This hidden trail leads to a once-dying lake restored by the community in Chennai

In 2016, bird watchers had enthusiastically reported sightings of 100 greater flamingos at Perumbakkam lake. “August is not the migratory season, yet the birds have come,” KVRK Thirunaranan of Nature Trust had said, crediting water levels and abundance of fish to the flamingoes’ choice of destination. The black-tailed godwit, a near-threatened bird species had also arrived at the lake, as had more than 30 ruff birds.

Eventually, however, garbage, construction rubble and water extraction through wells took over and the birds stayed away. For the first time in remembered history, the lake had more mud patches than water. Around that time, an alarmed group of residents got cracking to save their beloved lake. Stop sewage/garbage dumping, prevent private suppliers drawing water from the farm wells, they had appealed. Desilt, mark the boundary, plant trees and raise an embankment!

Their prayer was heard. In October last year, the lake got a makeover — centuries of mud deposit was scooped out and collected into a high bund along the open side of the lake. With the generous rainfall that followed, the lake basin filled up and plants grew on the sides as the water body waited for fish and birds to re-discover it. The 2-kilometre causeway is now a beautiful trail, whether you walk it for work or leisure.

This hidden trail leads to a once-dying lake restored by the community in Chennai

We went exploring. On the Sholinganallur – Perumbakkam Main Road we took the second left after the Advent church, and drove till we reached the bifurcation point. Into the Subhash Chandra Bose Road, with Chittalapakkam at our end, we turned right. And stopped. In the Perumbakkam Reserve forest to the left, we spotted a mysterious board that said “ASI Monument Protected.” The “monument” was nowhere, probably hidden in the thick overgrowth. A hundred metres ahead we stopped again to click the blooming Senkanthal, our state flower, and a huge 10-foot-high termite hill. Then we drove into Indira Nagar Masudi Street and parked near a gentle slope to the right.

The lovely check dam that stores Okkiyam canal water welcomed us. The roaring waterfall it creates during monsoons is now a trickle, but no matter, it makes crossing and climbing the bund at its far end easier. We hoisted ourselves up a slippery slope, and voilà! We were on the heavenly trail, flanked by water on one side and foliage on the other. It was a long, beautiful walk, at the end of which we found the bund branching out to Veerabhadra Nagar on the left and New Perumbakkam on the right.

From here, the track to Perumbakkam carves a mini lake of sorts to the left. It receives the run-off water coursing through a sluice gate, making the trail scenic all the way to the town.

This trek was more about flora than fauna. On the dry side along the trail, you can list out a forest of different trees. We identified odhiyam, panai palmyra, nuna (Indian mulberry), aamanaku (castor), usilai, nochi (white- chaste shrub), nerinjil (puncture vine) and the martynia annua plant with beautiful bulb-like white flowers with a violet tinge. Call it cat’s claw as it resembles feline paws.

If you are into medicinal plants, you could spend all morning identifying keezhanelli, mudakathan, nerinjal, thoodarvalai and a host of others. And in the water, don’t miss hyacinth, hydrilla and lily. And yes, the birds were there – drongos and a flock of egrets – and others can’t be far behind.

For cleaners N Malathi and S Shanthi, the bund is a short-cut to work in the New Perumbakkam households — “The walkway isn’t popular,” they said. Near the check dam we caught men collecting live food for their fish tanks.

This hidden trail leads to a once-dying lake restored by the community in Chennai

For the residents though, this is a dawn of restoration. “Clean up, and the place will remain so,” said an optimistic Parthi Nagarajan, who with friends had “embarked on a journey with Environmentalists Foundation of India [EFI]” to protect the lake with crowd-sourced funding. “We want a walkway built, trees planted and the industries opposite punished for letting effluents under the road. Sewage dumping must go and we need an entire eco-system built around the bund.”

“Precious resource,” said Dr. TD Babu, Marine Biologist. “Let’s help it flourish by preventing open defecation and plastic and rubble dumping.”

In this column, we document the city’s lesser-known oases for you to explore

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 5:30:59 PM |

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