Lakes — lost and found

Given summer is just a few months away, the lakes might dry up soon. Photo: Shaju John  

We have been driving for over an hour — past Chennai traffic, the suburbs of Medavakkam, and the reserved forests of Kovilanchery. Even as geologist, water sports expert and founder of Bay of Life Surf School, N. Kumaran, drives his Scorpio, laden with three paddling boards on top like a fancy shade, the rest of us shift in our seats. Conversations dip to whispers and a few of us nod off. “Is this the one?” we ask, every time a midget waterbody appears on the side of the road, between mangroves, pine and eucalyptus trees. Kumaran nods in the negative and keeps driving.

Over the last one year, Kumaran, a resident of Vengaivasal, has been on a mission to identify and map lakes around Chennai. Every morning, Kumaran and his paddling team, sometimes accompanied by his six-year-old son, march out of the house with a smartphone, head to the areas that are marked blue on Google Maps, and analyse whether they are fit for any kind of watersports (paddling, kayaking, snorkelling…). And if they are, he notes down the latitude and visits them again with his family, friends and colleagues. He has succeeded in identifying around 10 so far, along the stretch from GST to OMR — including two lakes near Pulleri, one in Kondangi, two in Mambakkam, two around Madambakkam, and three around Sirukundram — the one our car is heading to now.

The roads get narrower and the houses get smaller, as the settlements vanish and lotus ponds appear. A couple of tiny temples and acres of paddy fields later, we see it. Outlined by the Eastern Ghats on one side and a massive Hanuman temple on the other, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, as he calls the lake, lies still as a polished sheet of glass. No human in the vicinity, and no plastic waste on the banks. “No one knows about this lake yet,” says Kumaran, quickly untying the imported paddling boards — two are wooden and one is air-filled — from the roof of his car.

He hands us a paddle and a life jacket and leashes our foot to the boards. “We need to wrap up before it gets very hot,” he says. It’s 9 a.m. and the sunlight is soft. The water smudges brown beneath our feet, as we hesitate to climb on to the boards. “Just don’t get tense. The lake is shallow for the major part... And do not bother folding your pants, because you are going to get completely drenched,” he says, before venturing into the waters with two swift strokes of his paddle. Kumaran is a Limca record holder for stand-up paddling seven kilometres in the Bay of Bengal. Following his instructions, we sit on our knees, on the board that wobbles like jelly.

After an hour, our paddle boards are stable, the paddle movements, quicker, and the sun, harsher. “Now, let’s kill the heat a little. Jump!” says Kumaran, who slides off from his paddle board and into the lake. “There are no crocodiles. But fish, tortoises and snakes might be there,” he adds in a matter-of-fact way. After a little coaxing, we give in and jump. The water is at the perfect temperature, and the floor is a mix of clay and weed. We float on our backs, and catch a free show of crow formations.

The lake was discovered by chance. Kumaran was on his way to Lake Kolavai in Chengalpattu for paddling last summer. But on reaching, he realised that the shores of the lake were filled with garbage and prosopis plants — making it unfit for any sport. “So I decided to skip paddling for the day and headed back. On my way, around eight kms before Thirukazhukundram (famous for the Vedagiriswarar temple complex), I spotted a 12 to 15-foot mud levee on the right side. What I saw on the other side of it left me speechless: an unpolluted lake in the middle of nowhere!”

And he wants to help maintain it that way. Many lakes in the city, such as Perungudi, Avadi and more, despite being cleaned up by groups of people every weekend, get dirty in a short span. What’s the solution? “Water sports. People only dirty something that they don’t use. If this becomes a vibrant water sports spot, they will make sure that it is not polluted.” Kumaran organises around four registered trips, that include paddling sessions every weekend. “These sessions, if not anything, will help people get closer to Nature. Less than five per cent know swimming, and even lesser know how to escape danger when in water. The short lake encounters could be a start to learn the skills,” he says.

It’s almost noon. We paddle back to the bank, past a group of pelicans. “This is the time (between December and March), when migratory birds visit this part of the world. Also, since the area is a mix of deciduous and semi-arid forests, one can also spot butterflies, peacocks, hares and sometimes leopards,” he says, tying up the boards on the car roof. Given summer is just a few months away, the lakes might dry up soon. “This is the perfect season for a visit — a weekend off can include trekking in the Eastern Ghats, paddling, bird spotting and a quiet stay at the farmhouses.”

Pristine Palar

Just a few months ago, after the recent floods in Chennai, Kumaran visited the Palar River, near Vallipuram, and found that the river had reclaimed its natural course, as it once existed. “We got our first glimpse of the lake on NH 45, after crossing Madurantakam. The reservoir is used in irrigating more than 1000 villages in the region. In the distance, we could see the overflowing water above the sluice gates. With the heavy rains filling the lake, people have been flocking to get a glimpse of this vast lake and it quickly turned into a picnic spot for locals.”

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 4:13:18 AM |

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