Beam and shine!

Beam and shine!

The GPS for ships, lighthouses are also popular tourist spots. Michael Patrao lists out the top lighthouses of Karnataka where you can enjoy a breezy evening by the sea...

Kapu Lighthouse

There is something mysterious about a lighthouse which draws people to it. It is used as a motif in Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse. The lighthouse in her novel lies across the bay and means something different and personal to each of the characters in the novel. This literary lighthouse is at once inaccessible, illuminating and intriguing. It suggests that the destinations that seem the surest are the most unobtainable. All over the world, lighthouses are becoming potential tourist spots. South Korea, Scotland and South Africa pioneered the development of lighthouse tourism. India, with a coastline of 7,517 km and 189 lighthouses, is not far behind.

Lighthouses of Karnataka coast have a charm of their own. Some are accessible, others are not. Many of them are over a hundred years old. Every lighthouse has a distinct character. They are awe-inspiring and have a history of their own. Lighthouse tourism is slowly picking up in India. Ministry of Shipping, along with Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships, has drawn up an ambitious programme to develop 78 lighthouses in the country (including some in Karnataka) as tourist centres under public-private partnership models.

Karnataka has a coastline which stretches 300 km between Mangaluru and Udupi in Dakshina Kannada district and Karwar in Uttara Kannada district. The coast is dotted with several lighthouses. Let’s go on a trail of some historical lighthouses of Karnataka. We can begin from one end in the south and proceed towards the north.

Hoige Bazaar Lighthouse

Our first stopover is in a quaint little place called Hoige Bazaar in Mangaluru, abutting the estuary of River Netravati and River Gurpur, both of which flow into the Arabian Sea. More than 1,000 fishing boats and 50 cargo vessels enter and leave the Old Mangalore Port every day. Cargo vessels supply cement, building materials and provisions to Lakshadweep. These boats and vessels depend on a lighthouse located in Hoige Bazaar, which guides them to enter the port from the Arabian Sea. This lighthouse was established in1862. In recent times, this lighthouse has been neglected, but can be developed into a tourist attraction. In the past, country crafts from all ports on the west coast such as Veraval (Gujarat), Dabhol and Ratnagiri (Maharashtra) and Tuticorin (Tamil Nadu), and even Colombo (Sri Lanka) anchored here to carry Mangalore clay tiles to other ports. With the decline of the tile industry, this part of the city has become a sleepy locality. Yet, the lighthouse and its surrounding, largely deserted, has a charm of its own.

Mangaluru Lighthouse

Out next stopover is atop a hill in the heart of Mangaluru city. The Light House Hill Road leads to the lighthouse built in the 18th century (around 1870) by Hyder Ali. This best-known landmark of Mangaluru is made of laterite and cemented with a mixture of clay, mud and lime. It is built on a square foundation and is 48 feet tall. The resident commanders of the British Navy would monitor the movement of travelling ships in the harbours of Bunder Port or the Old Mangalore Port. The lighthouse is surrounded by Tagore Park. Sitting in the park, you can enjoy the view of the sunset. The sea lies at some distance. These days, the view is obstructed by tall constructions. From here, as we move north on National Highway 17, we pass through three modern lighthouses built in recent times along the New Mangalore Port. They are identified as New Mangalore Harbour Range Front, New Mangalore Harbour Range Middle and New Mangalore Harbour Range Rear. They are not accessible to the public and not very important in terms of tourism.

Surathkal Lighthouse

Further along NH 17, about 12 km from the port of Mangaluru is Surathkal Lighthouse. The construction of the lighthouse started in 1969 and was completed by 1972. It is 118 feet tall. Surathkal Lighthouse is an operational one and is aloft a massive rock. The view from the top is simply magnificent as one can scan the expanse of the coast several kilometres away. The engine room with its generator, lights and lenses is impressive. The lights beam in the night steering ships away from the rocky masses that penetrate into the sea. It stands by the popular Surathkal Beach. National Institute of Technology is located nearby. The lighthouse vicinity is a favourite haunt of the students.

Surathkal Lighthouse
Surathkal Lighthouse

Kapu Lighthouse

Our next lighthouse in Kapu is located on the same NH 17. Painted with black and white horizontal bands, the circular stone masonry stands 89 feet above the base, while the waves crash below on the rocks foaming and frothing. Kapu Lighthouse was built in 1901 and has, for these many years, stood on the massive rocks guiding thousands of sailors and warning the presence of dangerous rocks. Its powerful lamp has a range of 24 nautical miles and flashes every 20 seconds to guide vessels sailing at night in the Arabian Sea to the coast. A flight of steps on the rocks leads to the base of the lighthouse. The lighthouse is open for visitors only for about an hour between 5-6 pm. It offers a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea. The romantic ambience of this place has been used as a location for many films.

The ruins of Kap Battery (of cannons) can be seen on one of the rocks close to the lighthouse. It is one of the many such batteries and bunkers established at strategic locations by Tipu Sultan in the Malabar and the Karavali regions. Kapu Lighthouse was visited by D Alan Stevenson (1891-1971), the lighthouse expert, in December 1926. Incidentally, D Alan Stevenson was a relative of the well-known author Robert Louis Stevenson, who belonged to the family of famous lighthouse engineers. He was the last of the great Lighthouse Stevenson dynasty. John Oswald, the then Chief Inspector of Lighthouses, had carried out his inspections on March 1, 1929, and November 23, 1929, and made his recommendations. In 1935, general improvements of the lighthouse were carried out. It was during this time that the tower was painted with black and white bands.

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As you move northwards, you come across several other lighthouses with less distinct characteristics, mainly guiding fishing vessels. These include the ones in Malpe (commissioned in 1901), Kundapur (1888), Bhatkal (1891), Honnavar (1891). All these have been modernised in recent times.

Among all these, the one which stands out is Oyster Rock Lighthouse in Karwar. It is also known as Devgad Lighthouse. Oyster Rock is a group of small islands and rocks. Devgad is the main summit on which the lighthouse is situated. This lighthouse was built during 1860-63 and commissioned into service in 1864. The island is a 20-minute motorboat ride away from the mainland. At the back of this island lies a beautiful beach as also rocks to climb for the adventurous ones. Once upon a time, this island was said to be full of oysters, and fishermen used to bring oysters from this island. But today, probably due to over-extraction, oysters have vanished from this island. The lighthouse was constructed by the British during 1860 CE and was commissioned into service on March 25, 1864 CE. The colonial-style architecture of this lighthouse is really astonishing. The tower has a dome on the top, from where the entrance to the lantern room can be accessed.

Today, Global Positioning System (GPS) may guide a person anywhere in the globe. But the lighthouses continue to guide the ships and the imposing structures never fail to draw the curious crowd.