Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Between Bridges, Backwaters and Beaches

Prologue: Viswa, my husband and I have travelled lots in three years of our marriage, every place we visit is close to our hearts and makes fond memories. I hail from God's own land, Kerala, more specifically from Pattambi in Palakkad district. Almost all of my summer holidays, when in school (class 1-8) were spent in Pattambi in the company of my grandmom. In these three years, Viswa and I have paid an annual visit to Kasaragod in Kerala for different reasons and these trips are truly more cherishable than the others, especially the one in July 2009 against the backdrop of South West monsoon. Nestled in Western ghats, dotting the Arabian sea coastline, at northernmost tip of Kerala, this small, mystical town with its many backwaters, bridges, beaches and endless coconut groves has the quintessential ingredients to invite tourists.

I always wanted to jot down a travelogue on Kasaragod right after my first visit, however it appears that this post was reserved after I completed a hattrick :)
1) Malpe beach, Udupi
2) Bekal fort berth bearing the SW monsoon fury
3) Ananthpur Lake temple, Kasargod

An overnight journey spanning about 7 hours in KSRTC bus, via Hassan and Puttur, takes one to Kasargod, that lies to the south of Dakshina Kannada district. This town is bordered by the mighty Arabian Sea on the west and the biologically diverse Western Ghats on the east. We can also reach Kasargod by train - Yeshwanthpur- Kannur Express, again an overnight journey.

Kasargod houses two prominent forts– Chandragiri and Bekal, of the Ikkeri Nayaks dynasty. While Chandragiri fort (in Melparambu, 5 km from Kasargod town) overlooks the confluence of Chandragiri River with Arabian Sea; Bekal fort, the biggest in Kerala (15 km from Kasargod town) stands tall and imposing at the edacious sea front. Bekal fort is bigger than one can imagine, it takes nearly 3 hours to cover its sprawling expanse over 40 acres and view all its sixteen bastions. Most of us would have had a glimpse of this impregnable fort in the famous song Uyire/ Tu hi re from the movie Bombay by Mani Ratnam. Images of a big, central bastion with a sloping ramp, huge fort walls with windows, opening to a view of the berth extending into the rough sea might still linger on from this song.

Set adjacent to the Pallikere beach and preserved with utmost care by ASI, Bekal invites flocks of tourists. A visit to the fort during South West monsoon provides an unparalleled experience –fresh air with intermittent spells of rain, blended with the sight of white foam of sea drenching the rocks, monstrous waves lashing at the berth in attempts to engulf it and rocky fort walls adorned with tufts of green moss.

Chandragiri fort offers a visual treat, no less in comparison. Atop the fort, at sunset, the vast expanse of Arabian Sea shimmers as Chandragiri River opens into it while trains chug on the bridge busily, from Kannur down south to Mangalore up north. It is coconut groves all over; as far as your eyes can see and for once you feel, Kasargod has enough coconuts to meet the whole world’s demand.
While a day is sufficient to visit these forts, the next day’s itinerary may depend on one’s interests. For those religiously inclined – there are Ananthpur Lake temple (primary abode of Lord Ananthapadmanabha) and Madhur (Madanantheshwara Swamy temple). Ananthapur lake temple is located in Kumbala and is set in serene village surroundings. The sanctum is in the middle of the temple tank that houses a lone vegan crocodile. Madhur temple houses Lord Shiva and Ganesha, it is a busy temple and is famous for its appam prasadham.

For those who take want to take a detour from these religious places, leaving to Mangalore as early as possible would save time. Reaching Mangalore by bus is ideal as it is quick and offers superb view of many beaches, bridges and rivers, all along a 50 km stretch. In Mangalore, one can visit the Someshwara Beach, Panamboor Beachor or proceed further to Udupi. In my opinion, one must stop at Mangalore to relish the culinary delights this place offers. From crispy, ghee laden masala dosas to snacks like biscuit Ambode, Mangalore bajji at Hotel Ayodhya(Kodiaballi) and Hotel Taj Mahal (Hampankatte) to rich and fine, yet very affordable ice creams at Ideal Ice Cream parlor outlets scattered through the city (an outlet exists in Hampankatte too), Mangalore has so much to offer to our taste buds that a day will not suffice.

Recharged with energy, one can alight a bus to Udupi and let the journey continue. As the conductors in private buses shout “ReReReRace”, the bus races down the highway and one reaches the temple city of Udupi in about 90 minutes. The Krishna Mutt founded by Saint Madhavacharya in the 13th century is the highlight of the town. Malpe Beach, about 10 km from Udupi bus stand, is a very pristine and scenic beach. Marked by lanes of coconut trees in fine, white beach sand, dotted with St Mary’sislands in a distance, this beach is truly different and definitely worth a visit.

Heading back to Mangalore to catch a train back to Bangalore will add immense value to your weekend getaway. Just pray that the night be amply moon-lit and you get/retain a lower berth. The train departs from the coastal town at 7.45 pm. The section beginning from Subramanhya road up to Hassan (from 10.05 pm– 12.10 am) through Bisle ghats offers an experience, totally awe-inspiring, wrapped with matchless elements of beauty mixed with proportions of eerie uneasiness. The train travels this stretch of 56 km, dotted by 58 tunnels (I counted 54), 109 bridges and 25 waterfalls at snail’s pace. On a moonlit night, the silhouette of the Ghats merges with the gray sky, with a cover of mist making the demarcations more obscure. Seated in the train, you ride over many bridges with swift rapids, deep gorges and valleys below. As you peek to get a view, through the iron bars of the window, you only wonder how one managed to create this broad gauge wonder at such an elevation and in such terrain. The periodic tunnels and bridges, the fierce roar of water underneath, the sheer depth of valleys, the awkward silence of woods interrupted by rail guards’ whistle sounds signaling the track’s OK condition offer a genuinely unforgettable 2-hour long adventure. It leaves one with a bundle of memories worth cherishing lifelong.
More Photos:
1) View of the berth extending into Arabian Sea at Bekal fort
2) View of bastions at Bekal fort
3) View of the rail bridge , confluence of Chandragiri river and Arabian Sea from atop the Chandragiri fort

Quick Notes: (The rates/tariff mentioned in the note below pertain to year 2009)

How to reach: KSRTC bus @9 pm from Kempa Gowda Bus terminus via Hassan (Bangalore – Kasargod). Board Kerala state buses to reach Chandragiri and Bekal forts (state buses maintain time and have only scheduled stops). Can hire an auto (for Rs. 200 inclusive of waiting charges) if visiting both Ananthpur and Madhur temples. Frequent private buses are available on Kasargod-Mangalore and Mangalore-Udupi routes. Auto from Udupi temple toMalpe beach will cost about Rs. 50 – 70. Getting back to Bangalore from Mangalore by train is the best option.However, there are KSRTC buses from Mangalore that ply toBangalore.

Where to stay (budget/ decent): Hotel City Tower, Kasargod – just a stone’s throw away from new bus stand with good restaurants nearby. Day2 - in Mangalore, can leave luggage @cloak room in railway station and roam around.

Where to eat: Hotel Taj Mahal, Ideal Ice Cream parlor (try out Gudbud, Parfait, Beehive, Tiramisu and many more for Rs. 30 - 45) – Hampankatte, Mangalore. In case, you visit the Udupi temple, don't miss out the free meals at the temple Bhojanashala, truly out of the world! Being a vegetarian, I regret being myopic, you have to figure out good options for sea food yourself.

Must see/ Not to Miss: Spend ample time at the fort’s berth in Bekal, fort timings 9 am-6 pm. Sunset atop Chandragiri fort (4.30 – 6 pm), many trains cross the rail bridge during this time. Tales of a solitary, vegan crocodile that resides in the lake at Ananthpur lake temple from the temple priest. Appam prasadham (sweet dish) at Madhur temple (Kasargod). Malpe beach at Udupi is a must-visit. Two-hour journey from Subramanhya road to Hassan in train to Bangalore – remain awake to catch the best of Western Ghats.