we went past small islands, old trees and wetlands inside the dam. One of the hosts, who was also a guide to the hunting party, told us that a notable decline has been observed in arrival of migratory birds. For the same reason we could only see only 20 types of migratory birds. The main reason of the decline has been uncontrolled hunting; and the limitation of habitat due to embankments which has cut the rest of wetland system from water reservoir area.
By 4.30pm we started our journey back. But unfortunately, one of the boats stopped in the middle. After detailed inspection the boat captain declared that the motor was jammed and it could not move any further. It was a nervous moment, being left alone in the middle of wilderness. I could hear wild boars, which thrive in this vicinity. But soon our boat captain spotted a small local boat called “batelo”, which took us to the destination.
Just an advice: don’t go there in summers, as mosquitoes thrive in the wetlands and could make your life miserable.