By Susheela Nair
The backwaters of the Hemavathy River in Hassan District had receded in the sweltering heat of summer and I walked across the dry bed scouting for a historic landmark. From a distance the battered edifice of the Gothic-style Holy Rosary Church loomed into view, a striking contrast to the breathtaking landscape of the Gorur Dam catchment area. Built in 1860 by French missionaries for the affluent British estate owners in the neighbouring areas, the prominent Holy Rosary Church on the banks of the picturesque village of Shettyhalli in Hassan district was attributed to Father Dubois.
As I reached the crumbling ruins of the church, an eerie silence greeted me for there was not a soul in sight except for some stray cattle. Ambling around, I discovered the columns, the arch, a few walls, part of the altar and the central nave intact. But the stained glass windows, pews and the windows were conspicuous by their absence. A sense of peace engulfed me as I stood inside, gazing at the altar. I could imagine the church resonating with prayers and chorals and the pastor preaching sermons during a Sunday morning mass in the past. The solid ruins have withstood the havoc of several monsoons but eventually the roof caved in. Only a few walls remain to tell a story. It is said that the church was built with mortar and a mixture of jaggery and eggs.
With the construction of the Gorur dam, all the people in the entire village had to evacuate with their belongings and relocate upstream leaving behind the church. The church was submerged for the first time 25 years ago when the Gorur dam, situated 8 km away from the church site, flooded the region during the monsoon. The church looked equally majestic and fascinating when I visited it during the monsoon. I took a coracle ride to the crumbling ruins and found the waters of the Hemavathy River had risen to partially submerge the church. Despite being submerged, the columns, the arch, a few walls, part of the altar and the central nave were visible. Thankfully the spire was visible at times and it assumed the look of a stranded ship.
Tourists visiting Belur-Halebid normally include Shettyhalliâ€™s backwaters in their itinerary. Its main allure is its spectacular sunset, excellent birding, angling and photo opportunities. Many fighting sequences and romantic interludes of various commercial movies have been shot against the backdrop of the scenic and pristine environs of Shettyhalliâ€™s backwaters and the church. The backwaters also plays host to a multitude of aquatic birds and winged visitors. Subsequently a new church Japa Maleya Raniya Devalaya, was built on higher ground at Jyothi Nagar, Shettyhalli, using portions of the stained glass and other treasures salvaged from the original church.
Getting there: 13-km from Hassan. Just before the right for Belur, youâ€™ll pass the College of Ayurveda and Nisarga College of Nursing on the main Hassan road. Look for the left turn to Shankaranahalli to reach Shettyhalli.