You might say “What’s the fun in that? With no friends, family and relatives just wandering alone like a ghost?” Well I enjoyed every bit of it to be a Lone Male traveller and savoured the adulation and respect I received from people whom I met during this travel who came to know I was travelling alone, except in Goa where I was mistook as only a driver or they thought that I had lost my marbles (sheepish grin). I planned in such a way so as to try not to cover the beaten up touristy places along the way and also planned to use my trusty companion, my car to take me there. After much debate with myself, I finally settled down with driving down to some pilgrimage places like Shringeri and Hornadu in Chickmagalur district, Karnataka and return journey through the most spectacular coastal roads in the world, the Konkan coast – a total of 1500 kms from Kolhapur to Kolhapur.
So off I was from Kolhapur to Belgaum, my beloved hometown and then to Haliyal (my wife’s hometown), from Megadeth blasting on my stereo and Dave Mustaine shining his ‘black tooth grin’ to Miles Davis soothing my nerves after the much sought for onslaught, music for all moods.
Day 1: Dandeli
Though not on my itinerary, I visited Dandeli (25 kms from Haliyal) to perform a recce (no, I am not David Headley) for a near future tentative trip to this place for my office. I visited Bison Resort, Hornbill Resort, Supa Dam, Kali Adventure Camp, Kulgi Nature Camp. It was December and the dense forest aptly reflected the holiday mood of the people desperate to get bookings in this calm and refreshing jungle and December being the best time to visit this place.
Day 2: Hulgol Home Stay
The next day, I started off on the real journey from Haliyal to Sirsi. I like the backpacking style of travel (characterised by low budget, independent travel) where the plan is there is no plan. The drive was characterised by a well laid road, the way it flowed and of course the view through the windscreen. I had read about Hulgol and its village charm that I knew instantly I wanted to stay here. But Hulgol is not well mapped and you have to keep your eyes peeled for milestones as there is only one marked for the place. Initially intending to do a lame stay in some lodge in Sirsi, when I came across Hulgol village, about 14 kms before Sirsi, the areca trees and lush green surroundings coerced me to search for some place here to halt for the night. And what luck I was in for!! Sure enough I saw this board pointing to “Areca Valley Home Stay” and immediately I swerved (gently) my vehicle towards that direction. After a km in the dense areca plantation, I saw this beautiful old styled house welcoming me. This Home stay is maintained by Hegade Family who own acres of plantation and farm fields. I met up with the owner and they were happy to let me a room for the night. The room was clean as a whistle. I was introduced to the other family members of the house. It was 8 pm and after some rest, I was taken to the Areca nut peeling activity into the dense dark path through the village. It was a beautiful clear star and moon lit night and after some time we reached the place where the peeling was going on. About 20 odd women were expertly peeling away the supari nuts. As told to me by Mr. Hegade, the nuts are tender after peeling and then they are dried in the sun to mature the nuts suitable for consumption. Then we returned home to be treated with delicious traditional vegetarian Havyak dinner that Mrs. Hegade had prepared for us. I absolutely loved the jaggery desserts and the simple but delicious delights on the table. This was a welcome change from what I knew about the overdose of seafood that will be happening once I touch the coastal line. I was told that all the ingredients are the freshest from the home garden and prepared in pure ghee. After the satisfying dinner, I took this opportunity to interact with the family members and learning their way of life.
Day 3: Sagar and Jog Falls
Early morning was greeted by the sunrise filtering through the chlorophyll of the green leaves of the surrounding plantation. I was in awe of this beauty. After morning tea, I was welcomed for breakfast of typical delicious dosas and chutney and to top it all with jaggery desserts. I was taken on a round of the plantation after which it was time for me to leave. I said to myself this is a perfect start to the whole experience and was fortunate to spot this home stay. Then I visited Sahasralinga which is half a kilometre from the home stay. It is in the river Shalmala and is famous for being the location where around a thousand lingas are carved on the rocks in the river bank. Then off I was to Ikkeri near Sagar where the majestic Hoysala – Kadamba style Aghoreshwar temple is situated. There are intricate carvings on the stone walls of the temple. Then I moved on to Jog Falls to witness the world famous Jog waterfalls created by the Sharavati River, which is one of the highest waterfalls in the world. There was hardly any water than the previous time I had visited this falls. On my way back to Sagar, I stumbled across another home stay called Matthuga and checked in. I was given a beautiful cottage surrounded by plantation and maintained by the keepers of the stay. Though not as homely as in my previous experience, but I was offered traditional dinner and early morning breakfast. I mingled with the other family occupants. At night, I was greeted by 3 giant “tarantula” like spiders in my cottage and small toads in the bathroom which were shooed away by the keeper at my request . I have developed a new phobia after seeing these giant creepy crawlers called “Arachnaphobia”!!
Day 4: Shringeri
After breakfast, I started out for Shringeri Devasthan, about 170 kms from Sagar via Tirthhalli, known for its mutt (temple) established by Adi Shankaracharya and is a famous pilgrimage center for Hindus. I reached there late in the evening as I was travelling at a slow pace enjoying the surrounding beauty. I checked in the rooms of the Devsthan. These rooms are extremely basic and cheap but well maintained. Then I set out for the Devsthan. The temple was flocked by devotees. There was orderliness in the temple as opposed to the chaos we find in the temples up North. Behind the temple is the Tunga River where fish feeding is the major attraction and a bridge across the river to villages. There is the Sharadamba Temple and Vidyashankara Temple. After witnessing the sunset on the river banks, I wandered in the town. I observed two elderly couple almost bursting to tears on reaching Sringeri to pay homage to the Deity. Such was the devotion on display. It was now time for me to taste the food of the temple. I immediately got a seat on reaching the dining hall with empty plates in place. After a line was full, the express serving began with Payasam to start with, then came rice, vegetables and sambar and rassam. The food was extremely basic but truly delicious. I had never eaten so fast before and my dinner was over within 5 minutes. After we got up, the used plates were immediately picked up by volunteers and floors were cleaned up within under 3 minutes and new plates placed for other devotees desperately waiting in queue. When I came out of the dinner hall, there was Mahapooja underway. After the pooja, I returned to my room and retired for the day.
Day 5: Hornadu
After morning breakfast of idlis and vadas, I set off to another temple town called Hornadu via Jayapura. The entire way was in dense thick forest. Horanadu lies amidst beautiful Malnad region, near another temple town called Kalasa and the Annapurneshwari Temple is situated here. Horanadu is like a hill station with beautiful landscapes and farm fields. Every visitor to the Annapoorna temple at Horanadu, irrespective of their religion, language, caste, or creed, is provided with a three-course vegetarian meal similar to that in Sringeri. I had no plans to stay in Hornadu but to move on to Udupi for stay, but looking at its surrounding beauty decided to stay here for one night at another valley stay that I stumbled upon about 1.5 kms from the temple. The cottage, sans spider, given to me was situated amidst scenic paddy fields and high rise mountains. I took some rest and then started off for the temple. The main deity of the goddess was put in place by Adi Shankaracharya; the new deity of goddess Annapurneshwari was consecrated in the temple in 1973. Here I also had Prasadam for dinner.
Day 6: Kudremukh – Udupi – Kundapur
The next morning, I started my journey to Kundapur via Kudremukh and Udupi. Kudremukh is a mountain range noted for its scenic beauty. Owing to the dense forests, sighting wildlife can be challenging, though the area is rich in wildlife. The drive through the National Park was enchanting and exhilarating with forest, mountains and the azure blue sky coupled with surprisingly excellent road. The Tunga and Bhadra rivers are said to originate here and flow freely through the parklands. The area is also primarily known for KIOCL mining which operated till few years back. The area is also known for skirmishes between the Naxalites and the police. You have to take a free entry pass before entering the National Park. Kudremukh (means ‘Horse face’ in Kannada ) peak is situated in this park but is not visible from the road and involves some trekking to do to reach the peak. I was moving very slowly, stopping at vantage points to capture the scenic views, tea plantations, newly built bridges, when a police constable hitched a ride up to Kudremukh town. He acted as my guide and I surprisingly did well to converse with him in Kannada. I had not realised my Kannada speaking prowess till then, thanks to it being a subject in my school. He told me various interesting things about the place including the fact that the Naxalites were troubling the police even now, which I had thought had died down after the recent encounter of their leader by the police. All the time he was in my car, I had my heart in my mouth, fearing that the Naxals will pop out of the wilderness seeing the policeman, with a gun in his hand, shooting even me thinking that I am his accomplice. But the constable assured me that the Naxals don’t hurt tourists. He got off near his station and thanked me for the ride and now I could breathe a sigh of relief. On the way, I came across a waterfalls called “Hanuman Gundi” which is about more than a 100 feet high. It was easy way down the stairs but exhausting way up but was worth visiting. I was famished by the time I reached my car and wanted to reach Udupi for lunch asap. After another 10 kms, I exited the Park which in my opinion, is the most scenic forest cover I have ever seen. When I approached Karkala, I could feel the humidity in the air and the areca trees and dense forest were replaced by the familiar Konkan Coastal landscape. I passed the famous Manipal University campus and had my lunch of Neer Dosa and Idli Vada in Udupi at the famous Hotel Karavali. I skipped the temples of Udupi due to paucity of time and continued my journey to Kundapura for night halt. On the way, I dropped by to visit the Malpe Beach near Udupi. I had dinner at the Shetty Lunch Home in Kundapura famous for its Kane fish Masala and Chicken Ghee Roast and checked in a hotel and retired for the day.
Day 7: Kundapura – Murudeshwar-Karwar-Goa
I started my journey to Murudeshwar for visit to the famous temple located on the sea side. On the way, I stopped at the beautiful scenic Maravanthe beach, 15 kms north of Kundapura where the national highway NH-17 passes close to this beach (around 100 metres from the shore) and a stretch of a kilometre of this highway is flanked by the seashore of Arabian sea on one side and the Hills forming a backdrop to the river on the other. Then I arrived at Murdeshwar. It houses the world’s second tallest statue of Lord Shiva. The temple and the town was bustling with activity of tourists and pilgrims. I had a helping of my favourite fish curry and rice at Honnavar and continued my journey to Karwar, giving Gokarna (another important pilgrim place) a skip, with the idea of halting in some South Goa Beach. I arrived at Canacona, South Goa and started searching for a lodge near Pallolem Beach. But as it was December season, the hotel rates had skyrocketed and I was not willing to shell out that much. So after a long search, I finally found a small resort which suited my budget.
Day 8: Fort Terekhol (Tiracol)
I have visited Goa and its beaches many times over and did not want to revisit them again. You can have a look at my other blog post on Goa here. The next morning, I went to the Pallolem Beach which is a typical Goan beach filled with tourists and then resumed my journey, destination Fort Terekhol Heritage Hotel via Margaon, Panjim, where I had made arrangements for a day’s stay. The road all along upto Fort Tiracol is good, interesting and picturesque. The drive is through many Goan villages, along the beaches of Morjim, Ashvem and Arambol to reach the jetty at Kerim beach. A ferry takes you and the car across the river. Then it’s less than a five minute drive up a hill to an abode of peace and quiet, great view of the Arabian sea and the Querim beach, good food and good sleep. The fort was originally built by Maharaja Khem Sawant Bhonsle, the Raja of Sawantwadi, in the 17th century and later was surrendered to the Portuguese which in turn was forcibly annexed to India after independence. The Terekhol fort has been converted into a hotel, the Terekhol Fort Heritage. There is a church in the fort courtyard which is not open to the general public except on certain occasions such as the annual feast that is usually held in May. The rooms are named by the days of the week. The scenery from my balcony of the Arabian Sea was awesome and I witnessed the sunset from my balcony marking the end of my awe-inspiring journey. I had the Chef’s special Goan feast of Prawns curry and Red snapper and mussels masala fry with pancakes as dessert.
Day 9: Home
The next morning, after breakfast, I checked out and started my Home bound journey to Kolhapur. On the way, I stopped at Reddy Ganesh Temple which was under renovation. I had my lunch of the ubiquitous sol kadi, fish fry, fish curry and prawns fry at the famous and bustling Shree Mahalaxmi, Sawantwadi. I passed the famous Amboli Hill Station and onto Nipani to take NH 4 to Kolhapur.
For snapshots of this tour, click here.