The unmetalled path is deserted, and the early morning sun casts dappled patterns on its surface. Between the thick trees, there’s a fleeting glimpse of water, too transient to provide any perspective. It is only after a series of bends and an incline that Honnemaradu, a vast body of intense blue water, shows itself fully.
Formed after the waters of the River Sharavathi were stoppered by the Linganamakki Dam in 1964, Honnemaradu—literally golden lake or a place of golden sand—is a reservoir that looks like a sheet of water, with only gentle ripples near the shore marring its stillness. The bank is full of sand-coloured pebbles that twinkle in the light. These, coupled with the fact that the water looks like molten gold at sunrise and sunset, could have given the lake its name. The other theory is that it got its name from the honne trees that abound here. Spread over an area of 350 square kilometres, the reservoir is filled all year round. It is ideal for a variety of water sports or long picnics. The lake is close to ancient temples and lush forests, which make for a multifaceted trip.
Honnemaradu is ideal for a host of water-based activities but visitors should know that the local villagers are eco-sensitive and have strict rules for visitors. They are known to turn away people who they feel are likely to be a nuisance. Liquor, smoking, and loud music are prohibited. At the moment, the Adventurers have exclusive permission to operate in the area and conduct activities for groups (94484 85508/94490 04748; about ₹3,000 per person for a two-day programme; fees depend on activities chosen). As part of the programme, visitors can swim, canoe, coracle, and camp out in tents. Facilities are extremely rudimentary and guests are advised to bring sleeping bags. The food is simple, wholesome, and vegetarian. Towards evening on the first day, visitors are ferried in coracles to Peacock Island(1 km/20-30 minutes) and can try their hand at rowing. Tents are pitched, firewood collected for campfires, and food (brought from the mainland) eaten. Singing, dancing, and even playing music is encouraged but without any electronic equipment. Guests return to the main camp the next morning for breakfast and can either laze on the banks or in the water, or choose from a range of trekking routes into the forest. Visitors who are not comfortable camping can choose to stay in Sagara (20 km) and do a day trip, but it is not as much fun. However, to travel to other destinations in the area, Sagara is the place to stay since Honnemaradu does not have any lodging options.
A towering granite structure, the Aghoreshwara temple at Ikkeri, six kilometres south of Sagara, sits on sprawling green lawns (open 6-11 a.m., 4-7 p.m.). Built by the Keladi Nayakas (who ruled between 1499 and 1763 over a region that included Shimoga and coastal Karnataka), the temple dedicated to Shiva is an amalgamation of Vijayanagar, Chalukya, Hoysala, and Deccan Sultanate styles. The squat structure has a lofty roof and ornamental doorways. The main entrance is flanked by two elephant sculptures.
As is typical of Shiva temples, a massive Nandi covered with intricately carved bells and flowers faces the entrance. Inside, the mukhamantapa (the portion in front of the sanctum sanctorum) is full of ornately carved pillars and doorways with figures of gods, goddesses and other motifs. The sanctum sanctorum (garbhagriha), has a giant lingam atop a pedestal carved with 32 Durga figures, each with six hands. The pedestal originally supported an idol of Aghoreshwara (a 32-handed Shiva in annihilation mode), but it was destroyed by the Adil Shahi kings of Bijapur in 1637. Only a portion of the feet of the original figure has survived and can be seen on the lawns of the temple.
More recent and more popular is the Sri Chowdeshwari temple in Sigandur, on an island on the River Sharavathi, said to have a 300-year history (35 km west of Sagara, 55 km from Honnemaradu; open 4.30-7 a.m., 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 4-7 p.m.). Buses ply from Sagara to the pier from where a ferry ride (₹2 per person; runs 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.) across the river and a shared jeep ride (₹25 per person) takes visitors to the squat temple with wooden walls. The devout believe the deity has the power to solve cases of thefts, settle land and property disputes, and make matrimonial matches. Amulets and tiny placards blessed by the deity are particularly sought after.
The Sharavathi river plunges over 830 feet at Jog Falls, the second-highest waterfall in India. The river splits dramatically into four jets—Raja, Rani, Rocket, and Roarer, so named because of the form the water takes as it crashes down—majestically, gracefully, like a projectile, and noisily (30 km west of Sagara; ₹5 per person/sliding scale for vehicles; 7 a.m. to 7.30 p.m.). An observation platform provides a spectacular view and on clear days it is possible to see the water splatter on the rocks hundreds of feet below. Steps lead from the platform to the base; it is an easy descent, though the going can get tricky if the stairs are wet.
The Tyavarekoppa Lion and Tiger Safari park is spread over 200 hectares. It has sprawling enclosures for tigers and lions, and a mini zoo that houses a variety of animals such as the sloth bear, deer, and leopard (60 km east of Sagara; open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Tuesdays; entry ₹20 for adults, ₹5 for children; safari in a mini bus ₹50 for adults, ₹25 for children).
A narrow road heading 8 kilometres south of Sagara, past hamlets and farms, leads to the tiny village of Heggodu, where a theatre revolution was launched more than half century ago. It was here that K.V. Subbanna (a dramatist and writer who died in 2005) started Ninasam (an acronym for Nilakanteshwara Natyaseva Sangha), a drama school that popularised the repertory movement. The village hosts a cultural camp called Samskritika Shibira every October. Attendance requires prior registration and paying fees, but the week-long menu of plays and musical performances in the evening is packed with people from nearby cities and villages (ninasam.org; 08183265646).
There is no private accommodation in Honnemaradu. However, there are small towns nearby that offer very basic accommodation and are within commuting distance.
Mayura Gerusoppa at Jog Falls (18 km west) is picturesquely located near the famous waterfalls, but it is a basic, government-run property. The service can be indifferent at times. Food is simple and wholesome; the South Indian thali (approx ₹50) is quite popular and filling (www.karnatakaholidays.net; doubles from ₹1,800).
Hotel Varadashree in Sagara (22 km to the east) has clean and large rooms. The hotel offers water views but its proximity to the marshy pond also means that visitors will face a mosquito problem. The restaurant on the ground floor is the only decent place for food in the area. Though it serves both South and North indian food, it’s best to stick to idlis, dosas and South Indian thali meals (08183228899; doubles from ₹600).
Shacks along the main road from Sagara to Jog Falls also serve food, but these might not be for everyone. Sticking to bottled water is a good idea.
Honnemaradu is located on the backwaters of the River Sharavathi in the Shimoga district of central Karnataka, close to the country’s western coast. It is about 390 km northwest of Bengaluru and 20 km from Sagara, the nearest big town.
Air The nearest airport is Mangalore (240 km) but Bengaluru (370 km) has better connections. You can take a taxi from either airport.
Rail Talaguppa (10 km) is the nearest railhead. A night train plies daily between Bengaluru and Talaguppa. Visitors can arrange to be picked up from the railway station.
Road Honnemaradu is about 370 km/7-8 hours from Bengaluru. There are plenty of buses to Sagara (20 km/30 minutes). If driving, take NH 206 out of Bengaluru. Reach Sagara via Tumkur, Arasikere, Kadur, Tarikere, and Shimoga. From Sagara, take the Jog Falls road past Talaguppa. About a kilometre after the railway station, turn left at a junction and follow the signs to reach Honnemaradu.
Once you reach Honnemaradu, there’s no need for a vehicle, but if you plan to stay in Sagara, then having a vehicle at your disposal is recommended. Taxis can also be hired for the day at Sagara.
There’s water in the reservoir around the year. Summer (February to May) is busiest, with temperatures averaging 30-34°C. Winter (November to January) tends to get cold, with night temperatures dropping below 10°C. Monsoon months (June to August) are lovely but activities might be suspended if the rains are too heavy.
Appeared in the June 2013 issue as “Lakeside Idyll”.
Sharavathi Valley is rich in wildlife. Photo: Phil Gould/Alamy/Indiapicture
A visit to the Sharavathi Valley Wildlife Sanctuary (7 km from Sagara) requires planning ahead of time. To enter the part of the sanctuary designated as a tourist zone, prior permission must be secured from the Shimoga Deputy Conservator of Forests. During the application, visitors need to provide details of the length of their visit, the number of people on the trip, and the camera and hiking equipment that will be used (08182-222983; ₹50 per person for entry; ₹75 per person for stay; sliding scale fee for camera and equipment). The sanctuary is home to panthers, sambar, tigers, jackals, sloth bears, Malabar giant squirrels, barking deer, giant flying squirrels, pangolin, and reptiles such as cobras, pythons, rat snakes, and crocodiles. The only accommodation option within the sanctuary is a guesthouse with basic facilities and food. There are no guides but forest rangers provide information on routes, and it is strongly suggested that trekkers stick to them.
Anita Rao Kashi
is a freelance travel and food writer based in Bengaluru.
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