Will it spring a surprise?

Will it spring a surprise?

The state is indeed endowed with abundant natural beauty. Apart from being blessed with hills, forests, beaches and river systems, it is home to another creation of nature, albeit not well-known — a hot spring.

In fact, Bendre Teertha is the only hot water spring in South India and is located off the main road, between Sulya and Puttur in Dakshina Kannada district. Though this hot spring can hardly be compared to the boiling and steaming hot sulphur springs that dot the Himalayan foothills, the lukewarm waters of Bendre Teertha do have traces of sulphur and as such are known to have curative properties. 

Bendre Teertha (in Tulu, Bendr means hot) is a rarity, given that the region where it is found is non-volcanic. It is probably geothermal energy emanated by the hot rocks underground that heats up the water table. The heated water has a lower density than normal water, and therefore, tends to spring out.

Also, being a better solvent than cool water, it takes in more of minerals, which is why the hot springs have been found to heal a variety of diseases, especially skin related problems.

Thus spake mythology...
The place has also been associated with a legend. Ages ago, this piece of fertile land was profuse with forests and streams. Mythology has it that the disciples of sage Kanva were looking for a suitable place to practise their rituals and stumbled upon this beautiful locale. They observed that here, tigers and cattle lived in perfect harmony and the population of cows was so high that the place was named Gopalakshetra.

The confluence of three streams — Chelyadka, Byladi and Bettampadi added to the religious significance. The disciples chose to live here and consecrated the temple of Vishnumurthy. People revered the place and the practice of bathing in the spring and paying obeisance at the temple was cultivated. The Teertha Amavasya day in first week of September is considered auspicious when newly married couples visit this place for a holy bath. Although ancient, the temple of Vishnumurthy is a very simple structure.
Sadly, in the course of time, Bendre Teertha seems to have lost its significance. With hardly any one visiting, the necessary revenue required to maintain it could not be generated.

The locals therefore decided to preserve and improve this natural wonder, forming the Bendre Teertha Trust and donating bits of land around it. According to D Subrahmanya Bhat, one of the trustees, a proposal was submitted to the government two years ago for an outlay Rs 25 lakh to develop the spot, which was agreed to. But, the plan remained on paper and the idea has gone into oblivion. Another issue is that there is no direct access to the temple from the spring. The temple trust, however, has plans to construct a footbridge to connect the structure with the spring and improve facilities for visitors and devotees alike.

Threat from agriculture
But, the real threat to this wonder is from farming. Over the years, the place has undergone a sea change. Dense forests have made way for arecanut plantations. The check dams on streams for irrigation have rendered them seasonal canals and more than anything else, the unabated digging of borewells around the area has the most adverse and direct effect on the hot spring. While the estimated depth of the origin of the hot spring is 85 ft, 18 borewells have been dug as deep as 100 ft in its vicinity.
Naturally, the warm waters instead of springing out are drawn to a lower water table. As a result, the spring has ceased to be one these days. All one can find here is a concrete tank with a shallow pool of murky water during summer. However, during the monsoon season, the water table gets replenished and springs back to life.  
Probably, the only solution to preserve this wonder is to stop drawing water through borewells. But, the solution is utopian in nature as lives of planters residing in the area depend largely on the use of borewells. Bhat suggests a solution — digging a borewell right into the spring to pull out spring water, which is a win-win situation. But is it ideal to use modern technology to revive a natural phenomenon? Whatever the case may be, the reality is that the only hot spring of Karnataka is now dying. Sustaining it is a mammoth task that lies ahead of us.

How to get there
Bendre Teertha can be reached from Puttur by private buses. Drive down from Sulya and seven kms before Puttur, take a deviation to the left. Drive down eight kilometres to reach Bendre Teertha.

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