Monday, December 30, 2013

Visiting Udupi & Karwar - Ruchir's first trip!

20th(Fri) to 25th Dec (Wed), 2013.

Ruchir completed 9 months and one of our wishes was to visit either Tirupathi or Udupi to take the blessings of the allmighty. When Pooja arrived, we had been to Tirupathi and so this time we thought we would go to Udupi. Railway Tickets got booked 2 months in advance so we could get confirmed reservations for Souji's parents as well as mine.

20th Dec, 2013 - Friday:
We departed Bangalore in the late evening by Yeshwantpur - Karwar Express which left Bangalore at 8:40 PM.

21st Dec, 2013 - Saturday:
After an overnight journey, we reached Udupi by 10:30 AM in the morning. Anna had booked 3 rooms at Hotel Swadesh through We could definitely feel the change of weather at Udupi compared to that of Bangalore. It was mightly cold in Bangalore and Udupi was sweltering.

All of us quickly refreshed ourselves at the hotel and then visited the Sri Krishna Temple. Since this was still the early holiday season, there was not much crowd in Udupi. The regular routine of standing in the long queue was cut short by the 'ever-helpful' Asst. Poojaris who (for a price of course), shunt the queue and allowed us to bypass the longer route and take us quite close to the inner circle of the temple. Good thing is it got us the much needed darshan in quick time, allowed us to have the lunch at the Sri Krishna Matha and buy the Seva tickets for the next day morning, all in 1 hour!

One thing that I noticed this time was that a few folks chose not to use the plantain leaf on which the food is served generally. They cleaned the floor in front of them, dropped a few drops of water, cleaned the surface and then got served with food directly on the floor! I was literally shocked to see this being done by folks who seemed to be well dressed, well educated and well to do family members. Considering the age and time we are living in, to see such things right in front of my eyes was a jaw-dropping experience of contrasting perceptions, opinions and made me sick.I just could not digest the fact (and the food) that a belief system like this is still so prevalent and is considered to be normal! Frankly, I was disappointed, but who am I to question their belief? Very interesting!

By 1:30 PM we were out of the temple complex and our next activity was to visit the 'Paajaka' - the birthplace of Madhvacharya, who is the founder of the 'Madhva Philosophy or the Dwaitha philosophy'.

After a  lot of negotiation with the Tours and Travel operators, we finally booked an Innova from 'Gayathri Tours and Travels' to take us to Paajaka, Kunjaragiri and Malpe beach. 

We started around 3:30 PM. We first visited the Kunjara Giri about 12 Kms from Udupi temple, a hillock which has the Durga temple atop the hill. The temple is still new and the outer walls are still being constructed. 'Kunjara' in Sanskrit means Elephant, and 'Giri' means hill. So this hill probably gets the name because it looks like an elephant maybe (my interpretation!).

Next we visited the much awaited 'Pajaka' the birth place / home / school / everything where Madhvacharya was born, studied and became great. The place is just behind the Kunjaragiri hill and apparently, Madhvacharya happened to jump up and down the hill while he was young.

The Paajaka house looked very typical Udupi Bhahmin Style. It houses many important spots like the place where Madhvacharya did his studies, penance, the kalyani (pond) where he did his bathing everyday. It also has a spot where there are 2 stone slabs which are about 6 ft. x 6 ft. which were apparently used by Madhvacharya to cover the utensils as a lid! That is when his mother got to know the power and prowess of his son as he demonstrated the virtues of Bheema as kid. The house also has the footprints (Paaduka) of Madhvacharya. Apparently Madhvacharya's mother called him for something and he was atop the Kunjaragiri hill killing the mighty serpent. Upon hearing his Mother's call, he jumped straight from the hilltop and landed directly in his house, thus leaving the footprint on the granite slab.

Outside the house is a huge tamarind tree. Apparently, Madhvacharya's father was in huge debt and the person who gave the loan asked him to pay up. Madhvacharya then repaid the loan by giving an equivalent number of Tamarind seeds which the person accepted thus relieving his father from debt. The same tree is still available to see in the backyard and growing well.

We were amazed and felt very happy when some folks living in the house asked us to have 'Coffee' before leaving the house as it seems to be a tradition here. It seems this is a tradition at this house and we were really elated with their kind and pleasant tradition. Overall everybody loved the Paajaka tour and it was worth every bit of salt, despite the sweltering heat, distance and the tiredness of the travel.

By the time we left Paajaka, it was already 5:30 PM and the sun was almost going down. We hurried to the Malpe Beach and just got the glimpses of the setting sun. We stayed there for an hour before we left back to our hotel.

We reached back our hotel by 7:30 tired and tested. We refreshed and then assembled again by 8:30 PM to have dinner and walked down to the 'Woodlands' hotel which was just around the corner from our hotel. The food at Woodlands was simply awesome and a must have nowadays. It seems that the Diana Eatery has now lost its ground to Woodlands as per the locals. We were back in our hotels by 9:30 PM.

22nd Dec, 2013 - Sunday:
The previous day, we had bought tickets for the 'Alankara Seva' which asked us to be present at 7 AM at the temple. We were there by 7:30 AM, but still we got a wonderful time for doing multiple rounds of darshan with absolute ease. No pushovers, just easy. The crowd was not there and we got to see the Lord Krishna many many times. 

Thanks to Pooja, who sung 3 songs in front of the lord and received great appreciation from one and all . This was a real big thing for her and for us as parents to see Pooja singing in front of Lord Krishna at Udupi. This was probably the highlight of the day and give us many more minutes of 1-on-1 time with the Lord. We also got the opportunity to see the Custodian of the temple - the 'Swamiji' himself do the 'Paraayana'. Being there at the right time was very important and thanks to Pooja, we were able to see all of this. 

Post the Alankara Seva, we were asked to do the 'Sankalpa' which needed me to switch over from my 'Shorts/ Knicker' attire to a dhoti for which, I had to return back to the hotel (5 minutes away from temple). The Sankalpa event got over by 9:30 AM and gave us another round of darshan to see Lord Krishna. Post that, we were asked to come and collect the Prasada again at 11:30 AM and have lunch. With vivid scenes of the previous day's lunch on the floor playing back in my mind again and again, I really did not have the appetite to have the lunch again even though this time the lunch was supposed to be along with Swamiji's 'pankthi'. So I excused myself from the luncheon, but the rest of the family wanted to do this because this was quite a rare chance. I was more than happy to be back at the Woodlands having 'Chana Batura', 'Rava Idlis' and the famous 'Gudbud' ice-creams. Pooja gave me the company.

By 1:30 PM we were all back from from our respective lunches, checked out of the hotel, and left by 3 Autorickshaws  to the Railway station to our onward journey to Karwar at 4:00 PM.

The 'Matsyagandha express' train journey of 3.5 hours took us through the engineering marvels of the 'Konkan' Railways, passing through the Karavali mountain ranges, tunnels, bridges, loads of rivers, backwaters and greenery all around. We made full use of the 'Jholi' to get Ruchir to sleep during the train journey which gave him and us a lot of relief considering the heat, noise and vibrations of the 2nd class train journey. We reached Karwar by 7:30 PM. Anna had already booked the 'Hotel Premier' over the Internet. This hotel looked posch!. Everything was wonderful here except that 2 of our rooms were in the 3rd floor and 1 of them was in the 2nd floor. There was no 'Elevator / Lift' in this hotel which was such a pain considering we had aged members of the family, who were already strained by the journey. But apart from this, the accommodation itself was pretty good and it was a stone-throw distance from the Tagore Beach! 

We refreshed ourselves and asked the locals about good vegetarian hotels. Apparently, veg hotels are a rarity in Karwar and the couple of hotels very near to our own hotel was not that great, but we had no choice. We could smell the fishes at every road corner in Karwar! This town is a paradise for the ' Mackarel / Bhangadi' variety of fish and most hotels are Non-veg. We finally managed to get some decent food at 'Shruthi Sagar' pretty close to our hotel. We returned back to Hotel Premier and worked with the front desk for an hour to get us an Innova / Tavera for a day package to Gokarna, Om Beach and other places in and around Karwar, for the next day. Finally we got the confirmation from one person that we would have a Tavera starting at 9 AM for our day package. We hit the sack and slept like a log of wood.

23rd Dec, 2013 - Monday:
We had our breakfast at Hotel Premier Residency (Veg restaurant) right opposite to ours and the food was quite decent. Our Tavera arrived and we left for Gokarna Temple. 

Gokarna this time looked pretty populous, business savvy and looked far more attractive compared to the last time we visited this place 15 years back. We took the Rs. 500 - Abhisheka + Quick Darshan Package, which allowed us to cut short the winding queue and get to the Sanctum Sanctorum quite easily. But the crowd inside got really unruly and tempers flared between folks who were taking a huge amount of time for themselves and blocking others all the while. The experience was not so great, but again, this is the land where belief and faith is everything and questioning them is considered inappropriate. As the saying goes, when in Rome, be a Roman. So endured the whole session of people fighting for an inch of space to get their pot full of milk and water poured over the Shiva's 'atmalinga'. At the end of it, could see the light in the eye and the quaint smile of a job well done by the believers. We were out of the temple in 1.5 hours and walked to the Gokarna Beach (Kudle Beach) where our driver had parked our car. It was noon and the sun was blazing away to glory and hence asked the driver to take us out of this place to the next destination, the famed 'Om beach'.

We reached Om Beach in about 30 minutes from Gokarna. Soujanya, and MIL stayed back in the Taxi exhausted by the heat and also didn't fancy taking a look at the beach which needed us to climb down the hill and back with the hot sun. So the rest of us got climbed down the hill to see a beach which turned out to be one of the best beaches that I have ever visited. The 2 adjoining 'C' shaped curves meeting at the center of a rocky land mass makes the shape of the sanksrit 'Om' alphabet and hence the name 'Om' beach. The waves were very gentle and beach was very clean and tidy. No surprise that this beach had a lot of foreigners making the best of it. After a brief 30 minutes, we climbed back the hill and convinced Souji and MIL to check this beach out otherwise they would be missing something very big. After much coaxing, I pulled Souji and her mom, leaving behind Ruchir with Pooja, FIL and my parents. Just as soon as we started climbing down again, Souji realized what a mistake it would have been if she had not seen this piece of paradise. Both Souji and MIL were swept of their feet at the beauty of this beach. We spent another good 30 minutes here in the hot sun taking loads of pictures. We then headed back to the taxi and found Ruchir happily sleeping. 

We left Om Beach and it was time for lunch. The scorching sun had drained us badly and we were absolutely dehydrated. So we asked the Driver to take us to the nearest hotel and then to return us back to our Hotel. We had lunch in a decent hotel close to an unknown village and then headed back to our hotel in Karwar. It was about 3:30 PM when we reached back our hotel and parents as well as in-laws were drained to the limit. But we had promised Pooja that we will take her to the Tagore beach so that she could play in the beach for a long time. So we left our parents back at the hotel and the 4 of us refreshed a bit and left to the Tagore beach. Soujanya took shelter under a huge tree taking care of Ruchir while Pooja and I played with the gentle waves for about a couple of hours. She had a lot of fun and loved every minute. Parents and In-laws joined us after taking some good rest and that allowed  Souji also to join me and Pooja to play in the beach.

We watched the golden sun go behind the scenic mountain alongside the sea coast. Karwar's Tagore beach is a must visit and a great place to have fun. For the last couple of days there was a 'Karwar Mela' that was going on in the beach with loads of of entertainment activities made available in this 2-3 day fair. We were lucky to be there when this was happening and right on the beach front itself. The fair had shops for clothing, fake jewelry, food stalls, but the best was the entertainment sector which involved Giant Wheels, Columbus, Shooting, Train rides, Merry-Go-Rounds, Scary Houses, and many other things. Pooja had a blast and so did all of us. The evening was pretty much spent here. We got out the fair and had dinner at our usual restaurant and went back to sleep.

24th Dec, 2013 - Tuesday.
Despite not having much to do in Karwar and with our train to Bangalore leaving at 2:40 PM, we could have all extended our sleep by a couple of more hours, but considering that the beach was so close to our hotel, it would be a crime if we didn't visit it again in the early morning! Souji, Pooja, Ruchir and myself got up early by 6:30 AM and walked to the beach. Thankfully, Ruchir made no mess of the early morning schedule and that helped us a lot. The beach looked awesome and virgin. We spent a good 1 hour playing Frizbee and later were accompanied by Parents and In-laws. We enjoyed the beach to the fullest till around 9 and then had breakfast. We refreshed ourselves and were back again on the streets of Karwar doing some shopping of the famed Cashew Nuts. We found one good store who sold cashew nuts in whole sale and bought quite a good number of dry fruits there.

The next agenda was to visit the 'Naval Museum' which houses a decommissioned ship 'INS-Chapal' which was a war ship that played a vital role in Indo-Pak war of 1971. This ship which was in service till 2005 is now kept here at Karwar's Naval Museum for folks to take a look at the war ship. I was mighty pleased with the job these folks have done and for the price of Rs.15 per person, this one is a definite 'not-to-miss' destination if you are in Karwar. Kudos to our Naval force, the ship is very well maintained, was very neatly explained and loved every piece of their history and accolades that they have won.

It was already 12:30 PM and was time for checking out. We completed all the formalities at the hotel and reached the railway station. We left Karwar by the Karwar -Yeshwantapur express which departed at 2:40 PM. We reached Bangalore by 8:30 AM on Dec 25th and took a taxi back home dropping off parents at Hanumanthanagar, In-laws at Katrhiguppe and reaching our home at 9:30 AM.

One thing that stood out in the whole trip was the how Ruchir co-operated with us during his first outing. Despite the intense heat, huge difference in the temperatures between Bangalore and the coastal cities, the hectic travel schedule, changed sleep cycles, travelling close to 1500 KMS on long overnight and day journeys, in 4 days, there was not a single instance where he gave us any trouble. He co-operated so well that left us spell-bound.

Overall, this was a short, hectic and a well deserved vacation for all of us and the first one for Ruchir. This trip has given a good deal of comfort feel that he can handle the intense pressures of travel and be one among us. Thanks Ruchir for being so sweet. Nothing gets complete without the unwavering help and support of Pooja, who has become the darling sister of Ruchir. Without her, we couldn't have had such a flawless trip. 

Looking forward for many more of such trips with the family and friends. 

As always, closing out on this blog with a few pictures that I have taken during the trip. Here's wishing you 'A Very Happy and Prosperous New Year 2014' to you all!