One only needs to look for Cauvery Fishing Camp on the web and the name Bheemeshwari pops up at the top. The Bheemeshwari fishing camp has been an abode for many an angler for decades.
My memories of the place go back 25 years when we would camp under massive Muthee and Tamarind trees using an old parachute as a ceiling under which our tents were pitched. We would arrive early in the morning, pitch camp, and prepare bait and fish for the next 7-10 days at a stretch.
A pristine setting
The river plays pilgrimage to many a wild animal, both day and night. An incident still runs fresh in my mind from my childhood days. My dad had paddled his dingy across the river onto the other bank to fish a likely good run of the rapids, while my mum took my brother and me along the rocky bank to fish a few yards upriver from camp. As we baked under the scorching sun while keeping an eye on my dad, we were surprised to see dad break out into this dance of waving his arms above his head, screaming at us, and then make a bow shape of his arms in front of him. We sat there perplexed at what he was doing, and understood 10 minutes later, when a heard of elephants parked themselves about 100 yards upriver from us. As much as we wanted to zip back to camp, we were restrained by my mum and slowly walked downstream with one eye on the elephants.
This image of my parents on an angling trip to Bheemeshwari dates back to January 1989.
River Cauvery, January 1989
Those days have since passed and made way for rustic accommodation offering outdoorsmen and city folk an adventurous experience far away from the chaos, noise and madding crowd. With a ban on fishing in the river, the camp is now a nature and adventure camp offering activities such as rafting, coracle rides, kayaking, tight rope walks, nature walks and short treks up the hillock nearby. It is nestled at the foot of a hill, downstream of the convergence of the Shimsha River with the Cauvery. Overlooking the camp is the Soligere hill shrouded in a veil of clouds. It is a perfect getaway for those who enjoy the outdoors, as well as those who want some quiet and get their kids acquainted with the wild.
Cottages under the canopy at the Bheemeshwari Adventure and Nature Camp
In the evening, I decided to let my wife and daughter experience a coracle ride in those swirling waters. Words from the staff that it had been raining the past few days and the water level had gone up a few feet didn’t sit well them. A coracle ride down the swollen river will give you the jitters as it dances to the tune of the waves, bobbing up and down as the ghillie skilfully manoeuvres this floating soup bowl downriver. Adding further shivers to the jitters to many is the thought of the crocodile-infested river; although unknown to most, these marsh crocodiles are extremely shy of humans and have a main diet of fish. The first thing you notice as you bob downriver this time of the year is the fast brown waters of the monsoon that have submerged most of the islands and gigantic rocks in the river, with only the trees sticking out.
Filled to the brim, River Cauvery in the monsoons
The Cauvery River looks fantastic in its full force, filling up shallow pools that provide shelter for the many baitfish that seek refuge. Every year, the monsoon rains swell the river,inundating the many stream beds and tributaries, providing a pathway for them giant fish to swim up the once shallow streams to breed. These monster Mahseer (Tor khudree & Tor mussullah
) live within a stretch of 36 kms between the Shivanasamudram Falls and Mekedatu amongst the many deep pools and raging rapids, the Holy Grail for Mahseer Anglers the world over. Although these Mahseer species are widely distributed among most rivers in the South, they are highly endangered due to poisoning, dynamiting and heavy netting. Every time I hear the boom of a dynamite stick going off on the river, it sends a chill down my spine.
As you walk through the thick scrub to one of your favourite spots to fish, you’d cross shallow streams that are a good spot to watch for spotted deer and feral buffalo.I remember times when we dozed off in the baking sun waiting for that elusive bite, only to be woken up by the shrill alarm call of a deer. The feral buffaloes here are tricky ones to read unlike the regular domesticated ones.We would beon our toes with one eye on a suitable tree to scoot up, as they are fast, vicious, and will not let go of a chance to knock you down if you are within striking distance.
Feral buffaloes by the edge of the river
The coracle docked on the riverbank, and the gentle jolt broke my reverie. I ambled to the cottage, but my thoughts wandered back to the river and its denizens. The thought of the mighty Mahseer that we would pursue day and night, swimming carefree in the river before me made my palms itch. How I wish I was sat perilously bang in the middle of the river with a fishing rod waiting anxiously for that bite! It’s difficult to describe it as it can only be experienced.
Dusk crept in while we sat on our veranda listening to the chirping of crickets, letting our minds wander into the serene surroundings, until the sudden cackle of some guests next door reminded us that the city was not too far away. I took a stroll at nightl ooking for owls and geckos around the cottage area, till a light drizzle prompted me to retire for the night.
During the monsoon months the camp is sliced into two parts by the swollen river, which flexes its banks to provide for the younger generations of the Marsh Crocodile.One needs to be more wary of the river’s dominating undercurrent than the crocodiles. As a thumb rule we were not allowed to swim the waters. I remember how my dad went for a swim one day, only to have a crocodile dive in almost simultaneously, and swim about 20 feet away from him without a care in the world.
The mighty currents of the river in play
Mornings are good for a nice short trek; the cool weather of the monsoons certainly helps.I headed off to the reception to meet Rajanna, who led me through the scrub and up a steep footpath to the watchtower atop the neighbouring hillock. The view from up there is stunning;with theriver Cauvery meandering between hills as far as you can see. Beyond the river in the distance you can see the Biligirirangan Hills; and dwarfing us from behind, the Soligere hill hides in the sky with a hat of cloud.
The stunning view from the top of the hillock
If you are a birder a short walk around the property and into the thicket is a must, as I found out. While I waited for the boatman to appear and ferry me across, the call of a Black-rumped Flameback drew me to explore the bush behind the adventure activities area. I walked through the thick scrub and watched half a dozen woodpeckers knock away at a dead tree, as a pair of Grizzled Squirrels (Ratufa macroura) chased each other through the attached maze of intertwining trees and creepers. This is one of the few ranges in India where the Giant Grizzled Squirrel is found. They are rapturous and extremely agile darting through the trees with skill and composure with a constant vigil on the sky above. A White-rumped Shama hopped through the bush as aTickell’s Blue Flycatcher sang its melodious tune and a pair RufousTreepies called out to each other.
Grizzled Giant Squirrel, Ratufa macroura
Deviating from my usual bird spotting and river-watching I indulged in some high rope walking that sends your adrenaline rushing if you are suspect to heights like me. As I headed back to my cottage to pack up and return to the city, the urge to stay back was strong as a heady rush of the angling days returned.