Many moods & miles in Shivamogga

There are many splendid spots to check out in Shivamogga

Sharavathi backwaters

Several years ago, I was invited to a wedding ceremony on the banks of Tunga river in Thirthahalli (60 km from Shivamogga). It was a monsoon wedding; the river was swelling but not quite threatening to overflow. After a sumptuous mid-day meal, bidding farewell to the couple, I took off — with no particular destination in mind. The rain was not too bad; it was just drizzling.

During the next couple of days, I went across the place travelling on foot as well as public transport, stopping at unidentified villages, staying and eating at anonymous dwellings. Several popular destinations fell in my way. Mandagadde Bird Sanctuary (30 km from Thirthahalli), one of my first stops, was almost completely swamped and totally deserted. Disregarding the friendly advice from guys who tried to dissuade me from going further, I reached the so-called viewpoint only to find the whole place blanketed in dense fog. Save for the sound of flowing waters, habitation was deafeningly quiet.

The road ahead

By the time I reached Bhadra Dam, the skies had somewhat brightened up. A few tourists were trying (unsuccessfully) to get on to a coracle ride. I managed to cajole a friendly guard to allow me a quick walk along a section of the dam from where I could see the gushing waters. Next day, after a bumpy bus ride, I was in Agumbe (95 km from Shivamogga) which was completely wet and moist. Thick fog made the tall trees bear a ghostly look under the heavily overcast sky. Whistling cool winds kissed my cheek.

At the checkpoint, the forest guard was aghast to see the unshaven and ill-equipped traveller. Annoyed at first, he, later on, took pity and poured a cup of hot tea for me from his flask. When I insisted on wanting to see the sunset point, he gave an umbrella and showed me the way, not before warning me that a colourful sunset in the monsoon in Agumbe would be a joke; that the wet road would be very slippery; and that a snuggling snake shouldn’t come as a shock or surprise.

Enveloping fog in Agumbe
Enveloping fog in Agumbe

Reaching the spot, about a kilometre away from the checkpost, I found myself shrouded by a thick haze which threatened to wipe out any hint of visibility. I sat on a stone bench and a slow-moving car with its headlights on stopped thinking that I had lost my way. I politely waved the driver to carry on. In a matter of seconds, it started drizzling, followed by a heavy downpour. It took a herculean effort before I could somehow scramble back to the checkpost to return the umbrella to the forest guard, and greedily slurp on some more tea.

Next day, I was back in Bengaluru, weather-beaten but unscathed in spirit. The newspapers had an interesting weather report: on the day I made my trek in Agumbe ghat, the rain had been the heaviest in a decade or so!

Shivamogga has beckoned me many times after that visit. It has too many spots to cover in a single visit. I have seen the Jog Falls when it was full, and also when it was just a trickle. The Sharavathi backwaters would take one’s breath away, particularly during sunsets. Temples and historical forts dot many trekking and motorable tracks. Above all, it is a sheer delight to watch the tall, majestic palms and vibrant fields coming to life in monsoon; and to catch the sharecroppers sowing and harvesting on the green turfs.

Over time, one has also seen some improvements in travel and journeying. Roads have become better; connectivity between towns is not too much of a hassle. Homestays and lodges have sprung up, many of them offering eco-friendly rooms and cottages, and serving delicious local cuisines.

Away from the crowds

Regular tourist destinations, of course, tend to get crowded at times — for instance, Jog is choc-a-bloc in monsoon. So, Malnad is best enjoyed by avoiding those crowded spots. “Look for nooks and corners which are out of the normal circuit,” any professional trekker, biker or roadie will tell you. “Be a traveller, not a tourist. Even if you are going to tourist destinations, look for surrounding areas away from usual viewpoints and teeming packs. There are many little-explored corners and wilderness areas in Malnad, which is stunningly diverse and full of untouched spots.”

A nomadic woman in Sagara
A nomadic woman in Sagara

Rain or shine, a discerning tourist/traveller would not miss out on places like Mathoor, a quaint village famous for its residents who converse in the classical language of Sanskrit as part of their daily routine. In the culturally rich Heggodu (70 km from Shivamogga), you get to see the repertory theatre Ninasam, founded by 1991 Magsaysay award-winner K V Subbanna. You could also visit Charaka, a women’s multipurpose industrial co-operative society, promoted by theatre-person-turned-Gandhian, Prasanna. How can one miss Kuppalli (60 km from Shivamogga), the birthplace of Kuvempu? The Jnanpith award-winning poet’s childhood home has been converted into a beautiful museum, Kavimane. Kuppalli also has a superb rock formation where artist K T Shivaprasad’s mammoth installation, ‘Kavishaila’, in honour of the poet, stands firm. To tickle the trekker’s interests, Kudremukh and Kodachadri beckon with some of the most picturesque routes and trails.

Shivamogga offers many attractive locales for a casual and serious traveller, but environmentalists are concerned that the influx of tourists and an ineffectually planned ‘development’ agenda are beginning to do more harm than good.

There are, for instance, frequent reports of indiscriminate felling of trees to make/widen roads and highways. Co-ordination between the agencies involved in the promotion of tourism, wildlife protection, public works like roads and highways, and archaeology, is often found lacking.

Hopefully, the authorities will wake up before it is too late, and maintain Shivamogga’s pristine flora and fauna, while continuing to make efforts to attract tourists to its renowned as well as little-known destinations. 

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Many moods & miles in Shivamogga

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