SAPPHIRE COAST OF INDIA
Aroad trip along the Karnataka coast offers beautiful beach holidays, water sports, spectacular scenery, lush greenery, superb coastal food and cultural experiences. Yet this stretch of coast has not yet become as touristy as those in some other states. We flew into Mangaluru Airport, which is located on a hilltop at Bajpe, outside the city of Mangalore, now officially called Mangaluru. From this international airport, we drove to Mangalore which is one of the largest cities of Karnataka, an important port and a centre for industries – from manufacturing to infotech – but offers good scenery because of its location
along the backwaters of Netravathi and Gurupur Rivers, with the Arabian Sea to its west and some of the wettest sections of the Western Ghats to its east. Amid the bustle of the city, we could see rolling hills, coconut palms, streams and old fashioned red tiled-roof buildings.
Known for its pepper, Mangalore had trade links with the middle-eastern and western countries from the sixth century. It grew to become a vital port city in the 14th and 15th century when it was visited by merchants from Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Ibn Batutta in 1314, Persian ambassador Razzak in the 1400s, and Duarte Barbosa in 1514 AD, noted that Mangalore, then better known as Manjuran, was a land rich in rice and spices, exporting to middle eastern and Mediterranean countries, and visited by overseas traders in large numbers. As tales of the port’s riches spread, the Nayaka princes of Mangalore found their kingdom coveted by foreign powers. The Portuguese succeeded in conquering Mangalore in the 16th century and set up factories here in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Sultans of Mysore laid siege on Mangalore in the 19th century and it was ruled for sometime by Tipu Sultan, who set it up as a ship-building centre.
Finally, the British took Mangalore and since then it remained a colony of the Raj until India’s independence in 1947 AD. The city has developed into one of the important ports of India, and is the main exporting centre for coffee and cashews of southern India.
Thanks to its eclectic history, Mangalore
is cosmopolitan in more ways than one. Not only does it have diversity, with a Hindu majority and a healthy population of Roman Catholics, several Muslim families, and a Jain Basti, its buildings draw from various architectural styles, and it also has streets bearing names influenced by centuries of Portuguese, British, Muslim and Hindu influences! Roaming around Mangalore, you will enjoy seeing bungalows with large gardens, trelliswork, arches and porticoes, and a number of old structures reminiscent of the days when the city was a European colony.
We started our city tour at the St Aloysius chapel, built in 1885 AD on Lighthouse hill. The interiors of the chapel are painted with a variety of scenes by Italian priest Moscheni, in the fresco technique popularised by the famous artist Michelangelo. The chapel is now part of the St Aloysius college campus, which has an interesting museum that started as a research and reference centre for biology students, with stuffed animals, anatomical natural history, biological and other exhibits. The museum also has an interesting set of utensils and household implements, and a number of other exhibits that offer an insight into life in Mangalore in the 1930s and ’40s. The museum has a 1906 AD De Dion, donated to the college by Saldhana, a coffee-curing tycoon of Karnataka. From here, we went to the Father Muller Hospital, which has a rehab unit for patients which produces beautiful block printed bedspreads, silk shawls, wall hangings with batik work, handmade toys, and letterheads, invitations, envelopes and stationery, printed at the hospital. We bought greeting cards, calendars, bed linen, table linen and other products made by the patients. Nearby is the Rosario Cathedral, originally the 16th century church belonging to the old Portuguese factory which was reconstructed after being devastated by Tipu Sultan’s invading army. In 1851, the Church of Our Lady of Rosary, Mangalore, was declared a Cathedral. In 1910, it was beautified and today it is an impressive building with a dome, columns and arches.
We drove out of the cathedral to see Shri Manjunath Mandir, one of the oldest temples of Mangalore. The temple has a lingam, a 10th century bronze sculpture
(the Lokeshwara bronze is rated among the finest in Karnataka) and 11th century Buddhist images. The temple is in the Kerala-style with a tiled roof and pagodalike shape but recent renovations intrude on the original architecture of the temple. The temple grounds have nine water tanks, subsidiary shrines and a hermitage. A cave cut into rocks is associated with the Pandavas. The temple is an important centre for the Natha-pantha cult. We drove to the Mangaladevi temple, dating to the 10th century, which is named after Mangala Devi, a princess from Mangalore. It has traditional Mangalore tiled roofing.
Then it was on to Mirajkar Museum, donated by the sons of Mrs Mirajkar, about 10 years after she passed away in 1944, which has an interesting collection of 15th to 18th century bronzes, 13th and 16th century stone sculptures, a 17th century Nepalese statue, and some ethnology exhibits, wood carvings, paintings and porcelain. Another important museum is the Mahatma Gandhi museum in Canara School. Its collection includes sculptures, art, coins, stuffed animals, etc.
We then travelled south to Ulal, where we saw the dargah of Sayyed Mohammed Shareefulla Madani and the Nirmala Convent. The beach at Ulal is a good place to enjoy the sunset. We dined on rava fry kanne (ladyfish), prawn pullimulli and fish curry, before heading out to The Gateway Hotel, on Old Port Road.
After breakfasting on mude, pathrode and shemige at GAD, the hotel’s all day dining restaurant, we set out for Udupi, the pilgrimage city known for the Sri Krishna Temple located on Car Street in the town. There are a number of `mathas’ or monastic structures around the temples, most of them established by Madhvacharya, a 13th century Hindu philosopher and the chief proponent of the Dvaita school of Vedanta. Attractive arches, columns and colourful chariots can be seen around the Sri Krishna temple which fronts a tank. The temple is most famous for its food – the cooks make more than 14 dishes daily, using local ingredients and following traditional principles. After being offered to Lord Krishna, the food is then served to devotees in the community hall.
There are also restaurants that serve
Udupi cuisine on a plantain leaf. Typically, a meal would include pickle, kosambari (a seasoned salad with gram or pea, a spiced rice dish called chitranna, happalla, Saaru (curry), Rasam, Menaskai, Koddelu, Majjige Huli, Puli kajippu, sweets like laddu, holige or Kesari bhath, fried snacks like bonda, chakli or vada, paramanna, payasa or milk pudding, and other dishes.
After lunch, we continued to Bhatkal, which has the Khetapai Narayana Temple, an excellent example of the 17th century west coast architectural style. The temple has a front wall with beautiful latticed stonework and a magnificently sculptured Vjayanagara style entrance, but uses a profusion of wood in the construction, which distinguishes it from most other temples of Karnataka that are made entirely from stone. The Chandranatha Basti is a 17th century Jain temple in the town, and there are many other Jain bastis in the old parts of Bhatkal. Bhatkal taluka also has one of Karnataka’s popular beaches at Murdeshwar. The Murdeshwar Temple is built on the Kanduka Hill, which is surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Arabian Sea. It is dedicated to Shiva, and a 20-storied gatehouse called Raja Gopura is at the entrance. From the top of the gatehouse, you can get a view of the 123-feet Shiva idol which is one of the largest Shiva statues in the world. The temple is largely new and endowed by a local businessman’s son named Mr Shetty.
The coastal stretch from Mangalore to Murdeshwar has become famous for its surf spots, specially after an ashram near Mangalore started promoting surfing. Many other water sports can also be enjoyed on this stretch.
From Murdeshwar, the Shaivite trail
continues to Gokarna. It has a stunningly picturesque beach. This town owes its religious importance to the Atmalingam given by Lord Shiva to Ravana, who had performed penance and sang in honour of Shiva. Ravana, being a Brahmin, wanted to offer his evening religious prayers, Sandhyavandanam, and he requested Ganesha, who had appeared before him as a Brahmin boy, to hold on to the Atmalinga till he returned; with strict instructions to Ganesha not to place it on the ground under any circumstances. However, Ravana could not come within the specified time. Ganesha called out thrice rapidly for Ravana and then placed the Atmalinga on the ground, and tricked Ravana by vanishing from the scene with his cows. Ravana chased the remaining cow and only managed to get hold of the cow's ear, as the rest of cow's body had disappeared underground. It is this ear now seen in the rocks in petrified form, which has given it the name "Gokarna" which means "cow's ear."
Ravana then tried hard to lift the Shiv Linga here but failed and he fainted from the effort; thereafter he gave the name "Mahabaleshwar" (meaning all-powerful) to the Atmalinga. The place now boasts of three divine entities – Gokarna, the cow's ear; the Atmalinga or Shiva Linga deified in the Mahabaleshwar Temple; and the Goddess Bhadrakali – all places of worship now integral to Gokarna. The temple is a key place of pilgrimage. Gokarna may also have been named for the ear shaped confluence of rivers at the site. The place of confluence called Tambraparni Teertha has much ritualistic importance. The Mahabaleshwar temple is built from granite and a small hole offers a view of the lingam. Around the temple we saw Gouli women selling flowers and other religious offerings.
The temple town comes to life during important festivals such as Shivaratri and Ganesh Chaturthi. Its lively bazaar is an interesting place to visit.
We travelled along the beaches to enjoy the sunset views. The Om Beach is named for its twists and turns that form the Om sign. Kudle Beach, Half Moon, and Paradise Beach are all worth visiting. A regular nominee among foreign travellers’ favourite beaches in India, Gokarna attracts the crowds for its lowkey, chilled-out beach experience and not for the full-scale parties of its neighbour, Goa. Most accommodation is in thatched bamboo huts along its several stretches of blissful coast and are facilitated with cafes, relaxed hippie hangouts, and quaint budget accommodation.
After a night stay in a small resort at Gokarna, we took the road north to Karwar. A centre for farming, industry and a naval base, Karwar also has some lovely beaches. Its popular beachfront is associated with Rabindranath Tagore, who eulogized it in his writings. On Rabindranath Tagore Beach, the ship, INS Chapal (K94), stands as a Warship Museum. Beaches here offer scuba diving near wrecks and snorkelling, and popular dive sites include Devbagh island and Pigeon island. After a long ocean ride from Karwar, we reached the rocks of an uninhabited island in the middle of the sea, home to the ancient Oyster Rock Lighthouse. With great pride we climbed right to the top of this lovingly preserved structure. It was thrilling being totally alone, on top of the world, with a blindingly blue sea unfurled around you.
The beach at Murudeshwar
Gokarna is a sacred town for Shaivites Mangalore is named after Mangala Devi Murdeshwar in Bhatkal Taluk of Uttara Kannada district is a popular temple town Around the Shri Krishna temple of Udupi
The St Aloysius college campus at Mangalore
The Shri Krishna temple at Udupi fronts a tank
Mangalore is famous for its Mahalingeshwar and Mangaladevi temples
Mangalore gets its name from Goddess Mangaladevi
Colourful chariots at Udupi
Rosario Cathedral at Mangalore
Devotees worship Lord Hanuman in Udupi
Wildwoods is a botanical resort near Murudeshwar
Studying plants at the botanical resort
Colourful Banjara women in Udupi district Vibrant flower in Wildwoods
Sufi Dargah at Ulal
The colossal Shiva statue at Murudeshwar
Rowing a coracle near Murudeshwar beach
Riding a jet ski at Murudeshwar
Devotees at Murudeshwar
Shopping in Murudeshwar
Paddy fields and plantations add to the beauty of Karnataka’s coast
Shiva temple in Murudeshwar Mahabaleshwar temple in Gokarna
Murudeshwar is a temple town named after Lord Shiva
Gouli woman sell flowers
The twists and turns of Om Beach at Gokarna give this beach its name
Gokarna has many good places to stay
The Warship Museum at Karwar