Paddling with the Southern River Runners : Cauvery River

Cauvery Paddle (1)

On the day of arrival at Bangalore to paddle with kayakers from South India, the newspaper headlines clamoured, “Water crisis”. The bold letters in print stared at us while we sat and ate the sumptuous breakfast prepared in Naveen’s warm and hospitable home. i tried to fathom what 1.2 thousand million cubic feet of water was in volume while i washed my hands below a tap. As of the fifth morning of January,2013, Bangalore consumed that much water in a day. 8.5 million people, 741 square kilometers.
i wiped my hands dry.

Confronted with a scale too large to fully appreciate, my brain was quite happy to be distracted with loading gear and boats into the car. The full realisation of the irony of seemingly displaced paddlers looking for good water in a water scarce region would have to wait.

Cauvery Paddle (2)

We went through city snarls, dusty towns and to quiet villages. The cars loaded with boats looked out of place as we stopped for chai. We asked where we could throw the disposable cups and the lady of the village shop laughed and gestured towards the little trash heap by the side. “What to do with plastic?”

Cauvery Paddle (3)

The put-in was beautiful. There was a little temple to the left. The trees gave the river a wide berth for her seasons of higher flow while rocks shaped and molded by years of currents played no-mans-land between the two. Cattle were grazing while the sun dipped to inform us we had a little over an hour of light left. The water was warm and we could not resist doing laps on a rapid upstream. Nightfall enveloped us in starlit darkness and the routine familiarity of setting up camp and a fire gave us something to do. It stopped being dreamy soon enough though.
Apart from us, there were a group of auto rickshaw drivers, a herd of cattle and five lads on an overnight picnic. The auto drivers were boisterous, the cattle defecated on everything and the 5 left their fire and camp area in a mess of trash and smoldering fires while blaring loud “filmi” music into the wee hours. When asked to turn the music down, they started a brawl. Strange to think that the river that brought this motley congregation together was also witness to this minor debacle.

Cauvery Paddle (4)

The Eastern Ghat Elephant Reserve is split by the Cauvery River into the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu sides. Vibha, the most acute of naturalists among us, recognised birds while happily telling us their names – White Throated Kingfisher, Green Bee Eater, Red Wattled Lapwing, River Tern, Darter, Cormorant, Egret, Pond Heron, Stork, Rufuos Treepie, Drongo and so on. Manik was sure he saw some penguins but we’re sure he was mistaken. We didn’t see any tracks of larger mammals along the banks as we paddled. We did see croc tracks a few days old leading into the water. Naveen noticed a croc swimming under his boat as he was the paddler on point. I shifted nervously in my packraft – the only inflatable among hardshells. The natural barometers of water health were also present – shrimps and tadpoles. Fishermen along the banks and in their recognisable “coracles” caught different types of fish.

Cauvery Paddle (5)

A Coracle – Bamboo bowl lined with plastic sheeting and waterproofed with sun-dried bitumen. Using a single bladed wooden paddle, these boaters can track, spin, maneuver and accelerate their circular craft surprisingly deftly. Youtube has videos of coracle boaters spinning tourists till they’re giddy. Good on them.

Cauvery Paddle (6)

Vibha’s packrafting glee

Cauvery Paddle (7)

Naveen hopes to start a kayaking school with Manik

Cauvery Paddle (8)

Kiran is all smiles

Cauvery Paddle (9)

Manik – Mr. Helpful

Cauvery Paddle (10)

Cauvery Paddle (11)

So why do we paddle? Why do we drag our bodies and kilograms of gear through kilometers of assorted hassles to do this? Apart from shiny pictorial experiences, i’d like to think it slows down life from the fast lane to a speed more … for lack of a better word, human.Being on the water is like connecting that somehow lost umbilical cord. It’s primordial and it sounds lame when, like right now, a description is attempted by one who cannot put it in the right words. Andy Leemann says, “Water people, we immediately connect”. People come out in coracles to say hello, you wave to a fisherman on the bank and he smiles back, hand raised in open warmth, strangers from across the country paddle “blind date” together and trust each other straight off.

Cauvery Paddle (14)

The children begged the men to take them out on the coracle so they could get a closer look at our bright funny boats.
Vibha has a long chat with them.
The kids are excited to see the only girl among boys.

Cauvery Paddle (20)

The old man had lost a few of his cattle and has been searching for them for a long time.
He tells us of the various wild animals he knows are around.
Kiran and Naveen talk to him about the river and the area.

Cauvery Paddle (21)

Powdered rice, nuts and other goodies. Add hot or cold water. Soak. Eat.
A profound discovery for me. Expensive “adventure” food be hanged.

So there were no uber-rapids to paddle. There was more mind-numbing flat water than swift. The water was low as expected. We spoke about horrific tales of dams and massive water diversions. We survived a midnight brawl with techie townies. And we drove a long way to get here.
We also saw a really beautiful area in one of it’s seasons and at it’s own pace. We were, for the most part, alone. We all were great company to each other. We had a great time. I for one, am not unhappy.
Maybe this is what Cooper Lambla means in his theory of Downstream Movement.
Maybe this is why we paddle for paddling’s sake.
The good, the flat and the ugly (bad pun intended)

Short Youtube video on the paddle with the SRR in the link below.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDUKOOuRCTg

Links :
http://www.deccanherald.com/content/303088/severe-water-crisis-looms-large.html
http://melagiri.blogspot.in/2011/02/plastic-pollution-control-at-dabguli.html?m=1

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One comment

  1. Mike

    I paddled the whole river back in the 1990s and loved it, thanks for posting this article. The biggest rapids was the section down from the falls below Srirangnapatna to Hognekal all fairly straight forward and runnable, if my memory serves me right… good luck with the kayak school.

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