The drive from Bangalore to Kanakapura is an exercise in patience. Burgeoning traffic and the physical expansion of the city limits has put a tremendous strain on the narrow highway that is already bursting at the seams. Trucks, motorcars, and buses honk and swerve, trying to accommodate themselves in the narrow highway, all the while threatening to push you down the road into one of the many lakes that dot the landscape.
Kanakapura itself is a town on the verge of booming even more. There are new, upcoming constructions all over, giving it the feel of being a recent suburb of Bangalore. However, the moment you maneuver past the narrow lanes of this important administrative town, rural Karnataka smiles at you. The scene shifts and you cross several small villages with cows grazing around. Then, just as suddenly, you enter a seemingly surreal world. Everything changes into an arid shrub land and then into a bustling forest. Villages are left behind and you would be excused for forgetting that this sight is a mere couple of hours away from the madness of the city.You experience lush forests as far as the eyes can see, deep valleys with patches of green even in the dry season, and the sudden drop of altitude as you enter the world of the Cauvery.
Whether you are arriving from Mysore through Bannur, or from Bangalore through Kanakapura, the altitudinal drop is unbelievable. From the soothing ambience of the Bangalore plateau to the dry heat of the Cauvery valley, you enter a different world where cell phones still do not work and access to the benefits of electricity is an exception and not the norm. There is a sudden stillness as the heat takes over all actions, humans’ and animals’ alike, and then you hear the Cauvery.
This is the isolated Cauvery Valley, the last stretch of the free flowing mystic river in Karnataka, before it flows down the Hogenakkal into Tamil Nadu and spreads wide in the Thanjavur delta. This small stretch of land is where some of the most dramatic fauna is found, from the endangered giant squirrel to a large population of river otters and the tiger of all fishes – the Mahseer.
Huge mango, terminalia and tamarind trees form a contiguous canopy on the riverbank, providing shelter to various forms of arboreal animals, birds and insects. Not just the Mahseer, but it is one of the last refuges of the highly endangered Grizzled Giant Squirrel and otters in India. Occasionally, tigers and leopards can be sighted and it is the very eastward edge of the Asian Elephant’s home range. Marsh Crocodiles are found aplenty while venomous snakes are known to favor the rocky landscape.
The Legend of the Cauvery:
Like a vital nerve flowing through the human body, the Cauvery is the life giving river of Karnataka. From its origins in the Coorg hills to its descent of 765 km into Tamil Nadu and the sea, its journey is a window to bountiful, unparalleled natural beauty.
The Cauvery is one of the most sacred rivers of India, as it gushes from the hills and meanders down the Mysore plateau. Some of the densest forests of India form the catchment of the Cauvery and its tributaries, providing shelter to one of the biggest congregations of large mammals seen in this part of the world.
Marsh Crocodile at Galibore Nature Camp
Of all its gifts to humankind, the Cauvery bestows the land with an amazing richness and diversity of flora and fauna. Tributaries such as the Harangi, Chicklihole, Shimsha, Hemavati, Arkavathy, Honnuhole, Lakshmana Tirtha, Kabini, Bhavani, Lokapavani, Noyyal River, Amaravati River and more, replenish its river basin of more than 72,000 sq. km. These tributaries are the catchments for world famous forests such as Wyanad, Mudumalai, Nilgiris, Silent Valley, Attapadi, Perambikulam and the Anamalais. The basin is home to several rare and threatened animals, and to several of the unique forest camps, including at Kabini, Dubare, Bheemeswari and Galibore.
At Nagunhalli near Srirangapatnam
Rising from the misty heights of the Brahmagiri Hills, the river cuts an awesome swathe across the landscape. It starts softly, gushing from a spring in Talakaveri, where a shrine has been built. Tumbling over huge rocks, the river is fed by an ever-growing number of tributaries that the hill district of Coorg abounds in. Finally, after watering the lush forests of Coorg, the river begins its southward-eastward flow through two big states of South India, across the rugged Deccan plateau and finally joins the Bay of Bengal.
Sunset on the banks of the Cauvery, near Hogenakkal
The river marks the northern boundary of the Dubare Reserve Forest where elephants are trained for various forestry and non-forestry purposes, and bifurcates to a beautiful island, Nisargdharma. This island has been developed as a popular tourist site operated by the Forest Department of Karnataka and is a must-see for all those who visit Coorg.
It is here that the river becomes languid. Caressing the rocks, its banks often plays host to a large numbers of Tibetan monks from the nearby settlement of Bylakuppe, who relax and bathe in the shallow waters. The river widens out, before the KrishnarajaSagar dam near Mysore and several anicuts and irrigation channels binds its waters thereafter.
At Nagunhalli near Srirangapatnam
Thus, the great river, which has travelled unhindered for more than 170 km, is finally trapped and diverted into one of the first dams built in modern India. However, the river makes amends soon and cascades down the dam gates through a rocky outcrop, which provides the dam with a dramatic visage. Thousands throng the Brindavan Gardens each day to witness the sound and light show each evening.
Thereafter, crossing the favoured bird sanctuary of Ranghanathittu, the river bifurcates at Srirangapatnam, providing natural defences to the island that was to become the capital of the Mysore Sultans. Srirangapatnam is rich in history and enough books have been written to honor this legacy. It is the history of Srirangapatnam that has made the town one of the top tourist destinations of India.
At Nagunhalli near Srirangapatnam
Each day, one can find tourists of both Indians and foreigners throngs through the tidy streets of this town, guidebook in hand, marveling at that day in 1799 when Tipu fell after a grand fight and the face of imperialism changed.
The island soon ceases to be so when the two branches of the river meet up at Sangam and the Cauvery continues its eastward journey. The river has been used for irrigation in this stretch for centuries. It provides the Mysore region with its economic strength and vast, rice fields. The river provides much needed drinking water to several towns and villages along its path, besides being the backbone of the water supply to Bangalore, one of the fastest growing cities in the world.
Traversing the Srirangapatna Island, the river turns towards Najangud amidst a fertile land and meets the Kabini, the other great river of the Cauvery basin. The river meanders through Talakad before crashing more than 100 metres through two rapids Bharachukkki and Gaganachukki at Shivanasamudra where it was first tapped for its hydroelectric potential in 1902. This brought electricity to Bangalore and for some time, Bangalore held the claim for being the only city in the continent with regular electricity supply.
The Cauvery then enters a deep gorge, popularly known as the Cauvery Valley and home to the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary that covers an area of 1027 sq km. A dramatic eco-region with elevations dropping to less that 250 metres and rising almost 1500 metres, the valley and the sanctuary has been modified by nature into an amazing biome.
With a predominantly dry climate – albeit rich with water from the Cauvery, the Palar and several streams – the river system is unique in this stretch of the Cauvery. In fact, the vitality of Coorg hills and the familiar scene of the river crashing into huge rocks and forming deep pools returns and can be seen up to the Tamil Nadu border.
After its journey through the Cauvery Valley, bound by dense forests on both sides, the river enters Tamil Nadu through a series of wild gorges and falls at a place commonly known as Smoking Stone or Hogenakkal and is then dammed again at Mettur, creating a lake known as the Stanley Reservoir. Finally, after lazily moving through Tamil Nadu, it joins the seas near Cuddalore, forming a large delta in the Thanjavur region where millions depend on the river for cultivation. Thus, the river that began its journey on the western edge of the nation finally dissolves into the sea in its eastern ends.
A river so unpredictable and gracious like the Cauvery has rightfully been accorded the virtue of being one of the most sacred rivers of India. With millions dependent upon it, the entire Cauvery basin must be provided the sanctuary it requires, so that it continues flowing the way it has for millions of years. With impending development being planned across the river just before it enters Tamil Nadu, one needs to recall a message written on a popular brochure, ‘Here where no man can leave his footprints, the rock is hard, the river untamed, its beauty wild. Here, where the hand of man cannot be seen, the Mahseer reigns supreme’.