Ever wondered what it is like to cross a gushing stream , to jump into a natural jacuzzi, to dip your head in the cascading flow of waters and feel the rush of a waterfall splashing water all over your face ? If you have not experienced anything like that, then I suggest that you experience the natural energy of the River Kali . My story however starts from an obscure railway station.
“ Bhaiyya, do dena aur ek mirchi bhi.. Garam hai na?”
A couple of dogs watch us as we devour the vada pavs. The pavs are a bit cold , but soft .As we bite into them, the hot vadas and the spicy mirchis bring tears to our eyes.
Raju smiles as he throws a few crumbs to the dogs . He says he always finds it amusing to find “ sheherwale” going gaga over a simple dish like vada pav . We tell him that simplicity is often something that we dont find in our cities .
The Rani Chennamma express snakes its way out of the Londa station . The lone vada pav stall in the corner is probably the only sign of life in this otherwise quaint railway station. As for Raju, the day starts sometime as early as 6.30 am, an hour before our train lands.It is an important junction, he explains, for passengers going to Belgaum, Goa, Karwar or Hubli and Bangalore and he does brisk business .
I look around and take in the early morning sights of this “ important junction” that looks quite lost to civilisation. The station is very clean and quiet. Some people are sitting on the benches reading the papers. Others seem to catching up on local gossip. Very few seem to be waiting for trains .The dogs stretch and go to sleep. We leave as more passengers crowd around Raju’s stall.
Londa is not our destination, but a transit point.We are headed to the haunt of the River Kali which has its source in the Western Ghats and flows through lush greenery before emptying herself into the Arabian Sea . Besides Goa and Karwar , birding and wildlife enthusiasts travel to Ganeshkudi and Dandeli to spot rare species of fauna. This is also the home of the hornbill and we had booked ourselves in a private resort named after the bird itself
The open jeep lets the sun’s rays caress us as we cross more villages interuppted by stretches of forest lands. Ganeshkudi ,a place on every birdwatcher’s map is the closest point to our resort. A vast expanse of blue make us pause on our journey as the driver stops by at the Supa Dam built on the backwaters of the river Kali . We could camp here in the night if we liked, he said and the resort would make all the arrangements .We put it down in our agenda and reach our destination , just as a hornbill flies over our head inviting us.
Nestled on the banks of the River Kali is a small hamlet near Ganeshkudi where hardly 60 people live and two private resorts – Hornbill River Resort and Bison River Resort cater to the tourists here. The Jungle Lodges properties at Dandeli and Ganeshkudi is a stone’s throw away . This is a border town and you find a disaspora of people here from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa speaking a mishmash of all languages . The Marathi influence is unmistakable, right from the accent to the poha we ate .
“Would you like to go fishing or to the island ?” We gaze at the deep green Kali river almost flowing as a private pool in the backyard of the resort. A branch curves down and stretches forward to stroke the waters. A line of trees border the river on the other bank . A kingfisher scoops down as a few pond herons watch. The waters lull us for a moment and we are in no mood to take a quick decision .
A loud screech and we rush for the binoculars to see the hornbills atop the tree . “ Last January, we counted up to 70 at the same time,” says Umesh, the owner, offering to take us to the other bank by road. We cut through the vegetation and some fields and walk through the trees and see them all through the binoculars – malabar pied hornbills, indian grey hornbill and even a couple of great hornbills in flight.
“Are they all migratory birds ?” I ask, in complete ignorance.” No, for most species, this is home and they are resident birds” explains Umesh saying that the season to catch them will be between November to March. Today unfortunately the birds are preys to poachers who kill them for their long curved beaks and casques.
Time flows as we swim , fish and then row over to the island. “ A natural Jacuzzi,” read the itinerary . We trek through the uninhabited island , cross the river and climb rocks until we reach the spot. It did look like a natural Jacuzzi . Pools of water around rocks are formed as the river gushes with force and create a miniature waterfall . The force is overpowering as we feel the might of the river flowing over us. The currents are strong and we feel humbled and exhilarated at the same time. The adrenalin starts flowing again as we see a group of rafters cascading under the rapids and cutting through the water currents.
We plunge into the water too and allow ourselves to be carried away and purged by the river. We learn to manoeuvre and cut through the currents . The rapids take us by surprise as we see the river change her moods and colours .She takes us in her lap and then throws us to her depths and bring us back to land again.
We spend the remaining days going to the Dandeli forests and thereafter to Goa , where wilder shores beckon us . But the River Kali with her myriad moods remains fresh in our minds .