Monday, August 31, 2009

The Hills Are Alive.....

To the west of Kolar town is a barrier of rocks called “Shatha Shrunga Parvatha” or the mountain of hundred peaks. An interesting legend dating back to the Mahabharatha traces its origin. It is believed that the Pandavas lived in these hills and that Kunti was once chased by a lion while she was carrying her son Bhima. A panic stricken Kunti is said to have fled leaving Bhima on the hill which crumbled under his weight smearing the landscape with countless rocks.
Towering mosaics of precariously balancing boulders stand out against the backdrop of the blue sky. A well asphalted road snakes up the steep slopes. A flight of stairs etched in stone and small mantapas by the wayside are the first indications that these rocky hills are home to a hidden heritage. The terrain appears hostile but there are seven villages behind this fa├žade of stone. It doesn’t take too long for one to realize that these hills are blossoming with life. Kuppahalli, Terahalli, Shivagange, Paparajanahalli, Kenchegowdanahalli and Hosahalli are some hamlets nestled in the hills. I was pleasantly surprised to know that beans, toor, ragi, avarekayi (a pod), maize, greens and tomato are grown in the arable stretches of the rocky terrain.
Biking through bends and curves of the hills I reached Terahalli. Accompanied by the kids of the village I headed to the 13th century Dravidian style Gangadhareshwara temple. The temple which was built during the reign of the Gangas has an impressive gateway and is resplendent with many stone structures and intricate sculptures. One can see the carvings of saptamatrikas (a group of seven Hindu goddesses depicted together) at the entrance of the temple complex. While the pillared mukha mantapa is still intact, the kalyana mantapa is in ruins. I was told by the locals that the age old custom of an annual jathre (fair) at the temple still continues.
My next destination was a cultural organization called Adima in Shivagange. Adima promotes art and culture, specially focusing on revival of traditional forms of art. The concept was envisioned in the 1980’s when a group of about twenty five likeminded people decided to save one rupee each day for the cause. They did so for several years, meeting regularly to discuss their plans for setting up a cultural hub that would reach out to people from modest social and economic backgrounds.
Their dreams and ideas were moulded into reality when Adima was established on a small stretch of land purchased with the money that had accumulated over the years. Under the aegis of writer and lyricist Kotiganahalli Ramaiah, Adima is taking giant strides into the world of art and culture. In less than four years since its inception the premises of Adima has a library, a rehersal room, two dormitories and an office room. Locally available materials like creepers, bamboo, mud and used tiles have been extensively utilized in the constructions architected by Padmalaya Nagaraj, one of the pioneers of Adima who is a teacher by profession. Adima is ornate with beautiful murals and sculptures by John Devaraj, Gopala Kammar, Padmalaya Nagaraj and Venkatesh.
Hunnime Haadu, Chukki Mela and Gaddige Gaurava are some initiatives undertaken at Adima. In Kannada, “Hunnime” means full moon day and “Haadu” means song. On every full moon night, an ensemble of music, dance and drama unfolds in a natural setting under the star studded sky. Chukki Mela is an annual summer camp that aims to tap the creativity of young minds. Children are engaged in activities like clay modeling, painting, acting, dance and music. The activity camp which spans for over twenty days concludes with an exhibition on Buddha Poornima. Gaddige Gaurava is an initiative to recognize people who have excelled in various spheres of life. The reward is not a monetary benefit but a token of appreciation to boost the confidence of people whose accomplishments may otherwise go without being noticed.
There is concerted effort to revive traditions in all forms at Adima. They aspire to rekindle folk arts like dollu kunita, yakshagana, kamsale kunita, kolata and somana kunita. The food served is also traditional. The simple but healthy menu includes rice, sambar, chutney and ragi balls.
Ramaiah, the president of Adima has the support of locals, well wishers and volunteers who are standing hand in hand to reclaim space for tradition in this era of rapid globalization. The rocks and boulders of these hills resonate with the sound of music.

Quick Facts:

Getting there:
Kolar is connected by road and rail to Bangalore. There is a motorable road to reach the village of Shivagange. Shata Shrunga Parvata is on the outskirts of Kolar. Buses ply between Kolar and Shivagange. KSRTC has a special bus service from the Kolar Bus Stand to Shivagange and back for the people visiting Adima for Hunnime Haadu.

Other attractions:
Antharagange which has a beautiful temple and perennial water source is a popular tourist attraction.

This article was published in The Deccan Herald on the 1st of September 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

On a Jumbo Trail

The waters of the Tunga gleam as the sun rises to greater heights with every passing minute. Birds stoop trying to snatch an early morning catch from the gurgling river. The ringing of a bell breaks the silence of the surroundings. It heralds the arrival of the first elephant. Accompanied by their mahouts, 15 more elephants follow soon.
I was at the Sakrebayalu Elephant Camp which is home to sixteen elephants. Visitors to the camp can get a close look at the elephants and the enduring work of their dedicated mahouts. While some elephants born and bred at the camp, the others were sent there to curb their erratic behavior.
For most of the mahouts, the profession has been a family tradition. They have taken up this risky and challenging job after learning the ‘tricks of the trade’ from their ancestors.
A typical work day begins before the break of dawn and ends long after the sun sets. The routine does not change despite the scorching summer heat or the incessant monsoons. Each elephant is looked after by two mahouts who are on the job round the clock. The elephants are housed at the camp until midday after which they are left free in the forest. In the wee hours of the morning, the mahouts head out to the forest in search of their elephants. The dung, the trails of the elephants footprints, and the knowledge of their favourite spots in the forest provides clues for the mahouts to locate their elephants.
The entire operation involves walking for several kilometers in the rugged terrain each day, every day of the year. Among other things, the job demands physical fitness. Jalil, an experienced mahout narrated some of his experiences with the pachyderms. “Although we are Muslims, we don’t wear slippers because the elephant is a God of the Hindus”, he remarked, emphasizing the fact the mahouts walk bare foot in the forest. “We respect the elephant as our God too and pray to it every day”, he said referring to the custom where the elephant is taken to the house of the mahout and fed with freshly steamed rice every morning.

Between 8am and 9am every morning, the elephants are brought to the river for a wash. Once their thirst is satiated, the elephants lie down in the river ready for to be scrubbed and bathed by their respective mahouts. 11am is the time to treat the elephants with some goodies. They are initially fed with twigs and leaves, followed by hay bundled with a mixture of rice, chunks of coconut, jaggery and salt. A prescribed dose of vitamins and tonics are given for wellness. This is followed by a head massage with castor oil to keep their body cool in the hot summer months. It’s then time for another dip in the river to quench their thirst before they are taken back to their natural habitat. According to the mahouts, the elephants feast on the bamboo shoots growing abundantly in the neighbouring forest. The mahouts return home for lunch and then head back into the forest to oversee the activities of the elephants. The mahouts keep a stringent vigil on the elephants until nightfall to ensure that they do not wreck havoc in the neighbouring villages.
Each elephant has a specific schedule and is given an extensive training at the camp. In a unique language which is a concoction of Bengali and Urdu, the mahouts can make the elephants do a lot of things including greeting visitors, blessing them and walking with a bucket of water. The stunts like standing on two feet and hopping on three feet are astounding.
Elephants’ Day which is an initiative by the Wildlife Division of the Forest Department, is a unique annual event held in October. The elephants of the Sakrebayalu Camp are adorned with colourful embellishments and perform various feats. They vie with each other in races and play games of volleyball and football.
The verdant landscape of the Shimoga District makes it a popular tourist destination in Karnataka. It is resplendent with plush hills, picturesque valleys and splendid waterfalls. The Sakrebayalu Elephant Camp is one of the many attractions on offer to the visitors to Shimoga.
Set in a quaint village which is bereft of any commercialization, the camp is a refreshing change from usual tourist hotspots. The charming elephants, their friendly mahouts and the serene surroundings will make a visit to Sakrebayalu a memorable one.

Getting there:
If you are driving to Shimoga from Bangalore, drive along NH4 to towards Tumkur. Take the Tumkur bypass and follow SH 206 (Gubbi Road) to reach Shimoga via Tiptur and Arasikere.
Buses and trains ply between Shimoga and Bangalore. Sakrebayalu is about 12Kms from Shivamogga on the way to Tirthahalli. Auto rickshaws can be hired for a round trip from Shivamogga town.

Shimoga town has accommodation to suit all pockets. There are many hotels near the bus stand. Hotel Jewel Rock is one of the better known hotels. With clean rooms, a good vegetarian restaurant and ample parking space it is a good choice for simple accommodation. The room tariff ranges from Rs 600/- to Rs 1000/-.

Other attractions:
At the Sakrebayalu Elephant Camp visitors can get an elephant ride at Rs 75/- per person. A boat ride in the Tunga River can be a good way to spot the many winged visitors.
The Gajanur Dam which is at a distance of about 2Kms from the camp is another tourist attraction. The Tavarekoppa Lion and Tiger Safari and the Shivappa Nayaka Palace are places of interest in Shimoga. The Mandegadde Bird Sanctuary is at a distance of 15Kms from the camp. Jog Falls is the most popular tourist spot in the Shimoga District.

This article was published in The Hindu on the 9th of August 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dancing to Nature's Tunes

The sylvan Western Ghats, the vivacious Kali River and the undulating Arabian Sea are some of nature’s bountiful gifts to Karwar. “Karwar is certainly a fit place in which to realize that the beauty of nature is not a mirage of imagination, but reflects the joy of the infinite and thus draws us to lose ourselves into it”, said Rabindranath Tagore who was inspired by the blissful beauty of Karwar to pen the Bengali play Prakritir Pratishoota (Nature’s Revenge) .
Karwar was an important port for sea trade and has beckoned visitors for centuries. While the Arabs, Portuguese, French and Dutch frequented Karwar for trade, the present day tourists visit the place for its pristine beaches.
Karwar’s town beach, the Rabindranath Tagore Beach that is named after the great poet, emphasizes his bond with the town. The crescent shaped beach located in the heart of Karwar is popular haunt for locals and tourists. The district administration has made an effort to promote this beach in a bid to boost tourism. INS Chapal, a decommissioned missile boat of the Indian Navy is anchored on this beach. With torpedoes, shells and a missile on display, this is one of the three warship museums in India. Visitors can also take a joyride on a toy train that encircles the beach.The Mayura Musical Fountain which got a face-lift recently is another attraction for the visitors. The coordinated interplay of light, music and colours amidst jets of water creates a visual spectacle.
Devbag and Majali are two tranquil beaches in close proximity to Karwar. Devbag owes it’s popularly to a beach resort that has sprung up amidst a grove of Casurina (called “Gali Mara” in Kannada) trees. Located at the confluence of the River Kali and the Arabian Sea, Devbag is enveloped by water. Zebrafish, starfish, butterflyfish and bottlenose dolphins thrive in this habitat. The golden hue of the sand, the waves that toss and tumble against a backdrop of misty mountains and the refreshing azure colour of the water make Devbag’s landscape unique and spectacular. Dolphin sighting tours, snorkeling, parasailing, kayaking, banana boat rides and canoeing are some activities for the adventurous.
The Kali River flows into the Arabian Sea near Karwar. A bridge has been constructed over the river at the mouth of the sea. The drive across the bridge that links two land fragments Sadashivgad and Kodibag is spectacular. The Kali Bridge which is a part of NH17 (Mumbai-Cochin highway) is an icon of Karwar.
Sadashivgad is a small hillock on the outskirts of Karwar. Accordingly to historical records, Raja Basava Linga built the Sadashivgad Fort in the year 1715. The fort is said to have originally had 38 canons strategically positioned around it to shield the coast from invaders. Over the years, it changed hands several times and was under the control of the Portuguese and British. It is appalling that the fort has been destroyed and only a brick wall and a gateway remain today. A government guest house which has been converted to a resort has now taken the place of the fort. Few canons salvaged from destruction erected outside the Durga Devi Temple are reminiscent of the ancient fort. The Durga Devi Temple and the darga of Shah Karamuddin which are in same neighbourhood are important landmarks of Sadashivgad. The panoramic vistas of the bridge, the looming hills, the boat dotted estuary and surreal sunsets from the hill top are awe-inspiring.
Kurumgad, Maddlinggad, Devgad and Anjadeev are a few islands off the coast of Karwar. Kurumgad has a temple dedicated to Lord Narasimha. The five-storied lighthouse of Devgad (also known as Oyster Rock) was built by the British. Anjadeev Island which was ruled by the Portuguese until 1961 is currently off limits to the public as it is a part of the INS Kadamba (also called “Project Seabird”), an integrated strategic naval base of the Indian Navy.

The northern frontier of Karnataka’s enchanting coastline extends up to Karwar. It is the administrative headquarters of the Uttara Kannada district. Karwar has an eclectic mix of different landscapes, cultures, cuisines and climates. Fishery is the main industry of Karwar which is also famous for spices, cotton and muslin. Fish curry with rice is the staple food of the locals. Fisher folk belonging to the fishing communities like Ambig, Gabit and Kharvi have settled along the shore. Although Kannada is the state language, Konkani and Marathi are widely spoken in Karwar.
Karwar’s natural beauty is unsullied. Nature seems to have stroked its paint brush to splash colours of joy. Karwar is captivating and definitely worth a visit.

Quick Facts:

Getting there:

Dabolim in Goa is the nearest airport. Karwar is a two hour drive from Dabolim.
Karwar is connected by rail to Mumbai, Goa, Mangalore and Cochin through the Konkan Railway.
Overnight buses ply between Bangalore and Karwar which is at a distance of about 460 Kms.


Devbag Beach Resort:

This resort is run by Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR), a venture of the Government of Karnataka. Log huts, fisherman huts and cottages at the resort are well-equipped and comfortable. Delicious Indian food prepared in authentic Konkan style is served in a open-to-sides gazebo. The resort has an ayurvedic spa run by Kairali Ayurvedic Group
For more information visit the JLR website :

Estuary View Resort:

This resort is perched 1200 feet above the road on top of the hillock of Sadashivgad. From the resort one can see the vast expanse of the Arabian Sea, the estuary and the Kali River. The resort is a joint venture of JLR and The Kairali Group of Resorts, a private partner.
For more information visit their website:

The best time to visit Karwar is October through March.

This article was published in Deccan Herald on the 4th of August 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.