Sunday, November 08, 2009

One state, many worlds

Tag lines of government-run initiatives are rarely catchy. Karnataka Tourism is a great exception. One state, many worlds - it says and rightly so.

The state indeed houses exquisite worlds - of scenic coastal areas, green hilly regions, breathtaking ghats and fascinating plains. And each place is flavoured in the influence of the bordering state. Belgaum and Dharwad smack of Maharashtrian culture, Hampi and Bijapur reflect Hyderabadi etiquette while Udupi and Mangalore bear a strong Kerela influence.

Thanks to my stars, my work recently took me to Belgaum in Karnataka. As is my wont, I took this opportunity to tread on some of the long, winding routes that city-bred tourists would usually avoid. The thrill of such mad explorations is beyond words. And to give me company in my priceless Maruti 800 were my wife and kiddo - both avid travellers like me.

Day 1

We left two days prior to my corporate acting workshop at Belgaum - the plan was to lose ourselves in the captivating folds of the state before I worked in the shop.

We took the comfortable but expensive NH 4 (the tolls cost Rs 350/- from Thane to Hubli) I briefly checked the arrangements at Hotel Eefa in Belgaum at around 12.00 before proceeding further on the NH4.

We reached Hubli at 2 pm. The road ahead to Chitardurga was nothing short of a nightmare - we passed Haveri, Davangere, Harihar - finding our way through countless diversions, dangerous potholes and dusty pathways. Called the city of stones, Chitradurga today lives up to its name for the wrong reasons. Save for the majestic fort and artistic temples, the town life seems quite bland. The vivacity of coastal Karnataka is sorely missing.

It was 6.30 pm by the time we reached Hotel Aishwarya Fort in Chitradurga. The hotel seemed great on the website. ("top and top" - remarked one innocent pedestrian on the way when we enquired)

Reality was different, if not opposite. The hotel does roaring business only because it's the best in Chitradurga- the rooms are clean, service is passable, toilets are bearable and the food is edible...But the zing is clearly amiss. We spent the night there simply because we had no choice.

Day 2

We left the hotel at 6.00 am and embarked upon a journey that was filled with adventure. The destination was the Annapoorneshwari temple in Alangar near Moodbidri but the route was not choice.

The shortest route is on NH 17, the next best is NH4 till Hubli, NH63 till Ankola and NH 17 for the last leg. We have been several times on both the routes but this one was the craziest... NH 4 till Chitradurga and then NH 13 till Karkala..a jounney spanning 9 hours on an average.

The road till Shimoga (Shivamoga - Lord Shiva's face) was great, save for the last 10km which was horrendous. It was 9.00 am by now. Thanks to the prompt advice of a smart young man sipping tea at a junction, we took the Tirthalli - Agumbe - Karkala route.

At Karkala, we almost lost our way. This time, a happy family resting in the garden of their scenic bunglow came to our rescue. The drive ahead was a mixed bag of smooth tar roads and potholed pathways - it was 1.30 pm by the time we reached Alangar at Hosanadu.

The Annapoorneshwari temple was divine as ever - with the majestic 61 feet Hanuman near the Gopuram...a picture of health and humility. After the darshan, we had food at the temple - simple and wholesome food of boiled rice, sambar, a vegetable and payasam.

We resumed our journey - this time to Udupi - to the comfortable Paradise Isle at Malpe Beach. The time was 5.00 pm when we checked in. The rest of the evening was spent at the beach and the hotel's exquisite bar. This was Sachin Tendulkar's day of the immortal chase - we caught few glimpses of the little master in action in our suite.

At the bar, I met one Mr. Dayanad Shetty, manager of the hotel and a resident of Bhayendar, a congested place in suburban Mumbai. He was enjoying the sleepy idyllic life of Malpe but was clearly missing the big city.

Day 3

We took the wheel at 4.00 am - on NH 17, stopping for breakfast at Bhatkal. It was 9.00 am at Ankola and by the time we reached Dharwad via NH 63, the time was 12.00. I was now showing signs of fatigue - having driven for long streches for two consecutive days. We reached the cosy, plush business hotel called Eefa at 1.30 pm. After a delicious biryani, I dozed off till 5 pm.

The workshop on corporate acting skills began at 6.00 pm and went on till 9.00 pm. By the grace of God, all went well and we called it a day at 10 pm.

Day 4

We began at 4.00 am. The hotel had graciously packed an elaborate breakfast for us. The journey homewards was kind of boring. We stopped at Karad for tea, enjoyed the packed breakfast under a tree near Satara and had few snacks on the expressway.

We were home at 1.30 pm, having completed a memorable journey in less than four days flat. We are indebted to the scores of kind souls in remote places who helped us with such route maps, milestones and landmarks that Google search would never deliver. Their faces reflect diverse emotions even as they surge forward to help you with the directions - amusement at having encountered unlikely off-season tourists, concern in designing the best route and good wishes for safe and sound travel.

We salute their sensitive nature, unadulterated ways and zest for of the nauseating obsession that some of our friends back home swear by...obsession with swanky cars, plush flats, home theaters, shopping mall goodies, expensive cell phones....just about everything that comes branded in life!

PS: NH 4, NH 17, NH 13, NH 63 - all have suffered the wrath of erratic monsoons. Repair work is in full swing but it would take two months to complete the mammoth work as it's painfully manual.

2010 should bring in some cheer on this front.

Untill the next trip...