Serenity............at Shishila

TRAVEL

With the towering peaks of the Western Ghats in the background and the quietly flowing river nearby, Shishila is an enchanting getaway, writes B V Prakash

Shishila is a village you many not be able to locate easily on the map. It is off the road that leads to the famed temple town of Dharmasthala.

With the towering peaks of the Western Ghats in every direction you see, there could not have been a more appropriate place than Shishila as the base for a week-long exploration of the Ghats that I undertook.

The few houses here are set amidst acres of arecanut and cardamom plantations. The quietly flowing Kapila, the forests teeming with rich birdlife and an ancient temple make Shishila a great place to unwind.

It was still dark as we alighted from the bus at an equally little known town of Kokkada before Dharmasthala and hitched a ride on the milk van to our destination. Though Shishila does not have hotels and eateries, the visitors, most of whom come here to trek, are well-cared for by a localite called Gopu Gokhale. Soft spoken and helpful, he and his family take time off from their routine to provide food and a place to rest. For the trekkers, he also arranges guides from the village.

A walk to the temple brought us to the gently flowing river of Kapila. It is a prominent source of irrigation. A huge bridge spans across the river, and connects to the temple. The conical hill of Udaya Parvatha sets the backdrop to make the location picture-perfect.

The shrine dedicated to Shishileshwara and named after the village itself dates back to about 1,000 years, as the locals say. In the year 2000, it was renovated under the Dharmotthana Trust of Dharmasthala with the active involvement of the villagers. The sanctum built entirely of well-carved stones has the Udbhavalinga.

Every Monday, free food is served to the devotees. a nine-day fair is organised on the eve of Shivarathri. But the most important aspect of the shrine is the protection of shoals of large mahseer fish that are regarded sacred, and the pool named Matsyatheertha. Feeding the fish with rice grains is a fondly followed ritual for the devotees.

It was unfortunate that in the year 2006, all the fish were killed by poisoning by some miscreants. But the temple authorities not only built a memorial for the fish, but also stepped up efforts to conserve the fish. Now, for a stretch of two km on either side, no activity that disturbs the fish is allowed. The evenings here are enchanting, with the river flowing along the green foliage in a golden hue.

Meenagundi is another spot further north of the town where the river flows over a rock in an idyllic setting. But the waters are deep, making it not so safe to venture into. Kotebagilu, which translates into the fort gate, is a spot with the ruins of a fort that existed long ago. All that remains here are a wall of stones and two circular stone wells. As it is located deep in the jungle, getting there involves crossing two knee-deep streams. 

For the adventurous, the hills of Amedikkel, Shingani Gudda and Udaya Parvatha offer many trekking options.

Getting there
All buses from Bangalore stop at a place called Kokkada 18 km before Dharmasthala. From there, you can board a bus to Shishila (16 km) at 7 am. Autorickshaws are also available. 

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