The lake is full!

We have had some good rain in the last week or ten days, and the lake is now full once more. It is a wonderful sight, all the more so because of the importance of this water for people in the local towns and villages.

If we are lucky the rains will continue for a few more weeks, the overflow from our lake will go on to fill other small tanks and lakes, and the water table will rise even further, to the delight of the farmers.

When you live in a country like India you realise just how precious a resource water is, and how important it is to preserve what we have.

I have just been out with my camera to record the lake, but then decided not to upload the pictures. After all, the photos I have just taken can never improve on the banner at the top of this blog!

If you want to see the view for yourself then you know where we are, and you will be most welcome!

 

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Drag net fishing in southern India

The lake from which Lakeside gets its name is fed by monsoon rains which fall onto the foothills of the Western Ghats – and onto us! Once the lake is full the water goes over the overspill to fill other lakes in the area, water that is used for irrigation of some fields but is predominantly drinking water for Dindigul.

When it is full the lake is more than 20 feet deep at the centre, and as it covers more than 500 acres this is a lot of water! Each year the local government puts the fishing rights for the lake up for auction – one man will bid to stock the lake and to harvest the fish. This man will then employ locals to fish the lake, and most days you can see them out in their little coracles.

As the level of the lake falls the fishermen are able to utilise huge nets which are set in a semi-circle and then pulled in to shore. This can guarantee a large catch of fish in a relatively small space of time.

The nets are laid by the boats . You can see a line of floats cutting across the foreground of the picture.

The men in the boats follow the net in, making sure that it doesn’t catch on any obstacles – and scaring the fish away so that they don’t try to jump out.

The scene from Lakeside.

In this picture you can also see some men in the water helping the net to move more freely.

Once the net gets closer to the shore the men in the water help to drive the fish further into the shallows.

One or two splashes can be seen as the fish start jumping…

…then it becomes quite chaotic as they all try to escape. You can see how big some of these fish are!

After a successful afternoon fishing it’s time to lay out the nets to dry before heading home.

And so ends another fascinating afternoon at Lakeside – all without leaving the comfort of my chair!

Fishing the Kerala backwaters

Kerala backwaters, south India-crop

I recently took as group of guests to the Backwaters of Kerala.  These backwaters are part of Lake Vembanand, the longest lake in India at 96.5km long and 14km wide.  It is a major tourist attraction in Kerala with people cruising in converted rice barges to get a closer look at life by the waterside.  There are many boats cruising around, but surprisingly you do not really  notice them as you train your binoculars on the wonderful bird life or watch the local people going about their everyday lives.

MIsty water Kerala backwaters

Fishing is a major part of life in the Backwaters and on a misty early morning you are able to see the fishermen at work.

towing fishing boats, Kerala, India

Sometimes they take the easy route to their fishing ground with a larger boat towing a number of the small fishing boats.

fishing, Kerala backwaters

Many of the fishermen use nets or lines to catch fish which taste wonderful when freshly cooked.  These men however are fishing for cockles (shell fish).

fishing on the backwaters

shell fish, Kerala backwaters

If you want somewhere to relax and enjoy nature, the Backwaters of Kerala are a great place to visit.  There will be more posts about life there in the future!

Kerala fishing boats

Failed monsoon

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You may have read my previous post about how pleased we were to see the monsoon rains.  Sad to say, the rains did not last and we have had very little water.  Although the lake still looks beautiful in the above picture appearances can be deceptive and it is at least 6 feet lower than it should be at this time of year.  We should only be seeing the very tips of some of the bushes ( as in my header photo), and no exposed islands or land at the lake edge at all.  We have even started watering our gardens 6 weeks earlier than usual.

It is going to be long hard summer for everyone, epecially the farmers, this year.  We are eagerly looking forward to the next hoped for rain in July or August.

Monsoon in Kamarajar Valley

When I used to live in England rain was something we put up with grudgingly, but now that I am living in India I appreciate the value of the life giving rains.  All living things, man or beast, look forward to the monsoon and welcome its arrival.  The first rains of the north east monsoon have arrived turning everything green and allowing the farmers to prepare their land ready to sow their next crops.

Monsoon in Kamarajar Valley

Monsoon in Kamarajar Valley

Monsoon in Kamaraj Valley

A gentle breeze from the west swirls, changes direction.

Blowing harder now, from the east.

Leaves fly from the trees;

Whirlwinds rise, dust whipped into life by the growing wind.

In the air the scent of rain.

 

Lake reflections shatter, broken by the growing waves

into a million pieces.

Lone egret takes flight.

Sambar lifts his head, questing the wind.  Turns silently

Into the forest, is gone.

 

Dark clouds billow, climbing high into the threatening sky.

The wind drops, eerie stillness descends.

Blinding flash of light.

Thunder rolls around the valley, echoes from the hills.

The sun shrouded, darkness descends.

 

The first drops raise dust, disappear into the parched earth.

Silence reigns, then thunderous roar

Of heavy rain on leaves.

Lake and mountains disappear, grey curtain hiding all.

Senses succumb to the rain.

 

Raindrops bounce, sparkling, shinning; consuming sunburned earth.

Roots reach out, greedily seeking;

Flowers raise their heads.

Verdant green revealed; leaves long hidden by yellow dust

Washed clean by the longed for rain.

Monsoon in India

Chinese Fishing Nets, Fort Cochin

 

Recent clients on one of our South Indian Tours spent a couple of nights in fort Cochin, Kerala.  As with all tourists they spent time watching the Chinese fishing nets in use.  These nets seem to be found only in China and Fort Cochin!  It is thought that traders from the court of the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan introduced the nets here, but no-one is sure why they were set up along the coast here at Fort Cochin and Vypeen.

The nets are fixed to the shoreline and are operated from there by a massive cantilever.  The structure is about 10 meters high and operated by five or six men.  The individual length of the boom means that the net can only work in a specific depth of water so there are different sized structures to enable the fishermen to work in different depths of water in this tidal area.

Bamboo and teak poles hold the nets which have large rocks as counter-weights.  A man will walk out along the arm of the mechanism and his weight is enough to lower it down into the water.   The net is only left in the water for about four or five minutes before it is raised by the team of fishermen hauling on the ropes.  The rocks, each about 30 cm in diameter, are suspended from ropes of different lengths so that as the net is raised they  come to rest on the ground in sequence which keeps everything nicely balanced.

They nets rarely catch much – just a fish or two and maybe the odd crab or a few shrimps, but they can be lowered a great many times during the day which can lead to a sizeable catch.  The fish are often sold immediately to local passers-by who take them home for dinner – or by tourists who will get their hotel to cook them – no need for a middle-man in the market here!

It is not difficult to see why these nets are such a tourist attraction.  Large and elegant they line the shore like giant herons intent on fishing for their supper; their movemnet is strangely mesmeric and, along with the creaking of the rope and the splashing of the water, seems to wash away any stresses and cares.  Under the cloudless sky, watching the sun reflecting from the water in a mryiad rays, seeing the fish, leap and turn so that the sun reflects off their scales in rainbow shades – what a wonderful way to spend some time!

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Grazing on the lake – the water of life

As the name suggests, Lakeside is situated on the banks of a lake. My header picture shows the lake when it is full.

Built in early 1950’6 as a drinking water reservoir for the nearby town of Dindigul. Kamarajar lake is named after a very famous Indian politician who was Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and who, amongst other things, improved education and instituted free school meals in the State. 

This man-made lake covers an area of 400 acres and is filled by the north-east monsoons at the end of each year.  As the water is pumped out the level falls to reveal grazing land for local goats, water buffalo etc  The south west monsoon of July and August, which falls mainly on the mountains to our west, feeds some water into the lake and the level rises a little before continuing to fall over the next few months.

There are a number of lakes feeding Dindigul but there is never enough water.  Most people get their water from stand-pipes in the street every day or two.  As the water levels fall this can become as infrequent as once a week.

A massive project is underway to try to clear some of these tanks (artificial reservoirs).  Work has just started on de-silting part of our lake.  All day long diggers are loading up the tractors which queue to have their trailers filled with the rich earth which they then spread on the coconut plantations in the area (should be a good crop this year!).

Hopefully this will enable more water to be stored when the rains come and relieve some of the thirst in dusty Dindigul.

 

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

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.