November 10, 2009

Of Great Lakes in Big Cities and small Towns

Of the wide expanse of land of what we call India, there exist several pearls lying strewn about. Small ponds, big lakes, huge wetlands and many more. They are found everywhere and in a bygone era, must have covered the length of the country. They are found in dry deserts and moist latitudes and in a sense convey the spirit of diversity that marks out India.

There are the millions of pukurs in Bengal, as important an identity to the Bengali ethos as its rasgulla. These pukurs are small ponds that serve as the lifeline of the Bengali village. Bathing, washing utensils, a playground for children and ducks alike – pukurs are there during the year. How they manage to be so full of water during the entire year is possibly due to the high water table of the state.

As we travel westwards from Bengal, pukurs change in character. Where there were several as the eye met, the numbers decrease and the size starts increasing and by the time, we reach the capital, these ponds become all too infrequent and mostly dry during the year. The character changes but traditional societies always have had the lakes that they call their own in their villages.

Then there are the giants amongst lakes, Chilika in Orissa, Tso Moriri in Ladakh, Bada talab in Bhopal and Sukhna amongst others. These are society creators and you find cultures developing from within them. Chilika supports hundreds of thousands of artisans, farmers, fishermen and tourism activities while also performing her duties as that of a normal lake’s roles and responsibilities. Tso Moriri is a giant lake on the Changtang plateau of Ladakh and houses a diversity of animals that make the lake their breeding grounds. Bada talab is a unique wonder that was created several centuries ago by a strong willed ruler and changed the face of Bhopal forever. For any person who visits the town, the overbearing legacy of the gas tragedy fades away with a view of the lake and one sees Bhopal in all its majesty. That is what the lake does to you and a visit to Bhopal is worth a mention, if only you have to travel to have a glimpse of the lake. Sukhna in Chandigarh has a unique identity in the town of Chandigarh. It is popular as a picnic place, as a jogging track but also for many as an unique location that is at the foothills of the Shivaliks and provides an awe inspiring view of the Kasauli hills. There is a popular legend in the Sukhna region. During some evenings of the year, the rising moon looks like a forest fire and alternatively as a fading sun. His illusion can go for several minutes and unless encouraged by your friend to look carefully, you can leave for home assuming that it was indeed the sun at seven thirty in the evening. Sukhna exudes a carefully manicured magic that though man made yet, is identified with the soul of Chandigarh, itself a man made wonder.

Then there are the dams. Several of these temples of modern India may not have served their original purpose and infact have contributed to wide scale destruction of habitat and natural flora and fauna. However, over several years, the regions adjoining these large dams in Kabini, Bhavani, Totladoh, Periyar, Tungabhadra, Hirakud, Supa, Stanley, Harangi, Bommanhalli, Linganmakki, Nagarjunasagar have recovered to a large extent and have become perennial source of water to animals ad birds. These lakes, if they can be called so, form beautiful landscapes and many are now being used as popular tourism sites. These lakes have a charm that is theirs. Still waters and plenty and old tree stumps exist in abundance providing a nesting pot for many a bird. Cormorants and storks compete for space with darters and terns, creating a vivid society that is ever busy in their zeal for food and space. These dam lakes, if the initial destruction is to be overlooked, are modern temples of wildlife and efforts should be taken to prevent any new developments in these sites.

Then, the wondrous wetlands. Small and big, damned or free flowing, deep and shallow are ancient natural systems for storing and releasing water, much before engineers came in with their degrees and decided something must be done with these wildernesses and began the process of over development.