Addiction hardly needs a reason....precisely why we got back to Karnataka again within a space of 10 months - a scenic remote place called Algaar near Moodbidri to be precise - home to the sprawling Annapoorneshwari temple with its 61-feet Hanuman statue - the engineering marvel, a real fitting tribute to the living God.
Neither is Karnataka my home town, nor is the temple goddess our "authorized" deity - but the pull is simply beyond words..the magnetism challenging all convention governing the concept of hometowns and family roots.
So off we went again - myself, wife and kiddo in our Maruti 800 - in what was a fulfilling encore - this time, via Pune to attend an official meeting en route.
Friday 4.00 am
We left Pune, from the cozy bungalow of my partner friend. Within no time, we were speeding on the elegant and comfortable NH4 route towards Bangalore, the early morning chill making the journey highly introspective. Soon, it began raining heavily and for some time, visibility was poor - till we crossed Satara. It was around 8 when we stopped for breakfast at Hotel Pankaj, Karad. The food was delicious - esp. the wada sambar!
We resumed with renewed vigour and passed Islampur and kolhapur to enter Belgaum - the border town applauding our entry into Karnataka - Dharwad came and went by and past noon, we reached Hubli - the NH4 on this side is mediocre and the quality suffers - probably on account of a different contractor in charge.
Here, we changed tracks to follow the highly scenic NH 63 that bridges NH 4 and the coastal NH 17 - from Hubli to Ankola. A MUST-HAVE experience! The start from Hubli side is narrow but as the journey progresses, you soar sky high - such is the breathtaking voyage - a rare blend of modern-day road and scenic natural splendour all around. It was under some lush green cover that we consumed our staple home-made lunch of methi theplas and green chutney. The time was 1.30 pm.
By the time we covered the entire NH 63 stretch - it was 4 and we were at Ankola - the scenic coastal town on NH 17. Here, we stopped for tea break at Kamat's (Kamat's Uphaar becomes Kamat's Upchaar here) and while gulping the over boiled tea from the half-washed glass, we enquired about good hotels for the overnight halt. I had googled on the list of hotels on this route before the journey - and the waiter only confirmed the names. We zeroed in on Pandurang International of Kumtha (more for the "think local, act global" connotation)- but the Hotel is perfect for en route stay - clean, hygenic,simple...and no fancy claims.
We checked in at 5.30 pm and had an early dinner to call it a day. The next morning, we left at 7 am way ahead on NH 17 towards Udupi - stopping only at Bhatkal for breakfast. The cashier and the waiter at Hotel Sreenivas were more than prompt in service.
NH 17 is damaged beyond recogntion, if not repair and it was almost 10 when we reached Udupi. In the earlier tour, we had managed to cover Panaji- Udupi in 8 hours. The fag end downpour of August and the burden of heavy vehicles have contributed in equal measure to the road damage. The way your car sways to each side makes the journey akin to a boat ride.
From Udupi, we took the Manipal route to Karkala, through an under-construction road full of irritating diversions. But as we ventured ahead, the road became scenic again. We had to ask for directions to Moodbidri but the locals were ever-ready to help - a twinkle in their eyes reserved for the unlikely off-season tourists. Most of them believe in a "live and let live" policy and throw a generous sprinkling of humour in their conversation - be it the road side vendors, temple sculptors or the country residents.
SH 13 on Mangalore - karkala route took us to Algaar - our destination for this trip - the Annapoorneshwari temple. We were in the temple for less than an hour but the bliss seems eternal. No ceremonies to perform, no boons to seek! Just the bliss of the sheer presence. This temple is the brainchild of Jairam Heggade, an NRI settled in Oman, we learnt later. Mr. Heggade, thanks for gifting this great monument to the country.
On our way back, we ate the wholesome local staple food of brown rice,sambar, vegetable and curd at Hotel Golden Star, Algaar. Now began the drive back home and we never realised how difficult it was going to get. We got back to Udupi via Padbidri on NH 17 and followed the way towards Kumtha. But even as we crossed Bhatkal, a heavy downpour caused a mayhem on the damaged roads - the driving witnessing every possible challenge - dangerous potholes lurking in the muddy pools, poor visibilty at dusk, rash drivers approaching from every side, casual pedestrians blocking the way at each junction....on one or two occasions, I had to gate crash my car off the road to escape the wrath of a couple of bus drivers charging from the wrong end. Had we known that such dangers waited to greet us with open arms, we would not have wasted our time shopping in Kundapur and the stroll on the Marvanthe seashore.
It was 8 pm when we reached the hotel at Kumtha - the drive will remain etched in memory for the sheer adventure. We had a hurried dinner, and slept like a log.
5.00 am, Kumtha
We took the NH 63 again - killing the temptation of entering Goa through Karwar, stopping just before Hubli for tea and snacks at a roadside stall. The stall owner was the unlikely receipient of the temple parasadam and I thoroughy enjoyed my conversation with him - a sensitive guy overwhelmed by the sudden early morning visitors from Mumbai - taking out the best of tea cups from a dark corner of his hut-like shop to celebrate the occasion.
Little did he know that his visitor was just another EMI-victim from the big city - leading a vulnerable, post-dated existence typical of modern life of high loans and mighty moans. The monetary gift that we extended cannot change his fortunes but his eyes showed 24-carat gratitude at the gesture!
Once at Hubli, we were back on the comfortable NH 4 with its numerous but well-worth tolls. We chose Belgaum for the overnight halt - at Hotel Keerti in the main town..the hotel was poor in hospitality but clean & hygienic all the same.
A leisurely walk through the Belgaum market (for the purchase of special sweet Belgaavi kunda) was rejuvenating. The evening was spent in the august company of Kingfisher lager.
5.00 am, Hotel Keerti, Belguam
The last leg of our journey back home began as we sped on NH 4 towards Kolhapur with only a tea break at 7. 30. We stopped for breakfast at Sai International, Yelur near Islampur - a perfect place for long route travellers. The food is delicious and we also found the quality of accomodation to be above average. Unfortunately, we were running out of budget and time, else it was worth a night's stay.
We took a diversion off Satara to visit the Hanuman idols at the historic Chaapal, bastion of the great Swami Ramdas - mentor of the Maratha warrior Shivaji.
The time was 11 am when we left Chaapal and were back on NH 4 to reach Pune by 12.30 pm. Here, the search for a good food joint proved surprsingly tiresome and we finally settled on an average restaurant adjoining a petrol pump. This city is fast losing its charm and the crowd here even at odd hours puts Mumbai to shame.
We somehow gathered our spirits back and entered the fast but monotonous express way - two and a half hours later, we were at Panvel and the usual bland way took us to our home at Ghodbunder Road, Thane (in the lap of nature, we can still claim, though the green cover around us is fast depleting)
The next trip, we plan to cover Goa, Karnataka and Kerala...a long cherished dream - middle class in style but top class in aspiration. Till then...