Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Trip to Doddamakali - Rediscovering The Cauvery!

“She was angry that year and she raged. Overflowing her banks and submerging all that was then – the splendour of Talakadu. She avenged the wronged and receded, changing her course, leaving a deadly trace behind her – a trace that would last forever, imprinted in history as a mystery, a miracle, an anomaly – something so typical of her.”

The River Cauvery is the lifeline of most of what are the southern most flanks of the Deccan plateau and the plains of North Tamilnadu. A river as old as time – she fed and watered the civilizations that flourished on her banks and she is still the cause of contention between two states that share her waters. She has her humble but beautiful beginnings in the Kodagu district of Karnataka, and flows ever gently south-eastwards towards the Tamil plains picking up speed only at her last leg where she falls in her meandering pathways through the Sivasamudra area. She finally takes her final plunge at Hogénakkal and then enters Tamilnadu for a long journey before she empties out into the Bay of Bengal. A provider of several livelihoods and a sustainer of many lives, River Cauvery or Kaveri Amman as she is fondly known, is the Ganga of the south – she is the angrier and more colourful sister; a sister who exemplifies the spirit of the South Indian woman, a Devi in her own right.

How we decided to go to the Doddamakali fishing camp for that holiday weekend is still quite a mystery. There were options thrown around, and memory only throws up the Galiboré and Bheemeshwari fishing camps as the choices we were initially discussing. The latter two are the more famous Cauvery fishing camps maintained by a semi-government owned Jungle Lodges and Resorts Private Limited. They are closer to Bangalore and fall within the southern extremities of the Bangalore Rural District off the Kanakapura Road. Doddamakali on the other hand was beyond familiar territory. It lay in interior Mandya somewhere off the Kollegal Road from Maddur through Malavalli. A simple map drawn on the brochure did help us as we drove there that morning, the only problem was that unlike more commonly used state and national highways, the kilometres didn’t just fly past, instead we were forced to keep ourselves occupied as we turtled our way on these fast disappearing roads. Somewhere beyond Malavalli we took a sudden left and then drove past a most pristine Lower Ghat section till we reached the Shimsa Hydro-electric project. The road was now reduced to a mud-rubble path, but our van somehow managed to scrape through the remaining eight kilometres, literally!
We passed through some reviving vegetation in what seemed like a forest that had been reduced to ashes a few years ago. Life struggling to replenish itself was seen all around us. Further downhill we crossed what can be typically classified as a deciduous shrub forest with grasslands covering every inch of the hills all around. The green grass occasionally met a liberal sprinkling of white jasmine like blooms from the Kadumalli (Forest Jasmine) tree, and if beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, than this was heaven to me! The last one kilometre or so was however the most exciting as we encountered some really sharply curving hair-pin bends. The van tried really hard to take the challenge, but some of us realised the need for individual contributions and so we jumped off the van to trek the remaining downhill sloping trail. It was the best thing one could do, believe me, because the views we saw we’re so brilliant, that every calorie of energy spent seemed worth it the effort.

A few minutes later we were unloading our backpacks off the van and trying to find tents to claim – the rush was quite interesting as we ran to the spread out tent cabins and kept screaming out – “This one’s mine! Oh! Look at the view… what a lovely view I have, Oh! Mine’s right in front of the dining hall…” and other such ridiculous enthusiastic exclamations! We were soon settled in and we lunched at the common thatched dining hall. The hall is a masterpiece with a thatched domed tent like structure that rests on a few pillars looking right at the river. The views of the refreshingly clean river helped any morsel of food slide down your throat like an elixir – it’s finally all about the ambience, I guess, huh? Post lunch more conquests of tents followed as we needed to find accommodation for the whole team.
A sudden reference to tents being available at the other end of camp, had a few of us rush to the other end to claim territory. We couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised as we found the tents with the most gorgeous of views lying open, furnished and ready to be taken. After some hurried shifting of luggage we were all finally settled in.
The rest of the afternoon was spent with Cricket matches on the beach and some arbid relaxation while a few of us trekked into unchartered territory. The beach was our personal reference to the vast stretches of off-white sand on the banks of the Cauvery. The river has its claim to fame for its vast banks of sand created due to silting, receding waters and course alterations that occur every now and then.
As the evening turned into night, a few of us straddled on our life jackets and jumped into the shallow parts of the river for a refreshing dip. Rumours of crocodiles can’t really deter anyone from relishing those clear waters, especially when they’re so temptingly inviting. Crocodiles however are spotted once in a while basking on rocks on the banks especially during the peak months of the summer. As the sun set, we set out for a relaxing trip in the round boats so quintessential to these parts. The last rays of the sun filtered through the evening sun as we sang songs and chided each other while we swirled at ease, ripples lashing at our boats, with our faces turned towards the darkening sky. Night soon approached and the lanterns that would light our tents were lit. We retreated to our temporary homes for quick showers and what showers they were! There’s something about clean river water that can do wonders to your skin and hair. Moisturizers aren’t needed anymore and your hair is as soft as it would be after a conditioning treatment. Refreshingly clean we soon were around a crackling fire lit in our honour. Snacks fresh off a grill were passed around as we doused ourselves in some fine wine, beer and breezer’s. The joy that we experienced could only be expressed in song, and we were soon entertaining each other in songs galore! Singing, a crackling fire, friends and the gurgling of a beautiful river to drown out the black silence – could anyone ask for more?
We had a fairly well-made dinner and then decided to play a few games. A housie was followed by several rounds of rummy. Later that night most of us spent lying on the clean sand under a full moon. The moon was reflected in all it’s whiteness on the rippling river, and poems of love, desire and beauty were the only things on everyone’s mind as we finally retired to our tents for the night. A day truly well spent!

The next morning a few of us went trekking upstream on the banks of the Cauvery till we reached the spot where she falls into the valley. A valley she had carved out, this place was surely one of those well kept secrets in South Karnataka. The rest of us awoke as we finally gave into the beckoning light that teased us from every hole in our tents. We just had to enjoy this morning! After what was, as far as breakfasts go, one of the best I’ve had, we quickly had to get ready for our departure. We had planned to trek back up-hill to the point where the deadly hair pin bends start, in order to ease out the trip for our struggling van, and we did just that. Several pictures later, we loaded our backpacks onto the van and began out trek up-hill. Only a few of us made it to the top amidst non-stop breaks to relish the valley from a birds eye view, while most gave up half way through and waited for the van to approach. The few of us who did make it to the top, four kilometres to be precise, we’re blessed exceedingly for our efforts. A Champa (Temple) tree had just lost most of its blooms thanks to the mild showers the night before, and the road was strewn with these white-yellow mildly-perfumed flowers untouched – as is the case usually on such roads. We quickly decided to get some really cool shots and just as we finished with our camera antics, we heard our van approach, around a bend.

We were soon driving along a proper road to a quick stopover at the Barachukki falls – not really en route home, but in the vicinity. An hour of driving later, we were in the middle of the Sivasamudram area in Chamarajanagar district. The Cauvery in its penultimate plunge falls over a vast stretch of black rock, several miles long, in three separate falls aptly named Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara after the holy Hindu trinity. The sight is extremely humbling as is the case with most majestic waterfalls and helps you realise what a small role you play in the big game of our planets existence. We were running out of time and were really getting hungry, so we said our au revoirs and soon enough, we were back on the homeward route.

Trips like these are something everyone needs to do more often, especially as they’re really close to Bangalore and are not very hard to access. Doddamakali is just about 150 kilometres from Bangalore and even if that might sound like a lot, it’s almost the same distance one would cover on a trip to Mysore. The air is clean and refreshing, and there’s usually no one around other than people from the camp. The loneliness from crowds and the presence of friends might just make the trip all that more enjoyable.

As we enter Bangalore later that evening, most of us are still very much in a Holiday mood, and who can blame us? With a river such as the Cauvery flowing right beside you, sun, sand and good food at your service and tent cabins that give you the excitement of a jungle lodge and are yet very comfortably furnished – enjoying life should come pretty naturally, if not instinctively.

We’ve had our share of fun and it’s about time you took the plunge too!