, , , , , , , , , , ,

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

My morning plan is to have breakfast at the Town Canteen famed for its dosas (rice-crêpes)and jamun (a popular Indian sweet), and later 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. When we reach the place, I ask him for the fare considering the extra distance. “Ninety rupees.” I think he’s overcharging me. Nonetheless, I pay it. 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. Hungry, I buy three bananas for 5 rupees (so cheap!) from a nearby fruit stall. I have one right there. Mmm, tastes so sweet… I quickly gobble up the remaining two. The shop opens after a few minutes. A strong aroma of fresh coffee fills my nose as soon as I enter it. The shopkeeper hands me a 500 gm pack of their best coffee. It’s a mix of 85% coffee and 15% chicory. 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 pack says “India’s only filter coffee using 100% German machines to roast & grind both coffee and chicory”. Next, 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 drawn towards a 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

Along with it, I buy some 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, medu vada and coffee. After many years, I finally get to drink filter coffee in traditional 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 autorickshaw for the hotel after asking the fare. “Thirty rupees.” Good, that’s the normal fare. I pay the hotel bill and leave at around 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 another 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 administered by a Jain family and with a Vaishnaivite (worshipping Lord Vishnu) priest. 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 off and the bus drives on to the bus station, one km away. After parking the bus, the driver points at another bus and tells me that it will go to Udupi. Feeling very thirsty, I rush to buy a bottle of mineral water at a nearby stall. By the time I return, the bus has already left. Since everything is written in the local language, I’m unable to figure out which bus goes to Udupi. I walk over to the enquiry counter where I’m told that the next bus would come after half an hour. Tired, I sit on an empty bench. 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 walk to the enquiry counter again. They tell me that the bus will come in ten minutes. Fortunately, the driver of the previous bus happens to be around. He points towards a waiting bus. It will go to Udupi, he says. I board the bus which departs soon after. It’s a 102 km journey to Udupi.

As usual, I take the front seat right behind the driver. The empty 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 bus speeds up on the empty, winding road. I 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 slides off the seat. I’m about to roll down the 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.

It’s almost 6:00 pm when the bus reaches Udupi bus station. After the cold evenings in Madikeri and Chikmagalur, I find the city’s weather very warm and stuffy. 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. Hotel Kediyoor, the place where I have planned to stay is located close 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 it’s fully booked! I ask the receptionist for hotel recommendations and he tells me to try the hotel opposite the road. Crossing the road, 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 its rooms are booked. I don’t like the place anyway. I ask the guy at the reception desk for some good hotel close by. He isn’t of any help and rattles off the telephone number of an online directory service instead. Schmuck! I’m beginning to dislike the city. And 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 but is kind enough to enquire about 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 autorickshaws across the road. The sweet kid immediately goes over there to get me one. He looks so happy when I thank him for his help. I’m starting to like the city!

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! The room shown to me looks good. Due to high season, the manager is unable to offer me a discount on the room tariff of 1500 rupees which includes breakfast.

My sightseeing plan includes visiting the famous temple and St Mary’s Island, a much talked about place on online travel forums. A trip to the popular Murudeshwar Beach also figures in my travel plan. But I’m unsure about it now. Spending something like 2500 rupees on a taxi to visit the beach 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.

Very tired, I return to my room.  At 8:00 pm, I have dinner at the hotel restaurant: fish masala, neer dosa, prawn curry with steamed white rice and cassata ice-cream. Boy, am I hungry! Feeling better, I’m able to take a final decision: to stay in the city for two nights only. I’m going to skip Murudeshwar Beach. And I’m going to spend one more 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

At 8:30 am, my breakfast is uttapam (a rice-crêpe like dish) and coffee. An hour later, I’m ready to leave for the Shri Krishna Temple. I enquire at the reception desk to confirm that visitors dressed in jeans are allowed entry in the temple. Yes, they are.

In India, temples are among the main attractions for domestic as well as international tourists. 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 dress 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 have 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 was aware of this dress code so I had worn a long straight skirt (bright and floral!). I had barely climbed up 2-3 steps when a priest came rushing down, blocking my way. “You are not allowed to enter this temple!” He pointed to the signboard written in English: ”Only Hindus are allowed inside.” It was only after I had shown him my driving license as proof of identity that he 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 me 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 was only interested in entering the temple and receiving the blessings of Lord Krishna.

Coming back to the Shri Krishna temple in Udupi…  The temple is within walking distance from my hotel. To my surprise, it’s not too crowded considering the large number of people visiting the city just to seek the blessings of Lord Krishna. Those standing in the entry queue are mostly bare-chested men with shaved heads. For a moment, I wonder if there’s some 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 man (the head priest, I presume) enters through a special door. He takes the ceremonial seat flanked on both sides by other priests. People including me, look on with curious eyes. I buy the temple prasad on my way out. It’s a laddoo which I devour greedily.

The next place to visit is 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 abounds with 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. I proceed to Malpe by bus. The bus ticket costs nine rupees. The harbour is just a short walk away from the 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…

Malpe ship building yard

The two-way ferry ride costs 100 rupees. It’s a 30-minute ride from the port to the island, which is 6 kms away. The first ferry leaves at around 9 am. The ferry frequency depends upon the number of customers. Being Sunday, there are about 30 which is good enough.

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 have to 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. No domestic animals too. 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 enjoying the crystal clear warm waters, it’s time to take the return ferry.

Leaving St Mary's Island

The uninhabited island is a picnic spot and allowed for day visitors only but I would have loved staying there!

The blazing sun burns my arms as I walk to the bus station. 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… 

By the time I return to Udupi, I’m terribly hungry. It’s around 2:30 pm and the hotel restaurant is packed. But I soon manage to get a table. The attendant asks, “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 at 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 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.“

Lunch is a delicious meal 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.

In the evening, I spend an hour or more at a nearby cybercafé and return to retire to bed early.

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