Fine sands of white… clear saline waters of deep blue… varying abundance of coconut greens… the coastline of western India is blessed with all of this and more! Ever since I have been mesmerized by the journey during the classic coastal biking expedition from Mumbai to Goa last year; I savored a dream of being intimate with the rest of the west coast. The romance of the beaches and the thrill of biking thus gave birth to the ambitious plan of riding from Kanniyakumari to Goa.
Things were absolutely unplanned for all we knew was the source (Kanniyakumari) and the destination (Goa & back to Pune). The beaches, places of historical and tourist importance were what we intended to explore between the two. Varied people… mixed reactions… “Is it really essential to go biking?”… “Wow that’s really ambitious!”… “Hmm! I’m actually feeling jealous.” were some of the responses. And with blessings and good luck from all well wishers; Vishal and I set out to this exciting journey on Dec 24, 2008.
Day 1 to 3 : Dec 24 to Dec 26, 2008 : Pune to Kanniyakumari
Train journeys have always been mind-numbing especially when it was to be as long as 40 hours! But destiny did not give us options and we travelled over 2000 km to reach Kanniyakumari at 12:15 pm on Dec 26, 2008. Excited as never before; we got off the train and enquired about the parcel office to get the bike. The excitement however turned to be short lived as the bike hadn’t reached and was scheduled to get there by the next noon. It meant waste of a day and change of plans which disappointed us to the core; but again we didn’t have an option. 🙂
We stepped out of the station, checked-in in a small hotel, freshened up and set afoot to explore Kanniyakumari – a diminutive town nestled on the land’s end and surrounded by the sea on three sides. Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal converge here to form what is called the Triveni sangam offering spectacular views of the sea. With the sea by our side we went on to see Gandhi Mandapam. Exhibiting Orissa style of architecture it is a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi it stands tall on the place where Gandhiji’s ashes were kept before immersion in the sea. It is said to have designed in such a way that on Oct 2nd, the sunrays peep through a roof hole falling exactly on the place where his urn was kept. Besides the Mandapam was Kamaraj memorial – an accolade to K. Kamaraj the chief minister of Tamilnadu & a great freedom fighter.
Kanniyakumari boasts of the first ever wax museum in India located a couple of km away from Gandhi mandapam. An artist impressed by London Wax Museum has exhibited his work – a place definitely worth a visit. The museum houses wax statues of Amitabh Bacchan, Shahrukh Khan, Swami Vivekananda, Mother Teresa, Indira Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi amongst many others. These seem so realistic that if they could move around and talk one would not have been able make out the difference.
It was almost time for sunset and hence we turned to the sunset point. Besides this was a small secluded beach stretch surprisingly with not a single soul here! So we played with the sands… the ocean… and my camera as we watched the sun go off to sleep.
The Lost Identity
Kanniyakumari, as a first impression; to me, was that of a town with lost identity. You walk out of a miniature railway station to be greeted by more or less half a million tourists, a few dozen of hotel signboards and loads of small eateries serving Gujrati, Marwadi, Rajasthani, Marathi, Punjabi … all except South Indian food. And all of this nestled in a small stretch of land with a little over 1 km radius. The beauty and the identity definitely seemed to be lost in the over crowd of the tourists.
Day 4 : Dec 27, 2008 : Kanniyakumari to Kovalam (78 km)
Devi Kumari Temple
We were awake at 4 am for not wanting to miss the sunrise and set off for the shores. The Devi Kumari Temple – a shrine dedicated to virgin Godess Kanyakumari, stands right here overlooking the sea. The impressive idol of the goddess, made out of blue stone; stands as a charming young lady in Her atonement, with a rosary in Her right hand. She is said to be a reincarnation of Devi Bhagavathi, who remained virgin to end Banasura, the king of demons. The statue is said to have been installed here by Lord Parshurama. We had an auspicious early morning darshan of the Goddess and asked her to bless our journey.
Getting a glimpse of the sunrise, while in Kanniyakumari, looked like to be a ritual. Like Vishal, who woke me up in the wee hours of dawn; I was amazed to see a gang of several lakh aficionados who had gathered here to witness the sunrise. The sun probably would have been terrified seeing so many of them; as a result of which it took quite (7 am) a while before we could catch the first glance. J
No sooner did the sun show up, than the gang had turned towards the jetty to get to the Vivekananda rocks. We made our way to the ferry through the crowd after a long wait. A quick 5 min ferry ride took us to the rock, which houses a cenotaph to Swamy Vivekananda mere 200 meters off the shore. There is a small rock projection here resembling a human foot revered as Sripaadam. Goddess Kanyakumari is said to have performed penance here, which might have prompted Vivekananda, a devotee of Kali to meditate here before he ventured to far off lands as India’s leading religious crusader.
The rocks offer spectacular views of the ocean around and one can notice the different shades of green waters. Rocks of varying size peep out of the clear waters from near and far; endowing photographers with abundant prospects to experiment with their camera.
Adjacent to Vivekananda rock is another rock housing a statue of Saint Thiruvalluvar. The towering effigy stands 133 feet tall in the middle of the sea offering a sight worth a watch. A boat ride took us there so that we could bow to the great saint and the artists who crafted the statue.
Our Lady of Ransom Church
The towering apex of this church holding a hefty cross had caught my attention since we came here. This shrine dedicated to Lady of Ransom, I feel, is the most remarkable structure in Kanniyakumari. Built in Gothic Roman style the church has historic evidences of St. Thomas and St. Xavier visiting this place. It was a great feeling to enjoy the peace and silence inside the church.
It was nearing mealtime & we were hungry already. We relished on a good meal – the typical Kerala Parotta and Chicken Chettinad before we checked out and headed towards the station to pick out bike. Fortunately it had arrived … oh what a relief! We grabbed it and dragged it for a km to the petrol pump to contain a tank-full. Enthralled, I tried to start, but in vain. Then we had to drag it a km further to reach the mechanic. It took us 4:30 pm before we were ready to start. Excitement took over again and we were on the road. Kovalam was the destination we were heading to.
We hit NH47, which offered stunning views as we rode on. On one hand were the hills of the Western Ghats and numerous water bodies studded with coconut trees on their banks on the other. We enjoyed the ride for 40 km to get off NH and reach Kovalam by following the coastline. We came across Puvar and Vilinjam – two strikingly serene beaches before the hustle and bustle of Kovalam. It was already dark so we put ourselves in a hotel & had a walk on the beach before we were lost in dreams.
Kovalam – a commercialized beach :
While walking on the beach, all we saw was pure commercialization. Right on the beach were eating joints galore – big and small, serving delicious but overprized seafood. A buffet at ‘The Leela’ here was probably equivalent if not cheaper! There were houseboats charging 10K per night… cheapest of the hotels charging 2K as room rent… and the food so pricey! It definitely wasn’t a place for nature lovers like us!
Day 5 : Dec 28, 2008 : Kovalam to Karunagapalli
Kovalam Beach : Boating and Snorkeling
We wanted to take a dip in the sea and hence headed towards the beach early morning. The shores were quite and without a soul, except a few local fishermen. A bare feet walk over the fine soft sands was titillating. The waters were clear and the waves made a soft sound which was music to the ears. The sun was peeping from the hillock behind. It was a perfect morning!
A fisherman was able to convince us for a boat ride. He took us at quite a distance. The waters here were even clear and he showed us lovely corals. He then gave us an option of snorkeling. We readily agreed as we thought it was pilfer for mere 150 bucks. He got us back to the shore and then rowed back to the place we could see the corals. With the snorkel on, it was even better a sight. It was a perfect break for us to get intimate with the marine life.
Revitalized as never before we headed back to the hotel for a bath and almost immediately were on the road for the day’s ride! A 20 minute ride got us to Trivandrum. We wanted to go to Padmanabha temple but dropped the idea since we did not have a mund – a traditional white cotton wrap around worn by men. To enter any of the Keralite temples it was mandatory to wear it.
Enthralled by the beauty of the places we visited, by now Vishal had developed a strong urge to by a camera and we went on to get one for him. This really delayed our schedule by quite some time.
The locals recommended us to visit Veli – a very popular destination amongst the tourists. Since it was so strong a recommendation we thought we should and reached Veli. Veli is a small tourist village perched on the fine-looking shore near a small town of Kochuveli. It is equipped with cottages, eat-outs and water sports. A good picnic spot to be.
The ride ahead of Veli was interesting with scenic views of the Arabian sea on the left. Enjoying the same a half an hour ride got us to Varkala beach. The beach is set adroitly between two cliffs. The cliffs have loads of resorts offering a good view of the beach from every angle. On the cliffs were two outsiders who were paragliding. With equipment of their own they were riding along with the wind high in the sky. I had always been jealous of the birds for their knack to fly; but today I was in fact I was jealous of these two.
A few km ahead of Varkala is another very scerene beach of Kappil. With the shining silver sands and thick grove of palm trees the beach was a paradise for nature lovers. Photography hence was inevitable here. So a few snaps here and back on the road.
The ride after Kappil was truly a ride in paradise. A small thoroughfare lead us to backwaters and from there on the ride was along the beach on the left and the backwaters on the right. Picturesque vistas surrounded us on every side and we were confused what to look at. The waters of both the sea and the backwaters had the charm of their own leaving us perplexed as we were unable to decide which were better of the two. Beauty at its best! And yes, I must say that this small 25 km stretch was the best of the entire journey.
We reached the Kollam to see a beach flooded with people which was a put off. Not wasting much time we decided to pack off. As we turned back we realized we had a flat tyre. Ohhh….! We dragged the bike for a km to the puncture shop & the shopkeeper with a broad smile on the face said that he did not have required tools. It meant dragging it a km further to get it done. The whole thing took us two hours before we got back to the road.
It was already getting dark and hence we couldn’t enjoy the thrill of good sights at Kollam backwaters. We rode along the same to reach Karunagpalli where we halted for the night.
Day 6 : Dec 29, 2008 : Karunagapalli to Guruvayur
Ambalpuzha Krishna Temple
We started early and enjoying a good ride with great sights on the way reached Ambalpuzha. Krishna Temples are found in abundance here as Lord Krishna is a pet deity of the Keralites and Ambalpuzha was no exception. The temple was an ornate structure built in the typical Kerala style. The temple housed a small statue of Lord Krishna. A series of tiny diyas surrounding the statue illuminated the garbhagruha. This early morning darshan delighted us and with the blessings of Lord Krishna we proceeded further.
Alleppy, our next destination, has been well-liked by the tourists for the breathtaking views of the backwaters and the houseboat rides. The houseboats made it a picture perfect with the backwaters in the background. We clicked some of the best pictures here which speak for themselves. Do I need to say anything more here?
We then quickly grabbed our breakfast (the traditional Keralite Appam stew) before we could head for Kochi – the commercial capital and the IT hub of Kerala. It boasts of an electric mixture of the Malyalis, Jews, Christians… mainly engaged in some form of commerce or trade. Kochi is thus the most industrially developed town in Kerala. A quick 20 minute ride got us here. We knew we were at Kochi seeing the Chinese fishing nets which caught our immediate attention.
Model Tourist Village
As we entered Kochi, we saw a board directing to “Model Tourist Village” at a distance of 5 km. Curious, we followed the same to reach this place. On the banks of the Vembanad lake lay this wee township developed by KTDC for promoting tourism in Kochi. It had some tree huts, a crab center and a host of avenues offering a comfortable stay. Blessed with the shade of the palms and the tranquility of the clear waters of the placid lake the place has sheer ‘peace of mind’ and a great holiday on proffer.
Peace at Synagogue
In the heart of Kochi near Mattancherry rests a small Jew town. A Synagogue built here in 1568 is said to be the oldest not only in India but in the Commonwealth. It is said to have been destroyed by the Portuguese in 1962 and rebuilt by the Dutch a couple of years later.
The Synagogue hosts an exhibition of old paintings which are worth a watch. Later we entered the place of worship where the floor is made of hand-painted willow-patterned tiles from Canton in China. Each tile had a beautiful painting which was similar but not exactly the same. On close observation once can make out the subtle variation. We also found some inscriptions in Hebrew on stone slabs. There verses from the Old Testament were depicted on the great scrolls. It was a lovely place blessed with divine peace which could be felt even the crowd to the tourists.
With a feeling so celestial, we left the Synagogue, to visit the Dutch palace. The road leading to the palace is swamped with shops on either sides selling curios and antiques. Fabindia – the famous chain; had an outlet here with pretty impressive stuff. A gigantic yacht caught our attention and as we got in there were oodles of such antiques lying here. We did not want to buy any so we captured them in our camera and spent quite some time here. One of the salesgirls then said that we would be charged for any more photos taken (indirectly we should leave 🙂 ); so we got out and walked our way to the palace.
The Mattanacherry palace built in traditional Kerala style architecture was originally built by the Portuguese in 1555 as an endowment for the Maharaja of Kochi. It was then renovated by the Dutch in 1663 and from here on; it came to be known as the Dutch palace. The palace houses an exhibition of old paintings and murals depicting scenes from Hindu epics. Also on display are various artifacts of the olden days, maps drawn by the Dutch and charts narrating the history of Kochi.
Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi Beach
After peeping into the history of Kochi it was now time to get back to the sea. We reached Fort Kochi to see a succession of odd looking Chinese nets along the coast. These large cantilever fishing nets are made up of teak and bamboo with lights to attract fish when lowered in water. These owe their origin to travelers from the court of Kubala Khan who came to the Malabar Coast in 1350 AD and added to the beauty of the waters at Fort Kochi beach.
Fort Kochi incorporated a beach, a port, hotels in abundance and more. There was everything here but hardly a trace that would vouch for the place being a fort. All we saw was the bastion bungalow – built besides a very small stone wall; which was somewhat like the remains of the fort. Amongst all the hotels here, The Malabar Junction served authentic Kerala food where we ate our full and also relished on the exclusive ginger ice-cream!
Vypin Islands & Cherai Beach
All of what we saw at Kochi did not give us a feeling of that being a metro. We had been wandering in the old town for so long; but as we reached the jetty at Fort Kochi to cross over to Vypin islands we saw tall buildings popping up from the other end of the shore. The landscape reminded us of Mumbai and the “Kochi being a non-metro” feeling faded away. The other side of the world was active – the world where we had not been!
A ferry service helped us (along with the bike) cross over the vast expanse of the waters. Vypin Island not knowing what should be done. So we asked a passerby and he guided us to Cherai beach which apparently was very popular among the foreign tourists. Clear waters of Vembanad lake and the Chinese fishing nets welcomed us at Cherai – a stretch of virgin silver sands. There weren’t many trees here and it was quite sunny. Umbrellas hung all over for the tourists to take shelter. The weather was pretty and we felt peace within.
Riding the beach way with incredible sights en route; we reached Chavakkad. Another beach endowed with so much beauty that we had a strong feeling of camping here. We spent quite a while speculating on the same and also expressed our interest to the passersby. They opined that though it can be allowed we shouldn’t be trying this. We accepted. They also suggested us to visit the beach festival where they were heading themselves. Accepting the invitation we headed to the main beach 2 km away.
A series of fishermen boats lay still on the sands. We grabbed a seat in one of them and preferred to silently witness the eventful beach. The place was flooded with people and colorful stalls dotted the landscape. Horse carts offered joyrides… people enjoyed the varied amusement avenues… and the eateries did the maximum business as always. There were kids playing with the sand trying to build sand castles… and we were sitting still, chatting and watching the sun go down. It was one of the best sunsets of the trip!
The huge red ball of fire had already disappeared but it was still bright. We traveled 8 km to reach Guruvayur, lodged ourselves in a hotel, freshened up and were off to sleep to wake up in the wee hours of dawn for an early darshan.
Day 7 : Dec 30, 2008 : Guruvayur to Kannur
We were wide awake at 4 am for the auspicious darshan of Lord Guruvayurappa (Krishna). Dressed in the Keralite traditional best – the mund we reached the temple. There was a long queue but our devotion for the Lord and the yearning for His darshan bestowed us the patience to wait for an hour in the queue. During morning rituals at the temple, hymns were sung in the praise of Lord Krishna and they sounded like music – so soft and soothing to the ears. The hour long wait did not seem long enough thanks to the priests who sung those hymns. We felt really blessed.
Our next destination was the Markandeya Temple at Thirunavaya some 50 odd km away. Markandeya is the chief deity of our family and so I was keen on visiting this place. The temple is situated 4 km away from Thirunavaya amidst a remote miniature settlement of Malyalis. The residents here understood nothing except for Malayalam which turned to be the biggest hindrance in locating the place. I had been here a couple of years back but was accompanied with a Mallu friend and hence was easy. With a lot of hardships we finally found the temple. Om Namah Shivay!
In the village of Thirunavaya lived a very pious couple who did not have a child. They implored upon Lord Shiva, who pleased with their devotion; decided to bless them with a child. But He put forth a condition that they could choose to have a child who is a devout and lives shorter or a child who is non-god-fearing and lives longer. The couple chose the former and thus was born Markandeya – an ardent admirer and devout of Lord Shiva.
As Markandeya neared his death Yama started from abode to take him away. Markandeya absorbed in sacrament heard a call of Lord Shiva as Yama neared him and he ran in the direction of the sound. A banyan tree opened up to give way to Markandeya and delay Yama. Markandeya managed to reach Lord Shiva to become an integral part of Shiva and attain salvation.
The temple today stands at the place where Markandeya attained salvation. There are three small temples besides the main shrine which house a shivlingam each. One can see a footprint engraved on each of these which are said to be the footprints of Markandeya. The banyan tree which is said to have given way stands right outside the main shrine which houses a huge shivlingam. The place is serene and gives a feeling of being complete after the sacred darshan.
Bypore Port & beach
With the anecdote of Lord Markandeya still running fresh in our minds we reached Bypore – which is a blessed with a tranquil beach and a prominent port. Fishermen boats of varied colors were like an integral part of every beach in Kerala and to this Bypore was no exception. The shade of the palms, the air so fresh, and music of the ways made this beach a perfect hideaway. Seagulls flew over the waters recklessly making it a picture perfect. We had a stroll over the walkway built far into the sea and tried to capture every moment we could at this picturesque location.
Bypore had raised our expectations and Kozhikode put us off… As we rode along the Kozhikode beach we found it to be untidy and not worth a visit. It was long ride along the beach but we found no room for a nature lover to be and we just rode on…!
By now we were on the verge of dying of hunger. We were expecting to find a good eating joint along the Kozhikode beach but in vain. So we hit Kappad, another serene beach 19 km away. At first we located a restaurant and grabbed a meal. The traditional Meen moilee with Kerala Parotta here tasted amazingly delicious. After our stomachs were full and souls satisfied we turned towards the beach. Cool breeze blew here making the ambience very lousy. The sand was so soft and fine; it invited us to have a nap. Vishal dozed off for a while here while I was occupied with photography.
The ride after Kappad was on NH17 along the sea on the left offering views which we kept on appreciating as we talked. The icing on the cake was the Payyambalam beach. Clear backwaters lined with palms on both sides… small boats being rowed by the fishermen… and the setting sun in the background! Another perfect hideaway… adorned with beauty at its best! Being here was like being in heaven… for it seemed like god had whole heartedly sanctified this place with the best of all that He could. This place was a delight not only for nature lovers but for photographers, bikers, vacationers and more. Here, the silhouettes I could confine in my camera were among the best I have ever had.
We spent time on the beach, experimenting with the camera. We watched the sun drown in the clear waters finally fade away leaving behind the shades of red and vermilion in the sky. It got dark and we dragged ourselves out of there. We left with a heavy heart as it was the place I would have loved to spend days together.
Kannur, 5 km away was our destination for the day. We reached Kannur, put up in a hotel and dozed off. Another day with a great ending and we were eager to welcome the last day of the year to be yet another day like today!
Day 8 : Dec 31, 2008 : Kannur to Mangalore
Today was the day we thought we should chill out and take things easy. We woke up rather late to go over to Pallayam beach for a morning walk. This was a long stretch of quite beach with a very few people here. Some kids were enjoying beach cricket where as a few foreigners were seen jogging here. Some came there to enjoy the calm and have an excellent start of their day. With the sun peeping out of the hills behind the ambience was just right. We took a bare-feet stroll on the soft sands here before we proceeded towards the fort.
Fort St. Agnelo or the Kannur fort as it is popularly known is a small fortification right besides the sea and said to be the seat of Ali Rajas. The fort changed hands many times as the power which controlled the fort controlled the trade.
A canon at the door bestows a warm welcome to a very small number of tourists who visit here. You enter the fort to be delighted to find it being well maintained. It houses a small museum which is now closed for renovation. You see a number of canons lined up along the fortification. Standing at the periphery, the fort commands excellent views of the land and the sea. We spent some time admiring the beauty before we got back to start the day’s ride.
We were almost at the northernmost tip of Kerala and the only thing that we have been missing in the exhilarating 5-day ride was the boat ride at the backwaters. The houseboat rides were too costly and we were in no frame of mind to spend such an exorbitant amount. But at Bekal we had hopes of fulfilling this desire too.
We reached Bekal to be greeted by it’s beauty. Bekal is the place where the often repeated clichés of Gods Own Country come true. The backwaters of the Nileswaram river give birth to a place so stunning that its beauty hurts the eye. No wonder this is the land of Mani Ratnam’s ‘Bombay’ fame. This place soulfully captured in the monsoon blue-grey, is the ultimate trysting place where Arvind Swamy met burqa-clad Manisha Koirala in the movie.
Bekal Resorts Development Corporation (BRDC) has recently set up a small resort and a boating centre. The strong desire made us negotiate with these guys and they agreed for an hour ride for mere 500 bucks! “Wow that was a steal” we thought to ourselves and set out for the boat ride. The vast expanse of the Nileswaram backwaters left us enchanted while the palm lined boulevard added to it. The boatman was an interesting person and he kept us entertained as we enjoyed the trip. Vishal also convinced him to try his hand on riding the boat, to which he readily agreed.
The boatman took us to an unruffled beach of Azhithala near the sea-mouth. Remote… inaccessible… and nestled in the palm greens – it gave us a feeling of being in heaven. With not even a single soul on the beach was as virgin as it could have been. Stepping on the soft pristine sands here bestowed us with a feeling no different than what Neil Armstrong would have had when he first stepped on moon!
Dazzled by the boat ride and the Azhithala experience we returned. On the way back, we saw eagles seizing their prey in the backwaters. Another excellent sight! As we moved out of the resort a bridge over the Nileswaram caught our attention. It was a foot over bridge to cross over to the island on the other side and is said to be the longest foot over bridge! We took pride in clicking some snaps here and off were we for Bekal.
The fort is a 300 year old structure of red laterite spread over sprawling 35-acre piece of land standing 130 feet above the sea level. Vijaynagar kings Tipu Sultan and the British are said to have had ruled the fort, which now seems to be controlled by elements. The waves lash against the fort cliff far below and the ramparts command a brilliant view of the sea. Surrounding the fort are coconut trees in seen abundance wherever you cast a glance. The pristine sands, deep blue sea, and the coconut grove all around made it a perfect holiday destination with the ramparts of the fort adding to the splendor.
Enthralled by the beauty of Bekal were we; when we reached Chandragiri mere 10 km away. A place so stunning; we couldn’t handle so much beauty! Chandragiri is a 17th century fort built by Sivappa Naik currently under repair. But as we scrambled up the steep laterite steps to get to the ramparts; we got to see a view that was ever compelling! Wow… Superb… Magnificent… we were falling short of words to express the beauty of this place. Dense forest of palm grove on one side… the serene Chandragiri on the other… and the clear shining waters of the Arabian Sea beyond… we were flabbergasted!
Having survived the beauty we were now excited about the celebrations tonight. We had planned to reach Mangalore and have a blast to bid adieu to the year gone by. Our excitement knew no bounds and got us to Mangalore around 5 pm without a halt since we left Chandragiri.
We checked in, freshened up and I preferred to laze around while Vishal went out for checking out the options. There weren’t too many good options, so we settled for a bash at the Taj. We chose to be at the pub where the DJ was playing some foot tapping music. It was just the two of us for long when a family of five joined in. Thus it turned out to be an exclusive party for just the seven of us; which eventually was a boon in disguise. Due to the small number, the probability of us winning the prizes at the party increased and by the end of it we had prizes which amounted to 4 times the cost we paid for the passes. Oh Boy… that was a good! Adieu 2008!
Day 9 : Jan 1, 2009 : Mangalore to Marvanthe
Good morning 2009! Well it wasn’t really morning when we were awake… it was almost about to be noon. Shocked looking at the watch, we were ready in no time and on the streets riding my machine.
A 50 odd km ride got us to Kaup – a beach so serene one can’t imagine. Huge rocks housing a light house divided the beach into two. We clambered up the rock to the light house base to get an admirable view of the picturesque beach beyond. Pristine sands of silver… boulevard of palms… a few fishermen boats… this beach was Karnataka’s best kept secret! And a treat for the photographer in me!
Udupi Krishna Temple
We rode 14 km off Kaup and striking entrance to the Krishna Temple notified us that we have reached Udupi – the land well known for its food and of course the Lord Krishna temple! We turned right to visit the temple. We came across the Ananteshwar and Chandramoulishwar Temple; the age old temples of Udupi and every ceremony at Krishna Temple begins with an obligatory visit to these.
The temple houses an idol of child Krishna which Legends say; appeared to Madhavacharya – a 13th century philosopher-saint, in his dream. After retrieving the idol; he appointed eight saints to govern the temple for a period of two years each. These saints represent the ashtamathas or eight maths.
The temple is huge and following a long queue we reached the main temple for darshan. Few old ladies sang hymns in praise of the lord. An auspicious darshan in an auspicious ambience crammed our senses with peace and harmony. Delighted with the darshan we moved on to our next destination – Malpe.
Malpe Beach & St. Mary’s Island
Not very far from Udupi is Malpe – a beach, a huge ship building yard, a harbor, an island and more; all nestled within. We reached Maple to see hundreds of thousands of ships of varied sizes and shapes on the shores. Then we passed some oversized ships being constructed as we rode on to reach the jetty. We wanted to go over to St. Mary’s Island but unfortunately the last boat had already left. L We had a ride along the beach and left for Maravanthe.
Marvanthe – The sea, the highway and the backwaters
We knew we were at Maravanthe when we reached the point where NH17 cuts between the Sowparnika River and the Arabian Sea – a view which for long will remain unmatched. Maravanthe was the place I fell in love at the first sight. Waves lashed against crags on the left while a few fishermen rowed their boats in the still waters on the right. Water water all over… but seen in mottled moods! I happened to see the odometer and it indicated we had completed a 1000 km ride by reaching here! It was a perfect welcome to the most unforgettable destination of the entire trip!
As we entered Maravanthe, we had seen a series of trucks on the road side halting for the night; and we knew the 5 kg tent that we have been carrying would be finally put to use. We enquired with the locals and they said there won’t be an issue. Yuppie! Rejoiced as never before we quickly hunted for a small hotel, had dinner, convinced a local hotel guy to park out bike at his parking and pitched the tent. This was the moment I have been waiting for since we started the trip. The sleep that night was the soundest sleep ever!
Day 10 : Jan 2, 2009 : Marvanthe to Palolem (Goa) – Go Goa!
I was awakened by the early morning chill and the sound of the waves. I got out of the tent pleased by the sound sleep; to saunter on the icy sands. The virgin beach and the music of the waves to accompany me made the morning walk pleasurable and invigorating.With a pleasant start of the day and enthusiasm crammed in us, we were back to our routine – riding!
We reached Murudeshwar to be awestruck! On a hillock named Kandukagiri, which arises from the sea rests an idol of Lord Shiva. Looking down from a height of 500 ft, the idol has a distinction of being the world’s tallest. Visible from miles around; the icon is bound to catch attention, the moment you turn off the highway for Murudeshwar.
The icons here are newly built by R N Shetty who is keen on Murudeshwar holding key importance on the world map. The modernity hides behind it an old story though! Folklores say that Ravana performed his penance at Kailash and pleased Shiva offered him atmalinga; with a condition that he should not place it on the ground before reaching his destination, else the atmalinga would establish itself. Since it could bestow invincibility, the other gods felt endangered and sought help of Lord Vishnu who formulated a plan with Ganesha’s help. They overtook Ravana at Gokarna and Lord Vishnu covered the sun with Sudarshanchakra. Ravana thought it was evening and wanted to perform his prayers, but did not know what to do with atmalinga. Ganesha then appeared in front of him in disguise of a boy and agreed to hold it for him till he could bear his weight. Before Ravana could return Ganesha had already placed the atmalinga which immediately established itself. Furious Ravana tried to pick it up again but in vain. It had eternally set up itself in the ground and came to be known as Mahabaleshwara. Raged Ravana flung the remains of the case carrying atmalinga away which rested 32 miles away at Murudeshwara where the supercilious idol stands today.
In front of the idol is the temple where Shiva is worshiped in form of Aghora – the austere form. A soaring gopurum with two lofty elephant idols at the entrance welcome you inside for the darshan. We entered the temple being awestruck for a darshan that packed our souls with sanctity… a sense of being complete… and a feeling so peaceful and pure!
With the sense of purity in us, an hour’s ride got us to a place to be captivated by some more purity – this time not by the Lord himself, but by His creation – The Om Beach. Adroitly snuggled amidst the small hillocks which appear to emerge out of the sea, the beach is in the form of inverted Om and hence the name. It is serene, quite, pristine, peaceful… and more. Words fall short to describe its tranquil!
The beach is a popular destination amongst trekkers, as it is one of its kinds where one can indulge in beach trekking. There are a couple of other beaches (Paradise beach and a private beach) in the vicinity which are inaccessible and have to be walked up to. These beaches are separated by the hillocks and one has to clamber up these and cross over. The hill tops offer bird’s eye view of the surroundings which is breathtaking. The easy way to reach these beaches is to sail across; but at the cost of the exhilarating views and the thrill of trekking!
After spending some time enjoying the beauty of the landscape at Om; the excitement of riding resumed once again as were on the highway bound for Karwar. The excitement was not solely because of the beautiful views en route; but also because we were to reach Goa in a short while!
As we neared Karwar, a marine industry greeted us with a board displaying “prohibited area”. A huge stretch was covered by this industry, blocking our views to the sea; and we thought the board meant restrictions on viewing too! So we just proceeded.
It probably took us half an hour to cross the borders to enter Goa! Go Goa! We had been awaiting this moment since we began this journey 9 days back! As we entered Goa, the landscape completely changed. NH17 got leaner and thick woods accompanied us on either side. The entire landscape had a cherry tinge as the soil here was red. This beautiful twist in the landscape made the entire journey till Canacona very exciting.
In my previous visits to Goa, I had always missed out on the Palolem beach as it was almost the southernmost tip of Goa. So we decided to hit Palolem and just chill out. We were also pretty tired of riding by now!
Of all the beaches we had been to so far; Palolem was different. We could spot foreign tourists in abundance and a vast flea market catering to their needs. Loads of shacks on the beach serving delicious fish varieties and some of them had cottages for a leisure stay too. We checked-in in one of the beach huts and made ourselves comfortable.
We spent the evening getting intimate with the sea! The waters were clear but it was flooded with people. We also spent some time in making sand castles like many others who indulged in it. And after being tired of all, took a walk along the beach to enjoy the varying moods of the setting sun.
The night at the beach was cheerful. It looked like the beach which never slept! The shacks served delicious varieties of fish and we had our heartful of it for dinner. And then a short walk on the beach before we were off to sleep.
Day 11 : Jan 3, 2009 : Palolem to Pune
We had yesterday; had our share of Goa at Palolem. Since every beach in Goa is almost the same with similar flea markets, loads of foreign tourists and the shacks galore on the beach, we thought Palolem was an adequate Goa experience. So instead of exploring Goa we decided to return back today itself! (We had planned to return on the 4th of Jan though). Goa was anyways my second home and probably by now we were feeling home sick too!
So we headed towards Panjim, grabbed something to eat and started riding in the direction of Ponda on NH4A. Last year I had tried the Amboli ghat route and wanted to try something new! So, even though it was going cost us additional 50 km; we still decided to take the Ponda ghat route to Belgaum and then to Pune. The road was good except a few 12 odd km near Castle Rock and we reached Belgaum around 3:45 pm. We went to the petrol pump to fill petrol and looking at our bike the person was keen to know where we were heading to. As we said Pune and he started calculating something leaving us perplexed. He said you guys will reach in 5 hrs and it came to us as a shock! 341 km were we away from our destination and he was talking of covering it in 5 hours! We took it as a challenge and our excitement and vigor knew no bounds. We finally reached Pune in 4 hrs 40 min taking a small tea break at Karad.
The bike-riding journey was a thrill but what thrilled us more was the last 341 km ride on the NH4! I reached home, had a bath and shared the excitement with all my friends with an SMS… “Biking from Kanniyakumari to Goa to Pune… 1807 km… 10 days… over 50 mesmerizing beaches… a mission accomplished! 🙂 Belgaum to Pune 341 km in 5 hours flat!”