In a quiet north-western corner of Karnataka lies the little-known town of Joida. Joida is not just the largest taluk (administrative district) in Karnataka, but also boasts another unique surprise. It is the taluk with the highest forest cover in the state – almost 80% of its area is covered in thick jungles! 

This region is home to one of the most celebrated and revered rivers of the state: Kali. Kali flows through breathtaking landscapes, before joining the Arabian Sea after a journey of nearly 200 kms. The landscape Kali cuts through is a mosaic of peculiar geology. And for the most part, she cuts through dark, volcanic rocks, making the water appear black; hence the name Kali (black river). Like most rivers in India, Kali too is born in the mountains: a little mountain stream in the heart of the Western Ghats is her birth-place. As Kali flows, she nourishes the land with life.

A narrow road cuts through Joida. With more than 80% forest cover and very little development, the area has been a crown jewel in Karnataka’s conservation efforts.

To appreciate the true grandeur and beauty of river Kali and the landscape she flows through, a bird’s eye view is a must.

Kali is one of the shortest rivers in India, flowing for only 184 kms before she reaches the sea. And in this short distance, there are seven dams built across. Her unobstructed natural flow is only 8 kms. The backwaters formed by the dams may have submerged parts of the reserve, but it has also created a unique habitat.

Kali is a lifeline to the villages in the area, and is revered as a life-giving mother. The river provides not just water to drink, but also for paddy and livestock. Most villages here depend on agriculture, as the river, rain, and the nutrient-rich soil make the valley ideal for rice cultivation. A lot of villages here still practise sustainable farming.

It’s not just the people who depend on her, but also the flora and fauna of the region. The Kali Tiger Reserve – through which the river runs – spreads over an area of 815 sq. kms, and is one of the top biodiversity hot-spots in the world. The tiger reserve is a remarkable habitat: a mosaic of dry-deciduous jungles, evergreen forests and high altitude grasslands.

Malabar Gliding Frog, a Western Ghats’ endemic.

One of the species of Impatiens, a flower endemic to the Western Ghats.

The reserve is one of the world’s most bio-diverse evergreen jungles, and the sheer colours and brilliance of the species found here are unmatched. Green Vine Snake, Blue-eyed Bush Frog, Large-eyed Bronzeback and Malabar Pit Viper are some of the gorgeous species of reptiles found here.

Green Vine Snake

Blue-eyed Bush Frog

Malabar Pit Viper

The reserve is also home to some rare and beautiful birds like the Malabar Pied Hornbill, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Blue-capped Rock Thrush and Eurasian Martin.

Malabar Pied Hornbill

Malabar Whistling Thrush

Blue-capped Rock Thrush

Asian Fairy-bluebird

The breathtaking landscape Kali flows through has many magnificent waterfalls, and Sathodi Falls is one of them.

The river has also created abundant tourism opportunities and employment. Thanks to its rapids, it is amongst the top destinations in the country for white-water rafting. Many nature activities such as wildlife safaris, bird-watching, nature trails, and camping are also run by the state forest department and the state-owned Jungle Lodges and Resorts.

Kali sustains not just people, but also some of the world’s most fragile creatures and ecosystems. Like all rivers facing the pressures of pollution and population, this river too needs care and reverence.