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Cauvery Canoe Expedition - INDIANANGLER ->


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 Post subject: Cauvery Canoe Expedition
PostPosted: Fri May 18, 2007 12:24 am 
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Joined: Wed Feb 28, 2007 12:26 pm
Posts: 497
Hi guys :D

Had got this article 6 yrs ago from some search ,had taken the print & went thru this article ,really liked it ,
then tried to search for the link for but couldn't find it,

Luckily found the Link today when searching for something else & would like to share the article with u guys :D

It’s about two Adventurous UK Guys travelling from the Source (Talakavari) to mouth (Bay Of Bengal) of our Beloved Cauvary River,
after reading this made me wonder if there is any Indian who had done this ,

If not, why not make a team & do it :D , after all Its our River & this can use this expedition
to educate the people to preserve & conserve not just the Pristine Cauvery Environment but also its Fishes & wildlife, :D

It would help us anglers the most as we could find out more places which needs immediate attention & good spots to fish, & which I am sure is just waiting for us, :wink:

I am sure anyone with a Adventure Spirit would like the Narration of the Trip 8) 8)

Link for the Report ( http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~ig206/trip-report.html
Links for the Trip snaps ( http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~ig206/cauvery/ )

Last edited by viper on Fri May 18, 2007 12:47 am, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri May 18, 2007 12:35 am 
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Joined: Mon Jun 26, 2006 5:37 pm
Posts: 1954
Complete credit for the article below goes to Mike Norman.
Cauvery River Paddling

Part 1

I was stood in front of the Police Sub-Inspector's desk; to my right a number of prisoners looked out from the cells. Their hands grasped the vertical bars and their little faces were thrust into the gaps between the bars in the classical prisoner pose. This was obviously going to be the highlight of their day. I cast a brief smile in their direction. I reckoned I needed all the friends I could get, after all 'I could be joining you shortly', I thought.

I had been 'taken into custody' and Ian my partner in crime was now some miles away guarding our possessions. My camera was emptied of its contents, the Sub-Inspector had offered to develop the film. I thought that was most kind, (I never saw the film again). I was told by the officer that we couldn't continue our journey, we had to get permission. I was dumbstruck as my mind raced to counter the threat to our ambitions.

The journey that was now in the balance was one being undertaken by Ian and myself; canoeing the Cauvery River in southern India. My work from time to time in the southern Indian city of Bangalore had led me into contact with the Cauvery River. As a canoeist I was immediately impressed by the river and had decided on first acquaintance that I would at some time paddle the river from its source in the Western Ghats to the Bay of Bengal on the east coast of India, a distance of over 855 kilometres.

On investigation it soon became clear that there was little reliable information about the river and so over time I pieced together data gleaned from various sources and from my own exploratory visits to various sections of the river. In the end still with more questions than answers Ian and I decided that our ambitions couldn't be restrained any longer.

And so on one late afternoon in January Ian and I found ourselves at the head of the river, barely two kilometres from the source with my blue open canoe loaded up with all our possessions. The river was just 3m wide and 10cm deep at this point, barely enough water to float the canoe as a bemused group of locals waved as we set off into the sunset. It wasn't long before I was thrashing around in thorny trees and branches that were blocking the river and dripping blood everywhere from the scratches on my arms.

In the hour before sunset we managed 400m and camped sheepishly on the outskirts of the village.

Things couldn't get worse. But it did, that night we froze and shivered in our little tent each wrapped up in a single blanket. Down sleeping bags had been thrown out as unnecessary!

We cheered up next morning after a cup of tea and set off. The river was kinder to us now, there were none of those nasty scratchy bushes we had come across on first acquaintance with the river and which had taken their toll on my arms. The river was rarely more than 30cm deep but this was plenty for us. We paddled through lush vegetation between steep sided valleys cloaked with tropical vegetation and interspersed with coffee plantations. The coffee shade trees of teak, silver oak and rosewood covered with creeping peppers and cardamom towered over us at times. It was a magical experience and the tranquillity and beauty of our surroundings was overwhelming. The vegetation alongside the river was dense but from time to time human activity on the river was apparent. Local fishermen had constructed numerous elaborate fish traps that completely spanned the river. These comprised a low fence that stood about 20 to 30cm above the water made by driving stakes into the bed of the river and weaving split bamboo in and out of the posts down to the riverbed. In each fence there was a single gateway on the downstream side of which was inserted a conical wicker work basket which was about a metre long. On many of the traps a low archway of twigs and grasses had been constructed over the gate. This served no special purpose that we could see other than to add some architectural value to the whole construction. Many of the traps we saw, and there were many, had fallen into disuse and as a result it was easy to forge a way past by paddling over the fence at its lowest and weakest point. We were conscious not to leave them in any worse condition than we found them. Therefore when we found a working example we had to take care not to damage the fence or the gateway and its basket. On occasions we ended up standing in the water up to our waists and lifting the boat over the fence. Usually if there was no basket in place we could go through the gateway.

The bird life along the river was prolific, it made me glad that we had taken the trouble to pack a book on Indian birds. We were continually in the company of black capped kingfishers. There seemed to be relays of them, handing us on from one bird to the next as we passed down each section of the river. Other birds on the banks and above included bee eaters, racket tailed drongos, white wagtails and little cormorants. Wheeling around above were buzzards and the very beautiful brahminy kite. On one occasion we were surprised to see what we believed to be large black birds sitting in the branches of trees lining the banks. As we got nearer we realised that our birds were in fact a colony of fruit bats. They circled us in total silence like some primeval beasts. It was difficult for us to imagine but the wingspan of these creatures was up to one metre.

We were now in snake country and regularly saw them either in the water, in trees or on the bank. I was continually having to restrain Ian's enthusiasm for having a closer look. Apart from the obvious interest of local wildlife the paddling itself was excellent. There were numerous sections of easy white water, about grade 1 to 2 and rock garden sections where the stream would weave a complex pattern through a field of boulders. The water quality was excellent and we were absolutely entranced by our surroundings.

We were now increasingly coming across group of individuals who are making their living from the river. These were the 'sand getters of the Cauvery' as we called them. These characters spent their days in or under the water digging the sand from the river bed and loading it into what can only be described as enormous sheet steel woks. One or two men dressed only in their underpants or a loin cloth would work with each wok. The lucky ones would be standing in water up to their waists and could load their wok by just bending down and digging from the river bed. The less lucky ones stood in water up to their necks and had to dive to the bottom of the river with shovels and heave their load to the surface and then over the side of their wok. The sand was loaded first into the centre of the wok and then around the rim to form a continuous wall of sand. The wok was declared full when the water lapped within a few millimetres of the top edge. The whole thing looked precarious but in effect the sand piled around the circumference prevented the whole lot going to the bottom of the river. The fully loaded wok was would then be punted with a long pole or pulled on lines laid across the surface of the river to the bank where the sand was offloaded into waiting trucks or ox carts. The operation seemed to be fairly low key and we assumed that the sand, which appeared to be of good quality was used for building purposes in the locality. The guys performing these tasks certainly had a hard life but they were always happy to pass the time of day or give us a wave as we paddled by. Usually, their bosses, fat Indians in suits would see us from the bank and wave us over.

The river was now taking on a more mature feel. As we moved from the hill country into the plains the river was characterised by long sweeping bends, wooded sections and open banks, rice fields and banana plantations were now common. The locals were at all times friendly and waved to us as we passed by.

On the fifth day of our journey we entered a major discontinuity on the river, if you can call it that, the Krishnarajarsagar Reservoir, or KRS for short. The barrage was built in 1924 and was the first storage reservoir of its kind in India and was built primarily to harness the waters of the Cauvery for irrigation. Local fishermen were out and about in their coracles, fishing with nets and tending hand lines and could be seen as little black dots on the glassy water in every direction we looked. We would get a cheery wave from each one we passed and an enquiry regarding our destination. We thought 'the Bay of Bengal' would sound pretentious so we settled for Srirangapatnam a town about 15km downstream of the barrage. The mudflats along the sides of the reservoir were home to numerous wading and river birds, glossy ibis, egrets, herons, open billed storks, yellow billed storks, spoon bills, plovers and lots more. Cormorants perched on rocks near the banks with their wings outstretched to dry in the sunshine and observed our progress. Both Ian and I looked like refugees from the film Lawrence of Arabia. In Bangalore we had each purchased brightly patterned squares of material. We had found a new use and had them wound around our heads and draped them down our backs to provide protection from the sun. Therefore in this respect we must have been a strange spectacle to the locals on the banks and in their coracles who rarely, if ever, saw anyone boating on their water.

At long last the barrage came into view. At first it was a thick black line on the horizon but slowly, slowly as we got nearer features became apparent on the wall itself. I knew that our problems were only just about to begin as the situation with regard to the dam itself has always been sensitive. There have been several threats both imaginary and real by various anti-social elements groups including the Tamil Tigers to blow it up. At the time of our journey Pakistan and India were sparring over Kashmir with each pushing the other further and further towards the brink of war. Also the 11 September business was making everyone jumpy and so didn't help to make our predicament any better. Anyway, we had decided for better or for worse, probably the latter, that a direct approach to the wall was to be our course of action.

No one appeared as we tied up to a stone pillar at the side of the steps. 'I'll go and see who's about' I said to Ian. I mounted the steps and looked around, still no one, so I walked over to the gatehouse that guarded the entrance to the barrage wall. It was still quite early and a policeman and one of the barrage workers were sat cross-legged on the floor behind the counter tucking into their breakfast. They looked up as a result of my intrusion. This I thought was going to be the difficult bit. 'Good morning' I said trying to be positive and smiled. 'A friend and I are boating down the Cauvery River and we would like to take our boat out at your steps.' Silence. I regained their attention and said 'Would you like to come with me and have a look', they nodded in agreement and I led the way back to the water.

The policeman and the workers stood and stared, the total lack of expression on their faces gave the game away. They didn't know what on earth to make of us or to do with us. Should they lock us up or shake our hands? It was patently obvious that they were not used to receiving waterborne visitors, no one else had dared to be so bold! We smiled and tried to appear harmless. We had to do something, we couldn't stand looking at each other much longer, ' Is it OK if we unload our boat please?' I said. They stared back. I looked at Ian and he looked at me and shrugged. 'Well they didn't say no', he said. 'That's true, maybe we'll just unload then', I replied. So we did.

We carried all our gear past the silent crowd and placed it by a flowerbed near the top of the steps. We hauled the boat out and struggled up the steps. They still stood there not offering to help, muttering amongst themselves and eyeing us suspiciously. Officialdom would have to decide our fate and at that moment in time the jury was still out.

Just when we were wondering what was going to happen next Goldie appeared. He was a friendly looking dog with a big wet nose and a tail that didn't stop wagging. 'Well at least someone likes us', I thought as he muzzled up to us. Then the penny dropped, we realised what Goldie was, as he began to give us both a good sniffing. Goldie was the bomb dog, probably trained to sniff out Semtex or some other explosives used to blow dams apart. Soon all our gear was strewn over the floor as Goldie gave it the once over. Not surprisingly we were given a clean bill of health. In fact the nearest thing we had to explosives were some green chillies left over after yesterday's curry.

I turned to Ian and suggested that we make a move to get the gear outside the compound. We started to do so and thank goodness no one insisted that we stop. The barrage workers were still standing around expressionless, waiting for someone to give them a lead as to how to react whilst the policeman was having an involved conversation on his two way radio. The outcome was not hard to predict. So there I was standing in front of the police sub inspector staring failure in the face. 'Permission?'. I said 'Yes, permission', he replied. 'Where from?' I enquired. 'Bangalore', he replied. I sighed and stared at the prisoners in their cage across the way. My mind was racing as I thought 'What now?'

Part 2

In the first part of this story our hapless duo were staring failure in the face. I had been 'taken into custody' for questioning. It wasn't looking good. 'You are not allowed to paddle on the reservoir without permission', the officer stated. The fact that we no longer wished to paddle on his reservoir didn't seem to come into it. Any permission we could obtain would effectively be retrospective.

In order to lighten the mood and to find a way around his defences we talked about families, cricket (always a winner on the subcontinent), my job, you name it everything except the weather. I was running out of tacks and he was holding his ground. It was incredible how low anyone can sink in order to get what they want but I was virtually licking the guy's boots before he conceded that we could stay the night in the vicinity and then maybe we could proceed the next day along the river. I never really registered the 'maybe', and was out of his office as quickly as politeness would allow.

Relieved, I returned Ian and we made our plans to continue. The next major obstacle on the river was to be the Cauvery Falls. Here the river splits around an island and falls sheer for 80m onto the plains below. This spectacular feature was still about three to four paddling days away but we had arranged to be met there by contacts of Ashok, a friend of ours in Bangalore.

As we progressed further downstream the river grew in stature. It was up to 50m across, the surrounding countryside was flat but with numerous distant granite massifs that are typical of this area of the Deccan Plateau. The vegetation along the riverside was lush and frequently gave the impression that we were paddling through dense jungle. Straight open sections of river were interspersed with sections where the water swirled around numerous islands each containing a microcosm of the vegetation that inhabited the banks. We imaged crocodiles on every sandbank and behind every island, snakes dripping from trees and landing in the boat to consume us and elephant coming down to the water's edge, but there were none that we saw. There were long sections of grade 1/2 white water. Not difficult but requiring continuous concentration and co-ordination between Ian and myself to avoid being banged up against rocks.

At last we arrived upstream of the Cauvery Falls. The rendezvous with Ashok's contacts worked well and we were transported by jeep to a point about two kilometres downstream. The falls themselves are spectacular and a detour was made to a bluff which overlooks the main waterfall so that we could stare in awe. Our descent with the boat to the river bed was steep and rocky. We were now in the forest reserve, the remotest section of the river. The forest here forms part of the largest area of unbroken forest in the whole of the Indian subcontinent. The river was in its natural state here, not interfered with by man and flowing freely through silent countryside characterised by jagged peaks, deep valleys and dense mostly dry deciduous bush. The forests are populated by teak, sandal, mathi, honne, lantana and stands of bamboo and in order to preserve them the state government closely controls the cutting of timber. The forest is home to a rich mix of wildlife. Typical of the area are spotted deer, samhbar, elephant, wild boar, sloth bear and primates such as the langur and tiger. Bird life, as we had come to expect now, was prolific. In the river there can be found the mighty mahseer, which attracts fishermen from all over the world to this river and more excitingly for us, the crocodile.

Human settlements on the river are few and far between and sparsely populated. Shepherds inhabit the banks of the river and lead a nomadic lifestyle herding their meagre flocks of cattle, sheep and goats along the river in search of grazing.

Other persons not so benign also inhabit these parts. One such character was Koose Veerappan, the forest brigand. Veerappan as he is known to everyone throughout South India inhabits these forests along with his henchmen and has been a thorn in the side of the authorities for many years. Veerappan is a charismatic character and in the early years his following grew rapidly. Many of his fellow villagers joined his band during the 1970s encouraged by the inability of the authorities to control him. Many other villagers acted as messengers and provisioners for the gang. Veerappan was eventually, by virtue of his money, influence and ability to cock a snoop at the law, elevated to the status of a demi-god amongst the villagers. Here was a man who could lift them out of the work a day drudgery, who could fill their pockets with money and their families' mouths with food. He was a modern day Robin Hood, a champion of the common man and to this day he is viewed by many people as a likeable rogue, a rough diamond. However, this is only half the story, there is a darker side. It is a brave man who dares to cross Veerappan. He is reputed to be brutal and merciless with anyone he suspects of being an informant, rival or police officer unfortunate enough to fall into his clutches. Stories abound of the cold blooded nature of his revenge. In one particularly gory incident he invited five members of a rival smuggling gang to a party, ostensibly to make up their differences. After getting them drunk and off guard he proceeded to gun them down in cold blood. Not being content with that he is reported to have gone into a rage and cut their bodies up into little pieces, paraded their remains around the village in a bullock cart, as a warning in case anyone else might get any ideas and then fed them to the fishes. Nice guy!

We stayed at a fishing camp on the river before making our way downstream. The river was now a much more serious undertaking. The forest reserve section totalled about 120 kilometres. The grade of water encompasses the range from grade 1 to grade 5. We had to bear in mind the precariousness of our situation. Our canoe was not a specialist whitewater boat. We were loaded and hence vulnerable. A pinning could have spelt the end of the boat and us. We were cautious and portaged and lined many rapids. A gorge section in the region of Mekadatu (translates as Goat's Leap) necessitated a high level portage for a number of kilometres. Here the river was forced through a gap 15m wide and falls about 10m and then swirls and tumbles over falls in a narrow gorge. Yes, we were cautious but still managed one swamping, a minor pinning incident and a full blown capsize. In truth we were never in real danger of losing the boat but the river was making us work. In order to avoid the possibilities of a pinning in the numerous rock gardens we would line and swim the boat down rapids or portage. During one of the portages Ian slipped and sprained his ankle. Soon he was unable to stand and had to use a paddle as a crutch in order to move around. We camped that evening and two fishermen who we met at the water's edge helped to carry Ian to our tent. There was a tradition of massage in the area and so it wasn't long before these two guys set about Ian's ankle with cooking oil. Ian was in agony but stuck it out. Two hours after this treatment he could put weight on his foot. The next morning he could hobble around, within a day it was a case of sprain, what sprain.

Our progress through the reserve was steady and eventful. We were mindful of the riverine wildlife and kept a close eye out. Otters were around but they were elusive, the crocodile would show itself momentarily as it slipped effortlessly into the water on our approach. Long and green and ever so silent. Our fishermen/masseurs stayed with us on the banks of the river for one evening. On settling in for the night they declared suddenly 'the elephants are coming', 'we have to move'. We bowed to their judgement and paddled downstream in the dark under their guidance following their coracle to a shepherd's campsite where we spent the night behind their thorn boma safe and sound from the marauding elephants.

Our shepherding hosts had refused to sleep and had spent the night pacing around checking the defences, stoking their wood fires and listening to music on their transistor radio. After a sleepless night we were pleased to move on. We said our goodbyes to our masseurs and pressed on downstream.

Today we were to pass the town of Hoggenakal. Civilisation again and an opportunity to restock the larder. Here the river tumbles spectacularly for the last time onto the plains. After the solitude of the reserve, the noise and questioning of the tourists that flock to this spot was a stark contrast. We moved on without too much delay and into yet another phase of our river.

The track of the river swung from side to side within the channel. Failure to follow the flow resulted in a beaching on the numerous shoals and sandbanks. The confines of the reserve were now replaced slowly with open views to distant hills. Agriculture had returned again and we were greeted by farmers from the bank or families making their way across the river either by coracle or where possible by wading. We camped at Gopinath. Unknown to us at the time, the birth place of Veerappan. It seemed inconceivable to us that someone so in tune with the forest was not aware of our presence by now on the river. In addition, and unknown to us, the Special Task Force, charged with bringing him to book were also aware of our presence and had stormed fully armed into the fishing camp at Mekadatu just after we had left demanding to know who we were. Ignorance was bliss, for them and for us.

The next obstacle to our progress was the barrage at Mettur that impounds the Stanley Reservoir. After, our experience at the KRS we had no wish to repeat that performance and paddled into a bay just out of sight of the barrage. We struggled to pull the boat out of the water to a point where we could camp for the night. We had been on the river now for 16 days and had covered 430 kilometres, just halfway. We reckoned that the most difficult water was behind us but what troubled us now was whether we would have enough water to continue paddling. The Cauvery River is located in one of the most populous countries on earth yet it is as if it does not exist. No one person can tell you about the river, there is no guide book. Reports that I had read gave the impression that irrigation took a terrible toll on the waters and that downstream the river died a death from a thousand cuts. Even our maps showed the Cauvery as a dry river bed in the lower regions. We were now going to find out for ourselves and we could only hope for the best. During the planning we identified this potential problem and accepted the risk. If we were now to be prevented from completing our journey we would still have had the pleasure and satisfaction of completing hundreds of kilometres of first class river paddling.

Our next problem was how to circumnavigate the barrage without attracting attention from the authorities. Try to arrange anything in India beforehand and you are sure to fail, take the attitude that 'something will turn up' was sure to guarantee success. Therefore with this as our mantra we left our loaded boat on the shore and set off into town confident that something would indeed 'turn up'. And so it was that after a couple of false starts we came across Raj plus truck and friends. In discussions Raj soon spotted a flaw in our logic and revealed to us that there wasn't just one barrage but a further four. We were astonished and somewhat disbelieving initially. We looked at our map and scratched our heads. 'Where are they?' 'I can't see any barrages. Then the penny dropped as we looked at the last surveyed date, '1952.' The four barrages were in fact spaced down the river at five kilometre intervals. We accepted defeat on that score and arranged with Raj to pick us up at the lakeside in the morning and take us to a point after the last barrage.

Pleased with our early evening's work we stayed on in town to celebrate with a meal and a bottle of beer. Our faith in the honesty of the locals was later confirmed as we returned well after dark to find our canoe and possessions as we had left them.

Part 3

The next day dawned and true to his word Raj appeared in his brightly coloured 15 tonner along with his entourage. The boat plus gear was loaded into the back of the truck and we set off with Ian and I sat in the cab along with Raj at the front. On passing each of the barrages Raj would reel off a load of facts and figures just like some tour guide. Each time he would stop at the gates of the compound grinning like a Cheshire cat and ask if we wanted to take a picture. 'Definitely not', we had had our fill of the authorities and had no inclination to get involved with the men in khaki again. At last the last barrage was passed and we found ourselves back on the river just upstream of the town of Bhavani.

The river was about 150/200m wide here and flowing at a good pace, we were on a conveyor belt called the Cauvery River. Rather than finding ourselves on a gentle stream we were storming along through continuous grade 1 rapids. Great swirling eddies would catch us out from time to time and throw us from our intended line. The banks were lined with numerous small irrigation pumping stations interspersed between tall pampas type grasses, coconut palms and banana plantations. We made good progress and soon covered the 15 or so kilometres to the town of Erode. Erode was a riot of colour. It was a textile centre and a substantial part of the workforce lined the banks either washing, dyeing or drying cloth of every colour and type you could imagine. Coracles loaded with these wares were being moved over to islands in the river to increase the water frontage and men and women stood on the banks or up to their waists in water staring at us incredulously. Goodness knows what chemicals were going into the water from the various processes they were undertaking. The current took us swiftly past with the greetings of the workers ringing in our ears.

We were now about three days' paddling from Tiruchchirappalli or Trichy for short. Trichy, apart from being the biggest town we were to come across, is famous for the temple complex in Trichy itself and in the adjacent Srirangam. In addition Trichy marks the start of the Cauvery River Delta and the start of the great unknown. Whether we would have any water beyond Trichy was the subject of much conjecture. But no one, not even the locals had a clue what happened downstream.

We reckoned now that we had had the last of the whitewater but the river was still motoring along. The river had widened out to over a kilometre now and there were numerous grassy islands and channels. The surrounding landscape was totally flat punctuated by the odd distant isolated hill. Our concerns about river quality on the lower river, that we had harboured from the initial planning stages, were unfounded with water quality appearing to be in the range good to excellent, with occasional black spots in some of the larger towns. However, sanitation in most of rural India was basic and there was a tendency for individuals to relieve themselves by the side of the river. I never did get used to the locals mooning at us from the banks whilst grinning and waving their greetings.

The sand getters are still in evidence on the lower river. This time they have taken a more mechanised approach. The poor soles out in the river still have a hard time up to their necks in water digging the sand from the bottom of the river and placing it onto the woks but on the banks bullock carts and manual labour has been replaced with diggers and trucks.

Our progress to Trichy proved more difficult than we had imagined. The stream meandered from one side of the river to the other. Failure to locate the change in direction inevitably led to a beaching and a burst of expletives aimed jointly at the river and the 'unfortunate' steering in the rear of the canoe. Invariably this was me, leading to the obvious riposte 'Well if you can do any better, etc, etc.' The state of the river didn't do our confidence any good at all as the conditions only made us more convinced that we were going eventually to run out of water. This wasn't helped when my paddle, which had been making ominous creaking noises for days, broke into two. Luckily we were near to a suitable campsite. We didn't carry a spare and so I effected a repair by stuffing the ends into a short length of bamboo and securing the lot with lashings of the canoeist's friend, duck tape.

A couple of hours' paddling the following day saw us on the outskirts of Trichy. We had had the impressive gopurams of the temple complexes of Srirangam, in our vision river left for over an hour but now the Rock Fort Temple in Trichy itself to our right dominated the landscape. Trichy is a busy cosmopolitan industrial and commercial centre with a population of just under a million. We had promised ourselves a rest day to look at the sights. However we had no clue where to stay or what we could do with the boat. We paddled on apprehensively and stopped at some public steps upstream of the main town bridge that linked Trichy to Srirangam. Leaving Ian to guard the boat I mounted the steps under the suspicious gaze of a few locals and disappeared into a complex of back streets. The old mantra 'something will turn up' was foremost in my mind as I wondered aimlessly along streets lined with simple brick and concrete houses looking for inspiration. Then bingo! I was approached by a couple of locals. They looked friendly and spoke passable English. Even though Trichy is on the tourist route they had never ever seen a foreigner in their little back street before. Well the next few minutes were unbelievable as we were welcomed like kings into his simple house on the waterfront. The boat and contents were hoisted up the steps and placed into safe storage and we were ensconced in front of a TV to watch England play India in Delhi on cable TV whilst a runner was despatched to the local restaurant for take-away breakfast. Magic! Our saviours were Selva, he ran a chai (tea) kiosk and his brother Ravi was the local milkman. We sat in Selva's only room as his honoured guests whilst all the locals came around to meet us and say hi. We were invited to stay the night, which we very glad to accept and it was arranged that Selva's mother would cook us all an evening meal. Things were going from good to better.

The rest of the day was spent getting the paddle repaired, shopping for supplies and sightseeing.

The next day was overcast with rain in the air. I went into town early to buy presents for Selva's family whilst Ian gave everyone rides in the canoe until it was time to go. We packed our gear back into the boat, took the obligatory photographs and set off in the rain that was now pouring down, with the whole neighbourhood waving goodbye to us. We were sad to leave our friends but we were anxious to get moving again. Today was going to be particularly significant. Fifteen kilometres downstream lay Kallanai. This was a major headworks. Here the river was split artificially into four streams, the Coleroon, the Cauvery, the Vennar river and the Grand Canal. The Coleroon was, we believed, a relief channel used to accommodate surplus flow during the monsoon. The Grand Canal was constructed over a hundred years ago and is a major river offtake and is purely for irrigation.

Progress over the next 15 kilometres to Kallanai was rapid. However, we were now soaked to the skin and shivering uncontrollably. We moored at some public steps and retired quickly to the nearest tearoom. Selva had got a lift to Kallanai on a friend's motorcycle and joined us as we planned our next move. When we had knocked a little bit of warmth back into our bodies we set off to walk across the control structure that spanned the river. We observed the flow in each of the channels we crossed and were pleased to note that a substantial flow was passing into the Cauvery. We wandered and decided to pay a visit to the irrigation engineer's office. This was primarily to try and find out more data on the flow in our river but more importantly to stave off the onset of hypothermia. Ian had already succumbed and had headed back off to the tearoom and so it was just Selva and I that stood dripping in front of the engineer's desk. He looked up from his tiffin and eyed us suspiciously. His English wasn't that good and so Selva interpreted. I explained what we were doing and enquired whether we could expect to find water in the Cauvery through to the sea. His head rolled from side to side after each question. The data was getting in I thought but there seemed to be a hitch in the output circuits. I asked if he had any maps of the delta region. His head rolled from side to side again. The maps we had showed the river for another 50 kilometres and we were at least 200 kilometres from the sea. The reason we were told at the time of purchase was, 'security'. Anyway the engineer didn't appear to be anymore helpful but then without warning summoned one of his minions who escorted us at a brisk pace back out into the rain and back across the regulator to another office. The reason for the change of venue wasn't immediately obvious until we arrived on the veranda. There in front of us was a painted wall map of the whole delta region. Our man had come up trumps after all. The wall painting showed the Grand Canal flowing east through the town of Thanjavur before turning abruptly south and disappearing into a thousand paddy fields. The Coleroon was shown as a thick blue line leading to the coast but we knew there was no water in it at present. The Vennar petered out about 50 kilometres from the coast and yes the thin blue line that was the Cauvery clearly went all the way to the coast entering the sea just south of Poomphar. We hurried back to tell Ian the good news, the minion infected by our enthusiasm was now one of the team and followed us faithfully to the tearooms. On the way back we spotted some khaki in a guardhouse half way across the regulator structure. Our hope was that the rain would deter any concerted efforts to restrict our progress. Therefore after sustaining ourselves with more tea and a second breakfast a sodden group of individuals comprising Ian, Selva, minion, plus assorted small boys and myself tippi-toed past khaki with all the gear and launched out into the Cauvery. A big cheer, a wave and we were on our way to the seaside.

The rain was lashing down still and on the premise that you either stayed under shelter or got wet, totally wet I had stripped off to my shorts and sandals and was paddling like a mad thing to keep warm. The river was fairly straight and wide, about 150/200m but the channel as before snaked from one bank to the other. This generated some friction between Ian and myself as we ploughed into one sand bank after another. But, slowly we got the hang of how to read the water and were soon adept in spotting the telltale signs that indicated the edges of the channel.

Over the next few days the river split and split again, on each occasion we followed the Cauvery. Our commitment was paying dividends and instead of the river getting more and more difficult to navigate it was getting easier. The meandering channels were no more as the bank closed in to confine the river. It was as if the river was being reborn. The flow was strong and deep and at times we imagined ourselves back on the upper river as the banks closed in on us and vegetation brushed us as we passed by. There were now numerous flow regulating structures and weirs. Portaging came to take up much more of our time. Now as many of you out there will know there was nothing more enjoyable than a good portage! However, at each portage you could guarantee that there would be a little band of onlookers. So Ian and I developed a technique of ever so very slightly milking this interest. At each portage we would unload the gear and place it in a pile on the bank. We would then remove the boat and place it next to the gear. By now the audience would be up to a dozen - small boys, young bucks in city clothes, old men in dhotis, women in saris, etc, etc. The technique was to pick up what gear we could, then lift up the boat before moving off struggling ever so slightly. Almost on cue all hands would shoot into action and before we knew it the gear and boat were whisked out of our grasp and carried to the lower river. I suppose I am ever so slightly past my prime and therefore I was probably much better in carrying this off than Ian who is a big strong lad. In fact one of the locals asked Ian if I was his dad. 'Tut, I ask you'. That question was never put to me directly, thank goodness.

It was at one of these portages that we made our first positive identification of an otter. Far from being shy and retiring the creature put on a fishing performance for about 10 minutes right under our noses diving numerous times and emerging time after time with a fish hanging out of its mouth.

The rain continued for hours on end and the boat needed to be bailing out continually. Our gear which spent most of the time sat in this water was now in various states from damp to wet. We spent one incredibly wet night camped in a quagmire by the side of a banana plantation. The stove fails to work and Ian finds that we are trapped in an island of mud with no access to the nearby road that might give us access to the nearest village and a possible cup of tea or a meal. The next day was no better and we pull into the small town of Ayyampettai in search some warmth and sustenance. The town steps are covered in the usual piles of excrement and rubbish and makes us feel quite sick. It seemed incongruous to us that the locals would also come here to wash their clothes and themselves and clean their teeth.

The town was utterly depressing. Traffic vied with pedestrians for space in amongst monstrous potholes full of black rain water. Little old men in dhotis with their black umbrellas pulled down over their heads went stoically about their business. A policeman on duty eyed us suspiciously as we walked dripping past but we avoided eye contact and pressed on in search of a restaurant and some warmth. We found a likely place full of locals and stumbled in. The place fell silence as the clientele momentarily examined the new arrivals and then almost immediately resumed their contented murmur. The warmth from the cook's primus near to the entrance was most welcoming and we sat down to tea and purri.

As we progressed down the river over the next few days the rain gradually abated such that we pulled into the town of Kumbakonam now only 70 km from the coast we were about as dry as we had been for the last three days. It was time to camp and anyway we wanted to have a look at the town. It was well known for it temples, what else in India. Therefore using the 'something will turn up' approach adopted successfully on many occasions, we hovered. Almost on cue, some villages came down to the water's edge and beckoned us over. This was nothing new, usually, we ignored these entreaties in the interests of making progress, but, in this instance they were accompanied by a suited business man. We determined in conversation that these were his workers. They were sugar cane cutters and this was their village. They lived in the most primitive mud huts and it was clearly obvious that the opulent looking businessman lived somewhere else. We were invited to camp on the bank, in fact we were offered accommodation in one of the better huts but declined preferring the comparative hygiene surrounding of our tent. This was considered a little strange and after some persuading we compromised and erected our tent under a corrugated iron awning used for, we thought, drying rice but in our more macabre moments imagined it being used for the laying out of bodies prior to burning!

Just as we were pitching our tent or rather hanging it from the rafters we were aware of this chap giving our business man a hard time. It was all about us. We carried on setting up our camp half keeping an eye on the goings on. Eventually Partibhan, as the chap was called, approached us saying that these guys who had offered us hospitality were a load of rogues and we would have our throats cut and all our stuff stolen in the night. We didn't believe him for a moment, we reckoned that we were sufficiently river wise to recognise this type of danger. In fact our experience to date had led us to believe khaki bad news, dhoti good! Anyway he persisted to berate our hosts to the point where I thought the business man might put one on him. Therefore, in order to calm things down we decided to broker a compromise. We left our camp established and accompanied Partibhan across the river to his house to meet his family. Partibhan rolled up his dhoti and set off across the river with us in tow. Before long we were up to our waist in water and soaking wet again. We were past caring.

Paribhan was a superb host and before long we were talked into having a meal with his delightful family followed by a tour of the town's temples. We insisted on returning to our tent at the end of the evening and so Partibhan accompanied us in a motor rickshaw down the other side of the river to our camp. We left him with a promise to join him and his family for breakfast the following day.

It was pitch black as we struggled along village tracks to where we had left the tent but the site was bare! 'Had Partibhan been right?', we thought. Even now we struggled to believe that the villagers could have done this to us. We carried on to the villagers' mud huts which were now in darkness. We knocked on the door of what we perceived to be the head worker's hut. Soon the door opened and the headman appeared beaming at us from the gloomy interior. He immediately led us to where they had moved all our gear for 'safe keeping'. Amazing! We once more hung our tent under the canopy and settled down for an undisturbed night.

After a protracted breakfast at Partibhan's house and lots of photographs and goodbyes we set off on what was to be our penultimate day on the river. The width of the river now varied between 30 and 40m wide. Much of the bank was brick lined but had long fallen into disrepair and was now falling apart and covered in vegetation. There were many stands of bamboo, lush trees but with a predominance of shrubs. We were now seeing the development of vehicular tracks on each side of the river. Fields were set back from the river and fenced off with bamboo and brushwood and provided with gates for access. We passed by a number of small towns, generally not the most savoury of places to linger, even so the water quality was maintained which was good as it was useful from time to time to get into the water in order to assist a passage past the many weirs and control structures that we were now encountering.

By 3 30pm we reckoned that we had paddled enough but an entourage of small boys following us along the bank were giving us a hard time, yelling and shouting and occasionally lobbing pieces of earth at us. So we paddled on hoping that they would get bored and go and annoy someone else. We passed under a number of low bamboo footbridges and in each case managed to get there before the mob so avoiding the little monsters dropping anything nasty onto us. After a while they did get bored and we felt that it was safe to pull over and camp.

This turned out to be our most populous campsite. At one point we counted fifty locals swarming around the campsite of all ages, shapes and sizes, poking their noses into the most mundane of chores. We and our possessions were still soaked and so soon everything was strewn around the camp drying. I guess it was a testimony to the locals' honesty that not a single item was lost. In fact before long they have taken over cooking duties from Ian and they even did the washing up!

The next day our first milestone was the town of Mayuram 15 km away. Again, on reaching there, we found the banks to be a disgusting mess and passed on rapidly wondering whether the unsanitary conditions were a result of lack of imagination or because there was no alternative. It always seemed incongruous that a country that can put rockets into space, build aircraft and nuclear bombs couldn't sort out elementary sanitation and so it is that India with a population now in excess of one billion struggles to cope with the most basic of human needs.

We bade Mayuram a not very fond farewell and pressed on along the river which to our surprise was getting narrower, even down to 3m wide in one stretch. The vegetation on either side was now dense and shielded any roads and habitation from our view. All the spectators on the banks either stand open mouthed as we passed by or cheer wildly beckoning us over to talk. We rarely obliged preferring to maintain steady progress. Each weir and control structure we passed has a sill height displayed. In the days when we were back in malvalli the levels were in the 300s now we were down to 2m, that was 2m above sea level! The river was narrow and spanned by numerous rickety bamboo bridges. The locals were waving from the bridges and the bank as if they sensed that something was about to happen, we told them we are going to Poomphar, our destination on the coast, at which they point excitedly downstream, dare we imagine now that we were going to make it. There were still lots of fenced fields on either side in between areas of bush. Kingfishers were cruising with us and kites wheeled overhead. We paddled on hoping that at each corner we would see the sea, but nothing, just more and more river. In the distance we could hear a roaring sound. This was usually the precursor to yet another weir but there was none in sight. The land opened up on either side of the river which now meandered between flat open banks tended by farmers using water buffalo to plough their fields. Fishermen were in the shallows casting their nets. The roar was getting louder and the river in front of us bent to our right. The roaring was getting louder still. Then we saw flecks of white appearing above the low river bank in front of us. We both yelled out in unison it's the surf. We shouted and bounced up and down in our seats in celebration and paddled out into the sea or as far we dared. Eventually we pulled up on to a beach and shook each other's hands warmly. We had made it but our obvious joy was wasted on two nearby fishermen who just look on blankly in incomprehension.

Fact file: Self supported descent of the Cauvery River, South India from its source to sea in a single open canoe over a period of 25 days by Ian Grant and Mike Norman of the Cambridge Canoe Club. Covering a total distance of 855 km. The river rises in malvalli in the Western Ghats and meets the Bay of Bengal at Poomphar in Tamil Nadu. It is believed to be the first complete descent of the river.

Mike Norman

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PostPosted: Fri May 18, 2007 12:36 am 
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Complete credit for the article below goes to Ian Grant.

The Cauvery River - Part I

Sometimes called `The Ganges of the South,' the Cauvery is one of India's great sacred rivers. From its source around 5,000 feet above sea level in the Western Ghats, near Madikeri in the state of Karnataka, it flows generally eastwards for around 500 miles, crossing the sub-continent and entering the Bay of Bengal a few hundred miles south of Chennai (Madras). In January this year Mike Norman and I took his fibreglass open Canadian canoe out to India and set off to paddle from the source to the sea. Assembled from e-mails we sent back to friends and family, this is an account of the trip.

Day 1

We were relieved to find our boat and ourselves in one piece at Baghmandala near the source of the river. To fully appreciate the import of this one needs to have experienced Indian driving. The dangerous part of the trip done with, we start the hard bit - paddling. Or so we thought ... We had only an hour of daylight left, but just time to load the boat, paddle a few Km and set up our first camp. The river was just 3 feet wide and about 4 inches deep on average; we couldn't have started the trip much further upstream. Well, the first half hour was spent getting through a fallen tree holding back a raft of platic bags, pieces of cloth, rotting coconut husks and other unidentified objects in advanced stages of putrefaction. Getting past this fallen tree meant Mike hacking away with his pruning saw until we had made a hole big enough for the boat. Then we pushed the boat through (there was not enough headroom for passengers) and got back in on the other side. Mike was by this time covered in scratches and bleeding quite impressively.

Not wishing to get caught up in the dark, about twenty yards on from the tree we pulled up and set up our camp. Mike doused his lacerated arms in Dettol whilst I cooked the supper, and later tried to engage a local boy to get us some drinking water. After some encouragement from his mother he stepped forward and took the polythene water carrier Mike offered. We didn't see either the boy or the water carrier again; such are the perils of sign language. After washing up and stowing everything away for the night we went to sleep wondering what sort of a day the next one was going to be.

That night we nearly froze. We had only sheet sleeping bags and a blanket each and we were both woken up by the cold countless times as the dew settled and the mist rose from the river.

Day 2

The next morning we had made and drunk a cup of tea, packed the boat and were on the water within an hour or so of getting up. We paddled for 200 yards and arrived at a fence across the river. I wondered if this was common practice in this part of the world - if so we were in for a difficult trip. We unloaded the boat, carried it around the fence, relaunched and loaded up. This took about 20 minutes. Paddling on through narrow channels bordered by leafy bushes - fortunately not thorny as we brush against them frequently to stay in the deepest part of the river: the average depth was about 6" here.

There were no more fences across the river, but there were fish traps instead. These were V-shaped fences across the river with baskets at the end. In various states of delapidation these seemed to have been last used prior to the rainy season and we developed a technique of crashing through at the weakest-looking points. I don't think we did too much damage to them. We managed 30 Km or so we think: we had no maps of the top part of the river - it is a restricted area as far as the Bangalore Map Office were concerned.

Day 3

River averages about 8 inches deep. Sometimes 20 feet wide but still narrowing down to 3 feet or so occasionally. Going through one of these stretches we saw our first snake, lying still along the bank about 3 inches above the water line. I reckon it was about 3 yards long and about as thick as my arm. We were only about 3 feet away from it. Some elementary trigonometry led to a string of expletives from me accompanied by rapid acceleration of the boat. After recovering some of my composure we turned around and went back so that Mike could get a look. He only saw the tail of the snake disappear into the bushes and had to take my word on the length of the beast. We developed a snake-bite avoidance strategy after that (look carefully before crashing through bushes and trees) and another even more dubious strategy for dealing with one should it occur (get to a road as quickly as possible,preferably with the snake, the latter preferably dead, and try to get a lift to a hospital.)

Then we forgot about snakes for a while because we broke the boat. The river had been starting to get interesting from a paddling perspective, with some small rapids and "rock gardens" we had to either shoot or `bump and carry' over. One chute looked so tempting we simply had to have a go at it. We took out all the luggage that wasn't tied down and `went for it' - me in the front and Mike in the back. On the way down the bow hit a rock (my bad steering I suspect) and I heard a dreadful cruching sound. Visions of humiliating bus rides swam in front of me, but we stayed upright and paddled through the tail. Then I turned around to hear Mike say `well, the seat's bust!' That was what had made the crunching noise. The back seat had broken in the middle of the front cross-bar. Mike repaired it that evening with a strap and two pieces of wood given to him by a villager. People were very friendly and generous there.

The bird life was woderful. We saw a pair of pied hornbills flying and also many little cormorants and egrets as well as enormous Brahminy kites. We were almost constantly escorted by a blackcapped kingfisher. The river was lined with lush forest vegitation. Most of the land on the banks is given over to coffeee plantations with banana trees and cardamom and sandalwood trees mixed in. It makes for very much more beautiful agricultural scenery than the monocultures we are used to in England.

Day 4

The mornings were misty and the nights still quite cold. We had our blankets, bought in Bangalore (no baggage allowance for sleeping bags and we wanted to be able to ditch them when it got warmer down on the plain) but they were not really enough. I wore three layers at night and still got a bit chilly. This day was characterised by more rock gardens and rapids. At one chute we nearly capsized the boat whilst letting it down on lines (we had learned our lesson about shooting such features.) Other highlights of the day were a copuple of elephants being washed by an elephant washer down at the river's edge, and a great big six-seater dugout canoe. The most impressive sight though was a colony of 1000 or so fruitbats we passed through. Most of them were hanging high in bamboo stands. At first I thought they were weaver-bird nests, until one took flight: it was the size of a crow and that is no exaggeration. Then, all of a sudden the entire colony took flight and the evening sky was filled with giant black bats. They looked like pterodactyls.

Day 5

The river had grown to 50 to 100 feet wide now and was deeper than we could measure with our paddles. In the morning we stopped with some local fishermen to admire their coracle - a circular bamboo boat with a skin of plastic sacking covered in pitch. I had a go at paddling it - it was difficult, requiring two or three strokes to each side (the paddler sits at the front) before switching to counter the inevitable rotation. The fishermen can paddle them quite fast though. That day we saw another pair of pied hornbills perched in a tree and got a picture of a beautiful bright green snake, also in a tree. The forest vegetation had given way to more sparse and open scenery with coconut and banana palms along the banks. It looked quite arid away from the river and reminded us both of Africa.

That day we portaged another huge weir with the help of some local villagers. This was to happen often: dozens of helping hands extended towards us, sometimes for reward, but as often as not just out of curiosity and general excitement. That afternoon we stopped early to wash clothes and ourselves in the river.

Day 6

We went on a big shopping spree in a town called Keralapura. Foreigners were obviously a rarity in Keralapura and we were followed by what I can only dscribe as a mob! There were about 50 people, from schoolchildren to old men, watching everything we did and discussing it amongst themselves. At one point Mike and I were separated and we then each had a complement of 50 or so spectators, pressing in on us so that there was scarcely room to move. We bought every kind of fruit they had for sale - having had only bananas up to now we were delighted to be able to get pineapples, grapes, apples and watermelon. Having said that the bananas were truly excellent. They are small and yellow, robust enough to survive in the bottom of a boat for several days and they taste delicious. After shopping we had breakfast at a restaurant. An Indian breakfast is typically curry and some bread like puri or parotha or little cakes called idli made of rice and dahl flour. The breakfast was very good, like every meal we ate at these small restaurants.

We were quite relieved to see the last of the Keralapuran masses as we set out. After a couple of hours hard paddle we stopped for a fruit lunch a few hundred yards short of the weir at Saligrama. To our dismay there was no water going over the weir and none being let through the sluices either: all of the flow was being diverted into an irrigation canal. So we unloaded and re-launched the boat in the canal. This allowed us to paddle a further 3 km down the course of the river until it veered left away from the river and into the countryside. Then we portaged back across to the river and spent a very hard hour scraping and lifting or portaging over and around the rocks, watched by some schoolchildren who must've wondered exactly what sort of madmen we were.

At about 4.30 we decided to call it a day and set up camp. I went ahead on foot to Chungchankatte to see what lay below the next weir. No water there either. So, about 100 miles from the start we had run out of water to paddle! There was no option but to do our first vehicle portage, so the next morning we got first a tractor lift to Chungchankatte followed by a jeep ride 10 Km or so down river to the waters of Krishnarajasagar, or KRS for short - a reservoir. The rest of the afternoon was spent paddling across the reservoir. Here we were crossing stretches 7-10 km wide - quite a difference from the three feet we had had to start. Using a compass to aid navigation we were paddling into a light headwind and the waves made a pleasant slapping as they hit the prow of the boat. That evening we camped near a tiny settlement of fishermen on the lakeshore. They were very friendly and although we had not a word of language in common, we had boats and paddles, so there was much mutual admiration of boats, paddles and paddling skills. Mike and one of the fishermen went for paddle in our boat - the fishermen enjoying himself hugely I think.

Day 7

That morning we set out at 7.30 to cover the last 8km to the barrage. When we arrived we got permission to take our boat out into the reservoir/police compound where it was carefully checked by a labrador sniffer dog - for explosives we presume. Then, just when we thought we had made it and were enjoying ice cold Pepsis the policeman came over and took Mike off on the back of a moped to the police station. An hour later he and the policeman reappeared. Mike had spoken to the chief of the police at KRS and convinced him not to ask is DC in Bangalore for permission to let us through - which could have meant days or weeks of delay, if it were given at all.

So we checked in at the only hotel in town, looking forward to soft beds and chairs to sit on and planning on getting the boat onto another Jeep to look for some water. Hopefully they would be releasing enough from KRS for us to paddle on.

Cauvery River - Part II

From the Krishnarajasagar dam we drove 50 km or so to Srirangapatnam, near Mysore, before we found enough water in the river to paddle it, and even then it turned out to be scarcely passable. We lost count of the number of times we had to get out of the boat and push it through shallows or haul it over rocks or unload and carry the kit and boat. Eventually though, it started to fill out a bit and we then found ourselves having to manhandle the boat around some of the rapids that were too fast for us to paddle. On one very memorable occasion we ran a long chain of standing waves - it was very exhilirating but eventually we shipped enough water over the bow and the sides that we effectively sank - with only the bouyancy tanks keeping the boat near the surface of the water. We both got out and pulled the flooded boat to the side. Sorting this out took an hour or so, but we didn't lose anything and nothing important got wet. If anything it was quite pleasant to have had a swim in cool clean water in the hottest part of the afternoon.

At the Cauvery Falls we did yet another vehicle portage, this time using a jeep provided by Jungle Lodges, a Karnataka state-owned company that runs the Cauvery fishing camp. They took us 10 km along winding dirt roads through the bush to put the boat back on the water in a very remote gorge. The river was quite quick-flowing here, winding through very dry forested hills. We saw a couple of crocodiles of a good size - at least 9 foot, from head to tail, perhaps longer. Their scaly bellies made a hissing noise as they slid otherwise silently across the sand to slip into the river and disappear completely. We also what we thought were signs of otter - just very large swirls when we passed rocks. We were never quick enough to see what made them but have been told there are lots of otter on that part of the river.

After a couple of days of paddling fast rapids and manhandling the boat through the dangerous ones we arrived at Mekkedatu where the river is funneled through a gorge about 5m wide. We had previously worked out the flow rate at about 200 cubic meters per second. So if the 5m gorge were 10 meters deep that would give a flow rate of 4 metres per second. This turned out to be quite an accurate prediction. The gorge included a drop of about 10 meters with an enormous standing wave at the bottom. Mike had known about this place since before we set out so we were expecting a vehicle portage of a few km here. Whilst deliberating what to do, we met a man called Saad who ran another fishing camp a few km down the river from Mekkedatu. He knew the river very well and assured us that we would have a great deal of difficulty getting through to his fishing camp, and then some more difficulty covering the few km after that. But he invited us to lunch and he and Mike went down in a coracle whilst I stayed with the boat and the kit and got a lift in the jeep to the camp. It was a wonderful camp. The other fishing camps we had seen were complicated affairs with tents under rush roofs on concrete platforms. This was just rush roofs over rope beds on a beach in a bend in the river. There was a dining area under cover with tables and chairs. Some woolen rugs had been spread about out on the sand and there was a bar that served guests cold cahmpagne from a cooler box buried in the sand underneath the table. I asked Saad where the ice came from and he told me it was collected every day by Jeep from Sangam - the village about 6 km along the bumpy track through the bush. At the camp we met a party of English men and women including a angling writer called John Bailey who was quite taken with our trip and asked us if he could photograph us next to our boat.

After providing us with lunch and tea, Saad sent one of his drivers and another man with us in one of his jeeps to a point about 3 km downstream, from which he reckoned we might be able to get out of the gorge in one piece. We spend the night there, quite apprehensive about the day to come. Our nerves weren't steadied much by the constant sound of rushing water and in the distance the sky was occasionally lit by flashes of lightning from a far-off storm. The next morning we loaded the boat and set off. On the first rapid we were not very good at all - we took the boat down using lines and this was our first serious attempt at doing this. 'Lining' a bopat consists of taking it down a rapid from the shore, holding on to long ropes from the front and back. It is much more difficult than it sounds. There is a very real danger of either losing the boat or capsising it. After that we shot another rapid and we didn't carry that off very well either - getting through more by luck than by design.

I sprained an ankle that morning and by lunch time I couldn't put any weight on that foot at all. We were still in difficult water, having to walk the boat down every third rapid or thereabouts. I couldn't help Mike at these points because I couldn't walk, let alone walk over boulders hidden under running water, pulling a boat. So I developed a technique of floating down the edge or the rapids on my back trying to arrest my descent as best I could with my hands. Mike called this 'arsing down the river' and it was about as elegant as it sounds, but it worked. However progress was very slow and at times I wondered if it would be several days before we reached civilisation again. This was very sparsely populated country, described on the map as 'open mixed jungle' and known to be the haunt of bandits.

However things picked up later and we had several stretches of placid water and were able to feel we were making progress. Eventually it became clear that we were through the worst of the gorge and we were able to enjoy the surroundings a bit more.

That evening we pulled in to camp near to a couple of fishermen in a coracle. They saw me hobbling up the beach using a paddle as a crutch and one of them tried to carry me up the beach, even though I protested. This man was half my weight and barefoot and he carried me 100 yards on his back over rough ground. Then he called his friend over for some help and the two of them took me the remaining 50 yards to a place where they said it was safe to camp. Elephants came down to the river at night, they said. Then one of the fishermen took some oil from a plastic bag and put my foot on his head-cloth. He crossed himself or made some gesture and proceeded to massage my leg and foot. It was very very painful and I was close to tears, but he seemed to know exactly what he was doing. Although I came very close to telling him to stop, I didn't, but after about half an hour he put my foot down and said 'pain relief?' That he'd stopped certainly was a relief. It still hurt when I tried to move my foot though and it felt very stiff. Just relieved that I had survived the massage without crying or passing out I set about making the food for the evening.

By the time we had finished eating I found I could put weight on my foot again, and by the time we were packed off in the dark to look for somewhere else to sleep ('elephants coming soon') I could walk easily. The place we went to was by a goat herd's camp. It was fenced off from the river with branches from thorn trees and everywhere one could hear and smell goats. The goat-herd himself sat near his fire all night. Looking out for crocodiles, elephants and leopards I imagine. Once or twice there some commotion amongst the goats and the goat herd would go and sort them out. Then the clonk of their bells and their gentle belches were all that one could above the crickets.

By the next morning I could walk again with barely a twinge of pain and by the evening I had forgotten I had sprained my ankle, though it was still a little swollen.

The next day we paddled about 30 km and after capsising on a rapid which in retrospect we both agreed we were a bit silly to have attempted, we stopped just short of Hokkenekal falls - where we portaged using steps which coracle paddlers use to take tourists for rides around the plunge pool at the foot of the falls. We paddled up to the foot of the falls and took some pictures and then made our way onwards. The river was quite quick flowing and we made fairly rapid progress.

That evening we camped in a field near to a farmer's house. I went to ask if it was OK if we slept in his field. he spoke only Tamil and I speak only English, but we managed to make each other understood, I think. I took him down to show him the boat and he asked for a ride. So we went and got the paddles and he and I did a quick circuit on the river. He had no trouble paddling - I presume he used a coracle. Then he helped us with firewood and stayed for tea. Somehow he didn't see us eat our meal and so later, after we had finished our post prandial tea and biscuits, he came along with a plate of rice and a bowl of chutney and a bowl of curry. We both groaned at the prospect of eating another meal, but Mike managed half a plate and I think I managed a full one. The next morning the old man milked his cow for us and gave us half a pint of still warm milk which we made into tea and shared with him and a boy, perhaps his grandson.

The next day (yesterday as I write) we set off, deciding to do a 'hard day' which is about 6 hours of paddling. In the event we overshot somewhat and seem to have covered around 60 km so here we are sending emails from Mettur dam, on the Stanley reservoir, 420 km into our journey. We have arranged a vehicle to collect us tomorrow morning at 8am and take us 40 km downstream where we are told the 'restricted section' (power stations every 6 km or so) ends. So we are going to have a meal in a restaurant now and then try to find our way back to our boat which we have left on the shore of the reservior, completely unattended. We will decide when we get back whether this was a stupid thing to do or not. I suspect it will still be there, completely untouched by anyone. ...

Cauvery River - Part III

Sunday 27th January

We got back to the boat at Mettur to find it exactly as we had left it five hours before. That night we camped a few yards up the shoreline and the next morning I went up to the village to meet the driver who we'd contracted to take us down past the barrages we'd been told about the evening before. The truck was already there when I arrived and I was quite taken aback to be told off by the driver for being five minutes late.

After a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing around the lakeshore tracks we found a route back to the boat which was negotiable by the truck. We loaded the boat and luggage onto the back and after tiffin in Mettur, set off down the road that runs parallel to the river. Within about 5 km we came to the first of the barrages - "2 x 15 MW turbines," a sign informed us.

There were four of these mini power stations in all, the last of which was a few km upstream of a town called Bhavan. This is where we put the boat back on the water. The river here was deep, wide, fast-flowing and yet again stunningly beautiful. We sailed past little rocky islands covered with reeds, rushes and small trees. That afternoon we passed through Erode which, it seems, has a thriving textile industry. Hundreds of men and women were ast the water's edge washing brightly coloured cloth. The banks were covered in huge strips of it and for several hundred meters downstream the river ran purple with dye. Near Erode we came upon a one km stretch of continuous rapid - the water boiling up and swirling around in whirlpools behind deeply submerged rocks. We sped through this at double our speed on flat water. It was a joy to paddle - there being little or no risk of hitting rocks, capsizing or sinking the boat. That afternoon we saw lots of men fishing with diving masks and slender wooden spears. Yet another way to catch fish after fish traps, gill nets, lines and throw nets. Later on we saw people catching fish by standing up to their necks in water with nets held out in front as they moved slowly forward. Earlier on in the Stanley Reservoir we'd seen others in pairs of coracles with nets stretched between which they slowly and carefully raised as they brought the two boats together over a period of about 15 minutes. We passed one just as they lifted the last of the net out of the water - it was empty.

That night we camped on a grassy bank underneath some coconut palms. There were hundreds of fireflies in the trees again. We ate potato curry and rice and had bananas and custard for pudding, followed by tea and biscuits.

That evening was a full moon and we decided to make the most of it and go for a paddle in an empty boat for a change. We went across the river to explore and came upon a tiny little village under some trees - it was so quiet we felt like intruders so we slunk off back into the forest to the river again. It took us twice as long to paddle back upstream as it taken us to get down.

The next day we saw another dramatic change in the river - it became much wider and split into many channels between sandy islands. The Cauvery is a major source of sand for glassworks and construction. In Karnataka we'd seen men collecting it in giant steel coracles we called woks, which they filled by hand and either pulled across the river using a network of fixed ropes or punted using long wooden poles. But in Tamil Nadu the scale of the operations is vastly different. Here they build causeways out onto the islands and load the sand onto truck using JCBs. Fortunately this is only done on one stretch about 5 km long. It was difficult navigating the causeways and at one point we found ourselves pulling the boat through a pipe underneath the road, much to the amusement of the half dozen or so people who stopped to watch.

That day, whilst shopping for fruit and vegetables in a little village near a big temple, we met a man who told us that a party of seven English people had come this way in 1995. He even had their names and addresses in his autograph book. We copied all these down and added our own. Hopefully we'll be able to get in touch with one or more of them and compare experiences.

That day was also a Hindu festival called 'tai possam' (I'm spelling this as I heard it pronounced, IU have no idea whether it's correct or not.) At many temples there were large crowds gathered along the shoreline. Sometimes we were greeted with loud cheers. I was a bit worried that we might be stealing some god's thunder, but no harm seemed to come from it.

That night we ended up on a sandy island after searching for a better campsite for nearly an hour. A very gentle and quiet spoken old man was on the island tending his three water buffalo. Without a word in common he and I established that it was OK for us to sleep there, but that we should take care not to tread on any of the many varieties of viscous thorns that grew on the bushes there. He pointed out that he was OK, even though barefoot, but that we had to watch out even though we were wearing sandals. Surely enough one thorn made it all the way through the sole of my sandal. That night we ate potato, okra and coconut curry with masala omlettes and rice. This was the last of our supply of fresh fruit and vegetables.

The next day we were expecting to come to a town called Mohan but we passed it by without seeing any sign of it whatsoever - probably because we were going at a surprising 10 km per hour which put us a lot further down the river than we were expecting. That day we took our first wrong turn. Having passed Mohan we were keen not to miss the next significant town so we kept to the left bank as well as we could. It happened that we were at a point where we had no maps because they were out of stock of this particular sheet when Mike had bought the maps in Bangalore. Consequently we didn't realize that the long fast-flowing serpentine stream we were paddling would never rejoin the river: it was a channel into the headworks of an irrigation canal. Fortunately we found a path through the forest to the river and an easy access point, but it still took over an hour to do this portage which was a little short of 1 km through bush and over grassland with little streams to ford. Throughout this we were watched closely by a very dour little man who only brightened up when it became clear we were leaving for good. He smiled as he waved us goodbye.

Finally we arrived at the town where we had to be able to buy some more fresh fruit and vegetables but there was only a couple of little shops with no fresh produce for sale at all. Later we found a chai shop and after drinking half a dozen little cups of tea we bought some eggs and, for our lunch, some bhajee-like fritters which were delicious.

That night we camped under coconut palms again. The landowner, after giving us permission to stay, had a friend cut down half a dozen green coconuts which he slashed open and gave to us to drink. That evening I made tarka dahl with fresh coconut and coconut milk. It was definitely the best dahl I've ever made. We had this with plain omlettes and rice. Do I need to point out that food is an important part of this trip? The next day was difficult paddling. The river had widened to the extent that the flow was much slower over shallow sand-banks. We kept losing the channel and running into shallow water (which feels like paddling through syrup,) often running aground and having to get out and pull the boat along. Then, as we were looking for a camp site that evening we broke a paddle. We had been half expecting this to happen, but hoped that we might get away with it. Breaking the paddle dictated we stop immediately (paddling with a one-inch paddle shaft is nearly impossible and for reasons of baggage weight we'd not brought a spare one out from England.) We set up camp on a little sand bank and Mike went to find some bamboo which he used to make a very effective splint for the paddle shaft. This would easily last us until Trichy where we knew we would be able to get it repaired properly.

Unfortunately that was not the end of the day's woes and the next thing to fail was the stove - it produced nothing but an oily orange flame which gave little heat and a lot of thick greasy soot which fouled all the pots. After an hour of trying everything in the manual I gave up on it and left Mike in the tent to go and see what what lay along the road nearby. It was dark by then, but the road was busy with bicycles and busses and cars and mopeds looming up out of the blackness. I passed a sign saying "Trichy 10 km" and just then a bus pulled up. The doors opened and some baggage flew out and landed with a plop onto the roadside. Shortly afterwards a little figure jumped down and I jumped into the bus just as it pulled off. Realising I had no idea where I was I decided the first priority was to find out if I was to entertain any hope of getting back there. "What is this place?" I asked? "Surai" they said. "Next town?" I asked in reply? "Surai!" they replied. "Surai" I told the bus conductor. "Two rupees" he told me and as I handed him the money we came to some streetlights and he whistled and the bus stopped. I jumped off - the ride had been all of 600 yards.

There was a shop - quite a big one - calling itself a supermarket, which by comparison to most such shops was quite accurate. They didn't sell much in the way of food that could be consumed without a stove or firewood but the woman behind the counter explained in quite good English that the town 5 km up the road had a restaurant. I walked back the way I had come to tell Mike the good news. He decided however that a bus ride to an unknown town was a long shot and opted to stay behind eating biscuits and bananas in the tent. I set off back to the bus stop and within half an hour found myself in the little town which turned out to be a little knot of bustling activity and lights on the darkened road. The restaurant was excellent and there was a little sweet shop outside. Underneath a huge Tamarind tree there was a little chai shop and I spent the resat of the evening talking to an insurance salesman who also sold lottery tickets in his spare time. He introduced me to a number of local big-wigs including the manager of the petrol bank and a brace of politicians. At about 9.30 I caught the bus back to the supermarket.

The next morning we did the remaining 10 km to Trichy (Turichchurippalli) before breakfast. We pulled up at some steps down to the river and Mike went up to find somewhere secure to leave the boat - we thought in a city this size it would be courting trouble to leave the boat unattended all day. A man called Selvam who ran a chai shop offered to look after the luggage and the boat for us. By the time we had unloaded the boat and got it up the steps the offer had been extended to accommodation for the night and by the time we had stowed our luggage in his front room we were being sat down in front of the TV to watch England play India in the fourth of the one-day test matches whilst someone sent out for tiffin for us. After breakfast Selvam took us to the bus stop, gave each of us the address (written in Tamil and English) so we would be able to find our way back, and put us on the right busses to get to the plces we needed top be to do our various errands. I went to the Post Office and Mike went in search of a mechanic to fix the paddle.

That afternoon when I got back Mike had fixed the paddle and gone off to see some temples. In between talking to almost everyone in the neighbourhood I spent an hour or so trying to fix the stove without any success. That evening Selvam's brother Ravi took me on his moped up to the bazaar to buy a stove. I chose one and had to physically stop him from paying for it. It was Rs.130 which is more than he would be likely to earn in two days. Afterwards we went up to the Rock Fort to look at the view across the city - it was spectacular - densely built, but full of trees as well - coconut and banana mainly. We also saw the temple near the Rock Fort, one of the few where non-Hindu's were not allowed into the inner core. Then we sped back through the rush-hour traffic (most of the day is rush hour in Indian cities.) That evening we ate noodles (delicious) cooked by Selvam and Ravi's mother and we met half a dozen more people of the neighbourhood. Ravi invited me to his wedding in two years time - I promised to go. That evening Mike and I were taken to three other houses in all as special guests. We were given tea and sat in front of huge TV sets showing cable TV. We saw most of a program on Honey Badgers of the Kalahari Desert this way. National Geographic is quite a good cable channel I think - certainly popular in India. The houses were typically very small. One room about 8' by 10' for three or four people - cooking outside in the yard and having communal toilets a couple of doors down the street. Rooms like this cost about Rs. 400 per month to rent. Some people, like Selvam and Ravi's mother earn only Rs. 500 per month, though she has her three sons to help out. Cable TV is Rs 90 per month. The kindness and generosity of these people was difficult to believe, and difficult to accept too. That night we slept on the floor of Selvam's house - five of us in all. At 4am Ravi got up to do his milk round (150 liters delivered each day by moped.)

The next morning it was raining. Whilst Mike went to get some sweets as a gift for our hosts I took some of the neigbourhood out in the boat for short rides. After that Ravi took me a for a last ride on the back of his moped - both of us laughing as we flew through the wet streets in the rain, dodging cows, bicycles, people, goats, etc.

After taking some photos and sayuing our farewells we paddled off. The rain didn't stop. Later it turned into a downpour. So much water ran down our faces we had to keep swallowing what went into our mouths. Four or five times we stopped to bail out the rainwater collecting in the bottom of the boat and threatening to soak all our luggage.

That night we camped in a muddy banana plantation. We hadn't bought enough kerosene for our new stove - it turned out not to wok unless at least half-full. So we finished cooking on firelighters under the fly-sheet of the tent. We had potato curry (no rice) followed by bananas with honey and some curd given us by Selvam and Ravi's mother. With the last of the firelighters Mike managed to get water heated for hot chocolate. Later in the night we had to get up and pull the boat ashore because we realized there was some danger of it filling up with water and sinking otherwise.

The next morning we packed up in the rain and set off again. The river was yet again beautiful - at one point we passed through what seemed to be pristine jungle with no sign of human habitation whatsoever save for Hindi music blasting out of a loudspeaker concealed somewhere. India is paradise, but it's a very real and functional one. It has to be with over a billion people living in it.

The banks of the river here are shored up with brickwork. There must be at least 100 km of it. It looks old, perhaps from the early part of the last century. The jungle is slowly tearing it up and replacing it with tree roots. Here people fish with intricate barrel-shaped traps made of fine bamboo strips or with lines attached to poles in the river. We saw two poles which evidently had caught fish - they waggled and jerked away - waiting for their owner to return. We passed lots of brick kilns. The river is a great supplier of building materials - sand, mud, bricks, bamboo and coconut palms for roofs and screens.

That evening we arrived at Kumbakonur and camped under a concrete barbecue shelter on a sugar estate. We forded the river and met with a man called Parthiban who was a bus driver and took us into town to show us the best restaurant and the best sweet shop. He also showed us around the best temples I'd seen - serious, quiet ones, off the tourist track. Kumbakonur is a very nice town - I'd recommend it to anyone. The next morning we had breakfast with Parthiban and his wife Lakshmi and their three beautiful daughters. It was raining when we left them on the bank and paddled on. As far as we knew we were about 65 km from a place called Poompuhar, which we had been told was on the coast. We had no maps of this part of the river because it is a restricted area, for reasons which we never discovered. We paddled on in intermittent rain. The river was narrowing further with each bifurcation down the delta and we felt quite at home on a little river no bigger than the Cam at Cambridge. The banks were still lined with coconut and banana palms though and almost everyone we passed called out or said hello. In another similarity with the Cam the river was controlled now by a series of weirs and sluices that kept the levels up. Each of these regulators was different and we used different techniques to get down them. Some we could paddle through, some we portaged around, some we brought the boat down with lines from the bank and some we manhandled the boat through - up to our waists in water.

That evening we camped by a village and had an unusually large audience - between 40 and 50 people this time, watching and commenting and laughing and joking about everything - especially my attempts to wear the dhothi I'd bought in Trichy. After it had fallen down around my ankles a couple of times I'd learned to tie it properly each time learning a little more from the demonstration given by one of the kids. When I started cooking several people started to help and soon I had two people chopping vegetables, one cooking potatoes and rice and then a third took over the curry completely. So there was nothing left for me to do and when it was ready they sat us down and brought us the food. Then they made the instant custard - someone must've read the instructions because they did it very well - better than any of the times I'd done it. We were offered black or white custard. We opted for black and so didn't have any milk with it - it arrived in cups and was delicious. Afterwards we had hot chocolate as well. Then they washed up for us. We gave away our surplus food that night, feeling pretty sure we would reach the coast the next day.

The next day we had only the occasional shower, with some sunshine in between so we dried out from time to time. The river was still beautiful - deep and fast-flowing. After lunch we came upon the fifth regulator of the day and a sign that read "Poompuhar 6 km" so we knew we didn't have very far to go. Within half an hour - the flow was really spectactular, except for rapids the fastest it'd ever been - we rounded a bend to see nothing on the skyline ahead save for a slender sand bank with the occasional white fleck of breakers behind. After 24 days and 500 miles we'd finally reached the Bay of Bengal. It was a truly spectacular sight - the coastline is almost completely straight there and for the full 180 degrees we saw nothing but empty sea. After congratulating each other and taking some pictures we stopped the boat for the last time in a boating pond (we were able to paddle to within 100 yards of the bus stand in the center of town.) That evening we went down to the seafront again and threw in a sprig of heather I'd picked at Talikaveri when we started the trip. Somehow that action seemed exactly as I'd imagined it when I picked the leaf.

Neither of us can quite believe the wave of good fortune and good will that has carried us down this amazing river. There is not a yard of it I would have missed for anything. We both know we are very privileged to have been able to do this and we are very grateful to have had the chance.

That evening we caught the express bus back to Chennai and had another hilarious early morning ride through the city streets - this time with the boat fixed (and I use the term with some licence) to the top of a tiny little three-wheeled auto-rickshaw (actually a scooter with two seats behind and a canvas roof.) We got to sleep at about 4am and spent the following day drying out kit on the roof of the hotel entrance foyer. That evening we drank cold beers at a 5 star hotel and I think that means the trip is over.

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