Words: SAMARPAN BHOWMIK
Photographs: T. KRISHNA PRABAKAR
Out of BANGALORE (530km)
Just about 500km from both Mumbai and Bangalore, on the road to the popular coastal destination of Goa, lies Gokak. The Mumbai-Bangalore highway is an easy and quick route to navigate for even amateur drivers; this is one road trip on which you’d definitely want to grab the wheel yourself. Leave town early to beat highway traffic and get on the smaller country roads as soon as you can. It’s only when you turn onto these small roads – black streaks of tar cutting across the lush green of the northern Karnataka countryside – that you truly appreciate the monsoon. Verdant farmlands as far as the eye can see, waterbodies swollen and spilling over, roads snaking between the rolling hills of the Western Ghats, you’ll come across many spots at which you’d want to stop and simply take in the beauty of the surrounding countryside.
The monsoon is the best time to catch the waterfalls in the region in all their glory. Most of them are swollen to three times their size in the dry season and present an awe-inspiring spectacle. The path to the main attraction in these parts, Gokak falls, winds around the Hidkal Reservoir on the Ghataprabha River. There’s an abandoned fort right by the road, up on a nondescript hill next to the region’s government circuit house. You might not get any history lessons here, but your sense of adventure will surely rear its head. Honnur Fort is not exactly well maintained – the entrance is not entirely visible from the approach path and you have to go around the ramparts, along a narrow path somewhat hidden by shrubbery, to find it. Parts of the ancient gateway collapsed long ago, but there’s enough of it still standing to allow entry into the fort courtyard. When you finally do get atop the fort, there might not be much left structurally intact save a deep, rather ominous-looking well in the centre of the courtyard, but the panoramic view of the reservoir is breathtaking and makes the climb worth it.
Further down the road, there’s a waterfall on the Markandeya River – Godchinamalaki. In the dry season, the naturally formed steps in the river bed make for a lovely spot at which to have a picnic. In the monsoon, it’s rapids everywhere, angry, foaming water rushing over rocks carved out over millennia. This waterfall can be accessed easily by road and the approach road isn’t too difficult to navigate either.
Past the fort and waterfall lies the small town of Gokak. It’s famous for two things – the waterfalls on the Ghataprabha River and the Mahalingeshwar Temple. As you come down the steps of the temple and emerge onto the courtyard, there’s a marvellous view of the river and the mighty falls, right in front. Here, aside from the numerous vendors selling temple-related paraphernalia, you’ll also spot some selling karadant, a sticky sweetmeat locals swear by and one that has gained some popularity with those who have tasted it.
There’s yet another popular waterbody in the region, but one that’s reputed for an entirely different reason. The Dhupdal Dam, about 14km from Gokak Falls, is convenient to visit as you round off the trip in the district and head back towards AH47. The artificial barrage forms a deep pool on one side, which is where a number of migratory birds stop by on their continent-spanning routes. While the dam site is open to the public through the day, the best time for birdwatching is early in the morning. However, bear in mind that the winged visitors are most commonly spotted in winter between January and April.
Gokak district would be ideal to stop at for a day on your way to Goa, Bangalore or Mumbai. Or add a day to your itinerary if you’re visiting Belgaum. It’s perfect for a driving holiday, where the journey is as important as the destination.