(Published on December 20, 2014 in Time Out Delhi)
A hidden lake nestled in the Asola Wildlife Sanctuary is gaining popularity among nature buffs
Sprawled on one side of the pahari road connecting Faridabad and Gurgaon is the campus of Manav Rachna International University. Facing it is a muddy trail flanked by untamed bushes of thorny keekar trees. Beyond its dense foliage lies a spectacle known only to a select – a clear blue lake approximately 500 metres wide with the imposing Aravalli hills gracing its backdrop, and identified by the locals and few travel groups from Delhi as “Bhardwaj Lake”. The unforeseen emergence of a lake in the suburbs of land-locked Delhi couldn’t have gone unnoticed for long, and over the last couple of years, it is being viewed as a viable picnic and trekking spot.
Rumour has it that Bhardwaj Lake was formed as a consequence of illegal open-pit mining. Four more neighbouring lakes lay unclaimed in this region, commonly referred to as Bhatti mines. Even after the Supreme Court passed a blanket ban on illegal mining in the Aravallis (Delhi-Gurgaon stretch) in 2002, to prevent the destruction of natural forests in the area, illegal open-pit mining continued. The outcome was five pit lakes, each equally clean and stunning to gaze at. “The rocks around that area are quartzite, which means they have no porosity,” explained Naresh Chandra Pant, from the department of geology at Delhi University. “As a result, ground water collected after illegal mining and formed a lake. Certain quartzite rocks may have secondary porosity levels, so there are fractures that have allowed the water to pass through and form the adjoining lakes.”
The lakes have been around for quite some time, but it caught the attention of city adventurers only a couple of years ago. Sehba Imam, founder of Let’s Walk Gurgaon, an eclectic group of people who organise walking tours, has already made ten trips to the forest. For her, the lakeside is an ideal retreat away from the noise of the city. Vaibhav Gupta, event organiser of Backpackers Club of Delhi, echoed her sentiment. “The sheer beauty of the lakes is refreshing and soothing,” he said. “They’re spread around the Asola Wildlife sanctuary, and we encountered them during a walk tour conducted in October 2012 when as many as 65 members participated.” Owing to the ambiguous location of the lakes, its vastness, and multiple entry and exit points of the region, it is difficult to plan any activity due to security issues and non-availability of guides. One of the easier ways to approach the lakes is to walk or ride (only on regular or mountain bikes) along the gravel tracks. The stretch is roughly 4km long and has an ambience that screams wilderness.
Suchita Salwan, founder of the online magazine Little Black Book Delhi, escorted a group of 35 people to the lakes earlier this year. He was introduced to this area by Archit Rakheja, a trained mountaineer and climber. “The lakes are stunning, seem very clean, and are frequented by locals,” Salwan said. “But we highly recommend that no one wanders off to this part of town on their own. It’s best to go with a large group.”
It’s true that the lakes and its adjoining area fall into the “lesser known” category of recreational destinations around Delhi. Nonetheless, with at least three travel groups having discovered the unattended pastoral beauty of the lakes, it comes as a surprise when the Geological Survey of India refuses to acknowledge the existence of Bhardwaj Lake. GSI’s report about the scientific study on illegal mining in the entire Faridabad region was presented to the government almost two decades ago. A representative of the organisation who did not wish to be named said, “Unless the lakes pose a specific threat to the environment, landform, ground water, landscape or drainage, their anonymity is harmless.”
Adventurers who have gone hiking into the jungle offer rave reviews, but the locals have a completely different story to tell. “The area is not safe at all,” said Davindar Kumar Arora, who runs a dhaba next to Manav Rachna International University. “Thugs lurk about waiting to rob people of their belongings. Eve teasing is also common.”
There are also severe ecological concerns about the place. “Currently, there is no scientific study to prove whether the lakes are permanent, as several pits have already gone dry naturally, according to Pant. “Recreational and ecological benefits of the lakes could be enhanced by re-landscaping the shoreline, but the government has to show interest.”
Surajkund Badkhal Road, Faridabad, Haryana. Nearby landmarks: Manav Rachna International University, Karni Singh Shooting Range and Asola Wildlife Sanctuary.