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Hey guys, hope you’re doing great 🙂

It’s been a long time since my last post but here I am… and here’s the fourth part of my travelogue on my 12-day trip through the coffee land of Karnataka, India.

For first-time visitors to my blog, here are the links to the previous three parts:

My Adventures in Coffee Land (Part I): Mumbai to Mangalore 

My Adventures in Coffee Land (Part II): Mangalore to Madikeri 

My Adventures in Coffee Land (Part III): Madikeri to Chikmagalur

Happy reading 🙂

 

December 21st, Chikmagalur/Udupi

I wake at 6:00 am. My plan for the day is to have breakfast at the Town Canteen famed for its dosas (rice-crêpes)and jamun (a popular Indian sweet), and shop for Chikmagalur’s famous Panduranga coffee before boarding the bus for my next destination, Udupi.

After a fifteen minute wait alongside the road, I get an auto rickshaw. The fare is 60 rupees. Okay! My bad luck, the Town Canteen is closed. The driver goes to find out the reason…on Saturdays, the place opens at 1:00 pm. I tell him to drive to the Panduranga Coffee shop. On the way, he asks me “Foreigner? American?” Indian… I’ll have to answer some more questions. Foreigner… He’ll charge me more… “Indian!” He falls silent. When we reach the place, I ask him for the fare considering the extra distance. “Ninety rupees.” I think he is overcharging me. Nonetheless, I pay him and leave. I don’t want to spoil my morning with a disagreement, especially when I’m unaware of the normal fare. The shop is yet to open. There are some fruit vendors nearby. I buy three bananas for 5 rupees. I have one right there. Mmm, tastes quite sweet… I quickly finish off the other two. The shop opens after a few minutes. A strong aroma of fresh coffee fills my nose when I enter the place. They have a variety in coffee. The shopkeeper hands me a 500 gm pack of their best coffee. He tells me that the coffee cherries grow “slowly and gently” in the cooler temperatures at an altitude of around 4500 ft in the Bababudangiri hills. The writing on the pack says “India’s only filter coffee using 100% German machines to roast & grind both coffee and chicory”. The content is a mix of 85% coffee and 15% chicory.The guy proceeds to show me some “Made in Italy” coffee percolators which he says are the best ones, not available in the market. I’m instantly attracted to the one-cup stainless steel percolator. It’s very light and looks kind of cute with a golden handle. It costs 700 rupees. Check out the photo…

Coffee from Chikmagalur

I buy it along with packs of locally grown pepper, cardamom and green tea. Shopping done, I head for breakfast at the nearby Mayura restaurant. It’s a nice place. I order masala dosa, vadas and coffee. After many years, I finally get to drink filter coffee in the typical South Indian style: served in a stainless steel tumbler and dabarah (container/cup) that is used to cool the coffee. Coffee is served after pouring back and forth between the dabarah and the tumbler in huge arc-like motions of the hand. This serves several purposes: mixing the ingredients (including sugar) thoroughly; cooling the hot coffee down to a sipping temperature; and most importantly, aerating the mix without introducing extra water. A piping hot cup of filter coffee served with a frothy layer! The bill comes to 96 rupees… an inexpensive and filling breakfast! I board an auto rickshaw for the hotel after asking for the fare. “Thirty rupees.” Good, that’s the normal fare. I pay the hotel bill and check-out at 10:30 am.

Two days ago, when I had enquired about the bus timings at the bus station, I was told that there were just two direct buses leaving daily from Chikmagalur to Udupi, one at noon and the other early in the evening. The guy at the enquiry counter suggested that I board one of the many buses proceeding to Dharmasthala and from there, another one to Udupi.

I reach the bus station at 11:00 am and find a bus for Dharamsthala waiting at the gate. The bus is totally packed with families on a visit to Manjunath temple. The front row seats are full but I get a seat in the second row. The helpful bus driver makes space for my bag amidst the luggage piled near his seat. The ticket for the 100 km journey costs 88 rupees.

Dharamsthala is a religious town sacred to both Hindus and Jains. Its main attraction is the 16th century Manjunath temple, a unique Shiva temple having a Vaishnaivite (worshipping Lord Vishnu) priest and being administered by a Jain family. Bahubali is the town’s second most attraction and an important pilgrimage for Jains. The 39 feet monolithic statue of Bahubali weighing 170 tonnes standing on top of 13 feet platform was installed in 1982.

We reach the Manjunath temple zone after a little more than two hours. Everybody gets down. The bus station is just one km from here. After parking the bus, the driver points at a bus and tells me that it will go to Udupi. I buy a water bottle at the station restaurant. By that time, the bus leaves. Since everything is written in the local language, I’m unable to figure out which bus goes to Udupi. I check up at the enquiry counter and I’m told that the next bus would come after half an hour. I settle on one of the empty benches. A spider gliding down the roof captures my attention. I follow its movements with curious eyes till it reaches half a metre from the floor only to get swept away by a passing girl’s leg. She jerks her leg and it falls on the floor. It crawls away and I lose interest. I get up and walk towards the enquiry counter. The bus will come after a few minutes.  Fine! On the way back to the bench, I see the earlier bus driver who points out to a waiting bus. It’ll go to Udupi, he says. I board the bus which starts soon thereafter. It’s a 102 km journey to Udupi.

As usual, I take the front seat right behind the driver. The space near the driver’s seat is convenient for my bag. The 3-passenger front seat like all the other seats in these state buses hasn’t got any side support. The driver speeds recklessly like most drivers of the buses that I have travelled on during this trip. This time it is worse. The winding road makes me hold on to the bar in front of me for support.  But it’s so uncomfortable! Seeing a straight road ahead, I lean back for some time. And then… all of a sudden the bus swerves and my butt is off the seat. I’m about to roll down the bus floor when a guy seated nearby reaches out and grasps my arm just in time. Whew, that was close! The bus speeds on so I keep my hold on the bar for most part of the journey. Finally, after almost four hours, we reach the university town of Manipal, home to a large number of educational institutes. Udupi is just 5 km from here.

The name “Udupi” in Mumbai is generally related to the popular “Udupi restaurants” serving South Indian vegetarian food. It’s just that the owners of these traditional family-owned restaurants come from this particular region.

Udupi is known as a temple city and its main attraction is the very popular Lord Krishna temple which attracts thousands of visitors throughout the year. This temple was founded by the 13th century Vaishnavite saint Shri Madhvacharya. Proximity to numerous colleges and serene beaches also account for a large number of people arriving in the city.

When the bus arrives at the Udupi bus station, it’s almost 6:00 pm. Dusk has already set in. I dislike arriving in a new place late in the evening, especially when I haven’t made any hotel reservation. I wheel my bag along the road amidst the evening traffic chaos. After the cold evenings in Madikeri and Chikmagalur, I find the city’s weather very warm and stuffy. Hotel Kediyoor, the place where I have planned to stay is located near to the bus station. It’s supposed to be the best place to stay in the city. I reach the hotel only to be told that the hotel is completely full! I ask the guy at the reception desk for some other good hotel and he tells me to try the hotel located somewhere opposite the street. I reach the hotel. Its reception is on the first floor. I wait for the lift but when it arrives, I develop cold feet. It’s small enough to make me claustrophobic. Although I’m very tired, I have no other option but to carry my 12 kg bag up the stairs… in vain! All the rooms are full. I don’t like the place anyway. I ask the guy at the reception desk for some good hotel close by. He says he doesn’t know anything and rattles off the telephone number of an online directory service instead. Schmuck! I’m starting to dislike the city. And to think Udupi is considered as the third most important city of Karnataka, after Bangalore and Mangalore!

I carry my bag down the stairs and check my list of hotels in Udupi. Hmm…Hotel Udupi Residency could be good. I stop a passing college kid to ask for directions. He has no idea where it is but is kind enough to stop and ask for it from another guy. The latter points out to a place down the road. I have to cross the busy road to reach there but I don’t want my heavy bag getting hurt along the bad road.  There are 2-3 auto rickshaws parked across the road. The sweet kid immediately crosses the road to fetch me one. He looks so happy when I thank him for the help. I’m starting to like the city!

On reaching the hotel, I tell the driver to wait just in case the place is totally booked. Fortunately, they have a room for me. The place looks nice. There’s a big marble idol of Lord Ganesh in the reception. They have only AC rooms. Good, the weather is so hot! There are some more new arrivals in the hotel. The room shown to me is good and there’s an English music channel on TV. Due to high demand, I’m unable to get a discount on the room tariff of 1500 rupees which includes breakfast. There’s a tourist car driver waiting in the reception.  My sightseeing plan includes visiting the famous temple and St Mary’s Island, a much talked about place in the travel forums on the internet.  A trip to the popular Murudeshwar Beach also figures in the plan. But I’m unsure about it now. Spending something like 2500 rupees on a taxi to visit the beach just doesn’t interest me. I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do the next day or after that… whether I should stay in the city for two nights or three nights. My original plan was of three nights. I tell the driver I’ll let him know if I’m interested in hiring a car after dinner.

I’m very tired so I return to my room.  At 8:00 pm, I have dinner at the hotel restaurant: fish masala, neer dosas, prawn curry with steamed white rice and cassata ice-cream. Boy, am I hungry! Feeling quite better, I’m immediately able to take a final decision: to stay in the city for two nights only. That’s because I’m not going to visit Murudeshwar Beach and there’s not much to see in the city. This means I’m going to spend an extra night in Mangalore (just 60 km away) as against the original plan of one night. It’s 9:30 pm when I return to my room.

December 22nd, Udupi

I wake at 6:30 am and turn on the TV.  At 8:30 am, I have a breakfast of uttapam (a rice-crêpe like dish) and coffee. At 9:30 am, I head for the Shri Krishna Temple. But before that I enquire at the reception desk if visitors dressed in jeans are allowed inside the temple. Yes, they are. Good!

In India, temples are among the prime attractions for tourists within the country as well as abroad. However, there are a few temples and religious places in the country, where tourists of any other religion are either not allowed to enter or can enter only after adhering to strict rules and regulations. At a few temples even Hindus need to follow a strict dressing code. I remember visiting the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram (in Kerala) sometime in December 2006. One of the holiest temples in the country, here only Hindus are allowed to enter and that too if they follow a strict dress code. Legs have to be covered. Men have to wear mundu (a sarong-like traditional garment) around their waist and leave their chest bare. Women are to be dressed in a sari and girls in a traditional long skirt and blouse. Those wearing short skirts, trousers or even salwar kameez and churidaars are not allowed to enter the temple. I had been aware of this dress code so I had worn a long straight skirt (bright and floral!). I had climbed the first two steps when a priest came rushing down the steps, blocking my way. “You are not allowed to enter this temple!” He had said pointing to the signboard written in English: ”Only Hindus are allowed inside.” It was only after I had shown him my driver’s license as proof of identity that he had moved away. A few days later I was going to visit the famous Guruvayoor temple of Thrissur (in Kerala) which is again among the holiest temples in the India. At this Lord Krishna temple too, only Hindus are allowed inside provided they follow the strict dress code. To avoid entry problems, I had purchased a sari (a lovely red one!) along with a matching colour petticoat at Ernakulam. The sari blouse was stitched and delivered to me the next day. A very quick service! It had been one great experience in Thrissur… because I had never ever draped a sari in my life! Getting up at 4:30 am, I had tried hard and somehow managed to drape it around as neatly as possible. I had felt all eyes on me right from the time I had left the hotel room for the temple till my return. It had been a long two hour wait in the queue for the early morning darshan! But I had been least bothered about my sari draping style going wrong and more interested in entering the temple premise without any problem.

Coming back to the Shri Krishna temple in Udupi…  The temple is within walking distance from my hotel. There is relatively less crowd. It’s around 9:45 am, perhaps a bit early, for the many people who have arrived in the city just to seek the blessings of Lord Krishna. Those standing in the queue to enter inside the temple are mostly bare-chested men with shaved heads. For a moment, I wonder whether there’s some strict dress code to be followed. But no, it’s just that men have to remove their upper clothing before entering the temple when the head priest is present inside for some special ceremony. The shaved heads are because they have come from Dharamsthala after conducting rituals. I remove my sunglasses and join the queue of half-naked men. The temple guard tells me to remove my cap. I know, I know… I always remove my cap before passing through the entrance of any temple. It’s just that I haven’t neared the door as yet.  Still, I remove the cap. When I step in, the smell of oil lamps wafts in and out of my nose.

In the fast-moving queue, I get a glimpse of the idol of Lord Krishna through a small window. There is a sudden flurry of activity as a young-looking man (the head priest, I presume) enters through a special door. He takes the ceremonial seat flanked on both sides by other priests. People look on with curious eyes. I buy the temple prasad on my way out. It’s a laddoo which I quickly finish off by the time I’m outside.

My next plan for the day is to visit St. Mary’s Island.

St. Mary’s Islands are a group of four small uninhabited islands (North Island, South island, Daryabahadurgarh Island and Coconut Island, also called St. Mary’s Island) in the Arabian Sea off the small coastal town of Malpe, about 6 km from Udupi. The islands are famous for their distinctive rock formation of basaltic lava.

Scientific studies indicate that the basalt of the St. Mary’s Islands was formed by sub-aerial sub volcanic activity, because at that time Madagascar was attached to India. It is said that Vasco Da Gama landed here in 1498 on his journey from Portugal, fixed a cross and named one of the islands, O Padrão de Santa Maria, as a dedication to Mother Mary, before proceeding to Kozhikode in Kerala. It is from this name that the islands got their current name.

St. Mary’s Island has prominent coconut trees and hence the island is also called Coconut Island. It has a unique hexagonal basaltic rock formation (the only one of its type in India), which is one of the four unique geological monuments in Karnataka and one of the 26 Geological Monuments of India declared by the Geological Survey of India in 2001.

The only way to reach the island is by boarding a ferry at Malpe port or hiring a private boat. So I take a bus to Malpe.  It’s a nine rupee bus ride.  The harbour is just a short walk away from the Malpe bus station. I pay for the one rupee entrance ticket.  It’s lovely inside. I see hundreds of colourful boats parked along the harbour.

Malpe Fishing Harbour

Men are going about their business. Some weaving fishing nets…

Men weaving fishing nets at Malpe harbour

Malpe is not only a major fishing harbour but also a ship building yard. Here’s one of them…

Malpe ship building yard

 

The two-way ferry ride costs 100 rupees. It is a 30-minute boat ride from the port to reach the island which is at a distance of 6 km. The boats start at around 9 am each morning and its frequency varies depending on the number of tourists visiting. Being Sunday, there are about 30 people waiting for the ferry, just enough for the boat.

It’s a lovely cruise…

On the way to St Mary's Island

A closer view of St. Mary’s Island from the ferry…

View of St Mary's Island from the ferry

Watch this video: A lovely Sunday morning at one of the most beautiful uninhabited islands in India – St Mary’s Island! 

The last few yards of the approach to the island require wading through the water. So I remove my sneakers and fold my jeans up to the knees. It’s an amazing island!

The beach is covered with sea shells of all sizes and shapes…  

Beach at St Mary's Island

A view of the basaltic rock formation on the island…

Unique rock formations at St Mary's Island

 

These very strange rock formations look like hexagonal pillars rising out of the ground and the sea. These rocks were formed millions of years ago, when the island of Madagascar was still a part of the Indian mainland, but was drifting away. They were formed by sub-volcanic activity as the geological plates shifted away from each other.

The Islands are bereft of buildings, fences or shops. There are no domestic animals either.  There are a few shelters where you can sit down to enjoy a picnic…

Beach at St Mary's Island

The coconut groves, the blue sea stretching out in front of you, the birds flying around… the noise of the crashing waves and the calling of the birds… truly soothing sights and sounds!

The beautiful azure sea…

St Mary's Island

St Mary's Island

 

St Mary's Island

Swarupa at St Mary's Island

 

After an hour or more spent exploring the small island and dipping in the crystal clear warm waters, it’s time to take a waiting ferry back to the mainland.

Leaving St Mary's Island

This island is just a picnic spot but I would have loved to stay there!

I’m aware of the burning sun roasting my arms but still I prefer walking it up to the bus station. On my way, I pass a large group of men weaving a large fishing net. They look up from their work and wave cheerfully at me! Oh, how sweet… The only time this has happened to me before on this 12-day trip was at the Dubare Elephant Camp near Madikeri. But then, it was a large group of school kids on an outing.  And these are grown-up men! I’m mighty pleased.

By the time I return to Udupi, I’m terribly hungry. It’s around 2:30 pm and the restaurant in my hotel is packed. I manage to get a table. The steward smiles at me. “You have come from Kapu?” Kapu? What’s that? “From the film shooting in Kapu?” Film shooting? Oh golly! Do I look like a film star or something? I’m flattered by the thought. “Ahhh… no. I was at Mary’s Island.” The guy tells me that there’s a music video shooting going on at Kapu Beach, a few kilometres away from the city. “You should visit the place. It’s a lovely, you’ll like it.” I’m interested. He tells me it’s a popular locale for film and music video shooting. “There’s a lighthouse on the beach.”  Oh, good. “I’ll go there tomorrow morning.“

It’s a delicious lunch of pomfret fry, kori roti  (a popular spicy Coastal Karnataka dish, a combination of red-chilli based chicken curry and crisp dry wafers made from boiled rice) and cassata ice-cream. I retire to my room for an hour or so.

At 5:00 pm, I head for a nearby cybercafé where I spend some time. Suddenly I feel very drained, weak and light-headed. I buy a chocolate ice-cream but it doesn’t make me feel any better. I return to my hotel room and go straight to bed.

Coming up next: My Adventures in Coffee Land (Part V): Udupi to Mangalore & Mumbai  

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