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India

Cradle between the Rainforest and Arabian Sea

By Rahuldev Rajguru

Last Updated: 12 Jan 2021

A quaint city nestled in the lap of nature with the luxuriant Western Ghats as a backdrop and overlooking the mighty Arabian Sea, Udupi is a hidden treasure of Karnataka. A goldmine of the south, Udupi offers something to gratify the needs of all kinds of travelers. It is a place with a confluence of rich culture, natural beauty, long coastline of beaches and tantalizing cuisine. A one-hour exhilarating drive from Agumbe landed us in Yermal, a local fisherman village in Udupi. We chose a secluded beachside accommodation, away from the maddening crowd. The food was simple and authentic prepared by ladies from the village. We were served the most delicious Neer Dosa and coconut chutney for breakfast.

Right in front of the property is a beautiful clean beach buzzing with fishermen in the morning and local families in the evening with no tourists except us. A barefoot morning stroll along the beach is therapeutic while watching fishermen return in their boats with their catch. A makeshift market is set up where their trading activities take place. If lucky, they may oblige and give you a small ride in their boat in the ocean. Everything was quite natural and pristine, such a contrast to the everyday life of a metropolitan.


Secluded, clean and pristine beach at Yermal is off the tourist radar.


Sunset from some of the beaches is breathtaking and one should not miss it. We planned to spend a whole day exploring these gems and started driving north. Our first stop was the sparkling Kapu beach with a picture-postcard view where many movies are shot. The beach is quite rough and intimidating so be careful while venturing inside the water as there have been cases of drowning. Its a long stretch of beach with nice seating benches to absorb the breathtaking scenery. It has an old lighthouse built in 1901 standing on a big rock platform and the panoramic view from the top is magnificent. Be sure to check visit timings prior to planning the visit. This stunning beach is the favorite hangout of students from Manipal University. We decided to come back in the evening to view the spectacular sunset.


The famous lighthouse on a rock platform at Kapu Beach.


Another exquisite beach is the Malpe Beach, unexplored once upon a time, but now a happening place. Lined with palm trees and turquoise blue waters merging with a blue sky, it is a paradise for nature lovers. There are a few beach-facing resorts and nice restaurants offering delectable food. There are plenty of options for watersport activities and is famous for parasailing. Recently, the government has built a 450-meter long Sea Walkway, which was not there during our visit.


Long stretch of picturesque Malpe Beach is the happening place for water sports activities.


Next, we decided to explore one of the uninhabited islands nearby, St. Marys island. There is a regular ferry service to the island, which is a 20-minute ride. A piece of history mentions that Vasco da Gama from Portugal landed at this island in 1498 before proceeding to Calicut. Also known as Coconut Island, it is a small cluster of four islands with columnar basaltic lava formation. It is a seashell heaven and not suitable for swimming as it is scattered with basaltic rocks. There are no restaurant or foods stalls so carry some water with you. It is a mesmerizing place to spend about an hour in.


Polygonal columnar basaltic lava formations at St. Marys Island.


When you pass through Udupi, you cannot miss a hilly suburb town of Manipal. Once a barren hill with few trees, now it is a buzzing education campus and home to a couple of hundred thousand students across diverse fields of study. A drive and a quick stroll inside the energetic town offers you a stunning view of the Arabian Sea to the west and the Western Ghats to the east. If you have hunger pangs, I would recommend driving 4 kilometers from Udupi to checkout the numerous restaurants, cafes and bars. It is a vibrant town with skyscrapers and modern urban planning. Before you leave, park the vehicle at main gate and take a walk inside the green and picturesque End Point.


The University town of Manipal.


It was an hour before sunset so we hit the 4-lane highway to reach Kapu beach for the sunset spectacle. We were treated to a sky filled with red rays and a dazzling sunset against the high tides of the ocean.


Sunset at Kapu Beach is one the most spectacular in the entire belt.


The last leg of our trip was among shola grassland and tropical green wet forest of Kudremukh that is contiguous with Agumbe. One of the richest biodiversity hotspots within Western Ghats, it has a controversial history of iron ore mining that lasted for 30 years before it was shut down in 2006 due to environmental concerns. It was a 2-hour scenic drive from our resort passing beautiful green mountains. The winding roads are narrow but mostly vacant and surrounded by astounding waterfalls and landscape once you get closer to Kudremukh. We drove at leisure and took many small detours on the way viewing waterfalls, river streams and small temples, all sprinkled in the rainforest. This is also one of the best places to visit in South India during monsoon.


Last stretch of the scenic drive to Kudremukh National Park.


Kudre means Horse and mukh means face in Kannada. Earlier known as Malleswara, an aerial survey conducted by KIOCL (Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Limited) officials in 1970 found that the mountain range resembles a horses face, hence, re-named it Kudremukh. It is known to have one of the largest deposits of Iron ore in the world. Once a bustling township spread over 370 acres and housing more than 35,000 people mostly employees and family members of KIOCL, today is a ghost town with handful of employees maintaining the dilapidated township and its infrastructure. A sprawling 54-room guesthouse was still functioning when we visited. We sent them a request letter few days in advance, and they happily accommodated us. This being an international biodiversity hotspot, resorts and hotel accommodations are prohibited inside 600-square kilometer area.


Sahyadri Bhavan (KIOCL guesthouse), a living reminder of how lavish the township was.


It felt like we entered a time machine that clocked us 30 years back. The scantily maintained guesthouse lies in the middle of the ghost town with old-style black Finnish switchboards, large foyers, ultra-wide stairways and barely hanging, faded paintings across the walls. The dark night with a stray dogs woofing created an eeriness around a once virtual paradise. There is a huge dining room and the canteen serves delicious food with limited options, mostly vegetarian. The staff oblige to special requests of preparing Paneer and Chicken if you provide them with the ingredients. A drive in the township gives you a glimpse of life in the heydays with schools, colleges, hospitals, shopping complexes, luxurious housing, swimming pool, sports complex, petrol stations and lavish gardens. A heliport, where many films (including some starring the likes of Amitabh Bachchan and Rajnikanth) were filmed is in ruins.


A Bajaj scooter parked in front of staff quarters built in the middle of green forests turns the clock backwards by 15 years.


There are small shops selling routine household items as well a couple of auto rickshaws to ferry people around the township, mostly backpackers who visit by public transport. The locals are friendly and interactions reveal many stories. They speak manageable Hindi in case you dont know Kannada. Even if you have your own vehicle, I would recommend the auto rickshaw ride with a local as he will show you places that you may not be able to discover on your own, while also contributing to his livelihood.

Kudremukh National Park is home to many endangered species including Lion-tailed Macaque and Malabar Civets. The rivers Tunga, Bhadra and Netravati, originate from the park and help sustain millions of farmers. The park is spread across hilly forests along the coastal belt to shola grasslands on Western Ghats and includes Kudremukh peak, the second highest of Karnataka. Due to abundance of low-grade magnetite soil that inhibits plant growth, the entire vista is covered with green grass throughout the year. The area receives an average rainfall of 7,000 mm each year.


Bhadra River flowing through the national park dissecting mountains with shola grasslands.


The park is a trekkers paradise with more than five exhilarating treks varying from easy to difficult. You will need a full day if you want to have a great trekking experience, walking at least 10 kms. A trek to Kurinjal peak is one of them and offers mesmerizing beauty of Kudremukh. You will pass through a suspension bridge over dangerously flowing Bhadra river with red water at times. The bridge was built to connect Nellibeedu village with the township to shorten the distance of villagers. It is rarely used now and has turned into a photo op place for the trekkers. A drive inside the park is also recommended if you are not much of a trekker, which is very enjoyable if it rains; that is what we did.


Nicely paved roads inside the national park make the drive more enjoyable.


Before we knew it, three days went by and it was time to head home. It was a fantastic trip but we missed out on hardcore trekking because we were traveling with small kids. Driving back, I was already planning a trip back to Kudremukh and Agumbe to explore the magical biodiversity hotspots by foot.

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Road trip in the Western Ghats of Kudremukh where mountains are covered with shola grasslands.

Things To Consider

Monsoon is ideal as everything is lush green with sparkling streams, cascading waterfalls and gushing rivers. The humidity will be tolerable. If you don’t like monsoon holidays, November to February is good.
The entire belt has numerous temples some ancient and worth a visit. The locals are quite religious and there is an exodus during the festival season.
The cuisine is an amalgam of three districts. There is diversity in taste and variety although they look almost similar. Udupi is well known for seafood cuisine.
These places are relatively safe for tourists. The roads are slippery and narrow the terrain is tough so exercise precaution while driving. Landslides are frequent during heavy monsoons.
The entire belt is known for offbeat travel. It is recommended to venture into the interiors for a better experience. Avail the services of a specialized guide to have a standout experience. There are many unexplored treks inside the forest for the venturesome nature lovers.
The rain is frequent and unpredictable so carry extra clothes and an umbrella. Equip yourself for leech attacks while trekking; carry salt, as it is the best weapon. It is a good Ayurvedic cure for your body if you are comfortable with them. BSNL has the best mobile network coverage in this region. There is no mobile coverage during most of the treks inside forest so do not venture without an authentic and forest department recommended guide.

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