Seldom we come across places that tells you a story worthy of featuring in a bollywood movie. Yes, there are palaces, forts and old cities those have provided some fascinating larger than life stories for the silver screen but never has a calm lake been the center of such a tale. It’s a story of past glory, neglect and revival all squeezed into one. This is the story of Ansupa, the largest fresh water lake of Odisha.
Journey to Ansupa Lake:
It has been a pretty aggressive monsoon that year with rains pouring down everyday. Past few weekends had been completely washed out due to the rains, that gave little to no respite. But today the gods were in a different mood. The sun came out and we were blessed with a perfect blue sky with patches of white clouds hanging leisurely as if they were basking in the rare sunny day. There were no rain infused clouds anywhere nearby. The traveler in me was itching to go out. I had read a story about Ansupa lake in the economic times just a few days ago, so thought why not go out there and witness the place in person. So I looked up for the direction in google maps, turned the keys of my car and started off towards Banki, where the lake lies.
The distance of the lake from Bhubaneswar, my home town, is around 65 KM and takes around 1 and half hours to reach. It is situated on the state highway that connects Athagarh and Banki blocks of Cuttack district. Roads in Odisha are top notch and my car was speeding relentlessly as the roads were almost devoid of any kind of traffic. The raw natural beauty of the place was something I hadn’t experienced in a very long time. There were farmlands till the eyes could see, laden with freshly planted paddy. The only thing breaking the uniform green color were occasional patches of vegetable farms and some beetle leaf plantations.
As I neared my last stretch I realized the road getting sandwiched between two hills. The unevenly broken down stones telling me that the hill must have recently broken down to make way for the road.
As I neared the entry point of the lake I could see the massive water body awaiting me. The journey was definitely worth. A small hillock started rising out of the grounds on the right side of the road. This must be the famed Saranda hills of Athagarh. A small park has been constructed at the entry of the gate, which provides as an added attraction for tourists.
The rise from the ashes story:
The lake has a turbulent history which in itself is a very fascinating one. Ansupa is the largest fresh water lake in Odisha, used to be a frequent nesting ground of migratory birds. It used to be fed naturally by the floodwaters of the river Mahanadi and was part of the wetlands that acted as a sponge against flooding. In fact the lake is named Ansupa as it is a part (or ‘ansa’) of Mahanadi. There were villages comprising of fishing communities who lived off the catch they were making on this lake.
As human settlements grew around the area, there was a need to raise the river embankment to prevent flooding of the villages and small towns those had cropped up. This raising of the embankment, cut off the flow of water in and out of the lake, choking it as rain was now the only source of fresh water for the lake. The rain water which cascaded down to the lake brought with it fertilizer laden silt from the nearby paddy fields. This led to the proliferation of hyacints (an aquatic plant) on the surface of the lake. This unchecked growth of the weed choked the lake’s aquatic life by preventing sunlight to reach anywhere other than the surface. As oxygenation levels fell, so did the underwater life.
The situation had become so dire that by 2007, nearly all of the 141-hectare lake was covered by this weed except for a seven-hectare piece making it completely unsuitable for fishing, which once was a source of livelihood for some villages. As the fishes were no longer there, migratory birds stopped coming in as there was no food for them. The lake was dying hectare by hectare with every passing day.
It seemed like its fate was sealed, until some local people decided to take matters into their own hands and started cleaning the lake. Particular some ladies of the nearby villages. As media caught hold of this story, it became a national news. Soon relevant government authorities stepped in and took over the restoration and revival work of the lake.
Chilika Development Authority, who were entrusted with the effort of the cleanup, employed both man and machine in this activity, revived most of the lake in a few years. They spent millions and made the lake what it is today.
Situation now has improved a lot, most of the weed has been removed, and is being removed as they keep growing at a very fast pace. The fishing communities who had to migrate to other areas because of the fall in number of fishes, are now back and doing solid business for themselves just off this lake. Lately some migratory birds were also spotted here. The lake is definitely on its way to its long lost glory.
You can read this in detail if you want here
A Park and A Boat, the icing on the cake:
A 15 acre park has been created on the bank of the lake. The entry fee is a nominal Rs. 10. This park is home to multiple flowering plants belonging to both land and water. Flowers ranging from Daliya to Water Lilly all find a place in this park. We took a stroll down the park crossing multiple makeshift ramps and benches. There is a jogging track and a children’s playing area with swings, see saw and merry go rounds. It was just like your everyday park, barring the massive Ansupa Lake in the foreground.
One can choose to boat on these waters as well. Both paddle and mechanized boats are available that one can take to explore the lake. The paddle boat costs Rs. 25 to book, which includes the charge of the life vest.
The cottages and the Saranda Hill:
The Saranda hills that we had encountered while coming to Ansupa lake has some ruins of an ancient but small kingdom that once ruled the area. Now only a piece of boundary wall and a closed ammunition room is all that remains of the place.
The hill has been landscaped and some cottages has been setup by the government to promote ‘eco tourism’ in the area. These can accommodate 2-3 people, ideal for small families. I inquired about the cost, it was around Rs. 3500 to 4000 per night. Quite reasonable keeping in mind the atmosphere that was on offer. The rolling grass lawn, the lake visible from the edge of the hill and a watch tower that provides a panoramic view of the whole area.
After spending some time on the hill I realized some dark clouds were making there way towards me. It was time to get down from the hill and come back home.
I left Ansupa lake with mixed feeling in my mind. The revival job is well done and the future looks bright for the lake. But this would have not been possible unless the women from the villages would have joined hands. Whatever their motivation might be, but they will be telling this stories to there grand children that they saved the largest fresh water lake of the state. Nature is far superior than we petty humans, but sometimes even nature needs a little help from us; after all we are its best creation.