nature

Kapu – a delightful beach in South India

Travel and Places

About 15 kms south of Udupi (on the way to Mangalore) lies a delightful strip of sand and surf called Kapu.

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I had come to Udupi to meet my nephew, who studies at the Manipal Institute of Technology. One morning during my two-day stay there, I found myself free. My nephew would be in class till the afternoon, after which he would meet me. On a sudden whim, I decided to visit one of the beaches dotting the beautiful coastline of Dakshin Kannada (meaning, South Karnataka). After some serious thought (because there is an overdose of options), I plumped for Kapu beach (some locals call it Kaap). Kapu was most convenient for a half-day trip, because it is situated just 15 kms from the town of Udupi where I was shacked up. Buses were frequent. I could visit the beach and be back in time to meet my nephew.

After a breakfast of medu vada and dosa, accompanied by coconut chutney and sambar, I boarded an ‘express’ bus to Mangalore. Unlike regular buses, express buses take the highway to Mangalore and do not get into country roads. They are therefore much faster than their ordinary cousins. About 25 minutes later, I was deposited at the Kapu junction on the same highway. The ticket cost me all of Rs. 18. On the way, I was treated to delightful vistas of coconut palms and arecanut trees, old-style houses with brown tiled roofs, ponds and lagoons and small shops lining the highway. The landscape here is very similar to that of Kerala, since Dakshin Kannada lies just north of Kerala along the same coastline. Even the cuisine (especially the seafood dishes) are prepared and eaten the same way as in Kerala.

Disembarking from the bus at Kapu junction, I took an auto to Kapu beach. The ride cost me Rs. 30/- . Autos have fixed fares from the junction to different places in the area. Bargaining is not of much use, since the auto drivers operate as a union. Passing through shaded country roads with houses on either side (and even the odd motor garage), I reached the beach in 5 minutes.

 

Standing at the entrance to the beach, I took in the entire stretch in one glance. Close by to my right at one end of the beach stood the lighthouse, a somewhat grim and lonely apparition rising into the sky. To my left, the sandy strip curved a long way until it ran into a clump of boulders that marked the other end of the beach. A concrete pathway had been built along the inner edge of the beach and stone benches had been built along this. Through the intense haze of the summer morning, I could see that the beach was deserted. There must have been just a dozen people scattered along its entire length. Some of them were lounging on the benches in the shade of coconut trees (understandable, given the heat), but surprisingly, some other were frolicking in the rushing waters. But then, I remembered that while even during the height of summer, the sea water is cool.

After standing in the water myself for a few minutes, I started walking towards the lighthouse. At some distance into the sea, I could see a lone fishing boat bobbing in the waves. This fisherman must have come late to the fishing party, I speculate idly. Or maybe, he just had a refreshing beer and gone off to sleep. The instant this thought flashed through my mind, I yearned for a bottle of cold beer myself. My thirst for beer was so bad in that instant, that the hair on my arms bristled and I could clearly feel the parched bottom of my throat.

 

 

I had to climb up three flights of stairs to reach the base of the lighthouse (because it was perched on top of a boulder). I saw to my disappointment that it was closed. I could not spot the caretaker either. It wondered if it is an abandoned lighthouse. Or maybe it would open only at night, when ships and boats had to be guided. Climbing to the top of lighthouses and gazing out in all directions is something I love doing. I have done it in several places, like Chennai, Kannur and Daman.

 

Not finding anybody to ask, I plonked myself down in the shade of the tall structure. This vantage point gave me a different perspective of the whole area. To my right, I saw another beach stretching out into the distance. A few fishing boats were parked on the sand and a few mesh nets spread out next to them. The fishermen will claim them again before dawn the next day, when they put out to sea in search of fish. On another side, a shallow stretch of backwater flowed past to form a lagoon. Far away into the sea, I could make out a few dots. I assumed them to be cruise or cargo ships. The breeze was mild. It was all very peaceful and life seemed very good from my perch. It seemed better still, when, a moment later, I remembered that I was lazing on a beach on a weekday.

 

 

 

I did want to get into the water and splash around a bit, but the sun was too harsh for that. Instead, I had a super-refreshing tender coconut and caught a bus back to Udupi.

 

 

I am going to return to the Udupi belt during the monsoon this year, when this whole belt will be lush and wet. I just can’t for that.

The vitals

  • The fastest and cheapest way to reach Kapu is to take an Express bus from the private bus stand, which is locally known as service bus stand also. The bus ride to Kapu junction on the highway takes about 20 minutes and costs Rs. From the highway, take an auto to the beach. This ride cost me Rs. 30/- one way in March 2018.
  • The waves in the beach are wild; so, tread carefully in the waters. I did not see a lifeguard around.
  • This is a relatively unspoilt beach. . The local village council & citizens take pains to keep the beach clean. Let us help them keep it that way. Look for trash bins to dump your trash in. Alternatively, put your trash in your bag and bring it back to your hotel to dump.
  • There are no resorts or hotels close to the beach. Thank God for that.
  • For accommodation, Udupi is the nearest town. It will make sense for you to stay there, also because Udupi has other attractions, and is a bus & rail hub.
  • Summer (I am talking temperature in the high thirties & extreme humidity) is from March to early June here, after which the monsoon sets in. The monsoon is a magical time to visit this place in. Failing that, you could go anytime between November and February.
  • If you keep about a week, you can cover a few lovely places in the Dakshin Kannada belt.
  • Most people here have a traditional mindset and lifestyle; so, covering up adequately and not being boisterously Bohemian would be a very good idea.
  • Sample the seafood and vegetarian food, both of which are yummy in these parts. In fact, a number of people have migrated from Udupi to various parts of India and set up vegetarian restaurants. These restaurants are famously called Udupi restaurants, especially in Chennai, Pune and Mumbai.

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Marine history: Chennai to Kannur

Travel and Places

Learning about seafaring traditions, playing on the beach, and visiting a fort built by the Portuguese.

This story first appeared in Mint on July 27, 2017 under the section ‘Weekend Vacations’.

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Fisherfolk unloading the catch of the day, Thottada beach. Photographs: Ganesh Vancheeswaran

Fisherfolk unloading the catch of the day at Thottada beach.

The lady bore a striking resemblance to my grandmother. Her gaze was benign, and she seemed to be smiling. I almost smiled back, and then, remembering who she really was, I chuckled. For behind the gentle gaze was the hardy queen of the Arakkal dynasty. She came from a long line of rulers of the erstwhile Cannanore (now Kannur) principality. Rani Mariyumma Beebi Ali Adi Rajah, known as “Arakkal Beebi”, had inspired respect and admiration for the way she administered her principality in the year leading up to independence. And here she was, gazing at me from her photograph on the wall.

I was winding up a fascinating morning at the Arakkal Museum in Kannur in north Kerala. The Durbar Hall of the Arakkal rulers has been converted into a well-kept archive of their legacy. The two-storey building showcases solid teakwood furniture, weaponry, sepia-tinted photographs, evocative illustrations of ships, battle scenes, scenes from everyday life, and beautifully engraved ceramic-ware. Yellowed copies of letters that the royals had exchanged with the British threw up a surprise; the Laccadive Islands (part of the Lakshadweep Islands) had once been under Arakkal rule—the islands had been sold to the British.

My search for an offbeat place to spend the weekend had led me to Kannur, a little town north of Kozhikode. The overnight train from Chennai had entered Kerala early that morning, giving me a chance to see the glistening backwaters, hamlets and emerald fields at first light.

Leaving the museum, I headed back to the Blue Mermaid Homestay, where I was staying, for a traditional Kerala meal. Come evening, I headed to the unspoilt Thottada beach, which is just next to the home-stay. Jogging barefoot on the sand, playing beach volleyball with a bunch of local boys and watching a glorious sunset stilled all thoughts, making for a contemplative end to the day.

Thottada beach.

Thottada beach.

On the next day’s schedule was a visit to Fort St Angelo, in the centre of town. It’s among the first forts built by the Portuguese in India, in the early 16th century. The stone and laterite fort has aged well. A thick layer of moss covering the walls and rampart was affirmation of a lavish monsoon. The barracks, magazine room, dungeons, bastions and chapel bear testimony to the fact that the Dutch and British had a hand in modifying the fort in later years.

My eyes were drawn to the mast of an old lighthouse that stands on one of the ramparts. The tourist policeman there offered an intriguing titbit: Francisco de Almeida, the first Portuguese viceroy to India, had kept his anointed successor, Afonso de Albuquerque, imprisoned in a dungeon in the fort, until he was ordered by his superiors to free him.

The mast of an old lighthouse on the rampart of Fort St Angelo.

The mast of an old lighthouse on the rampart of Fort St Angelo.

The western corner of the rampart offered a view of slim, colourful fishing boats with seagulls perched on the bows, at the edge of the waters. The sun glinted off the sea, casting a magical light. It was a scene straight out of a painting. This was Moplah Bay, a bustling port-of-call for Chinese, Arab and European traders in ancient times.

The next stop was MVK, the town’s go-to restaurant with an impressive list of local dishes, for delicious Thalassery biryani.

I spent the afternoon at the lighthouse museum. One of only four in India, the museum provides a rare insight into Kannur’s long seafaring traditions. It unveiled everything I ever wanted to know about lighthouses: from lamps, models of primitive lighthouses, navigational buoys and electromechanical parts to letters written by mariners. What’s more, there were no tourists—and I felt vindicated in my choice of an offbeat weekend break.

 

 

 

 

Going Dutch in Galle

Travel and Places

This story first appeared in Khaleej Times on November 17, 2017.

European influence, strong maritime connections and relaxed vibes make this Sri Lankan city a winner.

‘Parawa Street’ – proclaims the name board. It intrigues me, because I can’t understand what it means. All morning, I have seen boards that said ‘Church Street’, ‘Rampart Street’ and the like. Fed on this simple diet, my brain finds it difficult to process ‘Parawa’. A closer inspection of the board tells me that the term refers to fishermen and traders who immigrated from south India and settled in Galle centuries ago. During their time, the Dutch, the main colonisers of Galle, renamed this street ‘Parruastraat’.
Parawa Street is one of the several narrow streets that make up the old settlement inside Galle Fort. Clean and well-paved, the streets are lined on either side by elegant structures. Many of these are a century old, while others go back two centuries or more – when Galle was under Dutch occupation. Many houses have a small portico and a wicket gate, and are painted in brilliant hues of blue, red, orange or yellow. Potted plants hanging from their sloping tiled roofs enhance the mood of cheer.
It is past 9am on a weekday, but most of the shops and boutiques are still closed. I ask a passerby when they will open and receive a smile in return. “They will open, they will open,” she says and moves on.  Traffic is mild, mainly comprising pedestrians or those cycling. The town of Galle is not in a hurry at all. The general understanding seems to be that things here will happen in due course. It, therefore, seems fitting that Galle is our last port of call in a weeklong tour of Sri Lanka. While we entered the country in high excitement, we shall leave it in a state of quiet contentment.
From medieval times to the 19th century, Galle was an important port town near the southern end of the teardrop shaped island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Like in India, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to colonise Galle. When the Dutch overran the settlement in the 17th century, they strengthened and expanded the erstwhile mud fort and many of the buildings within its confines. Also, they erected several of the beautiful timber-stone-cement structures that are standing strong even today. The British came later and added a few lovely churches to the landscape.
The wife and I amble along the ramparts of the fort, stopping to take in the view now and then. We get panoramic views of the sea and at one point, of the grassy expanse of Galle International Cricket Stadium. Passing close to the historic Meeran Mosque, we stop to admire its pristine whiteness, arched windows and architectural symmetry. Inside, the beautiful floor tiles and the stained glass windows catch our eye. Close to the mosque lies a small Buddhist temple, also pristine white. After two hours of walking, we come a full circle to where we had started from: the fort gates. Feeling hungry, we hurry over to a small shack nearby that is serving hot food. We wolf down kothu rottis (a native dish made of wheat or wheat flour, stuffed with a spicy mash of vegetables, fish or chicken) for lunch.
Back at our home-stay, we lounge in the sea-facing balcony with our books. Since this is not the tourist season, the crowds are thin. Come afternoon, many of the smaller shops in the fort settlement close for a few hours, as their owners catch some shut-eye after lunch. When the sun’s rays start slanting, we head out again. Drumbeats and strains of the guitar lead us to a quadrangle near the courthouse, where a local band is performing on the sidelines of a literary festival. The songs are in English and Sinhalese, and are received with energetic applause. As darkness settles, we leave the music behind and seek out the sea again. The lighthouse, built in 1939, looms up in the darkness. Right next to it, lies the old magazine room of the Dutch Navy. Sitting on the ramparts with our legs swinging over the drop to the ocean, we look at the glowing moon and the white foam slamming into the rocks.
At dawn the next morning, I leave my sleeping wife and venture out with my camera, eager to frame the beautiful town in the soft sunlight. I walk over to the fishermen’s wharf and watch the day’s catch being unloaded. Several people are buying fish fresh off the boat. Every day, fishermen put out to sea hours before dawn and return with their first catch by 7am or so.
The winding alleys are quiet, with most people still abed. I am happily surprised to see that Galle has not let its built heritage go to seed, unlike many other places around the world. Supported by a grant from the Dutch government, most of the old buildings have been lovingly restored and repurposed into cafes, art galleries, boutiques and hotels. Today, these are symbols of the chic tourist destination that Galle has become and proof that conserving heritage can be truly profitable for all the stakeholders.
My wife joins me for breakfast at the home-café run by an old man of Moroccan descent. Galle’s Moroccan connection is a thread hidden deep inside the cultural fabric of this town. A small community of Tamil-speaking Muslims, seventh- generation descendents of traders from Morocco, resides inside the fort. Many of its members run small grocery stores or cafes from the courtyard of their homes.
Meal over, we take in the wonderful exhibits at the National Maritime Museum. A nod to the long seafaring traditions of Lanka, the museum houses maps and intriguing tales of shipwrecks alongside jade jars from China and several European memorabilia. Later that day, we take in the antique furniture, exquisite stained glass, tombstones and silence at the Gothic-style All Saints Church. As we walk back to our homestay, the eager shouts of boys playing cricket rend the air. Daytime cricket on the wide ramparts of the fort is a way of life here.
Decidedly, Galle is a great place to celebrate the slow life. The rhythms of this fort settlement are gentle. The cobbled-stone streets, old buildings, bookstores, cafes and the timeless nature of waves crashing into the rocks lull you into a state of peace. The frenetic sounds and movements of the big city stand out by their absence. Conversations are more like soothing murmurs. Nobody seems to be in a hurry to do anything.
Though I hold several striking memories from my time in Galle, the one that dominates my mind is that of the breakfast on the morning of our departure. Our hostess served us appams (sweet-salty rice pancakes with a thin crust and a fluffy middle), spicy chickpea curry, fragrant stew, toast, butter, marmalade, coffee and slices of juicy pineapple. Sitting in the balcony facing the ramparts of the fort, we gorge on the delicious homemade fare for what seems like hours. Yonder, the sea rustles like sandpaper and gulls swoop down.
This memory stands out because that breakfast is the best metaphor I can find for the town itself. Galle is like a wonderful repast: it offers a sumptuous spread, invites you to dawdle over it, stimulates your palate and ensures that the after-taste remains for a long time.

NEED TO KNOW
Galle lies 77 miles south of Colombo, from where you can take a bus, taxi or a train named Queen of the Sea. The route hugs the coast and runs past several beautiful villages. Accommodation options are aplenty, from posh hotels to tiny guest houses, and straddle a wide price range. Since Galle Fort is perfect for walking, take along a pair of comfortable shoes, sunglasses and a bottle of water.
wknd@khaleejtimes.com

A breezy summer holiday in Sakleshpur

Travel and Places

With coffee estates, lovely treks, waterfalls and encounters of the wild kind, Sakleshpur can surprise you. Do yourself a favour and go there right away.

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It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. One moment, we were chatting about heading back into the hills and the next moment, we had decided to go to Sakleshpur the next day. This is how we decide on most of our trips, because it goes with our personality (of not thinking and planning too much and leveraging the spontaneity of the moment). We had visited Fort Kochi as a family just three weeks ago (and I had packed in a solo trip to Madras/Chennai after that), but already, there was this strong itch to go away somewhere again.

So we set out Saturday morning by car. We have heard that the train route from Bangalore to Sakleshpur is also scenic, but we kept that for another time. Leaving home at 5 am (to avoid the traffic nightmare that invariably descends on this city as early as 6 am), we were in Nelamangala by 5:45. A brief stop for a cup of tea and we were on the move again. Reaching Chennarayapatna at about 8:30, we breakfasted at Adyar Ananda Bhavan (AAB). We’d have preferred a smaller outlet that was more ‘local’ in nature, but there was nothing like that for a long distance. And so, AAB it was.

When we set out again after this pit stop, it was 9 am. We breezed through Hassan, after which the road became a little narrower and rougher (but it was still reasonably good). We reached our guest house at exactly 10:30 am, 5 hours after we left home. It was a comfortable ride overall, and if you consider the two halts, I’d say we made good time.

Our guest house was nothing fancy; but, it was clean and comfortable, with excellent views of paddy fields on one side and a jungle on the other. I wondered about its fancy name (Butterstone River Valley), but forgot to ask the manager about it.

We checked in and lazed around for a while, stretching our cramped muscles and just settling down. An hour or so later, we walked over to a waterfall nearby. The leisurely ten-minute stroll took us past humble houses built in the Malnad style, piles of logs kept on the roadside (and to be used to make a fire later on, I guessed), coffee plantations and rough-hewn paths that led into the forest. It was good to be walking in the hills again– my mountain-loving soul was on song!

The small sign board said ‘Abbi Falls’, although the manager of our resort had called it ‘Habbi Falls’. Nothing much in the spelling, really. It is quite common to find different spellings of the same name in India, with one syllable more or less. One of the funny things about this country is that, with its varying languages and dialects, it is enough to be able to pronounce a name somewhat correctly – an approximation of sorts.

A short, but slippery descent through a mud path took us to the waterfall. We heard the sound of the water just before we turned the final bend and emerged from a clump of bushes. At first glance, it was nothing much; the water plunged about 25 feet after which it eddied for a bit amidst the rocks before forming a stream. But as we started moving towards the fall, we realized that the rocks and pebbles were slippery. Some tricky negotiation of this stretch and some Dutch courage took us to the point where the water was plunging down. It was then that I realized that the water was falling with considerable force, even though the height wasn’t much. We slipped into the water (cold and so refreshing) and stayed there awhile. Much kicking, splashing and squealing happened. After a time, I ventured past the water eddies and sat directly under the water’s flow. Fat drops of water now hit fell on my head and back directly, making me feel the force of the current anew. I emerged from the water curtain after about twenty minutes, feeling thoroughly refreshed and my skin tingling.

We then sat on the rocks for a long time, letting our clothes dry in the warm sun. The warmth of the sun was in contrast to the cool breeze – it was a feeling to be savoured. So far, we had had the place practically to ourselves, but now a small crowd arrived. We sat there, idly watching them, letting the breeze caress our bodies, listening to the sound of the insects in the forest, wondering at the continuous rush of the water….time just passed.

Finally, reluctantly, we dragged ourselves from that spot and trudged back to our resort for a hearty (and well earned) meal. Predictably, we felt heavy-lidded after lunch and crashed in our room for a couple of hours. Awaking in the late afternoon, we found some piping hot filter coffee waiting for us. I had forgotten all about coffee!Sakleshpur is coffee country, home to thousands of acres of coffee plantations. So no wonder we were being offered some fine coffee by the resort. A leisurely cuppa later, Shankar who works at the resort, offered to take us on a plantation walk.

The plantation was about 80 acres in size (small, as plantations go), but it was in the midst of a thick jungle. Our path was rocky at places and highly uneven, which meant that we really had to focus on it. At particularly steep stretches, I could feel my sinews stretching. I remember thinking that this was proving to be more of a trek and less of a plantation walk. Coffee had been planted in between a variety of native tree species, forming a thick jungle. As we hiked, Shankar pointed out coffee bushes and explained how coffee is grown. Apparently, it takes about a year for the coffee beans to sprout. Of the different kinds of coffee, Robusta and Arabica are the predominant varieties in Sakleshpur. They differ in taste and aroma. Sprinklers meant to water the bushes punctuated our trail.

We kept up a steady pace, trying to concentrate on both the tough trail and Shankar’s monologue. After about forty minutes of hiking, we stopped for a short breather. Silence enveloped us, broken only by our slightly ragged breathing. We took a few pictures of the scene. Charu (the wife), said ‘Oh, look. There is a bison.’ And when I turned to look, there indeed was a bison. About seven feet tall, he seemed to be gazing at us calmly. And we gazed back at him calmly. He was standing on the edge of the path, half inside the bushes, about twenty feet from us. But it was when Shankar saw the animal too that all hell broke loose. He just whispered ‘Run!’ at us, turned and matched action to word. Nonplussed by this unexpected turn of events, we stood rooted to the spot for a moment before Shankar’s feverish ‘Run (exclamation) reached our ears a second time. The blood gushed through our veins and we started running. Honestly, I should call it scrambling. We ran blindly for God knows how long. We ran back the way we had come, our minds a total blank – except for the fact that, by now, we had realized that the bison could be a very dangerous customer indeed, inspite of his benign expression.

I don’t know how far we ran, huffing and puffing. I had the extra task of holding on tightly to my DSLR, a task that suddenly seemed onerous. My legs felt like chunks of lead and my lungs were on fire. As we ran, I was haunted by the thought that any moment now, the bison could gore us into the ground from behind. And finally, when we felt we couldn’t run an inch more, we stopped. The silence and calm around us was in shocking contrast to the turmoil in our heads. As our breathing returned to normal, we started walking slowly. Shankar assured us that we were out of danger now.

Reaching our guest house, the first thing I did was to imbibe some stuff far stronger than coffee. God knows I needed it. As I sat on our porch afterwards, I thought back to the experience. Somehow, it felt unreal. But the fear and exhilaration coursing through my mind were telling me that it had been all too real.

We sat on the porch for the rest of the evening, reading, chatting and enjoying views of the now-golden paddy fields. Dinner was a subdued affair, because we were happily tired.

We set out early the next morning, after some more of that wonderful filter coffee. We drove about 10 kms from the resort, parked the car and then trekked up to a peak that was perhaps a kilometer away. This and two other peaks that were close by, we together called Byreshwar Gudda (‘gudda’ means peak in Kannada). The name is actually that of the deity of a small temple close to where we had parked our car. Byreshwar is a common deity in Karnataka, and an incarnation of Lord Shiva. The peak was open on three sides, offering us a stunning, 300 degree view of the valley and the ranges yonder. Behind us, a steep path rose up to another cliff.We were there for a long time, taking pictures, enjoying the view and lying down on the moist grass. A wind was gusting and the sun was slowly warming up to the day ahead. Shankar pointed out an elephant corridor in the distance. Places like this shoo away all thoughts from your mind and compel you to live in just that moment. Looking up, I badly wanted to gather the deep blue sky in my arms.

We spent an hour on the peak, before carefully picking our way down. As we were walking, a small stone temple hove into view. This was the temple that has given the peak its name – Byreshwara Devasthana. Local legend says that the Pandavas built it and dedicated it to Lord Shiva as part of their prayers to the yogi God. Such legends abound in a country like India. There is no way one can verify them. And so, the best one can do is to take the legend at face value. And before you know it, the place automatically acquires a sense of history and atmosphere. Inspite of the plain stonework, the temple looked elegant. The still-soft sunrays formed a halo around the temple crest. The design of the crest looked unique to me – fashioned into a nine-step arrangement, it was like nothing I had seen in any other temple.

We drove back to our resort in silence, our minds stilled by the lovely experiences of the morning. Breakfast was a simple but tasty affair, comprising spicy sevai (rice vermicelli), akki roti and coconut-garlic chutney. We chased down the meal with tumblerfulls of – what else? – filter coffee. We then had a quick bath and checked out of the resort. In leaving, I managed to buy some coffee powder from the manager of the resort. The powder had been sourced from their own estate, the one we had walked in the previous evening.

Driving back to Mangalore Road, we stopped at Manzarabad Fort – our last halt of the trip. It seems that outside the Sakleshpur region, hardly anybody knows about this fort. And yet, it is a thing of beauty, tucked away amidst forests and coffee estates. We had to park the car on the main road and go the rest of the way on foot. Steps with a railing have been laid to make the climb slightly easier for people. We counted 255 steps from bottom to top in what was a short, but steep climb.

As forts go, this one is small. Its visual attraction is that it is built in the shape of a star, though I realized that you’d have to view it from a helicopter to make out that shape. This fort was extremely important to Tipu Sultan, because it helped him guard the ghat ranges in this part of Mysore Province, of which he was the ruler. At that time, he had to fight continual battles with the British, the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad. Like other old forts in many parts of India, this one too is in reasonably good shape (it was built in 1792).

We walked past the old garrison, peeped into dark chambers and admired the step-well built right in the middle. Bending and walking through a narrow passage, we emerged inside a watch tower. This must have been where soldiers would have stood centuries ago, guns at the ready, not knowing when the enemy would attack them. The broken ramparts of the fort gave us a sweeping view of the surrounding hills.

Our drive back to Bangalore was smooth. We made it home in exactly five hours (including a halt for lunch at Kamat Restaurant near Channarayapatna). As we sat sipping ginger tea at home, we thought back to the lovely place we had left behind and started making plans to return there.

 

Sakleshpur – fact file

  • The Sakleshpur region is about 4000-4500 feet above sea level. Situated on the Bangalore-Mangalore route, it takes a running time of 4 hours by train or car.
  • Apart from coffee, pepper and cardamom are also grown here. The salubrious climate makes it good for growing spices.
  • Sakleshpur forms part of Malnad, a socio-cultural name given to this part of Karnataka. The word ‘Malnad’ comes from ‘maley naadu, which means ‘hill country’ in Kannada. Houses in this region are characterized by sloping roofs clad in elegant brown tiles and a colonnaded porch for people to relax in.
  • By and large, this area is unknown to people living outside Karnataka. As of now, most tourists to Sakleshpur come from Bangalore.
  • Other than tiny, dubious-looking eateries, there aren’t many good options on this route. It is therefore best to stop at Adyar Ananda Bhavan in Chennarayapatna. Though overpriced, the food is very good. Kamat Restaurant, diagonally opposite Adyar Ananda Bhavan, is really not worth it.
  • We stayed at the Butterstone River Valley, a guest house that is about 24 kms from Sakleshpur town (where incidentally, you can buy essentials and tank up).
  • A quick sidenote about this guest house: it is good for those who want a simple, no-frills place which just lets you hang out with friends and indulge in a few team activities. You can play badminton, volleyball and mud volleyball. There is a rustic ‘swimming pool’ too (by that, I mean a tank where you can dunk youself). You get authentic Malnad breakfast, but the cooks lose their way at lunch and dinner. If you want superb all-day food, a wide menu, personalized service, a well-appointed room and the trimmings of a real resort, this place won’t cut it.
  • When we went there (April 2017), this region did not have luxury resorts. Look for a good homestay that offers you scenic views, local cuisine and superb filter coffee.

When you leave, buy some coffee powder. Buying close to source will mean that you will get excellent quality at a good price. Ask the manager of the guest house for help in this regard.