Tumkur - Shivanasamudra route: Winds of change are a little late in arriving here (2013 'Baasi Eid' drive - Part 1 of 2)

Driving on the Karnataka's roads has not been the same since the fruits of economic liberalisation turned into a windfall in early 2000s, from a trickle that they were in early 1990s. As the common man's disposable income increased, chiefly due to the IT, ITES, BPO & Bio-tech boom,  touching many middle-class homes particularly in the Capital Bangalore and major towns, foreign brands that one had to visit abroad to experience were now at one's door steps. The same was true to foreign brand cars that one had to visit abroad to drive but could now be bought in any major town.

As successive Governments made it a point to continue investing in roads big time, suddenly your favourite, remote wilderness in the western ghats which took 8 hours of tortuous drive could be reached in half the time which included a couple of stops at good restaurants having clean wash-rooms, a rare luxury in 1990s. As we race towards the end of 2013 we see greater affluence in the people around translating to more people owning cars and driving them to wilderness areas on long weekends. And, the pleasure of driving seems to be taking a back seat. Today highways are choked with passenger vehicles on long weekends. And during such days, it takes forever to cross the toll gates. And finally when you reach the popular destinations after tiring drives, you find them as crowded as your neighbourhood super market.

If you are thinking if this could be the end of the road for your perfect weekend getaway, thankfully you are wrong. There still are wilderness areas and drives through rural landscapes that are tucked away in isolation or which many times mainstream tourists find uninteresting - fortunately. I rediscovered one such drive during the just gone Eid-al-Fitr (Ramzan).

To see the full map click here

Monsoon precipitation this year has broken records. There have been daily reports of how the rains have been lashing Karnataka's coastal region as well as the hilly region of Malnad (Western Ghats). There are pictures published in the media almost on a daily basis of overflowing dams and brimming waterfalls. For example, it seems the crest gates of Linganamakki Dam have been opened to their maximum capacity for the first time since this dam impounded the waters of River Sharavathi in 1964. That has resulted in Jog Falls displaying its grandest show ever. But we were aware of our visit to Jog in August 2007, when huge crowds led to massive traffic jams and we narrowly missed being caught in them. Wanting to avoid a repeat, this time we took a journey to watch the overflowing Cauvery river instead.

old banyan tree, Hebbur, Kunigal, Tumkur, Tumakuru, Tumkur District, Tumakuru District, Karnataka, Old Mysore, Mysore state
The old banyan tree lined road on way from Hebbur to Kunigal is a sight to behold. 
Celebrating the Eid in time old traditions on 9 Aug 2013, we started off from Tumkur to Shivanasamudra the next day. Driving steadily along the Kollegal - Pavagada state highway no: 33 it felt my old acquaintances - the old growth banyan, peepal and jamun trees seemed happy to see me again just as I was on seeing them. I recollected memories of driving on this road in early 1980s when we used it to reach Mysore and in mid-1980s to reach Mandya where my paternal cousins lived for a brief while. Today though, I dread the day when these trees will be felled to widen this highway just like the hundreds of thousands of trees that I grew up seeing all across Karnataka which now have been chopped off to accommodate the ever-growing traffic. My infant son was fortunate to have himself photographed with my dad alongside the huge banyan trees just south of Hebbur town, whose roots droop down onto the road as if it to bless the passers-by. They remind us of the days when avenue trees were a part of travellers' lives under which they would seek shelter.

We crossed Kunigal town, whose famed wetland Kunigal dodda kere is part of Karnataka's folklore apart from the 'Kunigal stud farm', where the Mysore king Tipu Sultan bred his war horses. These horses were incorporated in the cavalry of the Mysore Kingdom's army and dreaded by the warlords of British East India Company. The Duke of Wellington apparently wrote that the Mysore Cavalry was "at that time the best fighting force in the world". Ironically, this cavalry of Tipu Sultan formed the core of British Mysore Lancers after his death on the battlefield in 1799. Under Tipu, Kunigal was also the site of the earliest organised silk farming in this part of the world (read about it here).

We found that most of the wetlands in the area were dry, reminding us of the inconsistency in the distribution of this year's monsoons. The wetlands in and around Kunigal town are a haven for waterbirds. As we drove away from Kunigal, the road condition forced us to drive slow. Never in my memory have I ever seen the road to Maddur town from Tumkur City through Huliyurdurga town in a good shape. What may have happened to the money invested on it in the past few decades is anybody's guess.

old banyan tree, Hebbur, Kunigal, Tumkur, Tumakuru, Tumkur District, Tumakuru District, Karnataka, Old Mysore, Mysore state, Huliyurdurga, Tipu, Tipoo, Tipu Sultan, Tippoo
A historically significant fort atop the Huliyurdurga hill is one of the major attractions of Huliyurdurga town
Huliyurdurga is another place of historical significance on this route. The town in Kannada literally translates to fort (durga) of tigers (huli). Until a few decades ago, the place was surrounded by dense forests that echoed with the roars of the tiger. Fragmented woods are found even today in the nearby Ujjini state forest. Apart from the beautiful, little Hindu temples that dot the picturesque landscape here, Huliyurdurga's main attraction is the fort atop the hill with its almost vertical cliffs. The fort was a part of the power struggle between the British East India Company and Mysore Kingdom under Tipu Sultan. It was one of the handful of landscapes to be captured on canvas in the British painter Captain Alexander Allan's 'Views in the Mysore Country'. During the hostilities of Third Anglo - Mysore War, the British supported by Marathas and the Hyderabad Nizam captured much of Mysore state's domain north of Bangalore and Srirangapatna until they reached the doors of Srirangapatna itself in May 1791. The forts of Huliyurduga and the nearby Hutridurga, both in Tumkur District, were among the last to fall to the British under Lord Cornwallis. Tipu's forces at Huliyurdurga surrendered to the combined armies of British and their Indian allies in June 1791. This was a few days after Bangalore was lost by Mysore Kingdom after a series of fierce battles with many losses on both the sides, notable among them being Colonel Moorhouse of British East India Company and Bahadur Khan, the qilledar (commandant) of the Bangalore fort on the Mysoreans' side.

The 1794 painting 'Hoolioor-droog' by Captain Alexander Allan (1764-1820)
Captain Allan, was part of the army that assaulted this fort. He wrote that the fort was "constructed on a small rock, but eminently strong, it has but one access, which is very steep, and so narrow as to admit one person at a time; in two places the rock is so abrupt that the path could not be continued, and here it can only be ascended by ladders."

For a few kilometres beyond Huliyurdurga the land is rocky after which the flowing water of Shimsha River, a tributary of Cauvery, has turned the land lush. To my relief I discovered that the much needed railway over-bridge is finally happening just as the SH 33 from Huliyurdurga joins the Bangalore - Mysore state highway, a couple of kilometres before Maddur town. We stopped at 'Adigas' a popular veg highway restaurant chain to have coffee and drove through Maddur town before again entering SH 33 to Kollegal.

old banyan tree, Maddur, Mandya District, Karnataka, Old Mysore, Mysore state
State Highway 33 connects Kollegal town in south to Pavagada town in north and
passes through Maddur town
On Eid, food is prepared in a good quantity keeping in mind the next day, known in this part of the world as 'Baasi Eid'. The well preserved food is packed and extended families travel outdoors particularly to places having 'mazaars' (mausoleums) of saints where they consume the food in groups in true festive spirit.
Shivanasamudra is a very popular destination for people to spend their 'Baasi Eid', with people travelling from surrounding settlements and some travelling from as far as Bangalore, Mandya and Mysore to spend the day. We could see streams of people driving towards Shivanasamudra including the regular tourists spending their long weekend to see the Cauvery river heavy on recent rains upstream drop down the gorges at Shivanasamudra as Gaganachukki and Barachukki falls.

old banyan tree, Mandya District, Shivanasamudra, Kaveri, Cauvery, Karnataka, Old Mysore, Mysore state
Relishing Eid biryani and other food cooked by mom in the outdoors on the way to Shivanasamudra
It was well past noon. A couple of kilometres before KM Doddi village we stopped by a road side avenue besides a channel of flowing Cauvery water to have our share of fun and eating outdoors. Ammi (mom) had packed some home cooked mutton biryani, fried chicken and kheema masala (minced meat) with rotis. For dessert we had dry sweet vermicilli or 'meethe sewaiyan' (pronounced 'meethe sev-yan').

old banyan tree, Mandya District, Shivanasamudra, Gaganachukki, Kaveri, Cauvery, Karnataka, Old Mysore, Mysore state
The decades' old cement road leading to Gaganachukki falls, Shivanasamudra in Mandya District
The Malvalli kere is a fresh wetland, on the outskirts of Malavalli town which is always covered with floating vegetation. The expansive lake covered with bloomed lotus and waterbirds like coot, jacana, moorhen etc swimming around them is a sight to behold. At Malvalli the road from Maddur (SH 33)  joins NH 209 which leads south to the famed forests of Satyamangalam and beyond to Coimbatore and Dindigul cities. We drove on it to reach Gaganachukki falls around 5pm. I refreshed my memories of a couple of family visits to the area in 1981-82. During one trip 'Abba' (dad) had taken us in the trolley, down to the gorge where Asia's first hydro electricity generating station is located. Much of the road then was of cement which is in a good condition even today. In fact, in early 80's the road from Bangalore to Bhadravathi near Shimoga was of cement and in a good condition even decades after its construction. The physical condition of the road was far better than many of the recently built roads. It was only in 1990s that the road got converted into a tarred one. But compared to the old road, it was in a bad shape until the National Highway authority took up the task of working on it. In fact a tarred stretch rebuilt on this road between Birur and Shimoga was notorious in 2007 - 2018 for being a back breaker - of vehicles and humans.

old banyan tree, Mandya District, Shivanasamudra, Kaveri, Cauvery, Gaganachukki, Karnataka, Old Mysore, Mysore state, Waterfalls, waterfall, Karnataka river, Karnataka waterfall
Gaganachukki falls of Cauvery river in all their glory at Shivanasamudra
Much of Ganaganchukki area is still the same except for the main road leading to it from Bangalore which has been upgraded into National Highway. In fact there is an old Mysore state/ British-era charm at Shivanasamudra, particularly the area around the power station with its British-era buildings, hundred year old trees, iron bridges and cement roads. Nothing much seems to have changed. There is also a mausoleum called 'Dargah Hazrath Mardaan e Ghaib', besides Gaganachukki falls which has been mute witness to the history of this place for centuries now.

Time seems to be still idling slowly in and around Shivanasamudra, particularly the drive to it from Tumkur, but the winds of change that have swept the nation seem to be waiting at its doorstep to take it along. Till then, the area is still a nature and history lover's delight.

So when are you planning to go there?

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