Manasa Gangotri Lake

Almost a month in Gokulam, Mysore, already. Mostly in what people call the “yoga bubble”. It’s time for a change of scene, for some fresh air. My friend Werner, a powerfully built middle-aged Canadian, has the answer – he suggests we go and walk around a lake. The first step is to walk some of the way to the said lake, to escape the rickshaw hot-spots, where opportunist drivers lie in wait for ill-informed tourists unaware of the going rates. After a few hundred yards, we spot a solitary rickshaw, parked in the shade of a tamarind, its owner snoozing in an improbable position in the back. With little ceremony, we rouse him from his slumbers. Our fellow doesn’t speak any English, a good sign as he can’t therefore be regularly swindling foreigners. With the help of a younger man, who comes to our aid to interpret, we secure a reasonable price, and putt-putt away up the road. With characteristic frankness, (though he is never unnecessarily blunt), Werner shares, in no uncertain terms, his opinion of drivers who hoist their rates. I suppress a smile. Since our first proper conversation, I have enjoyed Werner’s short bursts of unadorned vernacular, which in his case are just a reflection of his genuineness of character. And what better company, anyway, than a Canadian, for a trip to the closest nearby thing to an expanse of wilderness?

We arrive at an entrance by a children’s playground. Through the railings, I make out brightly painted metal structures – an array of swings, seesaws, climbing frames, and other toys, dug into the sandy soil. As we pass through the gate, Manasa Gangotri (or Kukaralli) lake comes into view. The water level, though, looks remarkably low, even to my newcomer’s eye. Diggers have been at work on the banks, and Werner explains they are removing silt, so that the lake can expand once again, even if the sparse rainful of recent years continues.

But another scene catches our attention. Where the path veers off to circle the lake, five tiny puppies are playfully existing in the present moment. They are so small we reckon they can be no more than two or three weeks old. Most dogs I see in Mysore all seem to be the same breed, and they grow into slender, well-proportioned, short-haired companions, a little smaller than a labrador. Three of the puppies are almost identical, a light golden brown, though one has slightly larger white socks. Another is darker, like grey ash, and the last one is almost white, (this is Werner’s favourite). There is no sign of a mother, nor of an owner, but I suspect the latter, at least, may be lurking not far off. Perhaps it is a strategy to find a home for the pups, exposing them to the public eye, until a hopeful adoptive parent loiters long enough for their guardian to emerge and negotiations to begin. I myself do not resist the urge to pick up one of these little guys, he weighs almost nothing, and his complete innocent trust, in spite of his helplessness, melts my heart. I put him down, and he licks my right sandal and foot, until Werner’s other friends arrive and we move, regretfully, on.

Here in Mysore, where almost all foreigners are either yoga practitioners or travelers just passing through (and quite often both), it’s easy to feel at once comfortable with new acquaintances, and we quickly fall into pleasant conversation. But it seems the others share a common urge, and their talk turns to beedies. The two girls and Werner debate whether to stop for this small pleasure. Not being a smoker myself, the rules of smoking in public here escape me, but I gather doing so outside acceptable areas would be frowned upon. And so we take a slip and a slide down the leaf-strewn slope by the path, straddle the barbed wire park fence, and approach a coconut salesman, who is camped over the road between the trees (my companions have no light). Our new acquaintance seems happy to be of assistance, and, with spontaneous generosity, offers Werner one of his own beedies – pure tobacco tightly and beautifully rolled in a pale green leaf. I myself opt for a coconut, but after the heat of the afternoon, one nut is not enough. I signal to our friend, who produces another, enormous one, which must contain at least a pint of precious fluid, and for some reason this gesture feels supremely uplifting. The coconut vendors in Gokulam are pleasant enough, but business remains business. Here, by this main road, far from their trading hubs, I suddenly feel a great joy rise up within me. Sitting in this spot, with this generous young man and his unaffected attitude, and my friends savouring their Indian cigarettes nearby, the sense of spontaneous companionship is complete. For a few precious moments, I am in another bubble, one of shared space and being. And in this instant, nothing is lacking.

Our purpose beckons however, and we sneak back over the fence and up to the lakeside trail. The park here is open only in the early morning, or between four and seven in the evening. Many locals flock here for their vesperal walk. Or run. A decade ago, Indians exercising were a rare sight, Werner comments, but today, the soft, regular thud of training shoes hitting the dirt reaches us from all around. Two runners, doing circuits round the lake, pass us no less than three times, one a man in a fluorescent green t-shirt soaked with sweat, the other a lithe fellow with a stern expression, running barefoot and effortlessly. Out on the lake, on what looks like an island, the dense trees are dotted with white visitors – the pelicans have taken up their night stations. Soon afterwards, as our circumambulation of the lake ends, and we return to our starting point, a flock of parrots appears from nowhere. They fly fast, and low overhead, skimming the treetops, but are silent and do not salute us with their cries.

I part ways with my companions, who are off to celebrate a birthday. As I stroll homewards, the streets lined with boisterous hawkers and the bright lights of eateries, I realize it is completely dark. Night has fallen, in characteristic tropical fashion, suddenly and with very little warning, almost as though the sky had declared, “Lights out!” I am back in the traffic fumes and thick, heavy air, but the breather has worked – I may be a little sore from the week’s yoga, and will be glad to put my feet up, but I feel at peace, energized, and vibrantly alive.

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