Wagtails of Devikulam

In Manimalayar at Chirakkadavu

Yesterday I visited Old Devikulam and the surrounding valleys. I had the rare opportunity to spend some time on the banks of the Devi Lake from which the place derives its name.

This ancient natural lake is one of the oldest freshwater resources high up in the Western Ghats and forms a unique ecosystem, though the English enhanced its capacity and area with minimum intervention at the beginning of the twentieth century.

It is known throughout South India for its mineral richness and medicinal powers from the early Tamil Sangham age onwards. It has also been a sacred Dravidian lake-shrine in the ancient Tamil country. It is also unique for its endemic flora and fauna. The moths and insects here are even unknown to the experts. Unfortunately it is now decaying in private hands.

The Britishers made this ethereal banks their second home and planted plenty of English trees around it. It is a trekker’s paradise! Pines, Eucalyptus and Oaks adorn the hills and dales. the seductive lush green meadows are mowed consistently by the perpetually grazing cattle. Common Swallows fly around in lower notes! Some small raptors are also seen around, picking up the odd green lizards.

According to the native Tamil people the exotic Trout, introduced by the British colonial masters as a game fish more than a century ago still thrives in the Devi Lake; though I could not see any. This important habitat is in the hands of Tata Tea Ltd. and we need their prior written permission to visit and fish in the Lake. Their Office is situated in Munnar town.

The Old Boat House and Angler’s Hut built by the British still survive without much damage. The Lake is surrounded by thick vegetation. I saw the mating of plenty of green frogs in the shallows. Till date I have not seen this species anywhere else. I could see a few Cattle Egrets and Jungle and Hill Mynas near.

But the real sight was that of two types of wagtails. Grey wagtails are plenty here. This place is well above 2200 mts. in elevation. I also saw a White-browed or Large Pied Wagtail sitting pretty on a weed in the lake. Its call was resonating in the quiet and serene Lake-scape as the last sigh of a fading eco-cultural location.

This place is around four kms. north east of the new Devikulam town and six kms east of Munnar town. We need to reclaim this unique habitat from private plantation interests and rehabilitate it into its past glory, by preserving and enriching the ecosystem.