Cruising along the Sharavathi

TRAVEL

Cruising along the Sharavathi

 B V Prakash takes a boat ride along River Sharavathi and is fascinated by the picturesque landscape.

Azure sea, palm-fringed islands and boats...no, we are not talking about Kerala, but a slice of beauty in our own backyard. If you have ever dreamt of sailing along the backwater canals of an estuary, how about Honnavar in Uttara Kannada?

Honnavar is a small coastal town that lies on the way to Karwar. Travelling on the bridge across the wide stretch of the Sharavathi forces one to slow down and enjoy the view of a vast blue water body and its pristine islets.

For the discerning explorer though, there is much more to know. A drive to the river bank is a revelation. We realise that we can actually cruise across the river from the banks in Honnavar to visit the tiny islands that punctuate the vast blue river. As the winding roads from the town taper down to the river, we are treated to a sight of quaint rustic houses, tuck shops and a few churches along the way.

The primitive boat jetty has no tourists but for a few villagers who wait to get back to their homes in the island. As the Sharavathi flows on to join the Arabian sea, it broadens and branches out, forming a few islands in its course.

Some of the big islands like Mavinakurve have human habitation. But the tiny islets remain uninhabited. Instead of visiting Mavinakurve, we take a long winding cruise to explore the canals, islets and their verdure. Cruising along the river, we notice that the landscape changes. The picture of the village and the bridge begin to fade. Sailing upstream, the boatman and I cruise past a beautiful island with a green canopy, surrounded by the blue waters. Further up, we sail close to the banks, so as to observe the mangrove swamps.

Mangrove magic

As the river widens and meets the sea, back currents from the sea merge with fresh water and create an estuary. Brackish water of the estuary is ideal for mangrove forests that are found in pockets here. Mangroves are an interesting variety of flora with their unique characteristics. They are usually found along the coasts and estuaries and thrive in saline water. But exposed to varying levels of salinity in the water, temperature and humidity besides tidal waves, they need to adapt to the ecosystem in which they survive. Naturally the diversity of species is rather limited.

Nevertheless, the ecosystem of the mangroves supports a large variety of aquatic animals like prawns, oysters, clams and fishes apart from the minute zooplankton. The most important finding has been that the mangroves have a very high degree of absorption of carbon and act as a carbon sink by letting out more oxygen.

Also by holding back greenhouse gases and preventing their entry into the atmosphere, they counter the effects of global warming and play a significant role in climate change management.

Another advantage of mangroves is that they act as a barrier to tidal wave action and protect the banks from sea erosion. The sediment that gets deposited along the roots of trees and bushes create mangrove swamps, an organically rich habitat.

In recent times, there has been a sustained mangrove afforestation programme in these parts. Apart from mangroves, the banks of this estuary are also fringed with coconut trees. As we begin to sail through narrower canals under a canopy of green, we spot quite a few birds in the woods. We are able to watch herons, egrets and the brahminy kite.

The purple rumped sunbird and coucal that we manage to see are a bonus. The boatman switches off the engine so as not to disturb the birds and begins to sail with the help of a long oar. The quietness and lush greenery make the boat ride soothing for the eyes and rejuvenating for the mind.

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