Udupi 2.0 and Other Malnad Musings

For years, Udupi has been the base for our trips to the temples of South Canara. Uncluttered and peaceful, this little town has always wrapped us in a comforting blanket of hot food and a soft bed after jostling temple crowds.  Recently, we decided to take a longer time for the temple circuit and discovered that Udupi has all the ingredients of a pleasant getaway as well.

The eight and a half hour drive from Bangalore to Udupi used to be a stressful chore, with endless hours of agonising whether to go via  Shiradi Ghat and risk LPG cylinders sliding off the lorries on to our bonnet or take the Charmadi Ghat and pray that we don’t have a puncture on the craters. We choose Charmadi, but this time, we fortify ourselves with an overnight halt at Chikmagalur, but surprisingly, the ghat road is very good. Charmadi Ghat is a delight, in any season and more so now in monsoon with the clouds on the ground and greenery freshly bathed. Waterfalls tumble off dark mountains, weave through carpets of green and stop just short of the road, their sound building up the anticipation in every motorist much before they are sighted. Much has been said and written about the Monsoon magic of the Malnad Ghats and all of it fails to do justice. It can be scary with landslides and accidents but with some intelligent planning, this drive should be on every bucket list. We leave Charmadi reluctantly after any number of stops to soak in the beauty, pass through small hamlets with onomatopoeic wonders for names like Kajarapalke and Bajagoli and enter Udupi at its beautiful signature Arch. 

Udupi, today, is known solely for the Krishna temple which was established by Madhvacharya in the 13th century. The deity, a small idol of Little Krishna is viewed through a small window and leaves one wanting more. The queue is lighter early in the morning or at four in the evening, so timing the visit then, enables a quick second glimpse. Udupi has, however, existed from much earlier, as evidenced by the Chandramouleeswar (Shiva) Temple. Located right opposite the Krishna Temple, most non-locals miss this temple due to its small and nondescript entrance. Legend has it that Chandra, the Moon God was cursed by Daksha, his father-in-law, due to which he lost his lustre and power.  Chandra is then said to have prayed to Shiva for releasing him of the curse at this Chandramouleeswara temple. Shiva restored the lustre and shine of the Moon God and this place came to be named after Chandra who is the leader(Pa) of the Stars (Udu). Perpendicular to the Krishna temple lies the Ananteswara temple, also devoted to lord Shiva and believed to be one of the oldest temples of the Tulu region. This triumvirate forms the daily circuit of many a local.

There is more on offer, right here on this street. Around the Krishna temple are beautiful structures that house the Ashta(Eight) Mathas, each one embellished most tastefully with motifs and materials that reflect the Malnad region. Many house owners have been inspired to replicate the intricate woodwork and pillars in their villas. Moving further in the temporal realm, no visit to Udupi can be complete without the famous Goli Baje and Mangalore buns. The old reliable,  Woodlands Hotel, is a personal favourite for these but the iconic Mitra Samaj (since 1949), just around the temple, is a close contender.

For a bit of adventure, there is the drive from Udupi to Sringeri through the Agumbe Ghats. The fourteen hair pin bends on this Ghat evoke both fear and joy together. A gasp of relief in clearing one hairpin bend, a shriek at the on-coming bus that seems to cover the entire road pushing you to the outer periphery of the sheer drop and the peace from the ageless green hills around - one cannot but help feeling close to the Divine, the Force or the Elements - whatever one chooses to call it.  Agumbe is also a designated UNESCO Heritage Site with some bespoke trekking trails.

One yearns for the solidity of Terra Firma after this drive and the beaches around Udupi are most welcome.  While Malpe and Kaup and Maravanthe beaches are well known, Mattu Beach is relatively undiscovered. We follow Google Maps and reach it by crossing an ancient looking, narrow bridge with a width for just one vehicle. Barring the residents around the area, Mattu Beach has few visitors and is an ideal foil to the adrenaline rush of the ghats. A quiet hour and a half of watching the sea and hearing the conversation between the waves and the wind, is pure food for the soul. Malpe Beach with its stylish Sea Walk is good too, if you don’t mind a bit of a crowd. One needs to watch out, though, for touts who pop up suddenly asking for parking charges and road usage fees. Lining the roads from the beaches are brightly lit shops selling fish delicacies - after all you are in a coastal city. They must be good if the crowds around them are anything to go by.

The good thing about South Canara is that there is always more than one road to get to your destination and losing one’s way countless times, over two and a half decades, has thrown up some very attractive alternate routes. We return to Bangalore by one such route via the Kudremukh National Park and Chikmagalur. This route, for only an additional half hour, is free of both the Ghats. The thirty -five  kilometre drive, through Kudremukha National Park, on wonderful roads through pristine forests with only the occasional vehicle for company, is a treat. Myriad shades of green, rare flowers and any number of ferns, make it seem like New Zealand. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012, The Kudremukh National Park also offers moderate to difficult treks and bird watching safaris since it is home to diverse wildlife. We spot a huge gaur, expertly camouflaged against the bark of a tree, in magnificent repose, with its sharp horns forming a perfect arc above its forehead. Black faced langurs, frisky calves, and birds of various hues and shades, hold out the promise of more sightings, but the drive is over all too soon.

From scenic drives through lofty mountains to expansive beaches, spiritual interludes and gastronomic capers, Udupi and its environs, right here in the backyard, has it all.

© Of Places and People | All rights reserved.