A sudden flash flood had the Kadem stream in a flurry at the Kuntala waterfalls in Neredigonda Mandal of Adilabad on July 29, 2001. Tragedy struck a group of picnickers from Bellampalli town, catching them unawares.
As the surging water washed away six people in the flash flood, there were many more stranded on the hillock, facing imminent death with the water level swelling. The brave act of a teenage fisherman swimmer who swung into action and saved many lives made headlines that year.
On a recent weekend getaway to Jannaram Forest in Telangana, to experience the wildlife in the Kawal Reserve, five of us from Hyderabad decided to take a detour from NH 44 at Nirmal and see a few waterfalls. Our first stop, the deserted Pochera waterfalls nestled in monkey infested ravine was a delight to watch. However, the waterfall itself was just like standing under the shower, the natural rock formations around chiselled by the gushing water at its best flow, were the only saving grace.
Our next stop was Kuntala falls which is the star attractions for tourists for its quantum of water that cascades down the stony face. Many a social media post is made beautiful by the proud pictures of people standing under the silvery waterfall. The expectation and the experience, however, were a stark contrast. In spite of a prolonged monsoon in 2019, the waterfall was a big let-down, there was hardly anything to rave about, leave alone taking pictures.
There was something more to take back from the visit. One of our team members told us about meeting a bravery award winner years ago and how he saved many lives from drowning in the flooded Kadem stream. At the foot of the climb towards the hillock abutting the Kuntala waterfalls are a few shops selling snacks to tourists. Manning one of them is a non-descript bearded 35-year-old selling Tea, snacks, cold drinks and more.
My friend recognised him immediately as Putta Somanna, was the bravery award winner. We asked him about the unfortunate day of July 2019 and how he rescued people from the floods.
His story went something like this…As the surging water washed away six people in the flash flood, there were many more stranded on the hillock, facing imminent death with the water level swelling. The young 16-year-old Somanna swung into action swimming across the dangerously gushing water and saved six lives, including three from a family of picnickers from Bellampalli.
In a six-hour rescue act, he ensured that the tourists caught in the floods were safe at the far side of the waterfall. With the arrival of villagers, police and forest dept officials, the rescue of the stranded people was accomplished. Later news of the selfless, brave act of Putta Somanna spread like wildfire and he was recommended for the national bravery award 2001. He received the National Bravery Award in 2002.
Somanna showed us his album of photos, clicked during the award ceremony on January 26, 2002. It included pictures with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former President KR Narayanan, and then CM Chandra Babu Naidu and many national and regional leaders.
However, the teenager did not bask in the laurels of the national award and went on to make a livelihood at Kuntala. Now married, Somanna runs the shop that not only sells wares for the tourists, but also doubles as rescuer and a tourist guide who knows the place like the back of his palm.
The picturesque waterfall at Kuntala, with its beautiful surroundings nestled in the dense forest, brings lots of visitors from across Telangana and nearby Maharashtra. The next time you visit this place, pay a visit to Putta Somanna and have tea at his quaint shop.