The dying fire cackles in the early morning chill as it leaps up the last remaining pieces of wood, embers dance with the light breeze rising steadily to the morning sky which sheds the jet black of the night and prepares to adorn the hopeful blue of a beautiful day. A blanket of fog covers the rivulet Kali as it flows silently through hillocks covered with parched brown grass to a faraway destination.
In our campsite beside the river, 12 sleepy trekkers snuggle in their warm sleeping bags under the open sky; pearly water droplets cling to the red and green and blue colours of the tarpaulin sheets, rucksacks and sleeping mats scattered on the muddy bank. The silence of the morning is ornamented by the occasional call of the birds, of water treading its way through the polished stones and the distant rustling of the leaves. The cool spring night blossoms into an embracing warm morning in this uninhabited landscape dotted with gentle hills and crystal water bodies, this land of blunt gorges carved by rivers and rollicking grasslands situated far away from the jealous gaze of humans.
We behold, awed and overwhelmed, this unexplored paradise in the vicinity of the backwaters of the Supa Dam in north-western Karnataka burst into a thousand colours—like excited school kids in the annual fair lost in their dream world.
Twenty-four hours ago, we, a group of 12 trekkers from Bangalore, had landed in Castle Rock railway station tucked in the Western Ghats separating Karnataka and Goa. Beyond Castle Rock, the railway track meanders through lush green forests, dark menacing tunnels and milky streams offering an experience unparalleled in beauty. However, we were on a different mission, an exploratory trek in this Ghat section commonly known as Braganza Ghat to search for unknown villages, to walk along unnamed streams snaking through rocky hills carpeted in brown grass and attempt to discover the backwaters of the Supa Dam.
The muddy jeep track from Castle Rock to the laid back village of Kuveshi runs through thick vegetation crossing lazy streams covered with white flowers; eventually these humble streams form the roaring Dudh Sagar Waterfalls which falls majestically from towering heights to the abyss below beside the aforementioned railway track. Kuveshi is a tiny settlement consisting of a mud street straddled with neat houses, sprawling green fields glistening in the mid-morning sun and tired farmers taking a nap in the thatched shelters erected in the middle of the fields.
The jeep track continues for another kilometre beyond Kuveshi and then slowly peters out to a trail which cuts through thirsty brown grasslands eagerly awaiting the tender caress of the rain. It climbs and falls in the thick jungle riding on the music of the birds and ultimately is lost in an open field dotted with shrubs and some forlorn trees. At the far end of the field is a cluster of houses sheltered by trees on one side and paddy fields with wooden barricades on the other, this is the village of Ghat Kunang.
Bored villagers were sprawled on their porches indulging in friendly banter, cattle milled around aimlessly in the only narrow street in the village and a few children peeked curiously from their windows. The trail re-emerges here and climbs to a flat area covered with tall brown grass interspersed with shrubs and stunted trees. The afternoon sun beat down relentlessly on this scorched land; distant dry hills were visible veiled by a thin white haze, a rather pale appearance compared to their glorious attire of green during the monsoon season.
The trail zigzags through grasslands and woods, through trees laden with blue berries and red flowers; an unusual friendship is nurtured between the trail and explorer, a temporary bond which gives birth to a shared experience forever etched in the memory of the explorer. The trail finally meets the motorable road coming from Kuveshi at the Bazaar Kunang village; like a frightened wild animal amid humans, it hastily recedes to the depths of the jungle as the black motor road asserts its dominion.
Around three in the afternoon we had departed from Bazaar Kunang to search for the backwaters of the popular Supa Dam. Taking cue from a bundle of maps and a GPS, we had treaded in an unknown territory in the hope of discovering something magnificent. A well-trodden path originates from Bazaar Kunang which skirts green fields, trees burdened with golden leaves and restless streams and meets the shining rivulet Kali. It then skips along the river past dark grey boulders and mounds of red soil; it dives in narrow ravines and flirts with scary vertical drops.
Along the way, the Kali swallows another stream flowing eastwards and continues nonchalantly towards the low lying hills in the distance. The day came to an end as the warmth of the sun ebbed and cool breeze flowed gently kissing the surface of the river. A fisherman rowed his boat upstream and collected the submerged fishing net as the golden light of the sun bounced off the water illuminating his boat. The water was refreshingly cold and soothing to the blistered feet; we crossed the river and set up camp on the riverbed. As the day slipped into the night, a thousand stars appeared in the sky twinkling brightly; we slept cozily under this starlit sky in the company of the vigilant stars wrapped in a cocoon of darkness and protected by the warmth of the friendly campfire.
And now the morning wrestles with the night to reclaim its rightful place in this circus of nature. We walk along the river past tree stumps and uprooted trees; a reminder that the docile river flowing alongside transforms into a raging torrent during the monsoon. Thick fog swallows the rays of the sun casting an ominous shadow on the river whose flow is slowed to a crawl and it stretches its arms as its journey nears the end. Here the river is akin to a small lake on a windless day, exuding an aura of calmness; my companions rest on boulders on the river bank and silently soak in this magical morning, an experience beyond the grasp of words and pictures.
An abandoned boat bobs in the water, its oars skimming the water surface and creating ripples which break on the shore and disappear. Its tether is rotting and it seems that this lonely boat longs for the open waters and reminisces of its adventures over the years; but somehow it has found the fleeting peace it longed for on this shore and is now reluctant to leave. Like me, it stumbled on this forsaken shore one foggy morning and laid to rest its doubts and worries!