Wednesday, March 28, 2012

St. Mary's Island, Udupi.

St. Mary's Island is a small piece of real estate that seemed to have just slipped away from Malpe beach in Udupi and drifted a few kilometers away into the sea. After drifting some 6kms, it finally decided to set shop there. The four islands of St. Mary's are as much a tourist's paradise as it is for the Geologists and the Historians.
As it turns out, St. Mary's island was a part of Madagascar, which in turn was part of India albeit 88 Million years ago, before Madagascar decided to part ways with India and join Africa. Looking back at the map, it looks like Madagascar chose a long and distant separation from India.

The distinctive geological rock formations formed by basaltic lava make these islands a Geologists paradise. But not even the ardent Geologist can miss the beauty of the island. The shell-littered sands, the coconut trees, the all encompassing sea and the beautiful sunset can take your mind off all the geological wonders of the island. The unique rock formations of St. Mary's Island are a result of sub-volcanic activity many million years ago. There's an abundant display of hexagonal shaped columns of rocks placed next to each other.

It is also believed that Vasco Da Gama first landed on St. Mary's Island on his arrival to India. He even placed a cross here and christened the islands as O PadrĂ£o de Santa Maria (which later got corrupted to St. Mary's Island). Having found no habitation here or Malpe beach due to the thick vegetation cover, he moved further and finally dropped anchor at Kozhikode, Kerala.

It’s a 6km boat ride from Malpe to St. Mary's - the only one of the 4 islands on which one can actually land. It has a very tiny sand beach where tourists can have a swim. The rest of the island is strewn with rock formations and coconut trees. Not surprisingly the water and sand here is pristine but island strewn with tourist waste (water bottles, disposable plates et al). It’s a place crying for attention from the administrators, who unfortunately are more worried about making money and completely disregard the importance of maintaining the sanctity of the place. The to and fro boat ride costs Rs 85 on a Government-run boat and Rs 120 on a Private run-boat.

Getting-there: From Udupi Bus stand there are enough buses to Malpe beach. It’s a short journey of 5-6 kms. To reach St. Mary's Island, get into the fishing harbour and ask for directions to the Government run boat rides. Pay Rs 85 for a to and fro ride. Last boat returns from St. Mary's leave at 6PM. Overnight stay in the beach is not allowed.

Must-Do: Marvel at the rock formations and the beauty of the islands. Collect shells and pebbles.
Must-Don't: Swim outside of the designated swimming area. They are strewn with huge rocks underwater. Littering this mini-paradise.

My Rating: 8/10

Sri Krishna Temple, Udupi

Without a shred of doubt, Udupi is famous for two things - Udupi cuisines and Sri Krishna Temple. The ranking order clearly depend on the preference of your religion - Food or God. There is however a lesser known third speciality of Udupi - Gadbad, and we'll come to that later.

As it is with most well known and popular temples, there is a lot of floklore attached with the Sri Krishna Temple in Udupi. The Sri Krishna Matha was consecrated by Shri Madhvacharya in the 13th Century. Legend has it that there was once a storm in the sea off Malpe and Shri Madhvacharya helped a ship come ashore safely. The much relieved and thankful sailors presented Shri Madhvacharya with idols of Lord Balarama and Lord Krishna. Deity of Lord Balarama was consecrated at Malpe with the temple now being called Vadabhandeshwara, while the idol of Lord Krishna was consecrated at Udupi thereby setting up the Sri Krishna Matha.

Shri Madvacharya handed over the puja and administration to his eight disciples. Each of them set up their Mathas and took care of the temple administration on a rotation policy of every 2 years. The shining glory of the temple happened sometime in the 16th Century. Kanakadasa, an ardent worshipper of Lord Krishna was denied entry into the temple since he belonged to a lower caste. He even attempted to catch a glance of Lord Krishna through a window but only managed the rear view of the statue. Not the one to give, he performed penance with such devotion and determination that it pleased Lord Krishna and as a token of appreciation for Kanakadasa's devotion, the idol turned backwards on its own to give Kanakadasa to gaze through the window. Till this date, the statue of Lord Krishna can be viewed only through the window for all the devotees. This window is now known as the Kanakana Kindi.

Much to our delight we got a quick darshan of Lord Krishna. I was particularly happy I paid a visit to this temple after so many years. The last time I was here I was a little child and I still have some vague images of the temple imprinted somewhere in my head. Now they are all refreshed to last a lifetime. With a contented heart, soul and stomach (from the free Annadanam) we left the temple premises to our much awaited next destination - St. Mary's Island.

But before that, you cannot come to Udupi and not have a Gadbad. So, what exactly is a Gadbad? Gadbad is a made to order ice cream with some fruits and nuts and tutty frutty. Elsewhere in Karnataka, you might find packaged Gadbad which is sacrilegious to say the least, when compared to the real deal. There's nothing better to beat the Udupi Sun but a tall glass of invigorating Gadbad.

There's also a Numismatics heaven somewhere on the way to the temple. This free-entry coins and currency museum is set up by Corporation Bank which incidentally started in Udupi in the same building where the museum now sits.

Getting-there: Udupi is about one and a half hours from Mangalore. The temple is about 1 km from the Udupi bus stand and can be reached on foot.

Must-Do: Look out for the window for a glance of Lord Krishna. Gadbad gulping. Coins and Currency museum visit.
Must-Don't: Littering.

My Rating: 7/10

Tanir Bavi Beach, Mangalore.

It is quite a predicament when you have too little time in your hands and too many beaches to visit. The situation calls for making an intelligent and informed decision on which beach to go for. Again our reliable sources suggested that Tanir Bavi beach was the place to be.

If a beach with pristine sands, breathtaking sunsets and devoid of the umpteen hawkers, beach-shacks and hooligans is your ideal way to unwind on a lazy weekend, then Tanir Bavi is you should be headed. Tanir Bavi is just the right place for you to fritter away your worries and clear up your mind. The cool breeze seems to just magically take away all the maladies of a hectic city life and replace it with a clean slate, so that you can start all over again.

Even in the company of friends with bubbling energy you will find a sense of peace and solitude that you will lack even in the privacy of your city home.

Getting-there: As is the norm with commuting in Mangalore, take one of the frequent buses to Tanir Bavi. There's usually a flat fare of Rs 5 per head for most places inside Mangalore city.
Must-Do: Meditate, reflect and rediscover yourself while the waves gently crawl over your body with the sun setting in the horizon.
Must-Don't: Ruin this peaceful abode with commercialization and modernization. Littering.
My Rating: 7/10

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kambala at Jappina Mogaru, Mangalore

Traditions - The passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation, especially by oral communication. We Indians are no stranger to them. In fact, everything we do is bound to traditions in some obscure way or the other. Even our daily chores are one way or the other related to some tradition. And then there's the kind of tradition that is specific to a region or a culture or mythological significance. Over time these traditions or public spectacles either fizzle out and get relegated to obscure pages of history or emerge to become gala events owing to commercial viability. Then there are a few that stand the test of times for its pure entertainment factor.

Kambalas' held in the coastal regions of Mangalore a.k.a Tulu Nadu walk a tight rope between tradition and entertainment. It is still one of Karnataka's best kept secrets compared to its more illustrious cousins - Bull Taming at Jallikattu and Bull Race at Ongole. Kambala has the simplest rules. Each team has 3 team members - a pair of bulls and a six-pack yielding Indianized Usain Bolt. And the simple rule is to get from point A to point B with all team members in tow till the finishing line. It's always a race between two teams. The last standing pair is the winner.

There are many Kambalas held across the coastal region starting from November and extending until March. Different regions have their own significance and history and celebrations surrounding the event. We chose to attend Jappina Mogaru (in Mangalore) for no apparent reason other than just sheer convenient timing. Our reliable sources suggested that we visit Jappina Mogaru the day before the main event, for this day provides the perfect photo op of the raging bulls practicing before the Grand Finale. As it turns out, it was indeed a good decision. The number of people attending the event was comparatively fewer, which provided us with front row seats to freeze the action into pixels.

Much like F1 racing, it all begins with the "team" walking the length of the track to get a feel of the slush course. This is followed by a dry run without much fanfare. Once all the teams get a first hand account of the track they comeback for a second try. Some even come for a third run and on this occasion, mostly alongside a competitor to size-up their opponents. But even through all these test runs you can feel the excitement building among the local spectators who have already turned up in decent numbers. Right on cue from the commentator, scores of heads crane out to catch the action. Heart beat rises when the team makes their way past them and then the crescendo drops when the racer lets go of the now-uncontrollable bulls at the finish line. And immediately there's a murmur of approving or disapproving syllables.
Walking away from the races there's plenty of other attractions for the wandering soul. The Kambala serves as a small village fair. You will find many stalls serving farm-fresh Watermelons, Pineapples and assorted fruit bowls. There are also the typical try-your-luck games and Ice-gola vendors. Incidentally the race track sits on the banks of the picturesque Netravathi River overlooking the famous Bridge.

I also wandered towards where all the action begins. The start point of the race. And here is where my perspective of the race started changing. Earlier in day, when I watched the Bulls dash to the finish line with the racer in tow, it looked clear that there needed to be perfect harmony between the human and the creatures, much like a horse and the jockey. Unless there's a perfect understanding between the two, the chances of them winning were slim. All that changed when I saw the animals getting whipped for no apparent reason than get them enraged and ready to charge down the track. The excessive whipping can melt the hearts of the weak but not the men who control them. Agreed the bulls have a thick skin, but you cannot overlook the sight of them wincing in pain after every whipping. Then there were those creatures that were unable to stand on their feet and kept falling at the start line. We did see instances of these bulls being prohibited from sitting down in the tents, just so that they won’t slack off in the race.

And that was the cue for me to leave the place. I could not take it any longer. I feel for these animals, and just hope that this tradition continues without so much as getting the bad treatment for these poor creatures. Overall, it was a great experience to be part of a great traditional event.

Getting-there: Mangalore has a good network of private buses. As for directions from the locals (and bus drivers and conductors) for Jappina Mogaru and they will be more than happy to help. Real warm and helpful people.

Must-Do: If you a photography enthusiast be there the day before the event and get a good spot to capture all the action.
Must-Don't: Avoid getting into trouble with the authorities (inside joke :) ) and getting in the way of the Raging Bulls.

My Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Kadri Manjunath Temple, Mangalore

In a temple town like Mangalore, there are many temples that jostle for attention. One such prominent temple is the Kadri Manjunath Temple which was built in 1068 A.D. The main deity here is Lord Manjunatha or Shiva. The Trilokeshwara statue made of bronze in a seated position with three faces and six arms is considered to be one of the best bronze statues in the country.

There is a natural spring at the temple called the Gomukha, which lets out water to the nine ponds adjacent to it. The source of these springs is left to the imagination of the devotees, some even claiming it to be from Kashi. A few steps up the hill you would find yourself dwarfed by a huge statue of Lord Hanuman. There’s also a temple in His honour next to the statue.

On climbing the hill a little further one can find a Jogimut and Pandava cave. There's no supporting literature or folklore that links the cave to the Pandavas. The cave itself is very suspect and there's no way it could hold the Pandavas (especially Bheema) during their Vanavasa. So yeah in my opinion you just have to treat it as a tourist spot - nothing less, nothing more.

Getting-there: Right in the heart of the city. The buses are a good medium of transport to get around in Mangalore.

My Rating: 5/10