The Kaveri (or Cauvery) has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. For peasants and the gentry, it is a source of life and livelihood, for pilgrims it is as sacred as the Ganges and for politicians, it is a pivot that might decide the fate of the next election.
For tourists and travelers though, the river can be a source of great inspiration. For it is born in a spring adjoining a temple, been a witness to kingdoms and civilizations of great importance through the ages, it’s waters irrigate the great rice bowl lands of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
A gently flowing river, I have often wondered what it might be, to trace the Kaveri from it’s origin to it’s end point – accompany all the places it journeys to and learn of the culture, the cuisine, the history and the stories that emerged as it’s present day narrative.
I have visited most of these places, but not while following the Kaveri. Sometimes, you must let your imagination precede your actions. So where do we start ?
Through exotic Coorg
Following the Kaveri means a road trip starting from the pious temple town of Talakaveri to neighboring Bhagmandala. Then, passing the famous arabica and robusta coffee estates of Coorg, blooming and fragrant in the right season, through the jungles and the elephant camp at Dubare, abutting Coorg and later, the vast farmlands and the touristy yet calming Tibetan settlements in Bylakuppe.
Through historic Mysore and Srirangapatna
Lesser known temple towns give way to the erstwhile capital of the kingdom of Mysore, famous for it’s sandalwood products, it’s silk sarees and the delicious, eponymous Mysore pak, made with pure ghee. This is also where the Krishnaraja Raja Sagara dam has held the Kaveri’s water for decades.
Onward to the historic island of Srirangapattna, the capital of Tipu Sultan’s kingdom, which was originally named after the Hindu god Sri Ranganatha, a deity that you will see plenty of, as does the Kaveri. Srirangapatna is the first of the sacred islands created by the Kaveri and hence, the Ranganathaswamy temple dedicated to the deity. Further on, immerse yourself in the cool waters of the Triveni sangam and witness the union at Tirumakudal Narasipura with the Kabini river bringing greetings from Kerala.
On the way, take a slight detour to the exquisitely carved Hoysala era temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu at Somanathapura. Do not forget to stop at Talakadu, the mysteriously cursed land that purportedly has quite a few temples buried in sand. A brief fall down Shivanasamudra, this is where you’ll see one of the first hydroelectric dams of India and also hyper-excited tourists making a day trip from the IT city of Bangalore. This is the second of the sacred islands created by the Kaveri.
Tamil Nadu greets the Kaveri
A short union with the Arkavathi later, prepare for a change in language as you enter Tamizh (the official language and the correct pronunciation where the z requires you to roll your tongue – ask the locals) – Nadu (land).
Hogenakkal falls created by the Kaveri, is a good place to visit only in the wee hours of the morning otherwise, you’ll witness the tourist crowds of Bangalore thronging the waters during the day.
Hereon, speed south across the land crossing the union with the Bhavani river, until you reach the agricultural and textile hub of Erode.
The great temples of Tamil Nadu
From Erode, it is a steady clip ride to the city of Tiruchirappalli, where the Kaveri forms it’s most famous sacred island we’ve seen so far – Srirangam. Srirangam is a massive temple town complex, one of the biggest in India and it is also dedicated to the same deity we’ve paid obeisance to earlier, Ranganatha.
From Tiruchirappali, the river splits into two – the Kollidam as it moves up North towards Chidambaram and finally meeting the bay of Bengal. Here, it is worth taking a detour to the grand temple of Gangai Konda Cholapuram.
The southern river, known as the Kaveri, passes along vast tracts of green paddy fields and moves closer to Thanjavur, site of yet another magnificent temple – the Brihadeeswara temple and pride of the Chola Empire. This temple, along with Gangaikonda Cholapuram and another temple up in Darasuram, forms the trinity of the ‘Great Living Chola temples‘ a UNESCO certified heritage site.
From here, the Kaveri flows languidly to meet the bay of Bengal a few kilometers south of the town of Karaikal.