Anandapur (Assam), Nov 5: The largest wetland in the Northeast – Sonbeel in Assam’s Barak Valley – is all set to become a popular tourist destination with the state government taking several promotional initiatives in this direction. The shimmering water of the fresh water lake coupled with the natural beauty of the hills surrounding it, a vibrant fishing community with rich folk culture and wide avian and piscean population makes the area in Karimganj district an ideal tourist spot. “There is immense potential in developing the area in an eco-friendly manner for tourism. Tourists do visit the area but due to lack of proper accommodation, most are forced to return to the nearest town of Karimganj or Silchar,” Karimganj deputy commissioner Sanjiv Gohain Boruah told PTI.(Read: 90 per cent Indian universities have outdated curriculum: CNR Rao)

The government has decided to address this problem by setting up a tourist lodge in Mokam Kalibari village along the wetland and the funds have been already sanctioned for the purpose. “The emphasis is to promote eco-friendly tourism without affecting the environment of the area. Photographers from far and near come to the area to capture its varied natural features and as such photography tourism, which has assumed special significance, with progress in digital photography, will also be a major focus area,” he said. People residing in the villages in the adjacent area belong to the fishing community and have a rich heritage of folk culture, particularly music, which the tourists can enjoy in the evenings, he said.

Gohain Boruah pointed out that just one tourist lodge may not be sufficient to meet the accommodation requirements and as such efforts were on to encourage home-stay facilities at the villages which will lead to additional income for the people. Another major feature of the wetland, measuring nearly 3,000 hectares during the height of the monsoon, is that it is free from water hyacinth.

The Shingla river, originating in Mizoram, is the only major inlet as well as the outlet of Sonbeel wetland. Further downstream, there is another large lake known as Ratabeel, beyond which the Shingla river bifurcates into two rivers Kochna and Kakra which drain the lake water into the Kushiara river.

As the depth of the wetland is very less, so during heavy rainfall, the lake overflows and the excess water is channeled through the Kakra and Kushiara river which flows into Bangladesh. A speciality of the water body is that it is used as farm land where the local inhabitants cultivate rice during winter and from March/April onward the land gets filled up with water and becomes a huge lake. “Barringtonia acutangula”, locally called the ‘Hizol’ is the main tree that grows in the wetland besides reeds and various other aquatic plants.

It is a reservoir of 70 species of fish and is also home to a large number resident bird species like the bar-headed geese, adjutant stork, lesser whistling teal, white breasted water hen, spotted dove and purple heron. Besides fishing, the wetland also supports a reed harvesting industry and water transport system and the extensive fertile and flat land around and along the water body yields considerable quantity of agricultural crop.