Wild visitor at Lakeside

wild boar at LakesideWhile walking in our area of land set aside for wildlife this morning I met a local family.

Mum, Dad and baby wild boar were happily rooting away for breakfast. Although I wondered why they would be hungry after digging up some of the plants in our gardens last night!

Unlike boar that you might find elsewhere, these are not aggressive unless they feel threatened. On seeing (even hearing or smelling!) humans, they take off into the densest vegetation they can find. I always feel privileged to see them, but do wish they would not run away and hide before I can take a photo! Thankfully I have one that I took a few years ago. This photo was taken just after the dry season and before the new growth had come through. As you can see, this animal looked hungry. The boar I saw today were much better fed!

Boar can be a bit of a pest. Once Lakeside has settled for the night and no one is around they will come in and dig up the succulent roots of plants. It is just bad luck that the tastiest roots are those of the plants in our flowerbeds and not weeds!

You may see a lone boar (males tend to be solitary) or a pair. If really lucky you could see mum and dad with a family of little ones! Young boar stay with their mother until they are adult. In some places you can see as many as 20 boar in a group, although in this valley you are more likely to see less than 10.

The wild boar is the ancestor of the domestic pig and the two species will inter-breed. So, any feral pigs you may see on rubbish heaps on the outskirts of villages could well have some boar blood.

 Boars forage mostly at dawn and dusk and into the night so you are unlikely to see them during the heat of the day. They are omnivorous and will eat anything they find – grass, nuts, berries, carrion, roots and tubers, insects and small reptiles. They are also a menace for our ground-nesting birds as they will take both the bird and the eggs.

As the boar is one of the bigger mammals in the valley they don’t have many predators. A fox or local dog may take a piglet, but only the leopard will take on a full grown boar.

Breaking the mould – brick making in India

For as long as people can remember bricks in India have been made by hand. You can often see a small brick kiln beside the road where a family will make their own mud bricks and sell to locals. The quality of such bricks is not always good as the kiln is too small.

Close to Lakeside is a much lager commercial brick factory. A visit there is always popular with our guests.

The mud is put into the mould by hand…

…then tipped out.

There are about forty families employed at the factory. Couples often work together and are paid by the number of bricks they make.

The bricks are left to dry in the sun for about one week, being turned two or three times so that they dry evenly.

Then they are taken to the kiln. This is the same shape as the amphitheatres the Romans used for their chariot races.

The sun-dried bricks are carefully stacked in sections, each of which will be sealed off for firing.

Once the section is sealed it is covered with bricks and sand. The metal ‘lids’ cover the holes where the fuel is put in.

The fuel is a combination of thorn wood and cashew nut shells. These nuts have been roasted and the kernals removed. The remaining shell is very oily, this helps to create a fierce, consistent heat which creates a good quality brick.

The chimney is an ingenious design. It is on rails so that it can be moved from section to section as they are fired.

The firing lasts for one day, then the bricks are left for a week as they cool down.

The bricks are then removed by hand…

…loaded onto lorries…

…and taken to Dindigul where they are sold. Local people can buy directly from the factory.

As with all things in India, a new machine has recently been brought in to increase production. In this case, however, it has not meant the loss of jobs. The factory still employs the same number of people but produces twice as many bricks. The machine is still very simple and is labour intensive. It is fascinating to watch.

Some of the bricks are still made by hand, but I wonder how long that will last. Regardless of how the bricks are manufactured, it is a fascinating process and our guests always enjoy their visit.

If you come to stay at Lakeside, I’ll be happy to show you around!

 

Calls to protect Dindigul’s drinkiing water

During the last year many guests have commented on a large building being erected close to the lake. ‘What is it for?’ has been the main question.

We had only be able to reply that the rumour was that it was to be a water bottling plant. The locals have been worried about this because it will deplete the water table, as well as having a huge impact on the available drinking water for Dindigul.

Well, over the last few weeks it has been revealed that it is a private water bottling plant. The current level of water in the lake is around 7 feet; at capacity it holds 23 feet. Due to this shortage local authorities can currently only provide drinking water to Dindigul every 15 days. People are up in arms that someone can make a profit from this scarce resource, and rightly so.

Complaints have been made to the Collector to stop the plant from extracting water. There are many questions being raised – does the plant have the necessary licenses and permissions? If so who granted them? No doubt it will take time to sort this out, but at least a start has been made. Let us hope that the drinking water in the lake can continue to be preserved for the people of Dindigul – and the local wildlife.

You can read what the Hindu has to say about the issue here.

Anbagam – ‘Home of Love’

Many of you know that I first came to India to visit the boy I sponsor through the Joe Homan Charity. It is a charity that I have been involved with for many years. We often get guests who stay with us at Lakeside when they visit the local projects. Earlier this year I went with some of the guests to the local DACS project in Dindigul. This an independent charity which the Joe Homan Charity makes contributions to on a regular basis. The project cares for children with HIV and AIDS.

I have been asked to write the annual report for the Joe Homan Charity regarding this project. You can find the text below. It is quite a humbling, yet uplifting, story.

DSCN0362

I recently visited the new home of the DACS project in Dindigul. It is a
lovely two storey building which contrasts greatly with the home I saw just
3 years ago. That itself was a huge step forward from the small house used
by Mr Thankachan in 2003 to set up his home for children with HIV and AIDS.
Back then there were 17 children, now there are almost 50. In the early
days Thankachan called it an ‘orphanage’ as fear and prejudice of HIV is
rife in India. Of course, he could not keep the purpose of his project a
complete secret, and when the local community found out about the HIV
children they were discouraged from attending the local schools, being
taught instead at the project. Over the years the Government has, to
differing degrees, supported the home and education of these children who are
once again integrated into the local schools. I’m pleased to say that the
children are doing well educationally.

JHC has been involved with this project since 2008. It is sobering to read
the report from that year which said that the children ‘cannot look forward
to more than half a dozen years of life at best’, and the number of deaths
in the early years was evidence of that. The Government provides the drugs
to treat these children, but Thankachan realised that the key to a longer
life was nutrition. His approach of ensuring that the children have a good
healthy diet has shown remarkable results, with only one or two deaths since
2010, and none since early 2013. This has, paradoxically, put more pressure
on Thankachan who wants to be able to provide a home and support for these
children for life.

The atmosphere at this project is uplifting. You receive a true welcome
from the children who are smiling and wanting to hold your hand, just like
any other child in Dindigul. But these children are different. Most have
been abandoned by their parents because of their infection, dumped on the
streets, or left beside an ATM machine. Abandoned children are taken to a
Government Hospital for assessment. The majority of children are then placed
in an orphanage with hopes for adoption, but those who are HIV positive are
sent to DACS, here they are cared for and can be assured of a loving home
for life.

DACS has come a long way from its humble beginnings, and the contributions
by JHC have played an important role in this development. This has included
supporting the daily lives of the children and much needed improvements to
their home. The latest support has been towards a new building which was
officially opened in December 2013. This has cost over £52,000 to complete,
with Thankachan raising much from local donors and family. The improvement
in living conditions here cannot be over-emphasised.

The children now have a clean, well supplied and safe environment in which
to live; they are more accepted by the local population; they can mix more
with children of their own age at the local school. Above all, their life
expectancy has improved immeasurably, as has their quality of life.
Yet we must not be complacent. In the short term DACS is still in need of
funds to improve their home and develop a small area of land into a
playground for the children. And the future? For Thankachan to continue
this excellent work he will need continued support he can rely on, and that
means an on-going commitment from JHC. For me, to see the improvements in
the health and living conditions of these children over the last three years
has been both heart-warming and humbling. As I watch children playing,
children who I had thought would not be alive today, I cannot help but
wonder about their future in a society where people with HIV and AIDS are
still feared and avoided. More and more local people are helping to support
the project in a small way, through donations or volunteering, but the
long-term future is more than they can handle. Thankachan had a dream in
2003 to provide a place where children with HIV and AIDS could live their
short lives in a home full of love. With the life-expectancy of these
children now immeasurably improved his new dream is to provide them with
higher education, work and a home through their adult years. The commitment
to funding which JHC has made just might make this possible.

DSCN0614

TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2014!

Great news!

Lakeside has been awarded TripAdvisor’s ‘Certificate of Excellence 2014’.

It is good to know that all our hard work is paying off.

We would like to thank our staff who work so hard, and without whom we would not have been able to achieve the high standards that we do.

Also, many thanks to our reviewers for their kind comments, it is these that keep us informed of where we are, and help us to constantly improve our services.

Many thanks,

Dorinda and Peter

 

Is India neglecting its responsibilities to wildlife?

The wild elephants are still in the area, but not too close to Lakeside.

The forest rangers say that they have just come looking for food and water, but in yesterdays Hindu newspaper environmentalists say that part of the problem is the destruction of elephant habitat and ‘elephant corridors’ in the Reserve Forest, which is forcing them to change their range.

Let me just emphasise: RESERVE FOREST, set up as a protection for wildlife and a buffer zone between them and humans.  Why is human encroachment allowed? I would hate to think that people turn a blind eye for money. Or maybe there are just not enough people to enforce the law – if so there are plenty of poor local people who might be glad of such paid employment.

I do hope that this is not another case of India neglecting her wildlife for selfish reasons.

Wild elephant in Tamil Nadu

Wild elephant in Tamil Nadu

There’s an elephant in the High Street!

Last week I took some of the guests to visit our local town of Dindigul, a great place to see life as it is for millions of Indian people today.  Whilst there we were lucky enough to witness the Masi festival of the local Kottai Mariamman Temple.

The streets were crowded with people there for the opening ceremony of the month long festival.  First of all we came across stalls which were giving away free food – sponsored by local temples or businesses.

Free food!

We then moved into the Palani road.  This is where we usually buy electronic goods, computer equipment, building supplies etc. yet on this day we found it to be a swirling riot of colours, incredible noise and subtle scents.  For me it felt very strange to see the road thronged with people carrying their temple gifts on their heads…

Celebrating the goddess

…or playing their drums for the deity.

Temple drummers

 An incredible mixture of the ancient and modern.  But that was just the beginning!  To our surprise we saw a temple elephant leading the procession.

elephant in the High Street

A beautiful creature decked out in its festival finery and decorative paint.

temple elephant in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu

Three men accompanied the elephant – two on foot and one riding – to ensure that she remained calm and played her role to perfection.

Palani Road, Dindigul with elephantt

As with all temple elephants, this one could be persuaded to pass on her blessing.  All that our guest was required to do was to place 10 rupees in her trunk (which she passed to her mahout) and then bow his head for her to place her trunk on him in blessing.

Blessing from temple elephant

Many people handed their children up to sit on the elephant – either to take a photo or as a blessing – but many of the children were not impressed!

riding the temple elephant, Dindigul

we are not amused!

The amount of time that goes into preparing the elephants robes is impressive.

temple elephants robes, India

We thought we had seen everything and were just about to move on when the car carrying the goddess approached.

Temple car, Palani Road, Dindigul

This was a huge trailer covered in flowers, the bright patters which adorned it were also flowers attached to the superstructure.  The worshippers pushed and jostled and crowded around to get as close as they could to hand over gifts of flowers either at this car or one of the ones following.

Temple car, Tamil Nadu, India

There were thousands of people, each with their small bag of flowers, and the scent was overpowering.  The flowers were to be used by the priests during the day as they offered unbroken puja (worship) to the goddess  for 24 hours, so everyone knew that their flowers would be placed on the shrine at some point during the day.

Goddess of the Kottai Mariamman Temple, Dindigul Tamil Nadu

HIndu priest collecting the flowers

The festival will continue for the rest of this month although the remaining processions will take place at night so that more people can attend – and stop further disruption to one of the busiest streets in Dindigul.

Flowers placed before the Hindu goddess

We consider ourselves incredibly lucky to have stumbled upon such an act of worship in the middle of a bustling town, and to have been treated with such kindness and generosity by all whom we met –both man and beast!

Hindu priest, South India

Hindu temple elephant, Dindigul, Tamil Nadu, South India

For the local newspaper article please see The Hindu

Coffee, cakes and home made bread…

 

Dindigul is a very provincial town in Tamil Nadu which means that we miss the lovely cakes and coffees you can get in the UK.  To our delight a western style cafe has now opened in the town!

 

The other day I took some guests on our first visit to ‘Butterscotch Creams and Cafe’.  It has a lovely array of cakes, brioche, scones, pizzas, sandwiches as well as coffee and cold drinks.  It is also possible to buy some lovely home-baked wholemeal bread. 

 

 

Add to all that a pleasant environment, A/C and free wifi and you see that DIndigul really is trying to take one step closer to the 21st century!

 

 

 

Flower power – mountains of marigold

Flowers play an important role in Indian life, from the enormous garlands exchanged by bride and groom at a wedding to the small string of jasmine flowers worn in the hair daily.

 Almost every home has its shrine to their favourite god and flowers are placed before it daily.  Many of the shops we use have pictures of the gods, and also photos of the parents of the current owners.  Again, daily offerings of flowers are made.

And where do all these flowers come from?  They are grown in the countryide, picked in the early hours of the morning, taken by bus to the local town and sold in the flower market.

 Dindigul has a wholesale market where flowers are bought by weight by people who have small stalls where they make garlands, there are also many people making garlands in the market itself.

It is a wonderful place to visit, full of vibarnt colours and scents.  Huge piles of marigolds lay beside smaller piles of jasmine of white or pink or bright orange.  The people are warm and friendly and keen to have their photograph taken.

Dindigul flower market is loved by all of our guests who visit it.

A rocky pillow to keep you safe.

Dindigul is our nearest town (about 27km from Lakeside) where we go to buy anything we can’t get from the local village.  The town is centered around a large rock formation in the middle of a plain and gets its name from a Tamil description of this rock (“Thindu” meaning pillow and “kal” meaning Rock)

Dindigul is most famous for its locks, safes, spinning mills and leather tanning, but its true importance and the reason for it initial siting here is its strategic position.

On such a flat plain an imposing rock like the one at Dindigul holds commanding views of the area and was the ideal place for a fort.  The town which sprang up around it soon became a crossroads – North to Bangalore, East to Chennai and Pondicherry, South to Madurai and Kanyiakumari and west into the state of Kerala. 

The oldest structures on the hill (280 ft. high) are a Hindu temple and other religious remains (possible Jain remains in one of the caves).  The site must have been used as a place of defense for thousands of years but the first recorded large fort was begun in 1605 by the Madurai King Muthu Krishna Naicker and finished by Mannar Thirumalai Naicker between 1623 to 1659.  In 1755 the famous Hyder Ali took his wife and five year old son Tipu Sultan to Dindigul; after his fathers death Tipu Sultan took over the fort in 1784 and ruled there until he was defeated in the ‘Mysore Wars’ in 1790 when the British took over and had a garrison there until 1860.

There are a number of buildings surviving on the top of the hill, and you can see the remains of a remarkable rain-water-harvesting system which meant that, unless there was a severe drought, the fort could be self-sustaining in water and so withstand a siege.  The defensive walls extend around the whole of the summit except for in the southern side which is so steep that no attacking force would be able to succeed. Some of our guests take a walk to the top of the hill (early morning before it gets too hot!) and enjoy the views which stretch for miles.