My morning walk takes me around “the lake”. Nestling at the foot of the Palani Hills, Kamarajar Sagar Dam provides part of the water supply for the nearby town of Dindigul. During the rainy season which is normally November and December the lake is filled from two rivers descending from the hills. In good years the lake fills and the dam overflows. That hasn’t happened for a while.
The lake is a paradise for birds, some resident including egrets, cormorants and spot-billed ducks and some occasional visitors including several varieties of stork the most striking of which is the painted stork. Most mornings I can expect to see kingfishers, Indian rollers, bee-eaters, drongos, bulbuls, parakeets but these are just a few of the species around. Then there are always the flocks of peacocks and hens, India’s national bird.
At the southern end of the lake a grove of large native trees is the home to a colony of fruit bats. These wonderful animals are becoming increasingly rare as the large trees they need for roosting disappear but the valley is fortunate to host a large colony. In the months of July and August they can be seen in their hundreds in the evening sky heading to the mango and orange groves in the hills.
As well as enjoying the birds, a morning walk is also a good way to see how people live here. Fishermen in coracles are catching the fish with which the lake has been stocked. As the lake dried up almost completely last year it had to be restocked and fishing is still limited to a couple of days a week.
A small fish market materialises next to the pump-house when the catch is landed. On the west side of the lake are paddy fields which are irrigated by an ancient canal system which takes water from the rivers before they enter the lake. Last year there was no paddy because of drought but this year there seems to have been a good crop. Towards the north end as the valley narrows there are large coconut and mango plantations.
Every day goatherds bring their flocks to graze on whatever grass they can find. Each afternoon Thomas can be seen with his herd of buffalo. This year he says grazing is difficult and his milk yield is greatly reduced.
It wouldn’t be South India if there wasn’t a religious aspect as well. Around the lake there are a number of sacred groves where local people find spiritual sustenance in nature. It could be a simple shrine at the foot of a large tree or a small unspoilt area of forest where there are small temples which have been there for many years.
The largest is now a full-scale temple to Sadayandi who seems to be a local incarnation of Siva. This is now the location for many festivities including weddings and ceremonies to celebrate a child’s first haircut at the age of about 2 years old.
Every morning there is something different to enjoy. For example the bird in the picture below is, I think, a bit lost – a reef egret some 100 miles from a reef.