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The New Year weekend had been a quiet affair at home, in the company of good friends, music and wine. But once the chaos of the holidays had settled, we decided it was time to open our travel calendar for the year, if only with a day trip out of Bengaluru.
We started off early on a Sunday morning. Three cars, 12 people, three cameras. After much deliberation and discussion, we set out for the Hogenakkal Falls on the Cauvery river.
After an easy drive through the smooth highways that wend their way through Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, punctuated with a dozen filter-coffee stops, we pulled up at Hogenakkal just after lunchtime. As soon as we walked out of the car park, we were accosted by dozens of boatmen offering to take us around.
Due to the splitting-now and merging-now nature of the Cauvery’s flow at this spot, Hogenakkal is not one huge waterfall but a series of smaller falls. And surprisingly, many of them still had ample water from the rains of the last monsoon.
The only way to actually get close to the falls is on coracles—small round boats capable of seating up to five people, including the boatman. Heavy bargaining later, we were sitting in these coracles, with promises of an unforgettable ride!
The coracles, known locally as parisal, are commonly used across the Cauvery, Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers. They look flimsy but are extremely robust and the bottom is covered with a layer of buffalo hide to keep it waterproof. The design of these boats has remained unchanged for centuries, the only modern variation being a layer of plastic that is added sometimes at the bottom to enhance sturdiness.
Our boatman took us close to the first of the falls, saying that in the dry summer months, it is possible to go further upstream. I closed my eyes to enjoy the feel of the mist and the water drops caressing my face. It is not for nothing that the place is called Hogenakkal—“smoking rocks” in Kannada: The Cauvery that winds through rocks in this placid valley between two states falls from a height of 150ft and the spray is so strong here that it feels more like smoke than mist.
Turning back about 15 minutes later, we began moving downstream. The coracle moved through the calm waters, away from the force of the main waterfalls, bounded by giant black granite rocks on either side. There was a lot of activity around the calm waters, sometimes leading to situations that resembled traffic jams on urban roads. Children as young as 9 or 10 ran nimbly to the top of the craggy cliffs on either side and dived into the waters at a signal from the boatman, all for a few rupees and photo-ops for tourists.
Commerce thrived merrily even in the middle of the water, with vendors selling packed snacks and cool drinks from their coracles—door delivery of a different kind. We passed tiny little caves at the edge of the water, the black stone glistening as a result of hundreds of years of combined exposure to the harsh sunshine and cold water.
At the very end of this patch of water was a placid stream where one could cool off in peace and isolation; the boatman left us there for an hour to swim. The water here is also said to have curative properties, perhaps due to the presence of minerals.
Back where we had first climbed on to the coracle, we scrambled up the watchtower close to the first falls—an easy climb of perhaps a couple of dozen steps—for a 360-degree panoramic view. This was easily the most picturesque spot in the area, especially the view on one side with the stream meandering towards the hills in the distance, bounded by black rocky walls on either side. Tens of coracles glided on it silently, as we had done just a couple of hours ago, looking like little dots from where we stood.
A mild drizzle started and ended abruptly, and then, as we turned to go, there it was, a grand rainbow across one of the waterfalls right in front of our eyes. Once we had feasted on the sight, we piled into our cars for the drive back home, feeling that this trip bode well for travels in the new year.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @charukesi.