Sowparnika river Karnataka coastline
Karnataka,  Travel Bag

A road trip along the Karnataka coast – Honnavar to Maravanthe

Far from the cliched list of ‘tourist places in Karnataka’, a road trip along the picturesque Karnataka coast (called the Kanara) had been on my mind since the past year and a half. For some reason though, I kept pushing it down the priority list. In August this year however, this dream of a road trip materialized. Although we skipped Karwar and Gokarna (Gokarna, well, started it all) since we’d been there earlier, we did cover the 180 km stretch from Honnavar to Mangalore. This covers major stretches of the Uttara Kannada district (Karwar-Bhatkal), Udupi district and Dakshina Kannada district.
Even in the peak of the monsoon season, I was undaunted by the prospect of rain forcing us indoors during the trip. Heck, deep down, there was even a secret desire to watch the rain gods pummel the coast when they made landfall, just for the thrill of it.

The apathy of Karnataka Tourism

NH 17. Keep driving. Stop wherever you want. One of the most picturesque coastal stretches in India, the Karnataka coast can almost lay claim to the title of the most scenic road in India. The beauty of it is that you can find yourself in the middle of an isolated stretch of beach and yet, never be too far away from civilization. This coastline is totally unexplored. Which really begs the question, why is it not that famous yet ? Why haven’t the tourism authorities made a Goa out of it or included it in their  ? Nobody really knows the answer but perhaps, we could explore it before it surely gets inundated with tourists one day.

Road trip along the Karnataka coastline
The beauty is evident even on Google maps.

Honnavar

Not too far away from the southern tip of Goa and the naval head of Karwar, lies the port town of Honnavar. A town steeped in history, it finds mentions in ancient Jain texts as well as 13th century Persian and 16th century Portuguese accounts. Another claim to fame for Honnavar is that it hosted the famous Ibn-Battuta on his travels. Situated only 60 km from the famous Jog Falls, Honnavar serves as an ideal point to explore both the Western Ghats as well as the coastline. It is also where the Sharavathi river finally bids goodbye to the mainland and unites with the Arabian sea.

As with any beach town, the smell of the sea hits you square in the face when you land at Honnavar. It still retains the charms of a small town that hasn’t quite given in to the ways of modern life, which is a very good reason to make a pit-stop here.

Kasarkod beach Honnavar
Sunset at Kasarkod beach (not to be confused with Kasargod down south at the Karnataka-Kerala border). Probably the softest sand I have experienced on the west coast; clean, gently sloping beach and clear waters. Glorious sunset, even if it is co-incidental, is cherry on the cake.

The estuary where the Sharavathi meets the sea can be viewed from a vantage point on a hillock. A tarred road takes you to within walking distance of the hillock. Other spots worth exploring include the seemingly popular Apsara Konda beach which also has a charming waterfall in the vicinity by the same name.

 Murdeshwar

Murdeshwar on the Karnataka coast
The famous gopuram of the Murdeshwar temple

Temples in India are one of the best indicators of a crowded tourist spot and Murdeshwar is no exception. More so, because it boasts of a towering Gopuram and a mammoth Shiva statue that is visible even from if you are traveling in a train on the Konkan railway. The story behind how Murdeshwar came to be is conveyed through a series of life-size sculptures situated in a cave underneath the Shiva statue. Wikipedia is as good a place to read about it – here is the link.

Bhatkal and Baindoor

Further down south is the taluka of Bhatkal. We couldn’t stop here as we wanted to reach Udupi before evening. However, Baindoor (more famous for the Kollur Mookambika temple that attracts a lot of devotees) situated at the tip of Bhatkal offers a gem of a spot called Ottinene. Ottinene offers a bird’s eye view of the Baindoor river meeting the sea. It is renowned among the regulars as a wonderful place to enjoy the sunset and is a spot that is not to be missed at any cost.

Maravanthe

Trasi Maravanthe beach on the Karnataka coast
Even on a bright sunny day, the presence of the monsoons is still evident in the greenery that dots the tranquil little beach.

The Trasi-Maravanthe stretch first caught my eye when I read that it is the only highway of its kind in India. Flanked by the Sowparnika river on the east and the Arabian sea on the west, it offers an enchanting sight for everyone. Trasi-Maravanthe has been featured on a lot of popular magazine articles, travel guides, blogs and even TV shows. As a result, small stalls selling soft drinks and tender coconut have sprung up on the road. These serve as ideal bait for the tourists passing through, even if they are blissfully unaware of the scenery that surrounds them.

Trasi Maravanthe on the Karnataka coast
The sea poses a constant danger to the coastline and a receding beach has caused state authorities to put up barricades of stone to thwart the erosion. It does take away from the charms of the stretch but if not for this, there wouldn’t have been much beach left.
Trasi Maravanthe on the Karnataka coast
Some places make you experience emotions you never ever felt earlier. This stretch with the shackled Sowparnika and the free Arabian sea, reminds me of a few lines from one of the best films ever:         ” Andy Dufresne: You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?                                                      Red: No.                                                                                                                                                                      Andy Dufresne: They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory. ”                                                                                                                                        Somehow warms the cockles of your heart, this stretch.

If the Arabian sea is angry and even a little violent on one side, the Sowparnika paints a picture of dignity and calm. Its presence has created a few islands along the stretch and the locals still use ferries as a mode of transportation, just as in the old days. Which adds to the charm of it all.

Boating on the Sowparnika river
Gently rocking boats wait for passengers in the Sowparnika. A 45 min – 1 hour motorized boat ride will cost you around 500-650 rupees for the whole boat, regardless of the number of passengers. In my opinion, it is a throwback to a bygone era and a must-do for anyone visiting the coastline for the first time.

From Trasi-Maravanthe, we moved on to spend a day gorging on the lip smacking cuisine of Udupi, before continuing down the Karnataka coast, south to Mangalore.

Continued in Part II


Also read:

  1. A crisply written note on a road trip from Bekal to Goa by travelingnoodles
  2. A comprehensive post on the sights to expect by pritskulkarni
  3. References: http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/karavali/1976/toc.htm

 

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