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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Backpacker diaries 4: Udupi and 4Ms (Mangalore, Maravanthe, St. Mary’s Island, Manipal)

“There are a few journeys we take as lovers, as friends, as family, as unknowns and as nobodies. This trip embodied all of the above in some shape, form, and experience.“

It all started with our Eco-friend Ritwik working a lot in Bengaluru than Mumbai. On his return we spoke about the south and within a few minutes and a lay invite after, this trip was formed. As usual, I was the one gunning for it with dates and timelines and bookings. With the boys, well, being boys. I decided knowing these two, planning had to be kept borderline and not detailed. Besides I was traipsing into unchartered territory so it simply meant keep it simple.

We took a few days off, lamented and grazed our way finally to that fateful weekend. Abeer had faced a particularly tumultuous week at work and he was happy to down a few before we took off. I raised my eyebrows at the though but downed more than a pint myself. He was right – we both needed it but in the bargain we nearly missed our train from CST. I had carried yummy biryani from the day before I was in Hyderabad and he ate it like a hungry wolf onboard. Post that we both passed out aboard the Mangalore Express – Upper berth please :D

Shetty's Lunch Home indulgence -
Pic courtesy Abeer
The next day was treacherous heat and pretty bad delays that had my temper soaring. You see, our expectation was dreamy cold wintery weather, romantic and perfect. What we saw on the weather forecast and faced was Mumbai-like coastal heat with some level of humidity and a promise of coolness as the sun descended. We reached Mangalore at 3pm and trudged to the 1st recommended eatery – Shetty’s Lunch Home. I assured Abeer that my friends were trustworthy sources and so they turned out to be. We were filthy from the train journey but we just plunged into our perfectly divine meal of ghee-roasted chicken (priority recommend), sukka masala squid (Mangalorean style), neer dosa, Kerala parathas and chicken curry suggested by the attendant. The thatch roof and earthen interiors were perfect and calm with no crowd and we dove in and ate more than our stressed tummies could handle. We left and wondered where to stay the night when lo and behold there was a guesthouse just behind us. It was INR 500/- and the friendly fella at the ‘reception’ asked us to 1st checkout the room and then decide. We took a cue from his tone and went to check it. It was perfect, cool with a balcony and a bathroom the size of a playground - it was a shady place and only backpackers and real travelers would take this. This was PERFECT hahahha. We grabbed it, refreshed ourselves and took off to a nearby mall. Some coffee and a few mins later, Ritwik arrived. He was stuck in Bangalore for some work and was gracious enough to fly down that day itself to Mangalore city to see us. We all giggled and laughed at our ‘guest house’ when we met and settled in.

The South Coastal Scene from Mangalore Express-
Pic courtesy Abeer
There on we decided to check the very ‘happening’ Mangalorean nightlife. It being Friday evening, we expected some crowd and our plan was to drink ourselves silly and giggle at everyone and everything. Here is what transpired. We traipsed through The London Street Lounge and Hi Bar. Ritwik constantly insisted on visiting Mangala, which he compared to Mumbai’s Janta Bar in Bandra (P.S. I do not believe there is another Janta Bar in India). We were the only patrons in most places we entered or exited or maybe grabbed a courtesy beer. We stayed the longest at Hi Bar and that too it was barely till 11pm and still no crowd. The day catching up to us, we dined at Shetty's and decided to call it in. Next morning we managed to wake up early and catch a hearty breakfast in a local hole like place where drivers and conductors usually catch their grub, we left for Udupi by bus. The route was scenic and the journey very comfortable. Every few seconds there were scenic water bodies, many breaking into estuaries leading to backwaters, fishing boats and water harvesting devices, long paddy fields and local shrimp catching methods strewn across the coastline. What struck my seasoned Mumbaikar sensibilities – absolute cleanliness. Every journey I take makes me feel more and more like people from around the country come to Mumbai to treat her like the national dustbin; almost testing her to see how much dump can she take in. Whilst these regions were beyond spick and span. Plastic was nearly invisible and the only ‘rubble’ involved dried husks, coconut palm leaves and coconut shells – all conveniently biodegradable.

We reached Udupi at midday and made it to Ritwik’s ‘humble abode’ (read palatial grounds) in Ambalpadi – a residential suburb which ends with the Janardana and Mahakali mandir. The property lies on a large acre of land split between numerous relatives over a period. Each one lived in row housing or bungalow plots and were christened – most names depicted holier than thou names. Ritwik’s grandfather, Vyasaraya Ballal, was a legend (a Sahitya Academi Awardee) and as he later told us in conversation, “Their’s was the last generation that produced real men.” He was a humble man who became a literary genius and produced a family riddled in fame for arts and culture. His most noted work was ‘Vatsalya Patha’ which was the name of Ritwik’s bungalow that was restored by his father a few years ago. Abeer and I were completely drawn in. The place was homely and tastefully decorated with artisan portraits and pictures. The artwork was predominantly dated Indian culture, some with a message hidden within, many showcasing women in shapes and forms. His father had even carved a niche for himself literally in this property – an art room to work in and draw inspiration. As if to make us feel any more mediocre, there was a copy of the Mahabharatha on the bed when we entered one of the rooms. Ritwik’s home in Mumbai is a miniature version of this ancestral home. However, one can easily tell from the volume of space, the silence, the clean air; which was Mumbai and which was Udupi. This home was perfectly planned and thought out to the last detail – switchboards, water storage, spacing and openings inside and outside. The richness of its restoration was more inside than outside.

St. Mary's Island
 After gaping at everything with ‘O’ shaped mouths, we quickly changed and made it to Malpe Beach Harbour, Udupi’s main beach stretch. Pristine white sands and continuing for miles on end with Kadike on the north and Matu Beach after miles on the south. We took a boat to St. Mary’s Island, a place I insisted on visiting. We spent a good hour or 2 there anmong sandy stretches followed by rocky edges. I had seen some astoundingly beautiful pictures on social networking sites and blogs and reality seemed like a humbler version of those pictures. I still loved it. Since the crowd was very local and we stood out like outsiders (I was wearing some seriously micro shorts), we broke away to an isolated spot and swam there. All the silliness didn’t take minutes to surface. One cannot risk venturing deep and when I said swim I meant at most waist deep water for me. It was mildly salty and the surrounding rocks were teaming with virgin coral, tons and tons of black crabs, snails and slugs and some surface marine creatures. There were hard rocks and porous rocks and the shells were absolutely beautiful – a collectors haven. It was seriously hot and even though we wished to explore more, we were time bound and to a large extent couldn’t tolerate the heat. After chomping on some local version of ‘bhel’ and cucumber slices, we ferried our way back to the mainland (INR 150/head for two-way ferry). Lunched at Malpe – nothing very special and headed home to slumber a little.

Then we hit Manipal town. The much sought after tiny cosmopolitan hub hidden away in Udupi district well known for its educational institutes, foreign gambit (a lure for the boys) and the watering holes. Yes Manipal DOES have a nightlife. Everything was super dark and poorly lit except a few spots. We went to the University for the lantern festival and were instantly told it was a pay and enter event. We decided against it and sought some local drinking spot advice. The student at the gate stated (verbatim), “There are many places like blah blah but if you ok with not being able to see each other’s faces DeeTees it is.” At the time it was translated to maybe dingy or too crowded and happening to see each other. We went to the old DeeTees and I swear we could literally not see each other. We were lucky enough to grab the last available table in a corner and the lighting was designed to make you feel like you are in a place with routine load shedding. Menus were read and orders were placed by torchlight. It was a scene straight out a movie of the dark underbelly of cosmopolitan metros where one is sucked into a life of drug rackets and prostitution rings. Here it was simply the ambience of choice. We giggled and downed a few beers. Ate something that looked like food and we shone the light on it we could eat it no more. Smog of smoke and the leer of beer were the order of the evening. We decided to move out and check other places. We topped our 1st dark experience with a semi-dark Big Boss where I happily spilled beer and the boys checked ladies out and followed that up with some seriously sad “ghaati” dancing at a very ‘happening’ nightclub called Remix. It was thorough amusement this Remix. First of all we did the cardinal sin of paying and entering (menial damage). Then we noticed the crowd and realized we were so out of place here and by that I mean obviously feeling way too superior. Our attention and source of amusement for the end of this day was a rather large young gal who had 2 fellas scampering for her attention and both hugged her side to side and met her backside midway – I swear I am not being mean. This is the best way to describe it and since we were tad buzzing from our drinks and possible sundried exhaustion, we found anything convenient amusing. Kudos to that girl though.  

Woodlands Lunch Thaali
Fishing village huts
Marvanthe Beach -
Pic courtesy Abeer
We wound up after Ritwik and I danced and Abeer looked on in sheer regret that he made us share his Urza energy drink. Found a rickshaw back into the city and crashed to rest. By Mumbai standards we were really good children this whole weekend. Our choice of food was at Woodlands during our stay in Udupi. Fantastic Udupian cuisine and I could just take the train for more of that. We sampled everything on the menu to the point of stuffing ourselves. Uttappams, idlis, vadas, dosas, upmas, sambhar, rassam, chutney, kaapi, everything. I realized Ritwik was more eager to stack up on his hometown than we tourists were. Before that we started the day with a brief walk through of the Janardana and Mahakali Temple. We indulged and took off to Maravanthe Beach. Another famous must visit town come fishing village come miles of the most gorgeous beach ever. Here is where we finally had our 1st naariyal of the trip – shocked and disgruntled as I was. We had a bit of a faux pas about the beach and just followed Ritwik wherever he took us. Unfortunately, due to miscommunication we landed up walking almost an hour under the hot sun across the main NH and the beach at bank midday. Abeer and I felt old and worn out but we comforted ourselves that this was a workout. A few hydrating options after, we passed a lovely raw fishing village, crossed through a muddy path that divided young paddy fields, met the cutest calf that Abeer exclaimed, needed time to fatten up for a juicy steak (drawing questionable looks from Ritwik and me and a loud moo from the calf’s momma), and reached the main highway. 2 buses later we were back in Udupi and at Diana lunch home – Ritwik claimed that back in the day this was THE place for lunching. Sadly it was commercialized and we were sad to not get our order. We left and ran to Woodlands just in time to devour large thaalis. Before that we contemplated our routes back; acknowledging sadly that this was the near end of a glorious and very organic trip.

Ritwik took an overnight bus back that evening after we ate at an obnoxiously OUT THERE outlet called Kediyoor. He was gracious enough to let us stay the night over in his place as our train was a 5:45am tatkal booking from Udupi station – the Maru Sagar Express. We stayed the night wherein I had the weirdest and scariest dreams and kept waking up. A sinister surrounding and the deafening quiet doesn’t help a bustling city gal. Abeer assured me that there was a temple around and nothing would happen. We woke up to get dressed and at stark 4:30am all lights went out. I was freaked out to say the least. Lights, camera and an available torch was our weapon of choice and I was too scared to even check if all switches were off but we moved in pairs and we ensured all was shut. Lights came back on and as if it was toying with my fear, went out again in a minute. We packed up and left at 5am. The street was well lit and we walked looking for a rickshaw. 15 steps ahead and lights went out AGAIN. This was plunging darkness and I just wanted to leave. Abeer indulged my fear and caringly took me to the main motor stand. Phew. At the station our already delicate tummies played havoc but my traveler’s soul was sad. Back to noisy, polluted and reality Mumbai. Yes home but away from dreamy places like this. Thanks to Ritwik and his hospitality and his presence and language guidance, we ever planned and made this trip.

Hoping to make many more such backpacker diaries J