A travel guide to coastal Karnataka

A travel guide to coastal Karnataka

The 300-km-long coastline of Karnataka is defined by palm-fringed shores, gushing rivers, buzzing ports, ancient temples and loads of mythology.

An aerial view of the coastline in Murudeshwar

The colourful crates dipped in shades of orange, red and blue are a sharp contrast to the dark skies and the angry grey sea. The thunderstorm has just died down and the excited waves lash against the anchored boats, tossing them into the waters. While the ropes hold them tightly to the shores, the boats are lured by the gusty winds that drag them into the waters. As I am lost in this tug of war, the silent shores of Bunder or the Old Mangalore Port, referred to as ‘Mangalore Dakke’ in Tulu, is suddenly buzzing with action. It’s like watching a picture postcard suddenly springing to life.

Shore business

A sea of trawler boats land on the shore and trucks arrive from all directions. In a moment, the silent shore is swarming with men and women. Pandemonium breaks loose all around. Shrill and loud conversations echo in the air as orders are barked around. I make way for some men strutting around with crates on their heads. Trucks filled with ice land near me. The boxes are opened to reveal tons of fish as they are covered with ice. I can see their eyes wide open while icy white flakes are scattered all over, covering their fins. There are mackerels, squids, silverfish, crabs, and many more, with several local names like kandai and anjal. More crates are dragged in from the trawlers and are stacked inside trucks. The fish are on their way to the market.

Morning catch on sale in Mangaluru
Morning catch on sale in Mangaluru

I watch the scene for a while and then slowly head back to my car. There is something special about Karavali or Kanara that keeps beckoning me to these shores. Karavali is divided into three main districts that includes North Kanara or Uttara Kannada, South Kanara or Dakshina Kannada, and Udupi. My journey takes me across temples, churches, lighthouses and forts which interrupt this 300-km-long coastline as myths and legends echo everywhere. I am on a road trip and a few drops of rain are enough to change the entire canvas. Rivers and backwaters alternate as the ocean gives me company. Even the Western Ghats make an appearance along the coastline, taking us through scenic hikes. But it is the small coastal villages and fishing hamlets that fascinate me.

I am in one of them right now called Bengre, just on the outskirts of Mangaluru, near Tannirbhavi Beach. The sea is calm now and it is the ideal time for a group of children who have just returned from school to head out and play. But they are not interested in the ocean. Instead, they run around the massive wooden ships and small trawlers that are being built and repaired on the docks. Every tiny lane leads to the ocean and they are lined with these boats which will soon be out at sea.

Tasty delights

The rains tumble again as I head back to the city and binge on local and traditional dishes at the New Taj Mahal Cafe, which is one of the oldest eateries in Mangaluru. Karavali is synonymous with food and I am in the land which gave the world masala dosa. Binging on Mangalore buns and goli baje, I leave Mangaluru, named after Goddess Mangala Devi, and continue my journey towards Udupi, where the famous Krishna Temple stands. However, I stop at Kapu or Kaup, a coastal town which is thronged by students from Manipal and Suratkal. The sea is rather demure now even though the sun is yet to make an appearance. The towering century-old lighthouse looms large in the horizon as I climb it to get a bird’s-eye view of the beach.

Goli Baje
Goli Baje

At Malpe Beach, we take a detour. We are looking for a hamlet which is known for Delta Beach. It is essentially an estuary, where the river meets the ocean. Looking for this beach, I drive through palm-fringed nameless villages with only the sea for company. The roads become narrower until we find a cluster of homes at Kodi Bendre village. We walk up to a couple of villagers and ask them the route to Delta Beach. “Right here,” they smile and point to their backyard. A compound wall separates the homes from the beach, which is hidden from view. There are rocks stacked on either side to protect them from the fury of the waves. Standing on the rocks and looking beyond the wall, we are treated to a spectacle. The river has morphed into a gentle stream and has virtually curled up as it flows into the lap of the ocean. Just a thin imaginary line separates the two bodies of water which are now in shades of grey.

Temple trails

Karavali is full of hidden secrets tucked away in nondescript villages. I am back on the road, heading towards Maravanthe and Kundapura where the highway opens into the sea at one side and the backwaters on the other. We discover more beaches and head towards Gokarna and Karwar. The entire coast is filled with temples and it is popularly referred to as Ganesh Coast, as there are five famous temples dedicated to the deity here. I am in one of them, located near Honnavar, called Idagunji. Surrounded by dense forests and plantations, I walk to the temple which is believed to be over 1,500 years old. According to a legend, Lord Ganesha was worshipped by saints when they were performing a ritual in a land called Kunjaranya near Sharavati river; Ganesha was apparently so pleased with the destination and devotion that he apparently decided to stay there.

Almost every town and village on the coast of Karnataka has several shrines. I stop at the mammoth Shiva Temple at Murudeshwar, and the ancient shrine at Gokarna. Stories around Ravana, Vishnu, Shiva and Ganesha echo in the air. Gokarna, which is located at the ear-shaped confluence of two rivers Gangavali and Aghanashini, means ‘cow’s ear’.

Mountains and oceans surround me as Gokarna is known for its beautiful beaches. One of them takes the divine form of ‘om’ symbol as well, adding to the mystical atmosphere. Finally, my journey takes me to my destination — Karwar. I have not seen so much beauty in one frame. On one side of the road is the narrow coast hugging the sea, while the Western Ghats loom across the other. Miraculously straddling both the mountains and the sea, Karwar is a nondescript little town perched in between, oblivious to its own beauty. It is like a hill projecting into the sea with five islands — Anjudeep, Kurmagad, Devgad, Sanyasi and Sadashivgad. But after a long drive, I am in no mood to delve deeper. I just let time pause and lose myself in nature’s canvas.

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