‘A lake carries you into the recesses of a feeling otherwise impenetrable’- William Wordworth
Thazhambur, a small village 24 km to the south of Chennai, belonging to the Kanchipuram district, is home to a lake of the same name. Perhaps this village derives its appellation from the fragrant flower ‘thazhampoo’ or the screw pine (as it is called in English)-once used by the women of Madras to adorn their hair or in their wardrobes to make their clothes smell better.
There have been numerous recorded sightings of this flower family, ‘Pandanacea’, in and around the area going as far back as the 1800s.
It is surprising that very little information is available or is known about this lake that covers about 59 acres and is so close to the metropolis of Chennai. If you are a cycling enthusiast, you might find yourself enjoying quiet mornings by the banks of the Thazhambur Lake where you can also spot a variety of birds. According to the e-birds repository, the little cormorant, the purple sunbird, the pied kingfisher and the Near Threatened black-headed ibis are a few among the sundry denizens of this reservoir.
There are numerous other lakes in close proximity such as the Ottiyambakkam lake (about 3 km away), Karanai Lake (about 2 km away) and the Siruseri Lake (2 km away) which offer the added benefit of spotting more of our feathered friends to avid avian watchers.
The Thazhambur lake is divided into two parts by the SIPCOT-Thazhambur road that runs through the middle. The lake is usually dry in the summer months, fills up during the monsoon and was used to irrigate fields nearby.
According to the Public Works Department’s ‘Details of Tank non-systems’, the lake used to have nearly 310 hectares of ayacut land. Numerous small streams and channels neighboring the lake heldrain it into the Buckingham channel.
As reported by ‘The Chingleput Late Madras Manual’ by Charles Stewart Crole (1879), there have been sightings of tigers and cheetahs in this area. One might imagine a thirsty Tiger dipping her jaws into the lake after engaging in an exacting chase with an antelope a few hundred years ago. The same water now quenches the thirst of hundreds of IT Professionals who work in the SIPCOT IT park (4 km away), many of whom are unaware of the water body.
In the recent past, the sprouting of apartments and gated communities near this lake, promising a ‘Lakefront view’ has itself contributed to the destruction of this lake. The drawing of soil from the river when it dries up has made it unusually deep in the monsoon months. Amidst illegal dumping of sewage right under the nose of the panchayat through stormwater drains and plastic being brazenly flung into the lake in broad daylight with no one raising an eyebrow, we risk making this lake yet another stagnant cesspool for breeding mosquitoes and disease.
With only a fraction of the 600+ water bodies that used to be in Chennai present today, are we ready to lose another lake because of our activities? It is a question that needs much reflection as polluting a lake and then lamenting about the lack of water has now become second nature to us.
Pictures of a dry Thazhambur Lake taken on May 18th, 2018 (Summer)
By Snehaa S.