Balehonnur is a picturesque little town, located in the heart of the coffee growing region of Chickmagalur Dist., Karnataka, at 714 m above sea level. The town is located on the banks of the Bhadra River, whose source is at Gangamoola in Kudremukha in the Western Ghats. The town is surrounded by paddy fields and estates growing coffee, areca nut, banana, pepper, vanilla and other spices.
We drove the 900 km, from Hyderabad, to visit a close friend who has a coffee estate a few kilometers from Balehonnur, where he has built his house overlooking the Bhadra River.
The house has a fantastic view of the river and the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, across the river.
Being located on the estate, the house is surrounded by flowering and fruit bearing trees which attract numerous species of insects, butterflies, birds and reptiles. The place is so tranquil, that all through the day one can hear the songs of cicadas and birds and the river rushing by. A great place to relax and unwind. It also helps, that, most of the time, due to a weak signal, cell phones don’t work!
We spent a week on the estate, in May this year and from there drove to Baba Budangiri, Mulayyanagiri, Sringeri, Sirimane Falls and Kudremukha National Park.
Walking around the estate, one is struck by the variety in nature’s beauty – the call of the birds, the perfume of the flowers, the taste of fresh fruit and the riot of colors all around. A veritable paradise!
An unusual plant grows wild around this area. In summer, some of the leaves turn white and the plant blooms with orange flowers. This combination of colour attracts White Orange-tip (Ixia Marianne) butterflies.
And then, there is the majestic Bhadra River. Flowing down from the Western Ghats and rushing past the estate. Before the sun rises, the mists hang heavy over its surface, and along with the early morning silence creates an air of eeriness and mystery.
Over hundreds of years, the river has eroded the rocks, giving them their grotesque shapes and surreal colours, adding another element to the beauty of the scene.
But by the evening, rain bearing clouds loom overhead and darken the forest, bringing with them the threat of rain.
Heavy rains beat down all night and for the next 24 hours. When the skies finally cleared, we were greeted by this unbelievable sight.
The incessant rain had turned the water from its usual clear green to a muddy brown and the level had risen, submerging most of the rocks!
One evening, we drove down to Balehonnur to shop for some coffee powder, spices and pickles. On the way, we stopped to see the famous Rambhapuri Mutt and the Veerabhadra temple attached to the Mutt.
While returning, as we drove around a corner and onto the Balehonnur bridge, we were greeted by this amazing spectacle - the evening sun had set the sky and river on fire!
Located 75 km from Balehonnur, is the Chandradrona Mountain Range. This range is known as Chandradrona because it forms the shape of a crescent moon. Baba Budangiri (1895 m), is one of the peaks in this range and is famous for its shrine to the Sufi saint Baba Budan. Another peak is Mulayyangiri (1930 m) which is the highest in Karnataka and very popular for its trekking paths. The views from here are truly breath taking, overlooking hilly grasslands, shola forests and coffee plantations.
On the way down from Mulayyangiri peak, we stopped at Seethalayanagiri to photograph the Shiva temple and the colourful rath housed there.
The day before we left Balehonnur, we decided to try and absorb as much of the history and scenic beauty of this area as possible. So we drove first to Sringeri where the Vidyashankara Temple is located. This temple, on the banks of the Tunga River was built 1338 A.D. It is a unique monument built entirely of stone combining both Hoysala (Chalukya) and Dravidian architectural styles.
Next stop was Sirimane Falls, 15 km southwest of Sringeri. This is a small water-fall but located in a very scenic area. Unfortunately since it is fairly easily accessible by road, it was crowded. However it was still worth visiting and during the monsoon it must be a glorious sight.
On the return leg of the trip, we drove through the Kudremukha National Park. The Park is the second largest Wildlife Protected Area (belonging to the tropical, wet, evergreen type of forest) in the Western Ghats. The southern and western sides of the park form the steep slope of the Western Ghats ridge line. The northern, central and the eastern portions of the park constitute a chain of rolling hills with a mosaic of natural grassland and shola forests. A variety of endangered animals are found in the park including the Tiger, Leopard and Wild Dog. Other animals within the Park are Gaur, Sambar, Wild Pig, Barking Deer, Mouse Deer, Bonnet Macaque, Common Langur and the Lion-tailed Macaque.
The wet climate and the tremendous water retaining capacity of the shola forests and grasslands have led to the formation of hundreds of perennial streams that converge to form three major rivers of the region, Tunga, Bhadra and Nethravathi.
Mindless iron ore mining for nearly 30 years, destroyed huge swathes of this area. However strong opposition from environmentalists put a stop to mining operations in 2005. It is heartening to now see nature slowly claiming this area back.
The now redundant iron ore processing plant can be seen here, through the evening haze. Hopefully this will never start again. Time and the healing touch of nature will help the forests and the grasslands slowly reclaim what is rightfully their own.
Another great driving holiday ended here, but not before we were privileged to see a small part of the amazing beauty of Incredible India!
An engineer by profession, an entrepreneur by choice. A traveler by passion and a photographer by persuasion. I guess that sums me up. Being passionate about travelling, visiting new places and enjoying nature and the outdoors, I was persuaded to take up photography seriously. Having done so, the opportunity to photograph now decides where I travel!
Saurabh’s guidance and the amazing SIA fraternity have had a huge influence on my abilities and skills. Thanks, Saurabh - your enthusiasm and desire to excel has rubbed off on me.
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This post is written by Saurabh Chatterjee. He is a travel photographer and a photography trainer.He strives to make every camera-owner a great photographer through his Photography workshops and Photo Tours and Photowalks. All rights reserved. No copying without permission of the author Saurabh Chatterjee