SAMBHAR LAKE is among the six important sites in India designated by the World Wit Fund for Nature (V F) as a wetland of international importance. This vast inland saline lake spreads over an area of roughly 230 sq km (89 sq miles) and is fed by five rivers. During November ant December, several species of migratory bird, especially flamingoes, can be seen here. A number of local legends are connected with the lake’s origin, and a Shiva temple and two sacred tanks dedicated to mythological princesses are an indication of the lake’s antiquity. The place, however, came into prominence after it was noticed by Babur in the 16th century. Since then, it has been a major source of salt for the country. One of the reasons for this is that after a good monsoon, the water level can rise by up to 3 ft (1 m), but over winter, the lake turns brackish due to capillary action caused by evaporation, drawing up salt from underground deposits.
The little township that has grown around the lake survives on the extraction and packaging of salt. Men, women and even children can be seen working away at the countless trenches and mounds that are spread across the ghostly-white terrain. This has now become a highly commercial business, and though only one state-owned company has the monopoly, there has been an unprecedented growth in the numbers of private manufacturers. Many bunds (small dams) have been illegally constructed in the catchment area to retain rainwater for small-scale operations. This has affected not only the flow of water into the lake but has also put a considerable chain on its ecosystem.
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