And there it was, the rock my mother had spoken about. The rock atop which she said that she, as a small girl, had lain down and viewed the head of the gushing Raja falls at scarily close quarters. The rock jutted out a bit over the cliff from which Raja thundered down. I could only imagine now how frightening and exhilarating the experience must have been for the tiny five year old.
The rock was now inaccessible. The paths leading down to it from the viewing gallery in front of the Circuit House (aka British Bungalow) were cordoned off. “A couple of drunks must have toppled over,” the tourist next to me said. “Or they would have fallen in trying to take selfies.”
The Jog Falls is also known as Gersoppa Falls after a nearby village of that name. It is made up of four distinct plunge falls created by the Sharavathi River, which, after flowing over a very rocky bed, plunges into a 960 feet deep gorge.
Raja, Roarer, Rocket and Rani. Nobody seems to know who named these falls but the names have stuck! Raja — the tallest waterfall majestically tumbles down 830 feet in one sheer unbroken column. The next tallest, Roarer is also the noisiest. It falls into a rocky cup before rushing down jubilantly to meet Raja. The third and most vigorous waterfall, Rocket, stands close to Raja and shoots downwards in a series of jets. Rani, the fourth waterfall, is the most delicate. It comes down gently veiled in sheets of foam.
“I was quite a bold girl, but this was frightening,” my mother would say, every time she repeated the story to me or my boys. “I was crying, but my father insisted I should do it because it was an unmissable sight. So he held my legs and I peeped over the edge of the rock. And wow! I can never forget that experience.”
My grandfather was a civil servant in the 1930s when this incident must have taken place. He was a bold and adventurous man who rode on horseback to the remotest parts. He often took his seven children along on trekking expeditions inside the forests of the Western Ghats, and my mother, who was a great storyteller, would regale us with tales of leeches and forest streams, tigers roaring in the dark and peacocks dancing on the paths.
But about that rock she was not sure where it was. Was it really at Jog Falls or was she mixing it up with some other small waterfall?
On my trip to Jog Falls many, many summers ago, I had just seen a pencil like stream of water…not the gushing falls she described. My brother and I ran down the steps to the bottom of the gorge and played around in the pools of water. We gazed up at the impressive rock face which was 80ft tall and seemed to stretch up and up into the sky. We wondered then what it would be like if the waterfalls were full.
It took me more than fifty years to find out! This time, my son took me to view Jog Falls at the end of the monsoon and the experience was totally different. These were the waterfalls my mother had spoken about. We stood mesmerised.
Jog Falls was picture perfect. It looked almost like a painting had come alive. Tall, sheer streams of water plunging off the cliff into a gorge. Mist rising all around. Rainbows forming across the waterfalls. We watched the changing mood of the falls as they veiled themselves with clouds and emerged again, as they swayed with the winds and gushed and roared through the day and night. It was a surreal experience.
My son Sriram decided to go down to the gorge. But this time around I found the prospect of 1400 steps too daunting. The steps had been closed to the public for a while, the watchman at the entrance told him, because some visitors managed to smuggle liquor with them when they went down and there had been a couple of cases of people drowning after getting drunk. Now, there were security guards all along the steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Sriram came back awestruck by the experience of standing so close to the waterfalls thundering all around him. Some young men who had come to bathe in the pools told him that when the water is released from the Linganamakki dam upstream, the force is so great that no one is allowed. This, in fact, had happened just a week before we went.
The Linganamakki dam was completed in the 1960s and has a huge reservoir which is used for storing water for generating hydroelectric power. The building of this dam upstream definitely affected the flow of water to the falls. Now, the falls can be seen in their full glory only during the four months of the monsoon season when the dam is full and the overflow comes rushing down to the cliff. In fact, when the reservoir is overfull, water is released and the powerful gush creates a dramatic scene.
According to popular legend, Sir M Viveswariah — who was responsible for building the dam — was the consummate engineer. He could not bear to see anything go to waste. And when he saw the gorgeous Jog Falls with water gushing down the cliff side, he exclaimed, “What a waste!” and decided to harness them for power generation. Utility won over natural beauty.
The Jog Management Authority has now proposed a project to keep the falls flowing all through the year. The project, which is estimated to cost over Rs 350 crore, envisions recycling the water back into the reservoir so it can be used even during the dry season.
I stood on The British Bungalow steps as close as I could get to my mother’s rock and saw the falls from a different close-up angle. Each one had a personality of its own. In spite of our interference, Jog Falls continued to stun us with its natural beauty. It's time we learnt to stop interfering and just let it be.