Toyota River Drive – Part 2 – Following the ripples of the Kaveri

Toyota River Drive – Part 2 – Following the ripples of the Kaveri

As per Hindu mythology, India’s rivers are mother deities spawning spirituality and religious sentiments. That’s why you see scores of temples built around them. Prayers and aartis are offered to the river goddess every day, while festivals take this vibrance to another level. But that’s not really why rivers are the lifelines of India. The principle reason is our dependency on the water. Rivers and the lakes, they feed our supply of drinking water. The dams built on them not only store water for irrigation but supply electricity – clean electricity at that. And the millions who live along the river draw their livelihood from it. Discovering the life along the river is what our Driven by a Better Future series is all about. After discovering the Narmada last month, we now pile into our bright red Touring Sport edition of the Innova Crysta, to discover hidden treasures along one of India’s holiest rivers, the Kaveri.

Starting off with the Innova Crysta

Our journey begins in South East Tamil Nadu. Despite packing the Crysta with our bags, shooting equipment and leftover Diwali snacks, there’s still space for more. We are at the coastal town of Poompuhar where the Kaveri empties into the Bay of Bengal and cyclone Gaja gives us a rather thunderous reception. Lesson learnt, better check weather reports before we head out on road trips. With super-strong winds and heavy rain lashing down we beat a quick retreat, a drive that reveals the strengths of the Crysta. It remains rock solid, the ABS and ESP doing wonders on wet and slippery roads, keeping us safe.

Most importantly it gives us an all-round sense of safety and security; in a lesser vehicle we would have found an underground basement and parked up. As we head to Tiruchirappalli (Trichy), the state highway in Tamil Nadu took us by surprise with its flawless tarmac. It felt bittersweet, as the cyclone had caused a lot of damage to the villages  we drove through. We even stopped by some villages to speak to the rescue teams from Kabisthalam town, who had done an impressive job of clearing the roads in just over two hours.

“It felt bittersweet, as the cyclone had caused a lot of damage to the villages  we drove through”

After reaching Tiruchirappalli we make a quick stop at Anamalaais Toyota and catch up with a few Crysta customers who accompany us on a drive to Mukkombu dam on the Kaveri. It was constructed during the Raj and breaks into two channels forming the island of Srirangam, which is enclosed in between the delta of Thanjavur. Today the Mukkombu dam serves as one of the main sources for irrigation water for farmers in southern Tamil Nadu. Moreover it’s a great picnic spot, skirting acres of verdant greenery and a perfect end to a day that started with rather worrying weather.

On to day two of the Kaveri river drive

We left for Yercaud early the next morning. Our bid to avoid traffic came to a cropper, though, as the road was jam packed with trucks. Meanwhile, we were getting used to our new travel companion. The Innova Crysta is surprisingly easy to manoeuvre through the city and with 168bhp and 360Nm of torque from the 2.8-litre diesel, the Crysta had enough and more power in reserve. The Eco mode saves precious fuel on the highways while the Power mode made the throttle more responsive, helping us during quick overtakes on single lane roads. Most of all we loved the automatic gearbox; it makes driving so easy and relaxing.

“It also has flawless tarmac, mirroring the roads we found everywhere in South India”

The highlight of the day was the famous Yercaud Cauvery Peak Road. It is a 32km stretch of scenic mountain road set amongst thick forest cover. Its 20 hairpin bends make it a cornering wonderland for any automobile enthusiast. It also has flawless tarmac, mirroring the roads we found everywhere in South India. This throws up another aspect of the Crysta. Despite being a large people mover, it handles astonishingly well for a vehicle its size. In fact it almost feels like a car, never feels its 4.7-metre length, and  goes down the road with verve and enthusiasm. It also grips very well with not much body roll, easy and light steering, and great response from the big diesel engine in Power mode. It makes the drive through lush coffee plantations, quiet hamlets and forested hill slopes and inclines an absolute joy and with the scenic views of the Shevaroys range of hills in the Eastern Ghats this is a must visit if you’re travelling through central Tamil Nadu.

Smoothness: A Toyota thing?

After passing through Yercaud we set out on a six-hour-long drive towards Mysore, a road that skirts and follows the course of the Kaveri. Soon we passed over Mettur dam, Tamil Nadu’s largest and one of the biggest reservoirs built on the Kaveri. It provides irrigation and drinking water to 12 districts in Tamil Nadu. In essence, it provides both life and livelihood to the state. There were plenty of tiny temples to the Kaveri river goddess built along this course, showing the faith locals have in the river.

After the dam we cross into Karnataka. Here, for the first time on this journey, the Crysta indulges in a bit of off-roading. On the 40km drive through the Malai Mahadeshwara wildlife sanctuary, the Innova Crysta’s ride quality and suspension durability was put to the test and we can tell you it didn’t rattle or shake us up. The high torsional strength of the Innova’s body-on-frame chassis meant that the MPV could not only cruise for hundreds of kilometres without a hassle, but also take on some unexpected off-road beatings.

Skirting through monasteries in the Crysta

Day three and we set off from Palace Toyota in Mysore with seven families in their Crystas joining us to Kodagu (Coorg) and the mountains that is the source of the Kaveri. Our first stop was the Namdroling Monastery in Bylakuppe. This monastery is the largest teaching centre of Nygingmapa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in the world. It is home to around 5000 monks and nuns and is also the largest Tibetian settlement south of Dharamshala. Inside the monastery are three massive gold-plated statues of different forms of Lord Buddha. These are the Guru Padmasambhava, Buddha and Amiyatus. The walls have numerous paintings depicting the phases of Buddha’s life.

In the afternoon we catch up with Aiyappa CP who works with the Coorg Wildlife Society. Aiyappa undertakes river conservation for the 45km stretch that the Kaveri flows through Kodagu district. He tells us how indiscriminate fishing, sand mining and encroachments are serious issues for the river that supplies drinking water to Karnataka’s capital.

“If the river dries up can you imagine what will happen to Mysore and Bangalore?” he asks us. Aiyappa also shows us pictures of himself with the Masheer, a fresh water fish. He adds that his foundation is trying to save by reducing netting and commercial fishing. The planters in Coorg are great angling enthusiasts but they always release the fish back into the water; conservation in their DNA, whether it’s of the river, the soil or even cleaning up all the plastic that insensitive tourists leave behind. After all they live off the resources of the land and the river and know, all too well, that if you abuse it our lives, as we know it, will be over.

Jumbo fun with a ‘Toyota family’

Some of the families who drove up to Coorg with us from Mysore also visited the Dubare Elephant Camp. We were lucky to see the elephants as we reached just in time to enter the camp. The forest department maintains strict timings for elephant bathing and interaction. This helps maintain their natural routine with minimal human interference. It’s not just the people of these states who are dependant on the river water, but also animals, birds, fish and all their species who live in the rich forests of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

“When I first saw the Toyota Carina, it was like love at first sight”

Continuing on our journey in Coorg, the next morning we went to visit two extremely warm and welcoming Coorgis, Dr Subbaiah and his son Avinash Cariappa. Ardent admirers and proud owners of Toyotas, Dr Subbaiah owns one of the rarest Toyota’s in India, the Carina sedan. Dr Subbaiah bought this Muscat-imported 1981 model in 1988 for Rs 13,000. “When I first saw the Toyota Carina, it was like love at first sight,” he explains adding that the Carina was one of most comfortable cars back in the day and he used it as his daily driver for two decades. Interestingly, his son owns an Innova Crysta. They call themselves a ‘Toyota Family’ and are big fans of Toyota’s robust build, incredible quality and refined engines. After sipping the delicious filter coffee from their plantation we headed to our final destination, the Tala Kaveri temple, source of the Kaveri river.

An exercise in peace amidst rivers

The temple is situated in Bramhagiri Hills on the Kerala-Karnataka border. It is quite a sight as clouds coverit entirely. The temple houses the symbolic source, a pool of holy water. This is where the Kaveri originates then flowing down to the foothills of the Western Ghats. Watching the evening pooja is the perfect way to culminate our drive. We sit silently, sipping the holy water, soaking in the spiritual sentiment and marvelling at the lush green scenery around us. On one hand, the locals worship the magnificent Kaveri river, but on the other hand rack up controversies over who gets how much of the water.

Of course it’s unfortunate and we were not getting into that. Our aim is to learn just how important the river is to South India. Talking to the people who depend on the river. In doing so we discover how the river is being taken care of for future generations. “You can live without food for maybe or two,” says Aiyappa, “but can you imagine living without water?” It is a profound and meaningful statement. Our future, and that of our children, depends on our rivers. Rivers are a vision towards a better future.

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