Tryst with the coast

Tryst with the coast

Tryst with the coast
Exploring the marvels and mysteries of Mirjan Fort near Kumta town in the sprawling 12-acre headland, we discovered several watchtowers, peepholes, secret tunnels, secluded corners and niches.

At the middle of the fort is the large observation tower you cannot afford to miss, for obvious reasons — it is an imposing structure and a visible landmark. Used in old times as a vantage point for vigilance over sea and land, I could imagine how soldiers must have stood vigil here day and night, peering out through the moss-covered peepholes to spot advancing enemies. This is just one of the intriguing sights I stumbled upon during my coastal sojourn in Karnataka.

Unspoilt beaches, bountiful rivers, lush green forests and fields, stretches of serene backwaters, tile-roofed houses and temples, and picture postcard villages are other plentiful treats I got to see along Karnataka’s ravishing 320-km coastline, which extends from Mangaluru in the south, up to Karwar in the north. 

The charm of this coastal sojourn is that you seldom lose track of the deep blue sea. At Maravanthe you meet the miracle of the raging sea on one side of the highway and the calm backwaters on the other. Scenic surprises await as you drive up north along the coastal road to Maravanthe, 50 km from Udupi. En route, you pass Kundapur, a small port with the 16th century Portuguese fort and lovely beaches. The road lies between two stretches of water — of Arabian sea and River Souparnika — with the picturesque Kodachadri Hills in the background. Maravanthe wears the look of a fairyland at sunset when the sky turns crimson, and the golden rays are reflected in the sea as well as the river.

You can gaze at the emerald sea, cross several rivers and drive through acres and acres of coconut and cashew plantations, and mango and jackfruit orchards. There’s just no end to the stretches of soothing greenery in these areas. One of the lesser-known places on the coastal itinerary is Ottinane. Located a few kilometres beyond Baindur on the highway, the hillock offers a wide-angle view of the confluence of Arabian Sea and River Baindur. The sunset is simply breathtaking from here. We were lucky to be there just at the end of the monsoons to savour the beauty of the hills magically draped in carpets of multi-hued wild flowers.

Hidden gem

One of the hidden gems in the coastal circuit is the fabulous stretch of beach in Bhatkal. One can stop by Bhatkal to explore the erstwhile trading port of the Vijayanagar Empire. There are ruins to explore and old temples from the Vijayanagara period to visit in this town. The two interesting temples to visit are Chadranatha Basadi and a 17th century Vijayanagar temple with animal carvings typical of the Vijayanagar artisans and 42 mosques. Bhatkal is the border town of Uttara Kannada where Konkani begins to share space with Tulu. A four-km drive out of town will take you to the beach. From the lighthouse, have a fabulous view of the fishing wharf and endless stretches of virgin beaches.

For a divine break in the coastal journey, stop by the Vaishnavite pilgrimage town of Udupi, renowned for its Krishna Temple. The temples of Mangaladevi at Mangaluru, Mookambika in Kollur, Kukke Subramanya in Subramanya, Durga Parameshwari in Kateel, Manjunatha in Dharmasthala, Krishna in Udupi, Shiva in Murudeshwar, Ganapati in Idagunji and Mahabaleshwar in Gokarna are legendary pilgrim centres. The Sayyid Madani Darga at Ullal, the Milagres Church and St Aloysius Chapel in Mangaluru, the St Lawrence Shrine in Attur, the huge Bahubali at Karkala and the unique 1000-pillared basadi at Moodbidri, and the unique octagonal Roman Catholic church in Kadwad Village near Karwar, are some of the brilliant examples of the secular fabric of Karnataka’s coastal region.

Then you can experience the ubiquitous cock fights, the blood-rushing excitement of the Kambala — buffalo race sport in water-logged paddy fields — and enthralling dance forms and colourful rituals of the ‘Karavali’ region. The coast has a medley of Konkan, Kerala and Deccan cuisine. Besides the ubiquitous masala dosa of Udupi, other perennial favourites include kane fry, kori roti and koli curry. Some of the delectable cuisine includes Bhatkal biriyani, Kundapur chicken curry and tangy Mangaluruean fish delicacies. Karavali cuisine also includes patrode, a special dish prepared by steaming stuffed colocasia leaves, various rice-based dishes and pancakes, which are perennial favourites. At the Bhatkal bazaar, try out the two local specialties — date halwa and a salted roti. These are some of the culinary offerings that spike up your experience of the coastal odyssey.

Though endowed with myriad sights and tourist attractions, Karnataka has not made much headway to position itself as a beach destination like the coastal neighbouring states like Goa and Kerala. Though it has a stunning coastal belt and virgin beaches, infrastructure like roads, quality accommodation and eateries is woefully lacking and connectivity is poor. Although Karnataka boasts around 90 beaches, most of them lack infrastructure to emerge as tourist hotspots.

Currently, heritage and wildlife tourism is the USP of Karnataka Tourism and a major draw for international visitors. There is no proper information centre to provide comprehensive and accurate information in these tourist spots. Most of the festivals in the coastal belt are not publicised in advance. A concrete plan followed by meticulous implementation would help attract more tourists to the serene beaches of Karnataka.
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