So, I had an itinerary. I was going to attempt a traverse of an empty stretch on Google Maps, but that I was sure existed as dirt road on Google Earth and I was going to decide on the addition of an extra spur to Ganalu Falls when I had a better grip on the timing. My worst nightmare is to have to get back home in the dark! I ride with my GPS looped around my neck, essential for Bangalore city navigation, and also helpful once in the rural countryside to anticipate turn-offs. However, in my planning I also make a point of hand drawing a sketch of the route and major landmarks that don’t show up on the 3.5” screen, not to mention the two or, sometimes three different versions of a critical town or junction.
Okay, so I’d asked if Bheemeshwary Fishing Camp was this way or that way… and off we went... so much for the impromptu visit to Ganalu Falls. I didn’t mind giving the brother a ride to Bheemeshwary. He was very friendly. His English was poor, though I can’ t criticize on that level, as he knew probably three times the number of words I do in Kannada, which is to say about 30. I gave him the benefit of the doubt when it came to the whiskey on his breadth. No problem, only about 8km and at least I knew where I was going.
The Cauvery (Kaveri) River is a gorgeous sight. Even low as it is now after this seasons failed monsoon it’s an impressive stretch of water. The low-water exposed many exquisitely rounded granite boulders in the shapes that only forces of nature can contrive. The currents were evident on the surface in wide swaths, in this section it must be half a kilometer wide. My “friend” had already advised me “no swim”, and from reading Indian dailies I knew already how many are swept away. However, I’ve also seen in our apartment pool how excellent Indian swimmers generally are, not. It really looked like a great spot for a dip, and an even better one to drop a line into. The waters seemed to sway both up and down stream, deep eddies coursing so peacefully, yet the varied speed and volume of water belied a force that should not be challenged lightheartedly. There were some islands that just begged to be reached.
I had planned to stop often, take lots of pictures from vantages I would seek off the road, perhaps even find a spot I could have some take-out lunch at. That’s hard to do with a stranger as travelling companion. So, we moved on from Bheemeshwari, nothing doing at the government-run fishing camp there. Sensing he didn’t want to be dropped in the middle of nowhere at the fishing camp, I asked if he lived in Muthatti, “yes, yes, Muthatti “. In the mean time I thought I’d managed to establish (using my hand drawn map version) that my dirt road plan was indeed practicable and that it was passable from Muthatti to Sangam (can’t fault him there, it was passable).
We passed a temple and an obvious turn out for a view and access to the river. We walked to the bank together and I tried to intimate my intentions by lighting a beedie and sitting down to relax for a spell. I desperately wanted to communicate “no hurry, man, I’m here for the scenery, needless to say, he really wanted to move on. But, before we moved on I did insist we check out the local river-side temple, which was devoted to Lakshmi, or Parvati, or Krishna, or maybe in some way connected to Sita and Hanuman, it had two figures - a blue guy (Krishna?) and another wrestling (or maybe embracing) on the roof… Like I said, his vocabulary was limited as is my comprehension of the elaborate pantheon and the numerous forms by which various deities are referred to and take in Hindu religious practice. We removed our shoes rang the bells and received the blessing of the attendant priest who offered us his mantra, holy water, the smoke of lamp, flowers and a bindi. My friend made the additional gesture of procuring extra material to mark Gabrielle (that’s the bike’s name) with the sign of Shiva (I think). I felt blessed and I prayed that I would return home that night without accident.
Muthatti wasn’t as far as I had thought though I remember wishing we’d get there pronto. It’s kind of a pain riding double if you’re not prepared for it, my backpack uncomfortably perched in front of me, and my butt required a forward postion that sort of impinged on my nuts. After a $0.45 (20Rs.) plate of rice and broth with some lime pickle that we had to buy from across the street we headed on. Yes, my friend assured me the road continues to Sangam, no problem… “Right, right, jungle road”, he indicated as the pavement ended and a dirt track led into the bush paralleling the river. Okay, I figured, I did anticipate this from my Google research so I wasn’t too worried, though it was going to be a long 14km with a passenger and my mashed nuts over the cobbles and sandy wash-outs. He also had me thinking twice with warnings of “elephants and tigers and god be with us, very danger” comments, but what the heck, I was here for an adventure so figured to chance ‘em. I wasn’t sure if I hoped to see elephants or not, but we didn’t only lots of dung proving they are there. Wouldn’t want to walk down this road at night! We did come across maquaques, langurs, and scarlet kinfishers, though.
My hands were gripped so tight to negotiate the dirt road they both were numb by km 5. Then at km 12 we came to a closed gate. A sleepy and very unanimated forestry policeman was sitting there in the shade, politely but firmly insisting that we couldn’t go through and had to go back via Muthatti. This happened to be at a second fish camp (Galibore) only accessed from the opposite direction. A curious man dressed in khakis and a polo shirt came to see who the guard was talking to. Though I had already deduced our dilemma, I got some more info from him. He didn’t seem particularly sympathetic, one of the 5%, I think. He said that technically he thought we were trespassing by taking the jungle road and that people were only authorized on the pavement within the Forest reserve area. Our (my friend didn’t seem any more excited about risking the elephant trampling again, let alone the time) situation was quite typical given the usual Indian institutional functioning. Rules, for sure, I can handle that, but ones that are enforced onlyon one side of the route are a bit tedious and difficult to negotiate in good faith. Needless to say my friend turned to me and in a hushed voice said “give 50 Rs.” Well, here I was, no way I’d make Bangalore by nightfall if I had to turn around, and what the heck, a dollar. So be it, only I didn’t have change. Always carry change in India! So, the hundred Rupee note got this guard right off his feet and let us through, by this time I was glad for my companion as I’m not sure I would have had the guts to try the bribe on my own. He even started to argue with the guard for change until I told him to forget it “bah, bah” (“come, come”) I said, just waiting for the guard to change his mind and shut the gate again. So, we were off.
In Sangam I finally put my foot down and with as many apologies as I could lay out insisted I needed to “go fast and get home”. So I left my friend down by the river. I’m sure he got another ride, eventually.