Belgaum district, in the northwestern tip of Karnataka has been notoriously famous for its Marathi leanings. In fact the controversy still prevails whether the district belongs to Maharashtra or Karnataka. The lingua franca of the region is mostly Marathi and even the Kannada spoken here is laced with a generous dose of Marathi.
Thanks to this controversy and its associated disturbances, the district has been totally ignored by both the people and the rulers of the state. Belgaum with its lofty green mountains, lush green valleys, roaring water falls and ancient forts and temples could have been developed as a high-potential tourist destination. But alas Karnataka government seems to be more interested in raking up ancient political cases than developing tourist infrastructure in far-flung districts such as Belgaum.
Two major rivers flow through the district— the Malaprabha and Ghataprabha— making the region lush green and fertile. In course of the flow, through the mountains and valleys, the rivers form several natural and picturesque waterfalls, among them: Gokak and Godchinmalki falls are the more popular ones. The most famous waterfall in the region— Gokak Falls— is a mere six km from Gokak town and 71 km from Belgaum city. KSRTC buses ply almost round the clock from Belgaum to the falls. Those who fancy train travel can travel to Konnur or Ghataprabha railway station from Belgaum and another three kilometres by local transport.
Gokak Falls is sited in a picture postcard setting between tall, rugged sandstone cliffs. The Ghataprabha river separated from the Malaprabha river by the Belgaum hills flows through the black soil plains before it enters the rocky belt of Gokak. The flow of the river is broken by a tableland about 180 feet above the neighbouring valley.
The river takes a giant leap over the sandstone cliff, in a picturesque horseshoe shaped gorge to fall into the Gokak valley with a thundering noise and forming a cloud like foam below. One can actually go to the head of the falls and look down where the water is falling.
As one gets closer to the head of the fall the roar increases and drowns out any other noise that people attempt to make. It is a perfect place to spend a quiet moment with nature who seems to bless us with gentle spray of moisture rising from the waterfalls. The horseshoe-shaped waterfall spans a breadth of 177 metres as it sweeps over the brink of the cliff. The best period to view and enjoy the glory of the Gokak falls is from July to September when the sound of falling water can be heard much before the falls comes to sight. The spray thrown up by the falls creates a feeling of silver clouds between two steep and rugged rock faces. The locals here feel that the roaring falls symbolise purity, peace, and love.
Though Gokak falls shot into fame as early as 1885 when it was discovered by British explorers, who described the Gokak Falls thus: “Except in width and colour of water, the general features of the fall, its height, shape and rapidity above are very much like those of the Niagara,” it remains a largely unknown among the people of the state, thanks to the indifferent attitude of successive state governments towards developing the falls as a tourist destination.
The British established the Gokak Water Power and Manufacturing Company here with an investment of Rs 20 lakh in 1887. Later, in 1907-08 the company installed a electric turbine to generate hydro-electricity. A rope way connects the high tableland with the power generating station below. The town’s colonial past is resplendent in the mill’s elegant colonial buildings and residential quarters of the managing director and other top mill officials.
The mill and the power plant are operational even today and the main activity of the former is conversion of Cotton into yarn.
Aside from the falls the place has several attractions. Among them, the 210-metre hanging wooden bridge across the falls enables people to cross the river. A walk on this century old creaking bridge— on which only 30 people are allowed at a time— is a thrilling experience.