A black tailed godwit gracefully descends upon the tranquil water, flutters its wings and sails on. A small, brown and white wader with a slightly up curved bill, the bird has traveled 3500 kms from its nesting ground in Central Europe to spend the winter at Nalsarovar in Gujarat!
Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary, consisting primarily of a 120.82-square-kilometre (46.65 sq mi) lake and ambient marshes, is situated about 64 km to the west of Ahmedabad near Sanand Village, in the Gujarat state of India. Mainly inhabited by migratory birds in winter and spring, it is the largest wetland bird sanctuary in Gujarat, and one of the largest in India. It was declared a bird sanctuary in April 1969.
The lake attracts over 210 species of birds in the winter, and harbors a variety of plants and animals. Besides a few mammalian species including the endangered wild ass and the black buck, its migratory bird population includes rosy pelicans, flamingoes, white storks, brahminy ducks and herons. Thousands of migratory waterfowl flock to this sanctuary just after the Indian monsoon season. The shallow area and ponds on the outer fringes of the lake attract the wading birds that feed in the shallow waters.
Millions of birds visit the bird sanctuary in winter and spring. It harbors over 250 species of wetland birds. Winter migrants from the north including purple moorhen, pelicans, lesser and greater flamingos, white storks, four species of bitterns, crakes, grebes, brahminy ducks and herons visit Nal Sarovar. Between November and February, the lake is home to vast flocks of indigenous and migratory birds. Ducks, geese, pelicans and flamingos are best seen early in the morning and in the evening and the sanctuary is best visited as a day excursion by personal vehicle, taxi, as buses are infrequent and there is no convenient accommodation.
Hours for visiting the lake are 6 am to 5:30 pm. There is an entry fee per visitor and camera, however for boating one needs to negotiate with the local boatmen, though prescribed rates are mentioned at the gate. The best time to reach there is just before sunrise as the lake is calm and quiet and flock of birds waiting for their regular food. The water in the lake is about 4 feet deep.
Migrating Aamin bhai shepherds populate the islands of the lake and on the banks are the Padhars, who are folk dancers, artisans and boatmen. One can hire country boats on the lake for bird viewing, and picnic at shacks the on the islands.
Nalsarovar was declared as a Ramsar site on 24 September 2012. Since 2005 it is the only lake that has been declared as Ramsar site in India.