28 April 2012

Travelogue - Tulunadu

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Introduction – Tulunadu is the Tulu speaking region covering districts of Udupi, Dakshin Kannada and Kasargod. This region (see map below) has been demanding a separate state, on linguistic grounds, but their voice has never reached any sympathetic listeners.

The Tulunadu region is also part of the longer Karavali coast, which is the linking stretch of sand connecting the Konkan coastline of Maharashtra, Goa in the north with the Malabar coastline of Kerala in the south. Mangalore and Udupi are two main cities 60 kms from each other. Mangalore is about 370 odd kms from state capital Bangalore.

Mangalore – Mangalore lies between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats mountain ranges, and is the administrative headquarters of the Dakshin Kannada (formerly South Canara) district in south western Karnataka. It is the only city in Karnataka to have all four modes of transport: air, sea, road and rail. The very fact that it has as many as 5 names is testimony to its rich and varied demographics. The Tulus call it Kudla, the Konkanis or Saraswat Brahmins call it Kodiyal, the Beary speaking Muslims call it Maikala, the Malayali’s emigrants from Kerala call it Mamalapuram and finally the Kannadigas call it Mangaluru. Due to so much diversity, Hindi has found acceptance as a common language which is widely understood and spoken, something miserably absent in and around Bangalore. Mangalore is famous for its temples, tiles, PSUs and beaches. It is very hot, even in the relatively colder month of December; one feels the urge to take off the shirt.
Udupi – Udupi is the cultural and culinary epicenter of Tulunadu. While most would be familiar with the ubiquitous Udupi kitchens serving delicious idlis and dosas, it is also a very important pilgrimage centre. The 13th century old Sri Krishna Mutt is the top draw attraction. Apart from Hinduism, Udupi district also is famous for the towns of Karkala and Moodabidre, which are centers of Jainism. There are several temples here (which the Jains call as basadi). All together, Udupi is a cauldron of religious and spiritual fervor.

Why go there?
Religion and Beaches. That’s all there is, frankly. If you are the religious traveler who loves visiting temples and their kind, then surely Tulunadu will appeal to you. Check out the section called “How many days/nights should one plan for and what should be the itinerary?” where I have laid out my answers in a better level of detail.
There is one more reason to go to Mangalore. This might sound to be a silly answer to the question ‘Why go there’, but really I would go to Mangalore to eat ice cream in Ideal Ice Cream Parlor. I just truly loved this place which is said to be the largest ice cream parlor in India. So merits a visit, does it not?

When to go there?
Avoid summer at all costs. Even in the cold months of December, it is sweltering hot. I guess the weather is very Chennai-esque. I also understand the region gets very heavy rainfall from the monsoon laden winds flowing from the Arabian sea. For the religiously bent, it may be pertinent to check the festival calendar and visit accordingly, for example Sri Krishna Mutt at Udupi has some designated dates of grandiose ceremonial worship when the town is painted red in a spiritual vaudeville. It would be good to visit accordingly.

How to go there?
Getting to Mangalore is probably the easiest part of the whole story. There is an overnight train and numerous reasonably priced buses that ply regularly. A slightly more adventurous idea would be self driving to Mangalore. It would take roughly 6-7 hours. While coming from the eastern side of Karnataka (i.e. Bangalore side) one would have to cross the formidable Western Ghats and this stretch of roads is really egregious. If you don’t want the roller coaster experience or if you are worried about your car’s innards, then you would better limit your gear to a maximum second. Once in Mangalore, getting around is really easy. It’s a small place really with just one or two arterial roads.

St. Mary’s Island – Getting to St. Mary’s Island is easy, but one should be aware of a few things in order to fully enjoy this wonderful island. From the jetty at Malpe port, ferries with a capacity of atleast 60-70 leave every hour or half an hour depending on season. This mother ferry will take about 15 mins to arrive at the island. There are no docking ports for such big boats, hence they operate smaller, more agile feeder boats which load and unload people from the mother ferry to and fro the island. This whole logistical operation is time taking and exceedingly chaotic. People rush, drop things in the water and what not. Once crusoed on the island, you are given 45 mins before the next mother ferry will arrive for the return trip. Actually 45 mins is sufficient to idyll and splash around on the island beach, however I noticed people had planned longer picnics. If that is the game plan, then one must arrive early, possibly by the first or second ferry 10ish in the morning and then spend a leisurely full sun and sand day on this dainty island.

How many days/nights should one plan for and what should be the itinerary?

Atheists - For the atheist traveler it’s a no brainer really. Such people should budget maximum one full day here. St. Mary’s Island and Panambur Beach or even further south Someshwar Beach can be comfortably covered in 8 hours of daylight. If you happen to be the devout traveler, then the above question is crucial and should be tackled thoroughly as part of your pre trip planning. Further, secular devouts who are fine with temples, dargahs, basadis and churches alike would need even more planning. For all the devout segments, I shall try to offer my suggestions which can be used as a prima facie guidance.
Hindus – Plan for at least 2 full days. Split it into one day for Mangalore and the other day for Udupi. Even with two full days, your job would be cut out and you would need to prioritize which temples you want to visit. I counted as many as 15 in the index page of a local tour operator’s booklet.
Christians – I would guess 1 day is enough. There are 3 or 4 great churches in and around Mangalore.
Jains - 1 full day should be good enough. Ideally if you base yourself at Udupi, then it would be better rather than setting your base camp in Mangalore. Both Karkala and Moodabidri are closer to Udupi than Mangalore; however, they are still in reasonable proximity of Mangalore. Plan your day trip as Mangalore-Udupi-Karkala-Moodabidri-Mangalore if your base is in Mangalore or Udupi-Karkala-Moodabidri-Udupi if it is in Udupi. The former route is ~ 200 kms while the latter would be ~100 kms.
Muslims – There were a couple of mosques and dargahs which were marked as tourist locations, but really I do not have a good idea.
Secular Devout – Plan for atleast 3D/4N and base yourself in Mangalore.

What is the ideal budget?
By any stretch of imagination, Tulunadu is not expensive. A 10-12K budget is good enough for a comfortable 3 star accommodation inclusive of sightseeing, food and car hire. I do not think budget is a matter warranting prolonged thought if you are planning to visit this part of Karnataka, focus instead on the number of days and itinerary.

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