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Once in while you come across a hidden place of such stunning beauty that you wonder how it has remained `undiscovered' for so long...

Such a place is Mansarovar, a rare wetland grove and bird sanctuary, roughly five acres in size, a few miles across the Yamuna River from the town of Vrindavan. Local tradition has it that the lake, or `sarovar', was formed from the tears of Sri Radha, while in an intensely emotional state of wounded love, `man'. She came here alone when she feared she had lost Krishna. In her memory a solitary image of her is worshipped in a small shrine beside the lake. An atmosphere of desolation among the surrounding aged bowers heightens the remote beauty of this place.

Unlike most sacred groves, no village has grown here. Only the gnarled trees and swaying palms, which shelter a group of `viraktis'-those indifferent to the world-who spend their days in prayer and meditation and tending the shrine. The only other people are pilgrims, who visit throughout the spring and autumn seasons.

But the real visitors to Manasarovar are the birds. Crowds of waterfowl and heron frequent the place. A special visitor is the Sarus Crane, an endangered species which breeds only in Northern India, but whose total population is now down to less than 15,000. The Sarus is the world's tallest flying bird-a male can stand as tall as six feet-and regarded with reverence in Vraj.

In recent years the lake became choked with water hyacinth, so much so that the surface of the water was completely hidden from view. This drove away the birdlife, who could no longer fish here, and starved the water of oxygen. However, last autumn a Friends of Vrindavan team worked hard for six weeks to clear this invasive weed and restore the lake to its pristine beauty. It was exhausting and unpleasant work, producing huge heaps of rotting stems piled about the lake. But now its original beauty is restored and the birds and wildlife are returning to their previous haunts.

Work has begun on re-planting indigenous species of trees, and protecting them with thorny hedges. We are currently investigating ways of securing the long-term protection of the lake and surrounding habitat so as to establish a permanent sacred wildlife sanctuary.Future plans include the digging out of the lake, which needs to be done periodically to restore the health of the wetland. The material removed will be used to create a surrounding earthbank to further protect the sanctuary and provide a pilgrimage path, or parikrama, around it.

Best Western Radha Ashok