For a long time, the only response I had for people asking me about what they could do or see in Sharavathi Adventure Camp near Shimoga, was to mention Jog Falls in a rather hesitant, small voice. I did not want to break their perception that I had visited the region; after all, being considered the resident ‘junglee’ in the office was a tough job, more so when people assumed that you had travelled to most destinations in Karnataka. Plus, with the designation of a researcher, the pressure was to know about a place even without visiting it. Trickier was when people asked me the dreaded question: “What happens in summer? Jog Falls must be running dry, no?” Most times, a vehement fit of coughing would prove helpful in deflecting the question.
Finally, I decided to tackle the eternal question of what lies in Sharavathi and its surroundings. I thought that it was just another salubrious Western Ghats destination, with Jog Falls as its only claim to fame, but I was pleasantly mistaken. For there is a lot to Sharavathi than meets the eye, and the charm is understated. It has a quiet allure that grows on you gently, and you learn to mouth a whispered “wow” rather than a boisterous one.
A pleasant drive along a shaded green track leads to Jungle Lodges & Resorts’ (JLR) Sharavathi Adventure Camp, nestled on a hillock skirting the Talakalale Reservoir. The delicious cool blue of the reservoir, studded with several islets, is never out of your sight, be it from your bungalow or the Gol Ghar – the water is a treat for sore eyes, particularly in the dry summer. A short distance of 9.5 km from the camp brings us to the place that I have been fielding questions about – the renowned Jog Falls. While Jog Falls might present itself as a trickle during summers, it is during this period that you can appreciate its sheer drop of 464 metres into a ravine below – the second highest plunge waterfall in India. With scattered dark clouds chasing each other overhead, it made for a pretty picture: one tinted with grey and sepia tones.
I am told that come monsoon, the scenery changes dramatically. The meandering streams that daintily flow down the steep hillside in the summer turn into raging waterfalls during the monsoon, led by four torrents—Raja, Rani, Rocket and Roarer—each trying to outdo the other in the sound and fury department. Such is the vastness of the falls that there is more than one viewpoint offered to the awed visitor. Even in peak summer, there were two separate vantage points we were driven to by the JLR staff, both showcasing different facets of the falls. Standing at the edge of the falls, I could only wonder about the monsoon edition of the falls – undoubtedly, its beauty unleashed in full flow would be a sight worth a lifetime.
I was stirred out of my reverie as a dark shadow silently glided past us – a majestic Black Eagle! We scurried to retrieve our camera from the vehicle, but by that time, the raptor had perched itself far from our view. However, we were not to be disappointed – a gorgeous Flame-throated Bulbul, a Western Ghats endemic, started singing lustily to its mesmerised audience. Its ruby-red throat glittered in the sunlight as the songster increased its decibel level, spurred on by our admiring glances.
Unbeknownst to us, another denizen sat not far, until the bulbul flew away, breaking our trance. It was then our turn to stare at it wonderingly – a langur we were not familiar with. Who would have thought that we would sight our first Black-footed Gray Langur aka Malabar Langur, another Western Ghats endemic and a vulnerable species at that! We could only wish that these langurs thrive in the future.
Back at the camp, life was flourishing in every nook and cranny we could care to look at. Most mornings started with a peahen and her brood taking a stroll in front of our bungalow, encouraging us to do the same. Shining your torch after sunset, especially during the monsoons, can bring you face-to-face with the revellers of the night, ranging from the beautiful Boulenger’s Indian Gecko to the cacophonous Amboli Bush Frogs. For budding herpetologists, there are numerous attractions of the slithering kind, something that I have not been able to wrap my head around yet. But what warmed the cockles of my heart was the sight of a stunning bunch of Foxtail Orchid growing right by the side of the camp. Hailing from Assam, these beautiful wildflowers hold much significance in our lives: besides being an integral part of a Bihu dancer’s attire, the Foxtail Orchid—Kopou Ful in Assamese—is considered to be a symbol of love and fertility, and is Assam’s state flower. Who would have thought that I would find my beloved Kopou Ful in Sharavathi!
A lazy tour of the camp post a scrumptious lunch and a session of foosball in the recreation room yielded even more visual delights. Following the trajectory of a few bees humming around, we discovered their destination to be some beautiful Pagoda Flower plants, their red, orange and white blossoms enticing the tiny winged creatures. No wonder the beehive overhead was brimming with happy workers, their chambers flush with sweet nectar.
As we went on a leisurely stroll, pointing at flowers and flowerpeckers, halting every now and then to listen to and identify bird calls, we realised that there was something we had not yet experienced all this time – what of the vast reservoir that stared at us defiantly with a dare-to-try-me look? Challenge accepted, we jumped into its azure blue waters enthusiastically – in a paddle boat of course, but only until our legs started aching and we switched to kayaks. While we petered out after kayaking and paddle boating, other visitors chose adrenaline-pumping water scooters, the waves in their wake threatening to topple us every now and then. Now who would have believed that we actually did something like this in Sharavathi? Not me, for sure!
Later, as we sat relaxing by the reservoir, bidding adieu to the sun, we were struck by a realisation – we were not carrying our cameras! We, who could leave behind mobile phones but not cameras for the fear of missing out on a bird or animal, were actually lounging around without one! So were we finally over our FOMO in a forest teeming with life? Did we let ourselves be lulled by the gentle charm of the place telling us to slacken our pace? Was this the answer to the question “what happens in Sharavathi when Jog Falls runs dry?” If “doing nothing” in the summer offered so much, I wonder what doing something in the monsoon would be like! Care to find out?