A freshwater lake in a desert. That sounds interesting. Make that a lake which is 25 sq km in size. Now it begins to sound exotic. Mention that the surrounding country is still largely a barren expanse of sand. Now it seems like a perfect destination for yours truly to explore.
Welcome to the Badopal Lake near Suratgarh in North Rajasthan.
Though this area is no more a classical desert – after the Indira Gandhi Canal cut through 600 km of it, beginning in the year 1984 or so – there are still stretches full of sand dunes. Camels and camel carts still amble along dusty villages and the summer heat is still as brutal as it was in past. In this unfriendly climatic setting, Badopal Lake rises across horizon like a curious oddity.
We move along the super-smooth Suratgarh – Bikaner highway for a brief while and then abandon it for a sandy motorable track which is our shortcut to the Suratgarh – Badopal state road.
En route, we cross a railway line that looks like an ideal location for a train-top action scene by Sunny Paaji of bollywood.
Soon we find ourselves passing by a flank of Suratgarh town.
An odd tree that sports a spirited shade of green.
A village that lies just outside the town boundary shows up on the way.
School kids are returning home, presumably from a private school in the town, since we do not see any school building in the village itself.
Here, we hit the black-topped road to Badopal. The advance of the canal and its subsidiaries certainly reflects in the vast stretches of green that soothe the eye.
But a few glorious sand dunes are still around.
Sand can also bring some income..
Strong winds keep bringing heaps of sand onto the road, which gradually gets dusted away due to traffic.
To reach the lake, one has to leave the tarmac road and turn onto another desert track.
Here the sand is thicker and there is a greater chance of a vehicle getting stranded.
A settlement of thatch huts sits within a few metres of the water line. It is surreal to see modern gadgets such as dish antennas, solar plates and desert bikes here in the middle of the general squalor and lack of amenities, with a shepherd grazing his stock of goats nearby.
The prosperity – whatever is there of it – is because of the vegetable farming that the lake has enabled the residents to take up. However, the plants here require to be protected from sandstorms as well as from the winter temperatures which often go below zero. This is achieved by covering the whole farm with broad and long polythene sheets, supported by thatch panels.
The lake itself seems an ornithologist’s paradise, with a large number of aquatic birds flying, swimming and chirping about in gay abandon.
Despite Rajasthan being known as a tourism hotspot worldwide, Badopal Lake has zero infrastructure to support tourism. Some may advocate “development” in terms of roads, hotels, boats and petrol pumps. But I think I am happier with the present state. Let the odd explorer have the joy of stumbling upon the unknown.