There’s something very liberating about riding a bike. I’m undecided on whether I should add ‘as a woman’ over here. But the truth is, the first time I breathed freedom was when I rode my first adult cycle beyond Chamiers road, (Alwarpet, Chennai :)) peddling through the heavy Nandanam traffic. Since then, riding a two-wheeler in gay abandon through unknown roads and by lanes has brought me closer to happiness and independence. Needless to say, bike trips are a favourite, night rounds with the husband man, especially this summer has become sort of a routine. Although, to be honest, ever since I moved out of Chennai, I’ve only been a spoilt pillion who lets her hair loose and let her eyes lead her to the beautiful, hidden scenes that pass by. This month, an opportunity landed on my lap to unspoil myself.
It’s not often that a bff is on a break from work and agrees to step out of the self-imposed 3 kms around office radius. This called for an impromptu, unplanned, quickfire, realistically budgeted trip. The only ground rule was to go to places neither of us have been to. We narrowed down on Karnataka, as I was already in Bangalore for some personal work. Like a friend put it, although I’ve moved out of Bangalore, my heart is still in Karnataka. Well, my heart is in Madras, but it does wander into Karnataka every now and then 🙂 The sweltering heat didn’t hold much of a promise, but we decided to hit the coast and wet our feet in the Arabian Sea.
We took an overnight bus to Manipal and the University town welcomed us with cheer. There’s something about these university towns. Not sure, if it’s the wannabe, cool, hangouts teeming with students or the surprising cleanliness, security and non-judgemental-ness, but they definitely make you feel like you’re back in college. That’s how we ended up making the brash decision of hiring a bike and riding through the Karnataka coastal stretch. To my friend’s family – please note, it was my idea, I take all the blame. And to my family, well, I just gave the idea, she very quickly and enterprisingly found a place for us to hire the Activa, don’t blame me! 😀
That was the first thing we did once we landed in Manipal, hire a bike (you too can, over here). We then checked into our room, freshened up, and decided to head to the Udupi Krishna Math for free lunch. Yay! This has been on my bucket list for a long time; Yes, my bucket is more like a Ratna cafe sambhar bucket, filled with vegetarian food dreams and realistically budgeted trips. But Krishna had to play his leelai; it was an Ekadeshi with fasting and only tiffin was served (sweet and spicy avalakki, and mosuru avalakki). We made up for it by sneaking in the next day again for lunch. I know Udupi rasam is famous and all, but the pumpkin sambhar was god-awesome.
While this satvik food is a must have in Udupi, the second must have is the Diana Hotel ice cream. This place has the best AC I’ve ever experienced in a restaurant. Uniformly cool temperatures in every nook, no wonder their ice creams are to die for. Gadbad is the most famous here, and as the legend goes, the sundae mix originated here. The other sundaes were equally good too, we tried Lighthouse and later Double Sundae as well.
Now that we were well fed and had the bike, the plan was to run google maps and hit the lanes as close to the beach as possible. This meant longer routes, more time and narrower lanes. But that didn’t stop us. For the next three days, we tag teamed and rode through fields, small bridges, backwaters, and neat rows of coconut trees.
Kaup Beach was our first stop. Thankfully the beach was not crowded. The lighthouse had an old world charm as expected, and is very similar to the Mahabalipuram Lighthouse, only taller (at 111 feet) with a greener view to offer. The waters were invitingly cool and clean. Geographically, there’s a natural inlet here of shallow waters and from the right spot, makes for a beautiful view of the lighthouse perched between the two stretches of water. Kaup is the ideal beach for long lazy walks, and when you get bored you can climb atop the lighthouse for some breeze and stunning views, or wade in the shallow as well as deep waters, only to dry yourself later spotting crabs sitting on the high rocks next to the giant lighthouse. We did all of this, plus got our hearts wrenched spotting a dead turtle corpse washed ashore 😦
Another unforgettable Arabian Sea sunset and I was good to get going. We headed back to Manipal for the night, ate in one of the wannabe cool hangouts (with bad food) and dropped dead on the bed.
Day two, we moved over to Malpe. The Malpe beach is a lot more commercial, sadly we weren’t too aware of this fact. Not our scene, we threw our bags into the second hotel and rushed out to the bike. This time Kodi Bengre caught my eye. This stretch on the map looks like a tail, with backwaters on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other. As weird as this sounds, I have been getting recurring dreams of such a stretch for a few years now and had to check this out. Plus, it’s not too far from Malpe. Our only concern was the roads, but it turned out to be a great ride.
Kodi Bengre is everything that Malpe is not. It is secluded, quaint, and opens you to a whole new world of pastel coloured houses. Remember that viral photo of brightly coloured houses of Norway? to everyone who shared that, if you don’t have the budget to do Norway, please head to Kodi Bengre. It begins with the pure white temple that seemed like it popped out of a Tide ad and as you move further, you see pastel shades of purple, pink, green, deep blue, aquamarine blue, yellow, orange, cream…. some houses even have walls of different colours, but very aesthetically matched, atleast to my eyes. We are an unfair society, the minute you say fishing community, a city-bred person imagines rows of huts, smelling of fish. This entire stretch from Gujjarbettu, till beyond Hoode shatters the stereotype completely. The houses are super tidy and being an hour post lunch, we caught several families siesta-ing on netted tent-like structures and on the porches. Yes, many of the houses here had small porches and a neat square for the tulasi maadam. I just couldn’t get enough of these houses I tell you! We passed through the fishing docks, more coconut trees, the fish cleaning factory, more houses and finally reached the end of the road. From here we had to get off the bike and climb on the rocks, only to see the beauty of the Suvarna estuary entering into the Sea. This is the Delta Point.
I would have loved to stay here till sunset, but we had other plans lined up for the evening. St. Mary’s Island, rather the best thing about Malpe. To all the Kirrin Island fans of the Famous Five following, this comes a little close, minus the castle. A GoT fanboy friend had to comment seeing a picture, that it reminded him of Iron Islands though. Make a pick, here are the photos 🙂
Beyond our fictional fantasies, St.Mary’s Island has some hardcore history and geology to it. The island is touted as the spot where Vasco da Gama set foot before entering India through Kozhikode. (Slight doubt, why didn’t he just enter through Malpe? It’s so much closer) This is why I found the Geology part more interesting. St. Mary’s Island is a cluster of four islands embellished with columnar basaltic rocks. The columns are nature-sculpted seats for you to sit and gaze into the endless sea. These rocks were formed due to a sub-atomic volcanic activity that eventually caused the drifting away of Madagascar from the then India, about 88 million years ago. For someone who has always been curious of Pangea and the rifting of continents, this information thrilled me to bits! The distinctive rock formation has earned St. Mary’s Island a place in the short list of 26 geological monuments of India. We never wanted to gulp down this bite out of the ancient world, but we weren’t left with much of the choice. Strike 5 pm, the ferryboatmen start combing the island for humans and putting them back on the boats. We stretched our stay till about 5:30, but couldn’t escape the men’s eyes anymore. An important note; the island is closed during the monsoon season – June to Sept. On other months, you have ferries plying from the Malpe Beach, the Malpe fishing harbour and I suppose even from Kodi Bengre if I’m not mistaken.
Satiated with enough sea and salt, we ferried back on sun-down to Malpe, chilled for a while, had a beach shack dinner and slept early with plans of waking up with the Sun so we could hit Murdeeshwar. Tall plans. We woke two hours later than planned, had a filling breakfast and decided to hit Murdeeshwar nonetheless 😀 When two women set their minds to something, no logic can break through our obstinance. The fact remained that we had to take the buses out that night to our respective cities. That meant getting back to the Udupi bus stand by 7:30 pm at the latest. By the time we checked out, it was already 9 am. We also had to come up with an economic idea to shove our bags someplace, afterall we had 200 kms to cover and it was impossible to ride the distance with three bags (My fault, usually I backpack, this time I had an extra trolley thanks to the two weeks of travel I had to do prior to this trip for various reasons!) We headed to Udupi, thinking we’ll just rent a cheap lodge room close to the bus stand to leave the bags. Having never done something of this sort, we were sceptical. Thankfully, we spotted a luggage room at the bus depot and left our bags there for 20 Rs./bag. the most economic solution ever.
Without wasting much time we hit the highway. All I can say is we were mad, the third day, the sun hit us bad and the highway dust added to it. But it was one hell of a ride. My friend aced it. Seeing her ride instilled the confidence in me to overtake on a highway. When I eventually did that while I rode, it was like an achievement unlocked!!
Maravanthe was the mid-way point. We stopped for elaneer, switched places and rode on. In a solid two and a half hours we reached Murdeeshwar. The towering gopuram of the Murdeeshwar Shiva temple was unmissable. We gaped at it, walked around the temple complex and the humongous Shiva statue, and in the process got our feet burnt by the afternoon sun. I like to think of it that Shiva didn’t spare us of his Rudra-ness. We had quick lunch at Kamath and hit the highway again. Only this time, on our way back, we stopped over at the Maravanthe beach to soothe our aching legs. Maravanthe is another clean stretch that is parallel to the highway. On the other side of the highway, you spot the backwaters from the Kolluru River. From what I could gauge, this was once an undoubtedly picturesque highway. Now, the extension work is in progress, but you still get to see the backwaters. As years go by, I’m sure the backwaters would completely disappear. I was only thankful for having come here sooner than later. And with that thought, we reached Udipi a record 2 hours earlier.
Having successfully finished the trip, we treated ourselves to more Diana ice cream. Afterall, for first timers, we had covered close to 400 kms. With that, we returned the bike and headed back to the bus stop, with aching feet and longing hearts.
That’s how I wrapped up another Karnataka diaries chapter. Perhaps the next time, I would stopover at Uppinakudru to listen to the stories of the Yakshagana Puppetry artists; something we missed this time around as they were on tour. (If anyone has been here, do share your experience, we were a little heartbroken that we couldn’t visit the place.) And then there’s still Kumta, Netrani Islands, Hampi, Badami, Pattadakal, Bijapur and more. Damn you Karnataka!
Images Courtesy: Cinthoorika Sambamurthy. Do check out her flikr profile
P.S.: 2166 words. Phew! If you did last through this long post, I truly appreciate your interest, thank you 🙂