It feels like a carnival at Vaalankulam, one of the eight lakes fed by the river Noyyal, the city’s lifeline. The water body, spanning 64.75 hectares and supported by abundant greenery, is now a buzzing recreation spot as the Coimbatore Corporation in a joint venture with the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) has introduced boating here.
Children are thrilled as they put on their life jackets and take a stroll along the jetty eyeing the swan-shaped paddle boats. College students hop out of cars to the ticket counter after the mandatory selfies with the lake as the backdrop. There are pedal boats, rowing and cycling boats, and motor boats to choose from for a 30-minute sail through the lake soaking up the green views as a cool breeze washes over.
Historians often describe Coimbatore as a beautiful woman adorned with a garland of navaratnams represented by the lakes of the River Noyyal. The river begins its 167-kilometre journey from Kooduthurai near Aalandurai and joins the Cauvery near Karur, filling up over 30 tanks along the way. Eight lakes of the Noyyal that fall under the Coimbatore Corporation limits are getting a new lease of life in a phased manner as a part of the Smart City Beautification Project. “We are gifted with so many lakes inside the city and we thought boating would be a great recreation activity for families,” says M Prathap, IAS, Corporation Commissioner.
For TTDC that operates boating at tourist spots such as Udhagamandalam, Hogenakkal, Pichavaram, and Muttukadu, this is a first within the city. It has also set up a refreshment counter that offers snacks and beverages as well as a panoramic view of the blue-green waters from the first floor.
Another recreation zone, the Periyakulam or the Ukkadam Big Tank, one of Coimbatore’s biggest lakes spread across over 100 hectares has visitors queue up for an adventurous ride through waters on a jet ski, or the thrills of a speed boat or the luxury Pontoon boat. Aqua roller, where one can jump and roll on a giant inflatable ball in the lake is drawing children.
“All our boat operators are trained and certified by the National Institute of Watersports, Goa,” says Sanjay Panda, project manager of Ahmedabad-based Entartica Seaworld entertainment company that runs and maintains boating at Periyakulam. Entartica has developed recreation hubs along water bodies like the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad, Rajasamand Lake in Rajasthan and Mayfair Lake in Raipur, Chattisgarh. “We use third generation engines to cut down the impact of noise and avoid any disturbance to the thriving aquatic life,” adds Sanjay.
Safety, a priority
Care has been taken to ensure safety. For example, no one can enter the jetty without a life jacket, rescue boats are in place, and a rescue team is on alert as the boats zip off. “We did several trial runs before opening it to the public. We made some tweaks on the boats to ensure that there are no tilts while manoeuvring. The boats also follow a marked channel during the rides,” says Prathap.
“Packing in adventure along with water sports is a big plus as it teaches new skills,” says Group Captain S Jayashankar (retired) of the National Adventure Foundation, which runs Camp Splendour at Udumalpet near Coimbatore that covers rivers Aliyar, Amaravathi, Bhavani, as well as Thirumurthy Dam. “We often use Sulur Lake in the city for water sports activities. The still waters are ideal for stand-up paddling. For sustenance, maintaining water quality is the key. Standard safety operating procedures for treatment and maintaining the water body should be in place at all times. And, go for technically-sound equipment to ensure that there is minimal discharge of residues in any form. A team trained in standard rescue procedures including Life Skills Training (LST), CPR and first-aid (in case the boat capsizes) should be on stand by.”
But there are a few questions that conservationists are asking. How are we going to stop water pollution? Will the activity affect bird life? “These lakes are thriving bio-diversity hotspots,” says R Selvaraj, founding member and president of Coimbatore Nature Society (CNS), a birding group that has been organising bird walks at lakes every Sunday, since 2012. “Recently, we spotted pelicans in huge numbers at Vaalankulam. Besides resident birds, migratory birds like sandpipers, terns, and ducks, throng the lakes during the annual migration that is set to begin from October. Birds like plovers, stints, and sandpipers forage shore vegetation along the bund for food. Little grebes, ducks, and garganeys that float on the surface depend on plankton and fish. A scientific study by a body like SACON on the impact of such activities on birds will be helpful.”
Commenting on water quality, Corporation Commissioner Prathap says that almost 80 percent work of Water Treatment Plants have been completed at Periyakulam and Vaalankulam. “Once it starts functioning in a month or so, it will ensure that sewage (almost 70 percent) entering via the main channels of the lakes are treated before let in. People’s mindset, especially those who run small industries, and big apartment complexes should change and stop letting in sewage via small inlet channels entering the lakes. We will monitor and take severe action. I request people to enjoy recreation responsibly. Avoid littering the lakes.”