Names have their own identities. You would agree with me, don’t you? We associate someone or something by its name even without seeing in person. Rivers get names by their nature. They have a personality too, usually associated with folklores and myths. They’re lifelines for ages, nurturing people, fields, animals and civilizations on their way towards the ocean. What would we do without rivers? Have you imagined? I often feel a river is like a sage, who keeps evolving all his life while remaining calm and stable and yet changes the lives of those who come in contact. Perhaps sages of yore learned this from the rivers around them, who knows!
The Kali river gets a name that never fails to mesmerize me. Kali means Dark in the local languages. Somehow, this river reverberates with your own soul, right from its name. No fancy jargon, no hullaballoo about the exotic terrain, just the river and you, as though it’s an extension of you.
This river gets its name from its color, dark with the silt that it carries, rich in iron ore and other minerals and also due to the sediments of the deep dense forests. It flows through a rough terrain, so peculiar to this region of the western ghats. Synonymous with the Goddess of the same name, known for her fierce nature, the Kali Nadi (Nadi means river in many Indian languages. Exception being the Brahmaputra, who is a Nad, giving it a masculine connotation) has changed the lives of Uttara Kannada district in more ways than one. Uttara Kannada district has several rivers such as Kali, Ganagavali, Aghanashini, Varada and Bedthi, all of which traverse their expanse and foster a rich culture based on fishing, agriculture, forestry, plantations and enriched by the local customs and traditions. Owing to the undulating terrain, all these rivers give rise to numerous waterfalls, giving the district the distinction of being the ‘Waterfalls District of Karnataka’. Unchalli fall, Shivaganga fall, Lalguli fall and Mailmane fall, as also Satthodi and the mighty Jog falls all come under this district.
Just among the Kali and Sharavathi rivers, Uttara Kannada has a good five reservoirs and several estuaries where the rivers expand for several kms before merging into the sea.
Kali is to Uttara Kannada what the Ganga is to the Northern Indian Gangetic basin or the Brahmaputra to the North East. It’s a lifeline. The rich alluvial soil of the western ghats ensured that the river carried mineral – rich silt on its course. This soil is also rich in iron ore and hence this belt is also the haven for mining and dredging. The innumerable undulations on its course gave way to several hydel power projects that supply electricity to several parts of Karnataka. Though this region has had several regimes, the British realized the importance of the Kali river for industrialization. The newly planned railways needed the wooden sleepers which were in vogue at that time till the recent cement one came into picture, which required strong teak wood to be manufactured from. And so they established Saw Mills at Dandeli and Kiravatti to manufacture Railway sleepers. Soon, these towns became famous for the teak and people from all over the country flocked to buy extremely good quality teakwood grown in the forests of the Kali river basin.
One must not confuse British large-heartedness in starting industries in this part of the country- there was no benevolence of any kind, just a means to an end- whereby they could establish railways faster and transport goods (read – raw materials ) to be shipped back to their country for finishing. But Indians were much more ingenious and soon people with money bags established several industries in this region. Way back in the fag end of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth one (somewhere around 1909), the Gulal factory which manufactured Gulal (the fuchsia dye) was established which employed a good 270 people in this region. Now you can imagine how it would have turned the tides of fortune for the people of this area. Mango pulp, saw mills, the soap factory at Sirsi, a tile factory at Honnavar, a sugar refining industry (at Sirsi, where it was run on steam engines) were all started mainly because the Kali river fostered them.
At a time when road transport was not much developed and railways were still a distant dream, this river served a unique purpose of being a channel to transport goods from the interiors to the port and vice versa, even from the time of the Vijayanagar kings. The river water also served for cultivation of two kinds of crops- rice and pulses. Rice that requires large quantity of standing water including rainfall, is grown in plenty in this region. The more than enough silt that the rivers carried along with them ensured that any crop would give a rich yield.
The Kali river traversing throughout the district also nurtured trees like coconut and cashew nut that grow in sandy soil near rivers especially. Right from 1849, the felling of trees within three miles of a river was restricted and this resulted in deep dense forests along the banks.
Today, the river Kali is still flowing strong, giving a distinct identity to the people, language, culture, cuisine and the way of life in general. Its forests rich in natural resources like timber, fruit, flowers, wild life and water bodies, the river basin has risen also as a favourite place for tourists. Although the entrapments of the city life have yet to reach this area, the Kali river’s many rapids have brought an option for water sports like white water rafting, river crossing and the like, so much loved and appreciated by all. At Dandeli, especially, the Kali flows through some superb terrain with at least a dozen rapids near Ganeshgudi. You meet a warm Kali at Whistling Woods resort that enjoys a riverfront of the Kali river for a good 400 meters, making it an ideal place for water sports. It not just provides you with an experience of a lifetime by living in rooms in such close proximity to the gushing river, it also enables you to slow down from the hustle bustle of everyday life and relax like no other place can. You must never make it too late to come meet the mighty Kali, it beckons all those who are just like her, adventurous and spirited. Are you one of them?