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Hindu: Civilisation takes its toll of Naini Tal

Date: 19-10-1998 :: Pg: 15 :: Col: d

By K. Kannan (The Hindu)

NAINI TAL, Oct. 18: Before the first British description of Naini Tal appeared in the Calcutta Englishman in 1842, the Naini lake in the vicinity of Almora was frequented by the “puharees” only on certain occasions. There was certainly no habitation and mountain tourism was virtually unknown then.

Almost 157 years later, Naini Tal is saturated. Unplanned growth of the lake city, legal and illegal constructions without any regard for the geography of the hills, increase in population and traffic congestion have all whittled the charm of the Kumaon hills, which inspired hundreds of sages to retire to the mountains to worship and meditate.

When Barren gave the first description of Naini Tal, he wrote : “It would take a month to explore the magnificent scenery around the Naini Tal.” He himself did explore another lake “Bhim Tal”. This lake will probably witness in the coming years, the spread of a township around it – to reduce the congestion of men and material in Naini Tal, it is being proposed that all the offices be shifted to the vicinity of this lake.

Bhim Tal is today less congested than Naini Tal, but its exploitation has already begun. If it was shifting worship sites for sages in the olden days, shifting cultivation for nomads and cattle grazer in the pastoral agricultural age, it is the concept of “shifting township” that is being mooted these days, with industrial development and expediency playing havoc with the environment.

The master plan for Naini Tal which has chalked out the development trends of the region between 1995-2011 has a reference to “Greater Naini Tal”. Bhim Tal, located about 10 km away is also a part of this conception.

“If efforts are not made to reduce the impact of congestion and environmental degradation, it might become too late,” cautions, Mr. Rajnish Dubey, District Magistrate of Naini Tal. The erosion of the hill area in and around the town has indeed become a cause for serious concern.

However, there is no policy of sustainable development of the hill townships and since mountain tourism is accorded top priority, places such as Bhim Tal cannot remain free from habitation for long. Since it has an outlet, the water of the lake appears clean at present.

According to an estimate, there were around 60 lakes in the region originally. Reference to the Naini hills is found in the Manas Khand of the Skanda Purana wherein three sages – Angi, Pulasya and Pulah – are said to have passed through the “Tririshi Sarovar” and when they felt thirsty, they meditated at the Manasarovar lake. The Naini lake, according to myth, appeared as a result of this penance. Another reference is to the eye of Sati, Shiva’s consort, falling in this peak, hence the name Naini.

The other lakes in the region also have puranic names – Ram Tal, Bharat Tal, Nauchakiya Tal, Lakshman Tal. Probably there are many more lakes waiting to be discovered. In his first description of Naini Tal, Barren wrote: “There are a number of other very pretty lakes within ten to twelve miles of Beemtal, but every one of them so inferior to Naini Tal, that on account of my having seen it, I was let off a visit to them”.

Today, the situation is different. After seeing Nauchakiya Tal, a nine-sided lake a few kilometres from Bhim Tal, a large number of visitors say they do not want to go back to Naini Tal. If Barren found Naini Tal more beautiful than all the other lakes, a virgin lake like Naukachiya Tal presents a more scenic picture.

“Thousands of tourists visit Naini Tal each year. The maximum number of tourists came to the town in 1989 (7.68 lakhs). On an average, 5.14 lakh tourists visit the town every year. The influx certainly has had adverse effects on the environment of the town and the water quality of the lake,” says Dr. Udyog Shukla, environmentalist. Mercifully, these statistics do not hold good for places such as Bhim Tal and Naukachiya Tal, at least now.

The three lakes are a study in contrast. Naini Tal is dying and cries out for resuscitation, Bhim Tal has already started unfolding its bounties before tourists, while Nauchakiya Tal is still innocent.

Obviously, the difference in the status of these lakes emerges from the fact that Naini Tal has been overrun by greed and Bhim Tal is following suit. Nauchakiya Tal keeps its fingers crossed.