Rolling foothills and green expanses, sudden bursts of flaming red amidst green, and winding, picturesque roads… this is as close to bliss in the countryside as you can get. Down the twisting district road from Malavalli, you suddenly come upon the slightly askew signpost that reads ‘Georgia Sunshine Village’. The turn-off is basically a dirt track seeming to meander into pure jungle. Well, shift into first gear, adjust your seat and go for it…. Winding, curving, bumpy and all but non-existent, the track continues through the jungle till you’re quite sure you’re lost. Then, quaint red-tiled rooftops peep through the foliage…. Welcome, the forest seems to murmur.
Shivanasamudram is the domain of Mother Nature. Gentle sloping foothills seduce with their pristine freshness, the woods are virgin and the experience is sublime. These hills are home to wild boar, peacocks, partridges, elephants and even the occasional marauding panther. Bands of elephants have been known to venture as near as the village outskirts in these regions. How much more forest can you ask for, so close to home? The east end of Mandya District is much more lush than the Mysore Highway led you to believe. Take that turn onto the back roads for a quiet weekend in the forest at the incongruous sounding Georgia Sunshine Village, just a few kilometres away from the roaring falls of Shivanasamudram.
From the Panditahalli turn-off you get to Hebbani village; drive 5 mins down a twisting district road till the signpost saying ‘Georgia Sunshine Village’ jumps out of the greenery. Turn off onto a dirt track that winds through the jungle. Look out for the signpost announcing a left turn onto a small path. Look carefully, because the signpost is 20 ft above the eye-line. A couple of more turns from here and you hit Georgia Sunshine Village. Shivanasamudram, a possible day-trip from Bengaluru, is an ideal weekend break thanks to the country home of the Hatherell family, Georgia Sunshine Village, named for your hostess, Georgia Hatherell. Anyone who is looking for nothing more than nature at its untouched best is welcome. The place is the experience and the keyword is ‘chill’.
Those in dire need of rest may grab a book, put up their feet and relax by one of the many little streams that run through the woods around Georgia Sunshine. Those who can’t sit still can hare off further into the woods in search of waterfalls, wildlife or fish to catch. The Cauvery, the lifeline of Karnataka, splits into two streams here — Barachukki and Gaganachukki. About 9 km by road from Georgia, turn left at Panditahalli and drive to Shri Vishveshwaraya Hydroelectric Plant, labelled as the ‘Bluff’. From Bluff, it is a short 5-min drive to the falls.
Beautiful cascades of water spread out over two vast hillsides will greet you. The water is being diverted to feed what was the first hydroelectric plant in Asia (built in 1902 by the maharaja of the erstwhile Mysore State). Gaganachukki also boasts a fall-side dargah on the opposite bank, a short drive across to the other hillside. A word of caution though — in these regions, the falls represent a literal Xanadu for boisterous local revellers and their ilk. The falls are, therefore, best avoided on public holidays while being quite acceptable on weekends.
A couple of food stalls and a few vendors selling fresh coconut water and locally grown gooseberries liberally spiced with red chilli powder complete the experience at Shivanasamudram. Barachukki is just beyond the dargah, a few kilometres away. The falls here form a sylvan, deep pool. You can swim here or even catch a coracle ride (Rs 50-100). The falls are great all year round. The forests here are lush, which also means that traditional walking trails do not exist and that a trek is what it is meant to be — tough and rough. The Hatherells will organise a guide who’ll chart out a route and also accompany you. Routes are customised to the energy levels of trekkers and can vary from a simple 2-hr amble to a day-long trip, complete with food, water and supplies thrown in. Animal sightings are rare on these treks, nevertheless groups have been known to get lucky and spot fresh elephant footprints and dung!
When was the last time that you actually walked through a village that seems lost somewhere in time and space? Where you can still find farm implements made by hand and actually have a market for cow bells? The villages of Malavalli, Panditahalli, Manchanahalli, Hebbani and Shimsapura offer all this and more. Don’t miss the traditional Friday market when you can encounter a plethora of sound and colour, and bag some unusual buys in one single mad and undeniably rustic location.
Location: Shivanasamudram, in eastern Mandya, skirts the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary
Distance: 109 km S of Bengaluru
When to go: The best time to go is in the post-monsoon months, from June till January. The forest will be lush and nature will be at its bountiful best. February to April might be too hot for some, but the air-conditioned rooms attract people even then. If the rains are good, the waterfalls are great even from April onwards. Water lovers will be happy to learn that the Barachukki Waterfall is good any time of the year.
By Anish Vohra
About the author: From 1998 onwards, Anish Vohra has written on Indian history and culture.