Camping in the Ghats

I’m always charmed by the Western Ghats, the Sahyadri Mountain range that separates the sea coast from the south Indian plateau. 

Blame it on the eco-diversity of this area, the wildlife sightings, the enchanting valleys, the coffee plantations or the sprawling bungalows now waking up to tourism; a region tailor made for the typical traveller who loves to click and capture the ambience into digital bytes. 

I always loved Coorg and Nilgiri regions but never had been up north, rather north-west of Bangalore – to the Sharavathy valley.  So in this summer, when a friend suggested camping in this region, I was keen to explore. Going to the Ghats has the uplifting feeling and this time to an unexplored part was like the icing on the cake.

The region lies between Shimoga and North Kanara (Uttara Kannada) districts; Sagara or Sagar is the nearest town to the famous Jog water falls. Like the coffee plantations in the Coorg belt, this region is famous for its acacia plantations (betelnut). 

It’s a six hour journey from Bangalore to Sagar ; one can reach by an overnight bus or car. From here, our camping site was another half an hour away at Nandigodu; next to this is Heggodu which is home to the popular travelling theatre, Ninasam. 

We were to camp in the fields of Ganganna(Gangadharappa), a farmer who owns land in Nandigodu.Ganganna, like hundreds of other farmers, lost his land when the Linganamakki Dam was built. However, he has been quite resourceful and has shared his traditional home with tourists who use the facilities at this home and camp on his fields. Of course the monsoon is an added attraction for the travellers as the sowing season begins.

This eco escape is the brainchild of Nidhi Tiwari, an avid traveller and writer who wanted to give something back to the community she belonged to. She started a couple of eco tourism projects that promotes the ecology and culture of the local region. With a trained team picked from the local community, she aims at building awareness of the local communities and the travellers.

Ganganna’s home 

His century old home reminds one of old Mysorean and Manglorean style of housing with low tiled roofs and small wooden doors.

Sitting in his ancestral village home, one can observe a small flower garden, beyond which is open fields dry during the summer. Far beyond that are acres of green betelnut trees. Life is hard here but for an urban visitor, the greens and the fields paint a soothing contrast to the urban chaos of Indian cities.

Some customs were familiar; I could relate to the Ganganna’s mother collecting flowers from the garden for her daily puja. It reminded me of my paati (grandmother) who went through the same routine everyday albeit in our tiny urban home in the 80s. 

Activities

The main attraction of this place is the Sharavathy backwaters. A few kilometres from the camping site  is a huge water body. Our guide, Ganapathy, enlightened us that this is the Sharavathy backwaters released from the Dam. To our surprise the water is very sweet and warm.

We were given life jackets. “It can hold a hundred kilos” informed our guide. So with the jackets on we floated, swam, played all under the watchful eye of our guide. For a person who has never swum, I was able to manage thanks to Ganapathy. The feeling of being in water is that of elation; it was only during the return three hours later that our limbs started to ache.

The simple home cooked food that awaited us was simply delicious. Rice, chapathi, kosambari, palya rasam , sweets and the inevitable banana freshly cut from the trees in the nearby thotas were delicious from start  to finish. Needless to say that we did a full justice to it. 

Heritage

There are two historical towns in the vicinity of Sagar – Keladi & Ikkeri. Once a powerful kingdom that ruled the coastal & central Karnataka, it became a vassal to Mysore Kingdom during Hyder Ali’s reign. Today, these towns are famous for the centuries old temples built during the reign of Keladi chieftains. Keladi has a museum next to the temple that is home to many inscriptions and statues that were found around the region. An auto ride from Nandigodu to these towns can cost around Rs 300-400.

Nidhi’s team has other activities too – trekking, rope climbing, culture and heritage tours. However the main attraction of this place is certainly the backwaters.  With the monsoons coming up (June-July), it would be just the right time to travel up there. There is another camping site that’s much more remote & pristine. Maybe it’s time for a second visit.

(This post was originally written in May 2011 for my personal blog,  http://coffeenirvana.in/

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