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.
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