By J P Rajkhowa
One of the most enchanting creations of ture, with abundance of fresh air, greenery and water around, which is located at a distance of hardly 65 km. from Guwahati , but not frequented by the City residents, not to speak of people from rest of Assam, is the famous Chandubi Lake, in the south of Kamrup district. The place Chandubi came into limelight again recently, with the celebration of Chandubi Festival from January 1 to January 5 of the current New Year, by Students and elders of the local Rabha community, in collaboration with the State Forest, Tourism, some ture– loving NGOs and individual ture– loving artists. I am also one of those thousands who could not visit Chandubi earlier, not even during the last Festival, but decided to make a visit, at the earliest. Accordingly, we– my spouse Rita and grand children Luit and Ria made a journey by road, on 16th January to see the legendary Lake and its surroundings.
We could cover the 65 km. distance, in about two and a half hours– thanks to slow vehicular movement due to high traffic in the City. Otherwise, one could have covered the distance in about an hour’s drive. From Mirza chowk / Traffic Police point, we turned left by a pucca PWD road towards the South, leading to the Garo foothills in Meghalaya, travelled about 35 km. before we reached our destition, Chandubi tri– junction point– road to the left heading to the Tourist Cottage (Lodge) and to the right up to the south of the Lake, also called the picnic site. A distance of about 2 km. we had to traverse through forest area over a pure kutcha road, with bumpy portions almost all along, before we reached the Lake. The Lake looked grand and majestic, with green hills besetting it on the north and eastern boundaries, with the afternoon Sun adding to the beauty of the blueing water. While we had not gone there for the purpose of picnicking, but simply to see the legendary lake only, Rita decided that, she would carry some light foodstuff for the children, in case there would be no suitable restaurant at Chandubi. We found later that, she had done the right thing; otherwise, all would have remained starved for the day.
Before reaching our destition, we passed through a number of ‘welcome gates’ on the main road as also the tertiary roads, which made us quite pleased. But on arrival at the picnic site of Chandubi, we found to our horror and shame that, the banks of the Lake looked very ugly and dirty, due to the littering of used plastic plates, glasses, polythene bags etc., which we had not expected there, more so after the much– hyped, eco– friendly Festival. Neither the Forest or Tourism department nor any of the ture– loving NGOs or local Panchayat, it seemed, had done nothing to maintain the cleanliness and serenity of the place, with loud– speakers used by some picnickers blaring loud songs with music. The Swacch Bharat Abhijan of Prime Minister rendra Modi and the Pariskar Asom, Seuj Asom Abhijan of Assam chief minister Torun Gogoi, had failed to make an impact at the Chandubi banks. Regular visits by chief minister and other ministers to Chandubi are expected to help improving the environment there and stop its degradation, due to callous visitors and equally callous concerned government officials. While passing through the Reserved Forest, along the ‘kutcha road’ under the Loharghat Forest Range, under Kamrup (West) Forest Division, we also noticed large number of un–sawn bottom portion of Sal trees, which was indicative of clear reckless felling of valuable trees by smugglers, in league with Forest officials.
I came to know from one senior Forest official visiting the place as a tourist like me, that, the Chandubi Picnic Site was handed over to the State Tourism Department for maintence and upkeep. Well, the famous place does not have a single ‘public toilet’ or ‘wash room’ worth the me nor does it have any drinking– water facility for hundreds of daily visitors. We could notice one improvised toilet, with open sky and the sides covered by used polythene sheets, both at the Picnic Site and the Eco Camp Site, near the Chandubi Picnic Cottage (Lodge). I failed to understand why the me ‘picnic cottage’ has been given by the Tourism department, as no provision for picnicking appeared visible there. There was no way to seek a clarification, as the Tourist Information Officer, who has her home in Guwahati, was reportedly enjoying Magh Bihu holidays. I also did not find any police man or any other security personnel at Chandubi Picnic site or elsewhere, in the vicinity to maintain the peace and ensure security of visiting law– abiding tourists. Equally interesting was the fact that, unlike everywhere else, not a single restaurant or eatery house or dhaba or even the usual ‘pan shop’ was found in and about Chandubi. Then only I realized how right my spouse was in insisting on carrying some packed foodstuff.
In spite of the litters that damaged the environment around the Lake, from a certain distance, away from the ‘visibility of litters’, Chandubi looked fabulous and captivating in its scenic wonders. Though we were not fortute enough to spot the migratory birds on the waters of the Lake, people say that, thousands of birds visit the Lake in the winter months. There was every possibility of the birds enjoying their sojourn, in the interior of the 2000 hectare area of the Lake. We could notice the water filled with plenty of unfamiliar aquatic plants; we were told that, the Lake used to shelter and attract exotic wild life including elephants. We saw a number of wooden country boats, some with covered top, which the tourists used for rowing, either themselves or with the help of local oar– men. Provisioning of ‘shikara’ type boats as in Kashmir ‘Dal Lake’ as also pedal boats, canoes, limited number of motorized speed boats, should be made in ‘private– public– partnership’ (PPO) mode, in order to attract tourists. Similarly, apart from temporary, periodical eco– camps, a good number of restaurants and eatery houses, guest houses, budget hotels, rest houses together with ‘transport facilities’ should also be planned and put in place, at government’s initiative, which could make Chandubi a ‘tourists’ hotspot’.
The Americans create marvels practically out of nothing and make even much smaller water– bodies or even places having dead trees, called as ‘fossil trees’ or ‘ghost trees’ they convert into tourists’ centres, with facilities like huge garbage bins, wash rooms / toilets with running water, car parks, restaurants, souvenir shops, entertainment park for children, green lawns, cycle tracks and so on. They charge an entry fee in to such facilities, which everyone has to pay and this helps maintaining and developing the facilities. It is not the government of United States, but private players or local bodies / city councils, which are making such initiatives and mostly in PPP mode. At Chandubi and such other tourist centres in the State, a fee should be charged for ‘entry’ and ‘upkeep’ and garbage bins must be placed at different points, with indicator boards to properly dispose garbage or pay hefty fine, on the spot. Security personnel need to be posted at public parks or lake like Chandubi or other identified ‘picnic spots’ and they should be held responsible for ensuring hygiene and cleanliness. Local Panchayat bodies could also be involved in such activity of maging the ‘facilities’.
It was indeed a great pleasure for us to visit the legendary Chandubi (Lake!), with its exquisite, marvellous and pristine beauty with the lovely green surroundings, together with the famous ‘Kulsi’ river just a few kilometres away. It is a tural lake created by a massive, devastating earthquake in 1897. Legends go that, the illustrious Chand sadagar (merchant) used to carry his merchandise by boat along the Kulsi and camped at the Lake for selling his goods to buyers coming down from Khasi & Garo Hills and the Lake got its me from him. According to another legend mentioned by Assam Info (Online), a British officer who came to enjoy the sunset at the lake, was so mesmerized by its beauty, that he gave the me ‘Sun set’ (Chan dubi or dub jowa). The third legend states that, the locals of the Rabha tribe gave the me ‘Chan– dubi’ omitting the word Ublei, from the phrase Chan– Ublei– dubi, one of the gods of the Khasis who used to live near a ‘dubi’ (water body). Filly, I convey a word of praise for the people of the Rabha community, who have made new initiatives to revive the past glory of Chandubi and re–make it as a ecological and tourists’ hotspot of the Region.