There’s a strange smell in the air. Must be…

 

Jackfruit!

Flower and young fruit growing from a jackfruit trunk

Jackfruit is grown throughout the tropics but is thought to have originated in this area of India, archaeological evidence shows that it was cultivate in India 3,000 years ago – and maybe as long as 6,000 years ago!

It has the largest fruit growing on any tree, weighing up to 80lbs (36kg)!  It can be 3 feet (90cm) long and 20 inches (50cm) in diameter.  It is so big and heavy that it grows directly from the trunk of the tree rather than from a branch.

Mature jackfruit

The fruit can be eaten fresh or sometimes as chips (deep fried like banana chips – if fried in coconut oil the taste is fantastic!).  It has a very strong, pungent scent (hence the title of this post!) but the fruit is sweet and a great source of fibre in your diet.

In India jackfruit wood is used to make the body of a stringed instrument called a veena and drums called kanjira and mridangam.  The best quality jackfruit timber is a beautiful yellow colour with a clear and distinct grain which is used for building houses and making furniture in parts of southern India.  In Hindu ceremonies in Kerala the priest often sits on a polished plank of wood from the jackfruit.  In parts of southeast Asia Buddhist monks use the heartwood of the tree to make a dye for their robes (it is light-brown in colour and mainly used by Buddhists who follow the Thai forest tradition).

During jackfruit season you will see stalls all along the sides of the road selling the fruit to hungry passers-by.  But it’s not only humans who like the taste as you can see from these pictures taken in Thekkady (on the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala).

This tastes good!

Can I have some?

Police, chicken biriyani and a Hindu god

 

There is just one day a year when I would ask you to not visit us at Lakeside.  This year that day was18th July.  The Sadaiyandi festival.

The path up the hillside

Just five minutes walk from us are two banyan trees.  Beneath one is a statue of Durga, a mother goddess, whom women pray to if they want a child.  Under the other is a statue of Sadaiyandi who is a local protector god.  From the banyan grove there is a steep narrow winding footpath up the hillside to a small cave temple.  Inside are some small statues to various gods including Ganesh who is always a great favourite in south India.  This small cave has been a focus of worship for as long as people can remember.

On the day of the festival at least 40,000 (yes forty thousand!) people travel down our single track road to the grove, most of them climb the hillside to the cave before having a picnic in the grove or down by

The cave temple

the lake.  To describe it as ‘chaotic’ would not be too far from the mark.  Hindu worship is always lively and to have so many people in one place can lead to arguments, accidents on the hillside, pick-pockets, drunkenness – the same as anywhere in the world where huge crowds gather.

To monitor all of this 150 police officers are stationed in the area, a particular focus is down by the lake to make sure no one tries to go swimming after drinking – there have been drownings in past years.  Lakeside hosts the group of 10 or more police Inspectors who have overall charge of the festival, providing them with a chicken biriyani lunch and a place to rest when off duty.  We enjoy it very much as it gives us a chance to get to know them better, and discourages ‘sight-seers’ from the temple!

For us the night before the festival is the most difficult part as there are fireworks and music all night long.

No sleep for us on the night of Sadaiyandi festival!

View from the cave temple

English woman praying for rain!

Lakeside sits on the banks of Kamarajar lake near Madurai in Tamil Nadu (hence it’s name!)

After the north-east monsoon (November/December) the lake is full and looks wonderful. As the year progresses water is pumped out to provide drinking water for our nearby town of Dindigul. The level also drops because of evaporation.

As the level falls we continue to enjoy fantastic views. First little islands appear, then these are connected to the mainland by narrow strips of land. By this time of year there is enough ‘new’ land for local people to graze their sheep, goats, cattle and water buffalo on the sweet green grass that springs up as the water retreats. It’s a beautiful, mesmerising sight to see the animals grazing across the open spaces – a miniature Serengetti!

The south-west monsoon starts in June with most of the rain falling on the west coast of India. Kerala and the Western Ghats gets abundant rainfall, some of which finds its way down the eastern slopes of the mountains to our lake. We generally get some rain but not a great deal but it is good to see a small rise in the lake before it drops again with the continued pumping.

Not this year though. The south-west monsoon is delayed and weak, and across the country water levels in reservoirs is only 57% of what it was this time last year, down from 62% last week. (That’s an average, for us it is more like 90% so we are lucky). There are already reports of damage to crops in some parts of the country and some farmers are holding back on planting their rice seedlings until the rains come, which could affect food prices later in the year.

It’s a strange thing for an English person to say, but I’m praying for rain!

The lake after the north-east monsoon

Saving the Western Ghats for my great-great-grand children

Lakeside lies at the foothills of the Western Ghats, the chain of mountains which runs down the western side of peninsular India.

During the last week the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, meeting in St Petersburg, placed 39 sites in the Ghats on the World Heritage List to protect the bio-diversity of this unique area which is one of the most fragile and ecologically sensitive areas of the world.  The area placed under protection for future generations covers nearly 8,000 square kilometres although this is much smaller than the 129,000 square kilometres which Indian experts say is in need of protection.

India’s past record for protecting such areas has been limited, but I hope that this new international recognition will help the current government to conserve this beautiful area.  The central government has a tough job ahead of them however as the Ghats stretch through a number of States whose own governments are sometimes more concerned with money than the future of the Ghats.  Karnataka wanted 10 of the new sites removed from the list, presumably because it will influence the amount of mining that can take place, and Kerala wants to continue to develop hydro-electric power in certain sensitive areas and so was rather negative in its reaction to the conservation initiative.

The Ghats are home to a number of unique or threatened species and it is wonderful to see them receiving the international recognition and protection which they richly deserve, but we must hope that short-term economic gain does not marginalise the protection of one of India’s most beautiful natural resources.  Now that the area is listed as a World Heritage Site India will be able to seek international assistance to compensate for any financial loss to companies due to protection of the forests – let’s hope that that will be the guiding principal and that the beauty of the Western Ghats will still be here when my newborn grandson has grandchildren of his own!