“I’ll walk in the rain by your side; I’ll cling to the warmth of your hand.
I’ll do anything to keep you satisfied, I’ll love you more than anybody can.”

John Denver may have written this song for his baby, but for me my first love is my hometown, Nainital. I have grown up with the smell of the lake and the feeling of the woods. While my music teacher in school must not have thought of why he made us sing this song, I certainly love humming it, sitting on my terrace sipping my chai and do nothing but watch the dreamy lake. Nothing can beat the tranquillity of the lake view in the middle of a town which now is turning into a concrete jungle. But as they say, ‘life is better at the lake’, it certainly is.

The Nainital lake is said to have been formed by Goddess Sati’s eye, as it fell on the earth, after Lord Shiva carried her charred remains. All who live in Nainital can explain how important the lake is for them, with over a lakh people residing in the city, the natural freshwater lake is the major source of water for its residents and the lakhs of tourists who visit Nainital every year.

“Samay bahot kharab aane waala hain, baraf ab parhti nahi hain, aur jaado mein barish to hona band ho gai hain”, says a prominent resident Dinesh Chandra Sah. Though recent rains have brought some sense of relief for the lake and the locals hope that normal monsoons will restore the water level, but these days, the first look at the lake in itself is an explanation of how bad the situation is.

Some say that the decrease in the water level is a first in 25 years, experts believe that the main reason behind this is lack of rain in winters. There is now a sense of helplessness amongst the locals, a local shopkeeper feels if the govt. doesn’t take immediate steps to protect the lake, the day isn’t far where Nainital will face severe water crisis which can discourage tourism and directly affect the economy of the town. The administration has started several campaigns, including cleaning of silt from the lake to help the lake rejuvenate.

Prominent environment activist and academician Prof Ajay S Rawat who first filed a PIL in 1993 for the protection of the lake and latest one demanding Nainital to be declared an eco-sensitive zone says, “Currently 16 million litres of water is being used from the lake every day and there is almost no recharge. This means almost 4 cm of the water level in the lake is going down every day. The standard formula is that in open surface area if 4 million litres water from any water body is being consumed every day and there is no recharge then the level of water will go down by 1 cm.”

Growing up on the banks of the Nainital Lake was like living in a fairy tale. My earliest memories hold a tender ambience, the serenity and the calmness of the lake and the mist covered mountains add to the mystic charm of the lake city. For the locals it still remains their paradise on earth, from Rajesh Khana riding on a yacht and singing “Jiss gali mein tera ghar na ho balma” for Asha Parikh to the song “taalo mein Nainital baaki sab tallaiya”, the lake has always serves as a symbol of love, divinity and as a nourisher for the locals.

“The lake is definitely under some threat due to a combination of climate change and poorly handled development. We need to recognise this and focus on efforts to sustainably manage Nainital and its surroundings,” says Vishal Singh who is a researcher with CEDAR, Dehradun. He suggests that “the levels of lake recharge are not well understood. NIH data indicates that Sukhatal lake, perched a little above lake Nainital, is a critical source of recharge to the lake. As Sukhatal has been degraded – by dumping of construction debris and reducing its permeability and as water is hardly allowed to remain in Sukhatal due to the flooding of homes that have been constructed almost on the lake bed, it is likely that the contribution of Sukhatal has been decreasing.”

The sea green lake, the gentle morning sunshine, chirping birds, Nainital still remains one of the most popular tourist destinations and it needs our prayers and also the locals should realise that today is the time to act, tomorrow maybe late.

Noman Siddiqui is a resident of Nainital, wildlife enthusiast and currently working with NDTV.

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