Zaimeng Lake – The epitome of human recklessness


Picture: Zaimeng Lake

The Zaimeng Lake is a fresh water lake of high altitude at the north end of Khongtheng hill ranges and the Maraobou Ranges in Thonglang Akutpa village (BenaTababang) at Senapati district of Manipur. More well-known place in the vicinity of the lake is the extended hills of the Koubru range after the Thingbung Katia saddle. Zaimeng is a Liangmai word which literally means perplex or puzzle lake (Zai= lake, meng= perplex or puzzle). It is believed that the name of the lake was given by the forefathers of the Thonglang villagers who passed by the lake but return several times to the same spot while trying to find their way to their destination.

The Lake is situated at a distance of 4 km from Thonglang Akutpa village. It usually takes 2 to 3 hours for a person to reach the lake on foot. The vast plain portion at the entrance of the lake is covered with soft carpet of white moss and grass. Thick vegetation and lust growth of thorny bamboo (Chaki in Liangmai, /Laiwa in Meiteilon) grow around the lake. In the western side, one can also have the beautiful glimpse of the awesome steep Vaichong rocks, Irang valley, Tamei town and mountain ranges of Papupana long (father son mountain ranges) visible at Chakha and Lemta village side where wild elephants were once believed to be found.

The once the luxuriant forest of Uningthou and Leihao of the Thonglang was exploited for timber till 1970 and large area of the fertile land were continuously exploited with Jhum cultivation. All these activities led to rampant felling of trees in the vicinity of the lake which resulted into shrinking of the lake each year, especially during the winter season. As a result the seeps and streams which once served the people with potable water for domestic consumption as well as for agricultural purposes, now has begun to dry up. To this fact, the people in the village remarked that the people from Thonglang Atongba began to pay water tax to the Thonglang Akutpa villagers for using the water from the stream which is coming down from the lake.

Shortage of water began to have its impact on many wild animals too. According to an elderly persons in the village, wild animals such as tigers, wild elephants, bears, Hoolock gibbons, wild dogs, etc. which was earlier found in the jungle surrounding the lake, almost completely disappeared from this forest today. According to them, the last tiger was spotted and killed in 1976 in the vicinity of Thonglang Akutpa village.

Concerned over the fast changing scenario of the Zaimeng lake and its surrounding, and realizing the importance of conserving the lake, the villagers in 2011 formed a committee which comprised of other three neighbouring village namely Thonglang Atongba, Chawankining Village, and 10th mile Nepali Village with the initiative of the people of Thonglang Akutpa village leaders. They felt that the conglomeration of different villages was a necessary step to conserve the lake because one village alone cannot conserve it without the involvement of other villages. Some regulations were enacted with the objective of conserving the forest surrounding the lake. They are also seeking assistance from governmental and non-governmental agencies to guide and help them to achieve their desired goals.

The unique ecological values of the lake and its surrounding have been indicated by the presence of "taduitaku/takope" a rare Salamander species in the lake. Salamander, also known as Himalayan crocodile, is a rare species found in Himalayan foothills, Yunan province of China, Thailand and at Zaimeng Lake in Manipur. This rare species is seen in spring and summer along with white moss and grasses. The adult Salamander grows up to 15-16 cm in length. It is pinkish black in colour.

Moreover, the lake/wetland is the natural water conservation reservoir which supplies water to smaller water holes, springs and swamps in the surrounding foothills. Zaimeng Lake is situated on the hill ridge flanked by the catchment forest of two important rivers of the state namely the Irang River in the western aspect and Imphal River on the eastern aspect. Thus it is one of the important sources of water for irrigation. Needless to say, these rivers are also important source of water for the people of other districts of Manipur. The lake and its surrounding forest is also a home for various species of flora and fauna including various medicinal plants. The scenic beauty of the lake and its surrounding also can be a source of recreation for nature lovers.

Anthropogenic stress on natural resources has gravely affected the people who are depending on the wetland in the region especially those engaging in agricultural activities. Water scarcity and bamboo Invasion has become a major concern for the villagers. It is said that earlier the lake was surrounded by well-trimmed Kalakbang (Leihao=Michelia champacca), Maga (Uningthou=Phoebe hainensenia), Zaimengrapen(Uthambal=Magnolia), Karangbang (Thangji= Quercus sp.), thick growth of thorny bamboos and many other tree species of temperate zones. However, today, the surrounding of the lake is almost completely bare of trees and open due to various anthropogenic pressures. The water in the lake has receded so much that the rare species of Salamander is found only within the lake and are rarely sighted. If the trend continues, it is feared the rare Salamanders may be parched to death as Salamanders are naturally climate sensitive. Drying up of the lake coupled with deforestations also affected the water seepage at the foothills of the lake which serves as the main source of water for the villagers. It also disturbs the habitation of many species of flora and fauna.

The destroyed forest gave way to invasive bamboo species which began to outgrow all other vegetation in the vicinity of the lake. The problem is accelerated by the Jhum cultivation which kills tree saplings through fire. Due to the widespread of shifting cultivation in the region, which has short fallow cycles, huge areas are under this “arrested succession” of dense, almost monotypic bamboo forests. Besides having fewer species of flora, these bamboo forests are also prone to destructive fires after bamboos flower en masse and dry up.

Unless some drastic measures are taken to arrest such unprecedented ecological disturbances, the negative impact stemming from such changes could be catastrophic to not only the people of the region but also the larger population of the state.