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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Kaveri Stretch: Bheemeshwari

It is the smallest of the major rivers in India, but waters of Kaveri (a.k.a Cauvery) have historically been the life blood for regions of the far South. The river, which is fabled to be an offspring of Brahma, has entire Hindu legends and mythologies based around it, and is venerated as a goddess. Some religious texts even deem it to be more sacred than the Ganga, and perhaps with a good reason. Kaveri, with its tributaries, has forever been the chief source of water in these parts. It has nurtured the Southern kingdoms since the Iron Age, seen their rise and fall and been an integral part of the culture and heritage here. Even today,  Kaveri river system is the prime source of fresh water for two of the country's biggest states, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and has been the cause of a major geopolitical conflict between the two states for over a century.

Bangalore, Karnataka's capital and the city where I currently reside, heavily depends on Kaveri for water and power. Living in Bangalore, one becomes fairly acquainted with the river and any issue or development related to it. But, the river itself passes a 100 kms away from the city, and I happened to first touch its banks on a road trip to Bheemeshwari.


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It was 15th of August and a day-off for most of us, and we decided to make the best use of it with a bike trip. Destination: Bheemeshwari, a small settlement at the banks of Kaveri, famous as a tourist spot for boat rides, rafting, trekking and especially fishing. In fact, there is a government sponsored fishing camp at Bheemeshwari where Mahseer sport is the USP. We chose this camp as our actual destination point.

A group of five people rode out on four bikes: a Bajaj Avenger, a Bajaj Pulsar -135 and two Yamaha FZs (one of which I was riding). We had breakfast in Koramangala, and started off. 


The entire ride was brilliant. The first stretch was the 10 km ride on the Bangalore Elevated Tollway (BETL) to Electronics City. The second stretch was a 14 km arc on NICE Road, which again is a wide segregated expressway, making a semi-circle around Bangalore. Needless to say, we covered both these stretches in very good time. We got off at the Kanakapura road (NH 209) exit from NICE Road on a 60 km long stretch. 

The Kanakapura road was narrower and had heavy traffic. But the road was well built and fun to ride on as we made fast cuts and curves through it. In the mean time, I was really starting to like my FZ. Although lacking power and speed, it more than made-up for that in balance and stability. Negotiating with the heavy traffic on it was a breeze. And apparently, its just impossible to make a mistake on it, unless you attempt something like a somersault that is. 

The other bikes weren't having such a great time though. The Avenger's engine stopped as soon as we landed on the NH. After a brain storming session we decided that looking for a mechanic would be the best way to go. We did actually find one a kilometer down the road who helped us stow the bike till his shop, where it got duly repaired (the problem was salt sedimentation in the circuitry).

By the way, Independence day celebrations were in full swing in the country side and were manifest in spirited colors.



We continued on the highway up till Sathanur, where we were supposed to take a left on a rural road. Here, I got separated from the rest of the pack due to a communication gap (others had decided to stop there for a break) and the total lack of phone signals. I simply continued on that rural road, through a hilly ride, all the way up till the banks of the river Kaveri.

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Chief rivers of India. Source: wikipedia.com
Kaveri is quite humble when compared to the greats in the North.  It is 770 km long and its basin is 81,000 sq. km in area. In contrast, Krishan's (it closest neighbor) respective numbers are 1,400 km and 250,000 sq. km, and those of the great Ganga are 2,500 km and 1 M sq. km. Moreover, it is a monsoon fed river, that means it doesn't have a constant source of replenishment like the Himalayan rivers. But, given its geographical isolation, this humble river has been shouldering and fulfilling the responsibility of feeding this entire region. Now when a resource is limited and the takers are many, it becomes precious and sacred, and sometimes even a cause of controversy and conflict. Which is the case with Kaveri.

The Kaveri river water dispute is one of the oldest and most famous conflicts in the country. If you are a Bangalore resident, it becomes all too real when you see political workers waving the state flag and enforcing a close-down of the city, all to voice their disagreement with whatever the courts have to say. The root of the conflict lies in the agreements which the British drafted long before India became independent.

At that time Karnataka used to be the Princely State of Mysore and Tamil Nadu used to be Madras Presidency. According the original agreements, Mysore would have to seek Madras' consent for any major Kaveri related projects that it undertook, and also make sure that the latter's interests are not injured. Mysore was never content with this agreement. From their perspective, Madras belonged to the British Raj, and that they were heavily favored in this deal. On the other hand, Madras being lower riparian state was concerned about its water supply and was always vociferous in its demands. So, whenever Mysore started a new project, Madras would strongly oppose it and Delhi would be called in to arbitrate, new plans would be drawn and new rules would be applied. But the two states never would and never have come to an actual agreement on this issue and above sequence became a historic cycle.

Today, a hundred years later; Mysore has become Karnataka, Madras has become Tamil Nadu and India is an independent country, but the dispute is yet to be resolved. Even after several Chief Ministers and Prime Ministers, committees and court hearings, demonstrations and riots, and even new players getting involved (Kerala and Pondicherry also claim a right on a portion of Kaveri waters), the two states are still running around in circles. Tamil Nadu cries 'thief' and Karnataka cries 'foul' and Delhi is called in to make peace.

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The simple and peaceful river bank at Bheemeshwari seemed far away from all this controversy.  Several families had gathered to have a picnic and just chill-out on their day off. I kept riding upstream along the bank in search for my long lost group. It was a 10 km river road with hills on one side and a torrential river on the other.


After waiting and riding around for some time, I finally rediscovered my people at the gates of the  fishing camp (IMPORTANT: You have to pre-book if you want to enter). We finally settled at an isolated spot down the road. It was right next to the river and had a welcome sign.


After a short break we started making our return journey via a slightly longer route. We stopped for lunch at Halaguru, where we had probably our best Kanadiga food experience ever. The restaurant was tiny, unassuming, almost invisible from the road and completely stuffed with people. But the service was prompt and friendly and the food was nothing like what you get in Bangalore.

After that, we continued our leisurely journey back home via the same road. We stopped a couple of times for tea later got drenched in the evening showers right after entering Bangalore. We reached Madiwala at dusk and concluded our day with an early dinner at an Arabic restaurant called Sea Shells. Before we all departed, plans for the next trip were already formulated, decided and committed. That weekend, we ended up at Kammenagundi near Chikmangalur . . . more on that in another post.
  
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I have visited Kaveri a few times since then and also researched about it for the purposes of this blog. What I realized is, the more I learned about it, the more curious I became and the deeper I dug in. But, there was always more and more to discover. The river has a story, a history and a mythology. It has gods and legends associated with it and, of course, deep sentiments of the people attached to it. And all this, somehow, is profoundly imbibed in the stories of India herself. It gives a fresh perspective, both holistic and atomic, about this great country of mine.

More on Kaveri in later posts . . .  
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