Kukkarahalli Lake, Mysore | A secret muse
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A different scene every minute
A work of art every minute.
It’s 6pm. I am standing on the southern bank of Kukkarahalli Lake in Mysore. I remember these words by Kannada poet Kuvempu (K.V. Puttappa) describing a sunset here, in his poem Kukkarahalli Kereya Mele. In front of me, the light of the setting sun plays with ripples on the water, and threads its way through a line of trees on the opposite bank.
This is indeed a “masterpiece sunset”, as author R.K. Narayan called a scene at this lake, in his autobiography, My Days. The evening breeze ruffles my hair, and the tall grass caresses my feet. Painted storks and ibises fly in flocks that cover the sky—amid great squawking and wing-flapping. Above me, a rain tree closes its leaves for the night.
The last honey-like rays of the sun pour down upon the lake.
Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the then maharaja of Mysore, commissioned the creation of this lake in 1864 to provide drinking water to the surrounding areas and for irrigation purposes. Till about 1950, it provided water for the functioning of the Mysore Sandalwood Oil factory in the city. My grandaunt says a canal ran from the lake past her house in Saraswathipuram, carrying water to the factory. Soon, the lake became a much loved cultural symbol and gathering spot for the city.
In My Days, I read with delight that Narayan walked at this lake for decades, and sat here for hours in contemplation, often with a book or two. He writes, “Sometimes, I went back to the Kukkarahalli tank in the late afternoon, when the evening sun touched the rippling water-surface to produce uncanny lighting effects, and the western sky presented a gorgeous display of colours and cloud formations at sunset. Even today, I would assert, after having visited many parts of the world, that nowhere can you witness such masterpiece sunsets as in Mysore. I would sit on a bench on the tank and watch the sun’s performance, the gradual fading of the colours in the sky, and the emergence of the first single star at dusk.”
The lake (or simply kere, to Mysoreans) has been the beloved of other poets and writers, like S.L. Bhyrappa, Gopalakrishna Adiga, A.N. Murthy Rao, G.S. Shivarudrappa, T.S. Venkannaiah, V. Seetharamaiah, Na. Kasturi—as well as locals—who found it a perfect place for quiet contemplation. Bhyrappa’s novels, like Anchu and Vamshavriksha, widely reference the lake. In one of Murthy Rao’s essays, he talks about seeking refuge in the lake in his sorrow. The painter K. Venkatappa, after whom Bangalore’s Venkatappa Art Gallery is named, used to sit on its banks. The lake has also seen musicians and dramatists like K.V. Subbanna walk on its banks. It’s not surprising that the late Jnanpith-award winner U.R. Ananthamurthy had said that the lake is “central to Mysore’s culture”.
Whenever I walk here with my aunt, she always points out someone or the other—a writer, a scientist, a poet, a naturalist. I once ran into T.S. Satyan, the photographer. I later read his account of having brought Vidwan Mysore Vasudevachar, the renowned Carnatic music composer, here, on a walk.
Today, I lace up my walking shoes and set off for yet another evening walk to the kere. I walk along the 5km walking track that hugs the periphery of the lake.
To my right is the southern bank, a straight, raised bund. Walkers and joggers take breathers on stone benches that dot this bund. As I walk further, the ever-present Chamundi hill looms over the south-east. The path passes next to some shallow patches of the lake and marshes, and I see wading birds—purple moorhens, darters and grebes.
My first introduction to birdwatching was here, when my aunt had pointed out moorhens to me. I wondered why she was saying there were three hens (mooru is “three” in Kannada) when there were only two, and they didn’t even look much like hens.
From those days of my first doubtful identification of pelicans and spoonbills at the lake, I’ve gone on to become an ardent birdwatcher—I can spot habitat-specific birds whenever I travel. In my walks at the lake over the years, I’ve spotted flycatchers, bee-eaters, parakeets, brahminy kites, kingfishers, lapwings, curlews, pipits, babblers, shrikes, sandpipers, coucals, darters—and other rare birds, many of which migrate from the Himalayas, Pakistan, and the North-East in winter.
A duck floats by me. I wonder what it would be like to swim in the lake. Swimming in the lake used to be permitted till the early 1960s, and swimming competitions were held here in the presence of the maharajas.
I remember a story that my grandfather had told me. Sometime in the 1940s, he went for a swim in this lake with a friend. They were surprised to see that they were the only ones in the lake—no other swimmers were around. After the swim, as they relaxed with a cup of coffee at the University of Mysore canteen, my grandfather picked up the newspaper and saw the headlines—“11-foot crocodile spotted in Kukkarahalli Lake”.
More recently, I remember hearing about a leopard that had recently sought refuge in these woods, and disappeared as suddenly. A couple of years ago, an elephant on the rampage here was finally cornered, and released into the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. But today, all the animals I see are of the two-legged variety. Apart from the regular walkers and an occasional tourist, I see children from the National Cadet Corps. I see young men and women in track suits—from the university’s sports hostel, perhaps?
My grandaunt tells me how she used to come here with her friends, sit under the bowers which then had jasmine creepers, and talk about books, studies, and the world. Even now, I see people deep in conversation, and wonder how much of our culture and the societal fabric of Mysore has been shaped by conversations that happened here.
I look at my watch, and realize that it is time to go home. I don’t want to leave. But I remember Kuvempu’s words again:
How many times have I seen this sight, sitting here?
How many times have I paid obeisance to the beauty here?
Countless times. And I’m not done yet. I’ll be back.
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Mysore is around 150km from Bangalore, and takes around 3 hours to reach. Buses and trains ply between the two cities regularly. Bus fare starts at Rs.260 (AC) and Rs.100-200 (non-AC). Train fare starts at around Rs.60 (general). Kukkarahalli Lake is around 4km from the Mysore railway station.
Hotel Ginger, Vasant Mahal Road (821-6633333), Rs.4,000 per night for double occupancy. Hotel Siddharta, Nazarbad (821-4280888), Rs.1,440 onwards. Kings Kourt, Jhansi Lakshmibai Road (821-2421142), Rs.3,000 onwards.
Have the dosas at Mylari Hotel, Nazarbad. Enjoy a traditional Mysore meal at Hotel Dasaprakash, Gandhi Square, and sweet Mysore pak at Guru Sweets, Sayyaji Rao Road.
Visit the Mysore Palace, Jaganmohan Palace museum, Chamundi Hill and the Karanji Lake Railway Museum. Visit the nearby Srirangapatna (19km), Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary (19km), and KRS dam (20km). Mysore is a convenient base for visiting Coorg, Wynad, Ooty, Shivanasamudra and Talkad.