Captivating Karwar

Akber Ayub heads to the port town of Karwar to experience first-hand the natural sights that inspired Rabindranath Tagore to write his very first poem...

Kayaking in River Kali

Long spans of the bridge over the estuary where River Kali disgorges into the Arabian Sea stood silhouetted against the painted sky. The orange sun hung over the horizon gilding the sea into liquid gold. Their tops aflame, lush groves of casuarinas stood like sentinels along the mouth of the river. And verdant, dome-shaped hills on scattered islets sat like water drops on a duck’s back. Scenes like these inspired a 22-year-old Rabindranath Tagore to pen his very first poem, Nature’s Revenge, way back in 1916. These scenes, however, didn’t inspire poetry in me, but I lost myself for a while, drunk on the sheer beauty of nature.

A trading port

The port town of Karwar, known for its sandy beaches and a beautiful estuary, is also home to nearly 68 waterfalls, numerous beaches, picturesque islands and verdant forests. Karwar is an ancient site of sea trade visited by the Arabs, Dutch, Portuguese, French and the British. This all-weather port is actually a hill located on a stump of land leaning into the sea and surrounded by five verdant islands, protecting the harbour from heavy winds and tide. These geographical features and the Kali river estuary impart a special quality to the surroundings, best viewed at dawn as the rising sun unveils its delightful topography. Sitting snugly, straddling the blue waters of the Arabian Sea and the blue mountains of the Western Ghats, Karwar is situated 268 km north of Mangaluru.

Just 15 km south of the Goan border, Karwar, however, possesses none of the upbeat Bohemian culture of its more famous neighbour. Given the ethnic diversity of its people, Karwar is dotted with numerous shrines. Some of the prominent ones are Durga Devi Temple, Nagnath Temple, and the 300-year-old Venkataramana Temple. Muslims revere Shahkaramuddin Dargah while Christians flock to High Church.

Durga Temple
Durga Temple

There are many nomadic tribes living at the foothills of the Western Ghats and on the fringes of the surrounding forests, especially the Siddi tribe who are descendants of Negroid slaves that the Portuguese brought into India.

The town itself doesn’t have too much to offer. Maybe a stroll around the town to take in the few heritage buildings or savour local snacks at Tagore Beach on a sultry evening should suffice. But the hilltop Sadashivgad Fort is definitely worth a visit for a panoramic view of the surrounding islands and sandbanks in the backdrop of the setting sun, or if it’s midday, a view of sunlight glancing off the shimmering bay.

Attractions galore

As I found out on a sultry afternoon, a stroll through the nearby fishing villages affords a peek into the daily lives of the folks — mending their nets under the cool shades of coconut groves, attending to their boats beached on the white sands or killing time in lazy afternoons under thatched roofs on the fringes of the beach.

Doable spots outside Karwar include Kurumgad Island, Guddahalli Peak, Hyder Ghat Pass, Devkar Falls, Anshi National Park, and of course, Tilmatti Beach, Majali Beach, and the captivating Devbagh Beach, where Devbagh Beach Resort offers rare thrills to beach buffs. A plethora of water sports from speedboat cruises, banana boat rides and water scooters to snorkelling, kayaking and parasailing are on offer, enough to whet the appetite of any adventure sports lover. While a speedboat or a water scooter ride, especially at dusk, can be a hypnotic experience, the banana boat ride is designed to dunk you into the sea and later be plucked from the water by experienced guides. This might sound rather risky to the uninitiated, but actually, after the first tumble into the sea people ask for repeated encores, even the non-swimmers.

Tagore Beach
Tagore Beach

Parasailing promises more action. Soaring into the air hanging from a parachute ballooning above you while being tethered to a boat guiding you towards the shore. Wind gliding can be fun too, only if you can find your footing firmly on the small float and manoeuvre the single plastic sail to get the wind into it. The resort also offers adventurous visits to the nearby uninhabited Sanyasi Island, tranquil overnight stay in trawlers and a cruise through backwaters of Devbagh lagoon. To my delight, I discovered that the mangrove up on River Kali is ideal for birdwatching, where I spent hours among delightful winged friends.

Early the next morning, I followed Rabindranath Tagore’s footsteps and took a cruise up the River Kali from the point where the river meets the sea — and saw for myself the source of the inspiration that moved the great poet.

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Captivating Karwar

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