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October 4, 2011

Cauvery - A Splendid Journey


Of all its gifts to mankind, the Cauvery bestows the land with an amazing richness and diversity of flora and fauna. Its river basin of more than 72,000 sq. km. is replenished by tributaries such as the Harangi, Chicklihole, Shimsha, Hemavati, Arkavathy, Honnuhole, Lakshmana Tirtha, Kabini, Bhavani, Lokapavani, Noyyal River, Amaravati River and more.

The rivers rise from the Western Ghats of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and are the catchments for world famous forests such as Wyanad, Mudumalai, Nilgiris, Silent Valley, Attapadi, Perambikulam and the Anaimalais. The basin is home to several rare and threatened animals, and to several of the unique camps of JLR, including at Kabini, Dubare, Doddamakkali, Bheemeswari and Galibore.

Commencing from Talakaveri, the Cauvery meanders down to the Mysore plateau through Coorg, 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 Bylakupe, who relax and bathe in the shallow waters. The river widens out,  before its waters are bound by the 31 sq km Krishnaraja Sagar dam near Mysore and several anicuts and irrigation channels thereafter.

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 in fact made it one of the top tourist destinations of India.

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 526 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

The Cauvery’s journey makes for an interesting reading and has continued to fascinate travellers and pilgrims alike for centuries. However, it is the small 60 km stretch from below Shivasamundram till Mekedaatu that has been of particular interest for thousands of enthusiasts from across the world. They come and try their luck at least once in the deep pools of the Cauvery, for this is the land of the Mahseer, one of the last remaining refuges of the tiger amongst fishes.

Nature has created this valley and accorded protection to it. The sheer drop from the Mysore plateau ensures that there is no unwanted entry into the forests. Most of the original forests remain and all that you can hear is the whistle of birds and the gushing of the river. Running at a steep gradient, the river often crashes into rapids and rushes down as small waterfalls.

This setting brings forth much needed life into the river systems and unleashes a wealth of diversity with profuse fish populations and an abundance of other life forms. In lieu of its isolated nature, the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary was instituted in the year 1987, so that the inhabitants of this valley could be protected.