March 23, 2012

THE RIVER CALLS - Inside the heart of the Cauvery

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 which 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. But 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.

The change is dramatic as Bangalore is really not more than 80 - 100 km away. For a first timer, it must surely seem as if Bangalore is an aberration and this was what the local region was really like before development crept in. 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 has to be felt to be believed. 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.

At first, you may not notice the gurgling sound in the distance but when the gush reaches your ears, you will know that you have arrived. Massive waves crash into ancient rocks, boulders tumble around unattended, froth swirls from some unknown whirlpool - all this show the beauty of the valley.

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.

In fact, the story of JLR is the story of conservation of these vital resources and how protection could enrich the livelihoods of several villagers who had earlier considered it futile to protect these resources. They had believed that exploiting them would be a better source of income. Before embarking on the wonders that this valley offers, knowing a bit more about this fabled river would be an enlightening experience. This is because the Cauvery is not merely a river in these parts but a source of life and the cradle of civilization since times immemorial.

The valley serves as the meeting ground of dedicated anglers who visit from all parts of the world and of serious nature enthusiasts who walk miles to click pictures of their favourite birds. It is also a preferred relaxing ground for thousands of corporate workers who are whisked away from the glitzy world of their hi-tech wonders into this primeval land in a matter of hours