It’s a whole new world

If you are looking for a holiday beyond the touristy Mysuru and Coorg, Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy have a few offbeat destinations in Karnataka to offer...

Mandagadde Dam

The priest rowed us languidly in a boat to the middle of a large pond as the fish parted like shimmering curtains below. All around, tiny kumudni (water snowflake) flowers fluttered in the breeze. The boat docked by the stone steps of the kere basadi (lake temple). We were at Varanga, a quiet Jain hamlet near Udupi, surrounded by low hills. There was no one else around except us, and the fish; the tranquil air occasionally punctuated by their gentle plops. We disembarked as if emerging from a spell, and walked up to the conical roofed shrine with idols of Parshwanatha, the main deity, besides Neminatha, Shantinatha and Ananthanatha facing each cardinal direction. The place possessed a timeless quality much like the 1,000-year-old basadis nearby.

A tiger’s den

Our numerous wanderings around Karnataka have often flung us into places that are truly offbeat. Midway between Davangere and Haveri, just over a kilometre off the Pune-Bangalore Highway towards Asundi, is the nondescript village of Hulihalli. Our inquiry for directions soon became a treasure hunt as we clawed through shrubbery to locate a wayside stone tablet carved with the image of a tigress suckling her cub and another with a hunter’s form beside it. The old farmer working in the fields nearby told us that the stones illustrated the story of a tiger that had been killed there years ago, and how the village earned the name Hulihalli, literally ‘Tiger Village’.

The winding roads across the Western Ghats connecting little villages hold many surprises. At Khandya, we stumbled upon the 16th-century Markandeshwara Temple by the banks of River Bhadra. It recreates the legend of child sage Markandeya who escaped death by clinging to a shivalinga. Immediately upstream at Kadabagere is Shanthi Kunnj, a secluded riverside plantation of coffee and spices with wooden cottages overlooking the waters and the dense forest beyond. We took a tour of the estate run by the Saldanhas, followed by an adventurous jeep ride to the riverbank where we prepared hunter-style sand-baked fish.

Stuff of legends

Somewhere in the hills of Malnad between Koppa and Thirthahalli lies a relatively obscure spot with a strange link to the Ramayana. It is said the place where Lord Rama killed Maricha, the demon (disguised as a golden deer), was called Mrugavade, literally, ‘where the deer was slain’. The spot where the deer fell, thereby releasing Maricha from a curse, was called Koraluvara (koralu is ‘neck’ and vara means ‘boon’ in Kannada). Over time, it became Kolavara, and till today, a stone remnant shaped like a severed neck sits outside the Ishwara and Anjaneya temple! Learn the region’s secrets and savour Malnad cuisine while staying at Kolavara Heritage Homestay, a 130-year-old traditional home in a serene areca nut and spice plantation.

A stone tablet in Hulihalli
A stone tablet in Hulihalli

While the river and marshes of Mandagadde, midway between Thirthahalli and Shivamogga, attract many winged visitors to the bird sanctuary, only well-informed travellers halt at the riverside haunt for meenina oota (fish meals). Small highway eateries like Bhavani Hotel serve freshly caught fish fry and curry — from gojjale meen curry and awul tawa fry. The creation of Almatti Dam and Upper Krishna Project (UKP) submerged the old village of Kolhar, forcing its residents to hawk their famous matka curd and fresh river fish along the highway. About 45 km short of Vijayapura on the Hubli Highway, the NH-218 crossroad of Korti-Kolhar has become a ritual pit stop for travellers.

By the water

Contiguous to the Anshi-Dandeli Tiger Reserve and Dudhsagar Waterfall on the Goa-Karnataka border lies the charming nook of Castlerock. Here, one can trek to Gatkunand, one of the remotest villages in Northwest Karnataka. The recently unveiled 240-metre-long canopy walkway at Kuveshi is the first of its kind in India. A 10-km offroad drive from Castlerock leads to Off the Grid Farm at Poppalwadi, which survives happily without electricity, road or phone network! Run by rafting expert John Pollard and his wife Sylvia, a pottery artiste, the low-impact nature camp uses solar power, offers rustic accommodation, farm-fresh food, wood-fired pizzas, and a sustainable holiday. Spot birds, sambar and gaur, enjoy campfires, go dirt biking, swim near unnamed waterfalls, and hike to grasslands and Dudhsagar Waterfall.

In 1498, as Vasco da Gama led the first Portuguese ships down India’s west coast, they discovered a natural harbour sheltered by five islands off Karwar and named it Cintacora. Anjediva, now Goan territory and an Indian naval base, was the first place the Portuguese conquered in India. It was also their final port of departure in 1961 after a presence of 450 years. Like the shore battered by wind, waves and time, the island that was once Devaragudda or ‘god’s hillock’ became Devgad.

When the British came here, they found its rocks covered in oysters and named it Oyster Rock. A short walk leads to the summit where a 66-feet stone masonry lighthouse stands. Built in 1864 by Chance Brothers from Birmingham, Devgad’s lighthouse was British but its equipment was French — the metal plate declared ‘Ingenieurs and Constructeurs Barbier, Bernad & Turenne 1933’! Smooth teakwood steps led up to the upper chamber with polished antique lights, gleaming copper cans and mirrored discs, opening out to a slim balcony with magnificent sea views. At night, the beam is visible 20 nautical miles away.

Oyster Rock is a half-hour boat ride from the tortoise-shaped island of Kurumgad (from kuruma, Sanskrit for ‘tortoise’ and gad or ‘fort’). Located 7 km from Baithkol Jetty at Karwar, Kurumgad lies opposite the uninhabited Madhyalingad. Fortified by Basalinga Nayak of the Sonda dynasty for a battle against the British, only the ruins of one bastion remain. Kurumgad served as a rustic island getaway called The Great Outdoors, until The Little Earth Group transformed it into a private island getaway called Cintacor Island Resort. Explore the island along its neatly marked trails and enjoy the day’s catch at Captain Nemo’s Deck overlooking an infinity pool and watch dolphins dance in the open waters. Far from civilisation, Kurumgad is perfect for swimming, fishing, snorkelling and stargazing. Splayed like terrapins in the cliff-side cabin facing the sea, we watched the Oyster Rock lighthouse swing to life.

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