When the Jog falls beckon
Jog is not limited to hosting India’s second highest falls. It also provides testimony to the foresight of a benevolent ruler and an able administrator in harnessing hydal power to light up the State. Nestled amidst nature that is beautifully dangerous, the region’s charm is eternal, vouches B V Prakash.
Karnataka is indeed blessed with a major part of a long line of mountain ranges that form the Western Ghats. Running along the western coast parallel to the sea these mountainous tracts are where the south west Monsoon drains a copious rainfall enabling a dense growth of forests in the valleys.
The greenery, the salubrious climate and a good watershed have all been conducive for the growth and sustenance of a great variety of flora and fauna which has earned the Western Ghats the distinction of being one of the top biodiversity hotspots of the world. A good number of rivers that originate in these mountains have not only been a lifeline for the people along their course but have also been a major source of power generation in the state.
Flowing over the undulating hilly terrain of the Ghats the rivers have also created numerous waterfalls that are a wonderful sight to behold. Among the countless number of waterfalls in Karnataka the one that steals the show with its breathtaking beauty is undoubtedly the Jog Falls in Shimoga district.
Other names by which it is referred are Gerusoppa Falls and Jogada Gundi. Listed as one of the 1,001 natural wonders of the world, it is also the second highest waterfall in India next only to Nohkalikai Falls of Meghalaya. The river Sharavathi springs at a nondescript town called Ambutheertha in Thirthahalli taluk.
Flowing in a north-westerly direction for about 80 kilometres it passes through the village of Kargal before taking a plunge into the 960-foot ravine. Joined by smaller streams and tributaries like Haridravathi and Yennehole it generates enough volume and force as it splits into four distinct streams just before the drop. Each one takes its own shape and formation as it drops which has given them charming names. The fall at the extreme left, called Raja, jumps down 830 feet in a straight line.
The Roarer begins at a lower height and drops with a thundering din and is aptly called so. The third fall, Rocket, flows with a multitude of jet like formations while the one at right gently slithers down with the grace of a lady and as such named Rani. The viewing platform on the western side of the valley is the vantage point from where the beauty of the falls and the valley can be experienced. The afternoons are especially better when the evening sun creates a rainbow of colours on the falls. The river flows a further 40 kilometres westward passing through Gerusoppa before joining the Arabian sea at Honnavar.
History of power generation
The Jog Falls had been just a beauty spot for long and its potential for power generation had not been explored until as late as 1940s. It was in 1939 during the time of Maharaja of Mysore, Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV that the first idea for power generation was conceived. At a village called Hirebhaskara about 20 kilometres upstream from Jog a dam was built and the earliest power generating station called Krishna Rajendra hydro electric project was commissioned. The flow of water from the dam, also called Madenur reservoir, would be utilised to create power to the tune of 120MW. But as fate would have it the assassination of Gandhiji in 1948 put off the plant from going on stream.
The following year the dam was inaugurated and the power plant renamed as Mahatma Gandhi Hydro Electric project (MGHE) was commissioned with an installed capacity of 139.2 MW power generation. Even in those days the power generated at this station was a significant contribution to the total power output of the state. In 1960s, the Karnataka Power Corporation limited (KPCL) came up with a bigger plan for optimising the power generation.
As Vinayak Kumar, an engineer with the KPCL puts it, at hardly 11 kilometres upstream from Jog a huge dam was built across the Sharavathi to create the Linganamakki reservoir.
A power house was also built at the edge of the reservoir to generate 55 MW from two units. This was called Linganamakki Dam project. The excess water after power generation was rechannelled into a balancing reservoir at Talakalale village. The waters from Talakalale reservoir were directed to a bigger power plant at Ane Bailu village. Called AB site power station this was a mega power plant generating 1,035MW ! Later this project was renamed as Sharavathi Generating Station (SGS). The overflowing water was further harnessed for energy at Gerusoppa, 30 kilometres downstream with a power generation capacity of 240 MW called the Sharavathi Tailrace Project.
As a second line of power generation an Anicut called Kargal Dam was created closer to the falls area from where the waters were diverted to Shiroor Kere reservoir on its way to the first installed MGHE plant. By 1980s two reservoirs, Chakra and Savehaklu were created near Mastikatte exclusively to feed more water to Linganamakki reservoir and harness power, says Vinayak kumar.
After all these diversions the waters at Jog reduced and the falls lost its natural glory. The only consolation was that a huge chunk of the State’s power generation came from the four projects collectively referred as Sharavathi Hydel Project. Today, if you want to view the Jog Falls in all its splendour you have to visit in the peak Monsoon season when the gates of the dam are opened and the falls come alive. At other times as well the falls do not fail to mesmerise with the pure white streaks dropping into the abyss surrounded by lush green forests of the valley. For the adventurous walking down to the base over the 1,400 steps can be exciting and exhausting as well.
Virtual death trap
The beauty of the Jog Falls is no doubt captivating. But the deep chasm is also dangerous for the misadventurous. For many of the visitors walking to the top of the falls via the British Bungalow and viewing down from the edge seems thrilling. More so after movie Mungaaru Male was released in 2006 which featured stunning cinematographic shots from the head of the falls. But few realise that it is also a virtual death trap.
The jagged rocks at the top are unstable and slippery causing unexpected accidents. If statistics are any indication the accidental fall of visitors, especially the youth, at the falls has been regular. In 2007 seven people had died here while 2008 claimed as many as 18 lives. The recent news of three youths slipping into the falls is still fresh in memory. But it is heartening to note that the authorities concerned are preventing visitors from taking extreme risks.
Other places of interest
At Jog, the falls is not the only attraction. Though the dams and power houses are out of bounds for tourists there are quite a few spots around the place that are worth looking. At about six kilometres from Jog is Kargal. In the vicinity is an attractive temple of Chowdeshwari. The entrance tower is colourful as well as the interiors. The fair during Navarathri draws lakhs of pilgrims.
On a deviation from the MG circle near Jog, a path goes up to a viewpoint on the edge of the hill where a polygonal stone structure has been built. Called Rajakallu, this was the foundation stone laid by Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV on February 5, 1939. It is said that the Maharaja used to frequent this place to enjoy the view of the valley and the falls. The view of Mavina Gundi falls dropping into a forested valley is astounding. Close by is the Mahatma Gandhi Park, a shady place with children’s play area.
On the way back, the ancient temple of Chamundeshwari can be visited too. The idol of the goddess here, which is unique with two faces, in front and behind, is said to have been donated by the Maharaja. Hardly a kilometre from the falls is the green lake of Shiroor Kere with a hanging bridge at one end. This is a quiet and peaceful spot ideal for a picnic.
All these little known places make a visit to the Jog falls meaningful and memorable.