Well-linked with west coast port towns, Udupi, is a peaceful city, well recognized, for its temples, beaches and natural beauty. In this piece, I speak about my unconventional Udupi travel experience curated by the Ministry of India Tourism. It started with a long evening drive by the Arabian Sea as the palm-fringed road forward drifted our 4-wheeler away from Mangalore and closer to Udupi. Racing against fresh sea breeze, we finally made it to Udupi in under two hours from Mangalore. Later this evening, we visited Maple Beach for dinner, and I witnessed my first Yakshagana in an open-air-amphitheatre outside Fisherman’s Bay Beach Cafe.
Yakshagana – The Dance of Fortification
Yakshagana is a type of traditional theatrical depicting the epic of Ramayana. This story, however, revolves around Jatayu, a divine bird and a demi-god in the form of a vulture. Fascinatingly, the 1st-recorded testimony concerning Yakshagana is affirmed on an epitaph at the Lakshminarayana Temple in Kurugodu, dating back to 1556 CE. It’s believed that Madhvacharya’s disciple Naraharitirtha, who founded the Kuchipudi dance, 1st-introduced Yakshagana in Udupi. While traditionally Yakshagana is performed, dusk to dawn (something like an Opera), the time has reduced from 12 hours to under three hours in recent times.
Yakshagana, today, is the effect of passive unfolding, pulling its details from ritualistic amphitheatres, royal courts, temple arts and imaginations of the artists. The drama unfolds as the decked-up cast takes centre stage to perform poetic epics, while a few others compose live music in the backdrop. By combining pre-classical dance, dialogue, music, splendid costumes and stage techniques, Yakshagana immediately wins the audience’ attention. I experienced Yakshagana in the twilight hours, and what a wonderful experience it was!
The evening concluded by getting a traditional dinner at Fisherman’s Bay Beach Cafe on a banana leaf, and I must give them a shoutout for sensational spicy seafood and warm hospitality.
By the way, in Northern Karnataka, Yakshagana is called Badaga Thittu, wherein, in the South, its referred to as the Thenku Thittu. When in Udupi, attend this cultural performance – either on Malpe Beach or in a family temple. This theatrical instantly gives you a detailed insight into the cultural heritage of Karnataka.
St. Mary’s Island – The Coconut Island or Thonse Par
The next morning commenced with a sea adventure at Malpe Beach. A little too early in the morning, as the beach gets real hot by noon. From Malpe beach, we took a blue-coloured boat to the nearby St. Mary’s Island, having a fascinating history of its own. Sailing to St. Mary’s Island (Coconut Island or Thonsepar) meant getting a close feel of the last remnants of Madagascar! Scientific records imply that this island was formed by the sub-aerial subvolcanic activity when Madagascar was attached to India. The distinctive columnar rhyolitic lava is what remains of the Madagascar that rifted around 88 million years ago.
This monumental Geo Tourism site got its name from Vasco da Gama, who in 1498 fixed a Cross on the island, naming it after Mother Mary. It’s fascinating how travellers of the ancient era went on naming places while we only get to re-title them in our articles. Nevertheless, with its ultramarine blues and noticeable green coconut trees, St Mary’s Island makes a perfect place for day picnics or a fancy, quality time by the sea. It opens at 9 in the morning. I concluded this visit by fuelling my adrenaline and by soaring higher! I mean, you cannot visit St. Mary’s Island and not parasail to get a bird’s eye view right?
St. Lawrence or Attur Basilica
As we drove from Udupi to Kudremukh in Karnataka, we stopped by this beautiful 17th-century Roman Catholic church in Karkala beset amid flourishing valleys. St. Lawrence Shrine Basilica, or Attur Basilica, was instituted in 1759 and is betokened as the site of many miracles. Lawrence was a 3rd-century Spanish Saint who is known to have studied the holy scriptures and Christian perfection under the guardianship of Sixtus. He is commonly-identified for his exceptional power of mediation with God.
January, the time of the Attur Jatreor Attur Festival, is a ‘special’ feast month for this church, apparent evidence that Saint Lawrence does not dishearten those who come to him in service. Some of the recent renovations see, appending a 100 feet high tower in 1997, the Miracle Pond or Pushkarini restoration in 1998 and the Twin gates in 1999. The best part – this serene church overlooks an equally humble orphanage and a school. Even though perched-on the outskirts of Karkala, Saint Lawrence Church is ‘absolutely’ worth a visit if you have a stay planned in or around Udupi for a few days.
Kudremukka – The Offbeat Adventure
While most people visit Udupi to tour its temples and roaring beaches, coastal Karnataka also parades a diverse landscape of natural wonders to its east. In an eventful turn of events, India Tourism had an offbeat surprise planned for us through the impenetrable green mountain ranges of Kudremukh. While it’s over a 2-hour drive into the dense forests of Kudurekuha, it is ‘totally’ worth spending a night or two here. Bhagvathi Nature Camp (the only accommodation in this area) offers a splendid experience with its wooden cottages, authentic Kannada food and jungle safaris.
Depending on the nature of the trip, you can explore Kudremukh in two ways. Either stay-in at Bhagvathi Nature Camp and saunter along the Lakya Tailing Pond, or trek up the Kudremukka Mountain range. One way trekking takes up to 7-hours, and the best alternative is a Jeep Safari. Also, since Bhagvathi Nature Cam is the land of King Cobras, I wouldn’t recommend you wandering alone on the property. For a natural trail, always take one of the staff along! I stayed at cottage number 1 which turned out to be spacious, clean and very eco-friendly with all modern facilities.
They are wonderful people and will help you best in their capacity. We took a jeep safari to the top of the Kudremukh mountain and spotted, Sambar on our way. However, watching the poetic and utterly Instagram-able sunset at the exotic Kudremukka peak was the highlight of this day.
Varanga – The Pastoral Water Temple
While returning from Kudremukh, and after an hour of driving through dense jungles, we took a brief halt at the picturesque Varanga village. This village falls under the Hebri Taluk of Udupi – except it’s an hour drive from the city centre. You can also stop by to visit this temple if you are travelling from Karkala to Agumbe or vice versa. Predominantly famous for its ancient Varanga Water Temple, this small village is mostly-visited by Jain pilgrims and alike. The main attractions here are the Jain temple, the Chandranath, the Kere and the Neminath Basadi.
Ancient temples like these endure sacred energies for centuries, and by visiting them, you get to explore a fraction of our celebrated heritage. A small boat takes you to the middle of the lake, to the scenic Jain Mutt. The temple structure is carved in stone, featuring marvellous modellings and bounded deity. Visiting this temple in the middle of the lake, surrounded by lotus and water lilies, was indeed rejuvenating.
Udupi Shree Krishna Temple
Upon returning to the mainland the following day, we toured Udupi’s famed Shree Krishna Temple and education hub – the Manipal University. In the early 13th-century, sage Madhvacharya established the base of the Maadhva faction of Hinduism in Udupi, setting forth dualism, challenging the more traditional Advaita philosophy. To do so, Madhvacharya began to worship at the Krishna temple located in the heart of the city.
Krishna is one of the many incarnations of Lord Vishnu. It’s his dedicated worship is-what turned, this temple into a major pilgrimage destination. I love the humble architecture of this temple; resembling an Aashram with eight Matha(s) namely Admaru, Kaniyoor, Krishnapura, Palimaru, Pejavara, Puttige, Sodhe and Shirur Matha. They are collectively known as the Ashta Mathagalu. Daily worship is offered at these holy Matha(s), and each has its very-own deity, called the Pattada Devaru. Krishna Matha, in particular, is renowned worldwide for its sacred rituals of Dvaita philosophy.
All Matha expenses are borne by deliberate contributions of the devotees! Since Madhvacharya was also the founder of the Dwaita school of Vedanta, mass feeding of school students is facilitated at the temple every day. Thousands of adherents and students have their food in the temple daily. This service is called the giving of ‘Anna Prasada.’ On the exteriors, Shri Krishna Temple is enclosed by many thousand-years-old temples.
Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village Museum
After visiting the Shree Krishna Temple, we drove to Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village Museum in Manipal. Nestled amidst wild jackfruit trees, this living museum is a gathering of traditional houses that have been well-preserved for generations. Vijayanath Shenoy, the first owner of this home, had dreamt about building a one-of-its-kind ethnographic museum, and so he decided to bring his own traditional home into play.
This home was ‘originally’ built in the 1980s as a courtyard house. Be it cooking utensils or gleaned material from forsaken structures, Hasta Shilpa; still retains every uncia of its eclectic collection of artefacts and furnishings. In a way that causes surprise, Vijayanath Shenoy left this house as the advertising surrounding it eventually led to a loss of privacy.
Consequently, the house outlasted for more than 15 years. Until Hasta Shilpa Trust restored it with the financial assistance of the Norweigan and Danish governments. This residential museum was inaugurated as a museum on 14th November 2017 and is open from November through February.
Until 1953, Udupi had an embryonic career as a financial hub, however, the establishment of Manipal University changed everything. It is equally true, that this neighbourhood is a unique educational centre for students and curious travellers alike. Here we toured WGSHA, India’s 1st-ever Living Culinary Arts Museum that made it to Limca Book of records in 2020.
To begin with, the pot-shaped architecture of this building just absolutely fantastic. So is the facility, where I got lucky to see some of the unique kitchen tools donated by the Michelin-starred Indian Celebrity Chef Vikas Khanna and people keeping a keen interest in cooking.
The thousands of kitchen tools in WGSHA are worth millions of dollars! Manipal University pretty much concluded our Udupi trip, and the next day, we were off to Paduvari and Gokarna to secure some less-explored beach action.