From Bangalore to Shimoga – In search of the Belligundi waterfalls in Sharavathi Valley
The first time I came to Bengaluru in 2010, everyone told me that this tech city is the base to explore the green Karnataka state.
Back then my knowledge about Karnataka was limited to the first page of Google that showed a standard list of destinations in the state: Coorg, Hampi, Chikamagalur, Gokarna, Ooty, Mysore, etc. My batchmates from IIT Delhi who had done their third-year internship in Bengaluru had specifically told me that there are a lot of water bodies and waterfalls near Bangalore. Though the phrase water bodies had sounded strange, I was thrilled to move to Bengaluru.
To know more about the things to do and places to see in Karnataka, I browsed through its pictures online. Mighty tigers, shy leopards, sloth bears, colonial and heritage buildings such as the Bangalore Vidhan Soudha and Mysore palace, lush tea and coffee estates, tall palms and coconuts fringing the highways, sunrises from hills, caves, turquoise beaches, foreigners in groups, women in heavy traditional gold jewelry — the plethora of pictures that came up when I searched about Karnataka gave me an idea about the state.
Frankly, I was still clueless about what I was going to experience here.
My decade-long romance with Karnataka has enriched me both physically and spiritually. But when I discover places like the Belligundi waterfall, I wonder if I would ever be able to say that I have seen enough of Karnataka.
Everyone knows Sharavathi wildlife sanctuary because of Jog Falls, the second-highest and one of the most famous waterfalls in Karnataka. But Jog falls is just one spot in the vast valley.
Had I not ventured into a traveling lifestyle that makes me zoom in the world map to find its remote green patches, I would have never paid attention to the velvety stretch of Sharavati that sits in the Western ghats.
Last year when I went to Sharavati valley for a week to explore this fairly unexplored region of Karnataka, I didn’t know that I would need permits to visit most of the valley. The official permits to the Sharavathi valley wildlife sanctuary (that encompasses most of the valley) have to be taken from Shivamogga (Shimoga) district.
I was residing in a homestay in the immediate neighborhood of Jog falls, and I couldn’t go back to Shimoga to get the permit for the town was about a two-hour drive from the homestay.
That one week was spent driving around the Sharavati valley wildlife sanctuary, hiking down the 1600 stairs to arrive at the base of Jog falls, eating local food, and venturing to hidden lakes and backwaters of the valley only to be told that we couldn’t be there. Only once did a kind guard gave us half an hour near a lake to eat our big lunchbox that the homestay lady had packed.
I am not sure if I should call the guard kind or should I say that I was a bit careless.
After spending a good week in the green valley, I returned to Bangalore with a list of places near Shimoga that I couldn’t see noted down on my travel bucket list.
When the Summiters Adventures group from Bangalore asked me to join them for a hike to the Belligundi waterfalls in Sharavati valley, I agreed almost instantly.
Hiking on an offbeat path in the dense Sharavati to arrive at a tall waterfall? I would never say no.
The group soon arranged the official permits, and I eagerly waited for the trek.
Belligundi — the silver falls literally — are hidden deep inside the valley. Belligundi waterfalls, also known as Kudumari waterfalls, cannot be navigated by Google maps, like most of the waterfalls of Karnataka.
Even though you might find the falls on the map, you wouldn’t be able to reach them without a guide. Or a Russell viper on the trail might scare you into retracing your steps back to the village of Kattinakaru, from where the hike to the waterfall starts. The village itself is not easy to navigate via GPS.
So if you want to visit the Kudumari waterfall, I would suggest you hire a local guide or go with a travel company from Bangalore.
Our local guide Narayana, a man with sturdy feet and a benevolent heart, had been taking travelers to Belligundi for the past twenty years. A quick Google search showed pictures of Narayana shining bright with other hikers in the few travel articles on Belligundi waterfall.
But Narayana only comes at the scene when you arrive at Kattinakaru, a hamlet in the dense Sharavati valley.
My long journey to Sharavati began from the chaotic Bangalore on a Friday evening. We were picked up by the group two hours later than the designated time. Getting to the highway took us another couple of hours.
After taking a few wrong turns in the dark, we could only arrive at the village homestay right before dawn. A lean guard opened the bamboo gate that was shut to keep off wild animals.
The loud music in the tempo traveler didn’t let me sleep despite me stuffing my ears with my dependable earplugs. Just a few minutes shy of 5 am, I crashed in bed for we had to start hiking at 7:30 am.
The 8.5 km hike one-way to the waterfall through thick jungle and rough terrains needed us to start early.
When I got out of my room, a silent morning welcomed me.
A yellowy sun rose in an orange pool behind a bamboo and straw hut. The dry grass standing peacefully over a parched land proved that it hadn’t rained for a few months.
Fresh breakfast was served in a similar hut at about 8. After gobbling down a few idlis each, we left for the hike by 8:30.
Half an hour’s drive later, we were at the starting point of the trail.
The landscape seemed semi-savannah, and the ochre earth lay thirsty. Tall golden grass swayed with the wind like the ruffled hair of a wannabe teenager.
While we crossed dry paddy fields, I wondered if the entire trail would be so dry.
My doubts were redundant.
Soon we were at a tiny village that comprised of a few houses spread over a vast area. As I crossed a tiny stream to get into the village, I realized that the terrain had already started getting greener.
After crossing the betel-nut filled courtyards of a red mud house and a quick namaste with the family there, we were now on a straight path through the forest.
The golden grass was soon giving way to greener tall trees. The jungle was quiet.
Narayana led us through the open path to an entry point to the thicker jungle. But before we walked any further, he warned us about the Russell vipers, king cobras, vine, and rat snakes that freely move around the Sharavati forest.
If we saw any snake nearby, we shouldn’t panic or run but signal the group of immediate danger.
Though we never had to use any danger signal, I will tell you about the king cobra we saw at the waterfall a bit later.
DMP oil, protection against the monkey fever found in those forests, was then applied over our arms, face, and other open parts of the body. Even the tips of our shoes were soaked in this oil that you can only get from the local government hospital.
We had to follow the footsteps of Narayana and stick together.
Now we entered the thick evergreen and moist deciduous forest of Sharavati valley. The path continued to be almost flat for another few kilometers while we walked under the canopy of tall acacia, areca, rubber, and wild hibiscus (kananadaswala) trees.
The trail might seem easy but walk cautiously for any of the thick, twisted tree root might entangle you and bring you face-down to the ground, or on stones. I might not be speaking with experience but then how would I explain fresh wounds on my already bruised knee?
Narayana and another guide from the group bandaged me well. I tried to ignore the pain that seared through my knee every time I bent it.
You can easily forget about pain on such exciting trails for while one turn brings you to a tiger-urine-marked tree at another you might have to jump over a sequence of rocks so that you don’t get stuck in the dodgy swamps.
We followed Narayana briskly for about an hour and a half only to stop at a water stream called Kanchinakare that was once constructed as a water hole for the buffaloes by the villagers.
Drinking the fresh and tasty water of Sharavati was one of my most satisfying moments of the trip. As the group was fast-paced, those water breaks were the only time when I could look around and understand the finer details of the forest.
After the water stream, the trail is a steep downhill. Like many other people on the internet, I can surely say that we were running down (almost) a seventy-degree slope.
While grabbing onto trees and a bamboo stick, I descended quickly.
Create a grip with the stick.
Hold onto a tree with the other hand.
For the next hour, we followed this marching routine as we got down at least 3-4 kilometers on the slope patted with dry leaves that crumbled loudly under our determined feet.
The trail was unrecognizable as it was covered with leaves, and if Narayana wasn’t there, we would have made for a sumptuous dinner buffet for Shere khan.
Soon we reached a point called Kalgatta from where we could see the Belligundi waterfalls falling from the top of a rocky cliff. From that distance, the waterfall didn’t look so ferocious, but that was an immature judgment.
Now we embarked upon the last but not the easiest part of the hike.
We had to climb boulders for the last kilometer of the trek. These boulders were spread over a stream and formed the base of the hill on which Belligundi falls.
The boulders were almost like a live puzzle that had to be solved to get to the waterfall.
Tiptoeing over the fallen wooden logs and trudging my way up the huge rocks, I was scared but thrilled to get to the waterfall that sounded closer with each step.
When I clambered my way up one such ninety-degree slippery boulder, I thanked the world for sending Narayana with his hand extended towards me.
After four hours of walking like a monkey, I was standing under the gushing Belligundi falls.
The silver waterfall poured buckets of cold water over me. The deafening sound of the water crashing against the rocks blocked all other noises. Sunlight split in rainbows that shined across the water.
I could have been describing a fairy tale.
The rocks in the water pool under the waterfall were slippery, too. So when you go in, walk one step at a time carefully.
If you aren’t cautious, you might miss the king cobra in the water. Luckily Narayana saw the floating serpent.
While I grasped that we were in the vicinity of one of the deadliest snakes in the world, I noticed a large wound that seemed to have broken Mr. Cobra into two. Cobra’s exposed flesh had turned white as water had already soaked all its blood.
The King cobra was dead.
Water must have swept the cobra from the top only to bash him against the rocks at the bottom. Some of the group members translated what Narayana had said.
As he spoke in Kannada, I could never get any first-hand information from him. The other hikers translated his words into English intermittently, and I couldn’t help but mentally list out the questions I would have asked Narayana if I could speak Kannada or if he knew English or Hindi.
While jumping over the boulders and soaking in the sun, I didn’t realize when two hours passed by. Our rendezvous with the freshwater was brought to an end as we had to head back.
But first, we ate lunch at a small water stream after crossing over the boulders again. Lemon rice with buttermilk and pickle made for a sumptuous meal after such a tiring walk.
Now out of the two return paths — one going downhill and one uphill — the guides chose the uphill one as the downhill path would have brought us to a place that was an hour and a half’s drive away from Kattinakaru.
The energy gained in going downhill was soon sucked away by the steep climbing. For the next hour in which we covered about 3-4 km on a 70-degree slope, everyone walked with their heads down.
Curse the slopes.
Sip some water.
The group walked at a swift speed, and some people lagged. But the slow walkers weren’t given much consideration, and they had to catch up with the rest.
My mantra to a difficult hike is to walk slowly, pause for a few breaths, never sit down, and continue. If I sit or pause for more than a couple of minutes, my body builds up inertia and has to be warmed up again, like most of us.
Though the fast pace helped cover the distance quickly, I am sure that the people who walked a bit slower than the rest cursed the inconsiderate hustlers.
Soon we were at the water hole of Kanchinakare again. Freshening ourselves with lemon water that Narayana prepared, we continued.
After walking over long and almost flat stretches covered with autumn leaves, we tiptoed over some marshy patches. In about an hour we were back at the starting point where our ride awaited us.
We finished the return hike in less than three hours, quite a fast-paced hike given we had maneuvered the rough terrain with our half-asleep, well-fed bodies. Think sloths climbing up a tree if you must.
The evening was welcomed by a bonfire. We ended our day with a simple vegetarian dinner.
The night sky dazzled with stars as a studded Pashmina shawl. After admiring the jeweled night, we surrendered ourselves into a deep slumber.
The next day we started at around 9 am from the village to visit a nearby Shiva temple called Bheemeshwara, one of the must-visit places near Shivamogga for history lovers.
Though I don’t know how old the temple is, legends say that the temple was established by Bheema when he put a Shiva linga there. Pandavas are said to be from around 3200 BCE so you can calculate the temple’s age.
In the monsoon, this Shiva temple situated on a rocky hill is hard to visit as water from the hill flows over the temple. Though the waterfall adjacent to the temple now seemed tiny, in the rainy season it would overflow, submerging everything around it.
I was thrilled to watch the priest jumping around the boulders to offer flowers to gods and sculptures that were kept at various rocks in the waterfall.
From Bheemeshwara, we drove towards Bengaluru. On our way from Shimoga to Bangalore, the group also stopped at Shri Shridhara Seva Maha Mandala temple to have lunch.
The Maha Mandala temple provides lunch to all who come seeking for food.
We waited in the queue along with devotees for an hour to get in the temple. The lunch was simple and comprised of white rice, sambhar, lemon rice, and sweets.
Stopping at the temple to eat prasad lunch was interesting, but I missed an important event in the evening because of the delay caused by long, uninformed breaks. We got back to Bengaluru at about 9 in the night.
Though none of us like fixed plans, that day I understood that following a fixed tour itinerary and keeping the group members informed is crucial in keeping all the travelers comfortable.
Apart from the slight mishaps, the experience of walking up to the waterfall and playing in the water was exhilarating.
When I was standing under the Belligundi falls, the water fell over me in such massive quantity that I got frightened of being swept off by the current even though I was standing upright under the water.
But if raw nature wouldn’t scare us even a bit, then what would be the thrill left in these adventures?
You tell me.
Sharavati valley wildlife sanctuary is one of the ecological hotspots in Karnataka, and I suggest you go there soon as it still lays unexplored.
Oh, don’t forget those permits.
Until the next time then.
How to travel to the Belligundi waterfall, Sharavathi wildlife sanctuary?
You have to hire a local guide at Kattinakaru village. Or talk to a tour company in Bengaluru that arranges treks to the waterfall.
If you are visiting Jog falls or are staying in Sharvathi valley for some time, ask a local there to guide you to Belligundi waterfall.
How far is Bangalore to Shimoga?
Shivamogga to Bangalore distance is about 300 km. Expect a drive of about eight hours at least given the hilly terrain.
What is the best time to travel to Belligundi waterfalls in Karnataka?
The best time to visit Belligundi is from October to February/March. You need to avoid the monsoon season to have a safe trip to the waterfall as during the monsoon the trail would become too slippery and the waterfall will also have a high level of water.
Important things to keep in mind while traveling to Belligundi waterfalls, Sharavati valley wildlife sanctuary:
- Only the BSNL network works in Kattinakaru village and in other dense parts of Sharavathi. Sometimes, BSNL also fails.
- Official forest department permits are needed to visit Belligundi waterfalls. You can obtain the same online or from Shivamogga city.
- Camping near the waterfall is possible but you will need local help to arrange the same.
- The Sharvathi forest is dense with wild animals and snakes. Travelers should follow the local guide. But don’t be scared. Animals never harm you unless you catch them by surprise or try to scare them. Mostly they are more scared than humans and want to get as far away from us as they can. If you run into a snake or any other animal during the trek, let your local guide help you. Follow the guide, and don’t panic, if possible. Get away from the animal. Most importantly, don’t try to harm the wildlife unless it attacks you, which is rare and only happens if you step over the animal or come face to face with it.
- Carry a water bottle that you can refill. The natural freshwater streams in the jungle have the sweetest water that I ever tasted.
These are the most important things to carry that are at the top of my head. Refer to my travel packing guide for a complete list of things to bring on a trip.
What are some of the other amazing waterfalls of Karnataka?
I am writing down the waterfalls near Bangalore that I have visited in the past few years.
- Shivasamudra waterfalls – One of the most fun water places near Bangalore. Shivasamudra falls are about a 3-hour drive from the city.
- Chunchi waterfall – About 90 km from Bangalore, Chunchi waterfalls make for a quick one-day trip. These waterfalls flow amidst a rocky hill and climbing around the boulders was the most fun part of this visit.
- Jog Falls – One of the grandest waterfalls in Sharavathi valley. You cannot go in the water here but when the Sharavathi river falls from about 850 feet height to form these falls, the sight is the one to behold. Jog falls are pretty dry in the summer, so better you visit them around the monsoon season.
- Hogenakkal waterfall – Only 130 km from Bangalore, Hogenakkal makes for a perfect day trip. Don’t forget to take a coracle ride there.
- Abbey Falls (Coorg) – A gorgeous but super busy waterfall in Karnataka, Abbey waterfall are about 280 km away from Bengaluru.
Amongst all these, Belligundi and Hogenakkal are my favorite falls in Karnataka.
Would you love to go to these offbeat Belligundi waterfalls near Shimoga? Tell me in the comments.
Please Note: Summiters Adventures hosted me for this hike. All the opinions are mine, as you can tell.