The southern state of Karnataka is naturally endowed with a 320 km western seaboard. We profile some of Karnataka’s most attractive coastal destinations
The southern state of Karnataka (pop. 63 million) attracts an estimated 25 million tourists annually from across the country and abroad, drawn by its exotic flora and fauna, wildlife, heritage buildings, and its famous annual ten-day Dasara festival in Mysore. But despite being naturally endowed with a 320 km western seaboard, beach tourism has been neglected. However over the past decade, this anomaly is being addressed with successive state governments investing in developing modern infrastructure, roads, new hotels, resorts and supplementary facilities in the coastal towns of Mangalore, Marwanthe, Murdeshwar, Gokarna and Karwar.
Profiled hereunder are some of Karnataka’s most attractive coastal destinations.
Situated 90 km south of Goa and 523 km north-west of Bangalore, Karwar (pop. 63,755) is endowed with rare natural attributes including unspoilt beaches of the Arabian sea, lush forests and the rugged hills of the Western Ghats. This port town sited on the banks of the mighty Kali river is the administrative headquarters of North Kanara district. Complemented by salubrious weather, Karwar is an ideal base for exploring the region’s calm and peaceful valleys, picturesque hills, ancient temples and historic monuments. The surrounding Western Ghats offer nature walks in the wild, while the calm waters of the Arabian sea offer excellent swimming and water sports opportunities.
The palm-fringed beaches of the Karwar coast are relatively unexploited for those looking for a refuge from
urban pressures. Devbagh Beach bordered on either side by casuarina trees offers diving and snorkeling options in the blue waters of the Arabian Sea. Koodi Bagh beach at the exact point where the Kali river flows into the sea, and the Kaju Bagh beach, brim with a carnival atmosphere when the local gentry congregates every evening. Karwar also hosts some ancient monuments. The Sadashivgad Hill fort crowning a rocky hill on the outskirts of town affords glorious views of the sunset and houses an ancient Durga temple within its ramparts. The 300-year old Venkataramana Temple in the main town contains some fine ochre paintings.
Accommodation. Karwar offers a wide spectrum of accommodation options. Top-end: Sterling Karwar (Rs.2,977-3,359 per night), Devbagh Beach Resort (Rs.5,300-6,580). Budget and mid-range: Hotel Kamat
Excursions. This coastal town offers diverse getaway options. There is the popular Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary (866 km) with several species of exotic wildlife including elephant, leopard, gaur, civet cat, wild boar, spotted deer, flying squirrel, jackal, etc. Within the sanctuary are the Kavala Caves studded with wondrous stalagmite and stalactite formations. A 45-minute ferry ride takes you to Kurumgad Island, a secluded retreat blessed with natural splendour.
Featuring virgin beaches and breathtaking landscapes, the small town of Gokarna is 486 km from Bangalore. A celebrated Shaivaite pilgrimage centre, Gokarna ranks as high as Varanasi and Rameshwar (Tamil Nadu) as a consecrated Shaivaite pilgrim’s destination. Legend has it that the atmalinga acquired by Ravana from Lord Shiva was transported here. The 1,700-year-old Mahabaleshwara temple, the most visited location in town, enshrines a finely carved stone image of Lord Shiva in standing posture.
Sited at the confluence of two rivers, Gokarna is more famous as a pilgrim centre, but with endless rows of coconut palms, blue seas and clean beaches, it is emerging as an idyllic location for a quiet seaside holiday. For beach aficionados this unhurried, one-street town is a treat. The holy Kali river bridge, beach in front of Mahabaleshwara temple is thronged by pilgrims and fishermen giving it a distinctly local colour, while Kudle beach, about a 15 minute walk from the town, is a 2 km stretch of white sand, fringed by palm trees.
Yet perhaps the most scenic is the Om Beach. Accessible only by foot, it is 5 km from the town centre, and derives its name from its undulating shape, similar to the auspicious Om symbol. The Paradise and Half Moon beaches are smaller but attractive, surrounded as they are by rugged cliffs and secluded coves and islets.
Accommodation. Gokarna is still undeveloped for leisure tourism. Primarily a pilgrimage centre, accommodation options are rudimentary. Several budget hotels, guesthouses and beach huts are available for prices between Rs.50-600 per night. The local KSTDC Hotel offers rooms for Rs.105-250 per day.
The sole upscale option is the Om Beach Resort promoted by Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd, a government of Karnataka undertaking. The resort has 12 colonial style suites and ayurvedic treatment, leisure packages
(Rs.16,780-39,598 per night).
Bounded by the shimmering Arabian sea and rolling hills, Murudeshwara’s main attraction is a Shiva temple
perched on a rocky seaside cliff, besides its serene beaches. During the early 1990s, the temple was renovated and several giant cement sculptures of Hindu gods were installed across the hill. The 100-ft tall Shiva statue here is the largest Shiva statue in India, and stands alongside sculptures of Ganesha, Krishna and scenes from the Mahabharata. A large fort renovated by Tipu Sultan of Mysore also stands atop the hillock.
Murudeshwar has an interesting legend associated with it. Several millennia ago, Ravana, king of Lanka resolved to attract the attention of Lord Shiva so that he would be granted an atmalinga which guarantees immortality. He performed rigorous penance which pleased Lord Shiva who granted him the atmalinga on condition that he carried it to Lanka on foot, without setting it down en route.
As he was walking southwards with the sacred linga in his hands, Ravana wanted to perform his prayer rituals. He found a local boy (Lord Ganesha in disguise) and asked him to hold the linga in his hands till he finished his prayers. But Ganesha placed the idol on the ground before Ravana’s return with the result the atmalinga became firmly entrenched in the soil. When all efforts to uproot the precious atmalinga failed, Ravana threw the saved items associated with the linga in all directions. The cloth which had wrapped the linga was thrown south and fell on Kanduka Hill, taking the form of the aghora at Murudeshwar.
Excursions. Murudeshwar has the time-honoured sanctity of a pilgrim centre. Kollur (59 km), atop a hillock in the emerald greens of the Western Ghats on the banks of river Suparnika, nestles a magnificent temple dedicated to goddess Mookambika which attracts over 500,000 pilgrims every year.
Annegudda Ganapathi temple on the highway linking Murudeshwar with Mangalore marks the spot where
Lord Ganesha killed a demon, harassing the people of the region.
The largest coastal city of Karnataka, Mangalore (pop. 713,000) is located at the convergence of the rivers Netravathi and Gurupur. The port town derives its name from its presiding deity Mangala Devi aka the Godess of fortune. Mangalore, about 350 km from Bangalore, is a somewhat chaotic city with vivid contrasts of narrow winding streets, sprawling coconut groves, gabled houses, beaches, temples and churches.
The main tourist hangouts in Mangalore are its well maintained and uncluttered beaches, with Ullal (10 km
from the city centre) being the most popular. However for domestic tourists the main attraction in the city is the ancient Mangala Devi temple. The 10th century Kadri Temple sited 4 km from the city centre is dedicated to Lord Manjunatha. The salient feature of this temple is the perennial flow of sweet healing water from the mouth of a cow’s idol (gomukha) enshrined here. Contiguous to the temple is the Pandava Guhe (cave) where the Pandavas took refuge following their exile from Hastinapur.
Accommodation. Top-end: The Gateway Hotel Old Port Road (Rs.4,919-5,627 per night), Goldfinch Hotel
(Rs.3,131-4,247), Ginger Mangalore (Rs.3,027-3,802), The Ocean Pearl (Rs.4,899-5,599). Mid-range and budget: Hotel Maharaja International (Rs.602-616), Cosmo Lodge (Rs.749), Hotel Town Gate (Rs.817-836).
Excursions. Flanked by the Western Ghats on the east and the Arabian sea, weekend options abound in and around Mangalore. There is Dharmasthala’s Lord Manjunatha temple (75 km), an outstanding monument of religious tolerance and charity. The Vintage Car Museum and Manjusha Museum contiguous to the temple display beautiful collection of automobiles and horse drawn carriages; and Indian stone and metal sculptures, paintings, items of jewellery, objects of worship and utilitarian objects created by the craftsmen of the coastal area respectively.
Subramanya (105 km), in the picturesque foothills of the Western Ghats is famed for its ancient Subramanyaswamy temple. Kateel (28 km) hosts an enchanting island temple dedicated to goddess Durga Parmeswari.
Moodabidri (33 km) is a quaint town with several Jain basadis (temples). Foremost among them is Saavira Kambada Basadi, a sprawling structure supported by 1,000 unique pillars, (no two pillars are identical) and intricately carved roofs.
Karkala (53 km) is a little, peaceful town and centre of sculpture training. Here on any given day hundreds of young sculptors are at work, bringing stones to life. Statues and figurines carved here are exported worldwide, the biggest market being Japan. The vast Chaturmukha Basti is the main attraction here and close by is the massive 40-ft tall monolithic Gomateshwara statue, the second largest in the world after the 57-ft high statue in Shravanabelagola (also in Karnataka).
Fifty five km from Mangalore, this growing town is a pilgrim centre and beach resort. It was the seat of Madhavacharya, Sanskrit scholar and founder of the Dvaitha school of philosophy. Devotees and commoners come here to view the Kanakana Kindi, a small window in the Krishna temple through which Krishna is believed to have given darshan to his ardent devotee, Kanakadasa, who was not allowed to enter the temple as he was a low caste Hindu.
Sited 65 km north of Mangalore and 6 km from Udupi, Malpe with its sheltered harbour, is a quiet beach retreat. St. Mary’s Island sited off the coast of Malpe is a delightful holiday destination. A 20-minute boat ride takes one to the rocky island where the British had established a naval base in the 19th century. The 21 sq. km island has rugged rock formations, and salubrious beaches and forests.
A quaint seaside town Marwanthe (54 km from Udupi) is sited at the point where the river Suparnika flows into the Arabian Sea. The coastal road to Marwanthe, between the Arabian sea and the Suparnika river, against the backdrop of the Kodachadri Hills, makes the drive an out-of-this-world experience.
Also read: Budget travelling tips