Mysore and Mangalore to Goa via Coorg Sunday 21 June – Saturday 27 June 2009
Arriving back at The Green Hotel we were greeted like long lost friends! We had a really nice evening and again a superb meal though the rains had arrived with a vengeance so there was no sitting out in the garden like the first time we were there!
That evening we met an interesting guy Vinay, who runs a company "Royal Mysore Walks". Originally a Software Engineer Vinay is also a history buff as well as a Mysore local and so he was the perfect man to set up a company offering historical walking tours of Mysore. We had planned to head off the next morning - but Vinay was very persuasive and early Sunday morning found us meeting at the clock tower near Mysore's town hall to begin our walking tour!
We thought we'd had a good look at Mysore before - but there was a lot we hadn't covered and Vinay put us right! He was a veritable wealth of knowledge - full of interesting stories about this fascinating City - many of my stories about Tipu on the previous page were cribbed from him!
It was interesting to find out about the statue of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar - this man is a real hero. From the Dalit or untouchable caste he fought hard all his life for the rights of his people and as Law Minster was heavily involved in forming the Indian Constitution which outlawed the concept of untouchability. He felt his efforts were in vain and just prior to his death he public converted to Buddhism (followed by over 3 million low caste Hindus on the same day!) We'd seen the statue but now know who he was!
It would spoil the surprise to tell more but we had a good look around. We got to try the famous Mysore Pak a sweet originally made for the Maharaja at a shop run by a descendant of the original creator of this sweet. We also had another look at the fascinating markets and the resident sacred cows scoffing the rubbish!
In short we'd really recommend Vinay's tour - we wished we'd done it at the beginning not the end of the trip as it made so much fall into place! Have a look at his site www.royalmysorewalks.com and definitely consider doing this early on in your trip to Mysore.
After this we finally took the road to Mangalore on the coast. On the way we passed an intriguing sign to "The Golden Temple" and thus began a further fascinating diversion! This area apparently has many Tibetan refugee settlements. The refugees arrived in 1964 after China invaded Tibet and many of them have been here to date. They founded the Namdroling Monastry - home to the gorgeous Golden Temple. We had a Tibetan lunch (momos - a Tibetan specialty - delicious little dumping like thingies stuffed with meat and/or vegetables) and had a look at the temple.
We heard music playing and going up to the main hall found it full of monks (over 500) who were chanting and praying. As we arrived it came to an end. We wandered in and were ushered quickly to one side - we turned to get out of the way of an older monk who was being helped on with his shoes and was obviously the top man. At this point we both realized we were about 6 feet from the Dalai Lama!!!
We both went into shock and never got a good picture which maybe wouldn't be allowed! We asked afterwards and no one knew anything about it - but I guess for security his movements are shrouded in secrecy. I started to doubt if it had been him or an amazing look alike but Andrew who has seen him twice in the flesh was adamant it was him. It was a special day to remember the death of the Master of the temple- an important man - so it would have been appropriate for him to be here. Anyway unless someone emails us and gives proof he was elsewhere that day - we insist it was him!!!
After this shock we had a brief look at the gorgeous temple paintings and continued on our way! It was a bit like visiting Tibet - lovely Tibetan faces everywhere, as well as prayer flags and another sumptuous temple. Sadly this is as near to a free Tibet as we (or these refugees) are likely to get in the foreseeable future. We really hope and pray this soon changes.
We carried on driving through the beautiful Kodagu or Coorg region. Famed for its coffee and oranges this area is naturally cool being around 1000 metres above sea level. It is set within the Nagerhole National Park and has a beautiful back drop of the Kogagu Hills. We camped for the night at the Coorg County Resort a luxury resort built on a 50 acre coffee plantation. W e were the only guests (low season lots of rain!) and they kindly allowed us to camp and opened their restaurant just for us!
We also got a guided tour of the coffee and pepper plants and jackfruit trees - it wasn't orange season! It was a lovely peaceful spot set amongst little villages, and after the bustle of Bangalore it was lovely to awaken to the sound of birdsong rather than honking horns! Check out their web on www.coorgcountyresorts.com
Next day driving on we were lucky enough to come across a hard working elephant. A large jackfruit tree had fallen over in the wind and was blocking the road. After it was cut up into huge logs the elephant obeying his mahout lifted them onto the truck. The biggest one he lifted was around 1 ton in weight and measured 2 feet by 15 feet long. He was amazing to watch - and very graceful the way he almost knelt down to lever the logs up. This area has a lot of elephants who are very much gainfully employed!
So in the early evening we arrive at the tropical coastal town of Mangalore. We'd definitely descended the hills and the town felt very sticky and humid. It was also pretty busy but we'd already done a bit of research and so headed out to Ullal beach 11km to the South which we thought would have more potential for camping sites. Through pouring rain (no doubting the monsoon is here now!) we drove out there and headed to the one hotel the Summer Sands Beach Resort - which we'd picked out as a possibility for camping.
It was not to be! Despite telling us camping outside was unsafe they refused to let us camp unless we paid 1,000 rupee i.e.) more than most budget rooms and 10 times more than we'd been asked to pay before! As there was nowhere else to go we ate there (we were the only guests) and it was a nice meal. On the way out they tried to charge us a fee for driving in as a day rate!!! We refused - black mark to this resort for being unaccommodating! It's not as if they had any other guests!
Anyway we were fine on the beach and though we were a focus of the attention of the local fishermen no one was unfriendly. Like many of the coastal areas it seems to be devoutly Muslim and the call to prayer woke us bright and early! We drove back into town and went to the tourist information - which was very unhelpful -the guy spoke no English and couldn't pin point on the map any of the local areas of interest on the information he handed us! We resolved to muddle through alone!
Despite these gripes Mangalore was a pleasant town with very friendly people. On this note we met Anil when he came over to look at our car and got chatting. He owns a business doing restorations of vintage cars and used to have the same model car as us! Andrew wanted a new clutch master cylinder fitted as he felt the old one was wearing out. He had asked Nandi Toyota in Bangalore to do this but they advised that it was best to wait until it broke!! I think Toyota workshops in general are used to new cars and are made a bit nervous by older vehicles!!! Anil however had no such qualms and agreed with us it was better to sort any problems out ASAP - and within a day he'd done a great job - and refused to take any labour costs which we (and our bank balance!) were really grateful for!!!
That night he offered to take us out for a meal of local food. He met us with his friend Sandra Anne - and little did we know the treat in store!
Sandra Anne is the daughter of a top chef and in her lovely penthouse flat she served us an exquisite banquet! It was so nice to have a home cooked meal especially one of this calibre. We had baked beef shanks, chicken and coconut curry beef curry & salad - all followed by local ice cream!!! What a treat - thanks so much to Sandra and Anil for their hospitality!! He also treated us to lunch at a little place Dinos - run by a friend which was wonderful - definitely great food in Mangalore!!!
One evening we took a trip out to Panambur beach -it was a nice looking beach but sadly we got there seconds before the heavens opened! It was also unfortunate we thought to build the sewage treatment plant right next to the areas' most attractive beach!
Whilst the car was at Anil''s we had met one of his neighbours a charming man who ran a factory making tile moulds. Ornate tiles are a real feature of Mangalorean architecture and (along with cashew nuts apparently!) the main product of the region. He showed us around his factory which was very interesting. Finally as we left Mangalore we had a look at the Sultan's Battery -part of Tipu's Defence reinforcements. This was once his major port and the centre of his empire but sadly little evidence remains of these days.
Heading on we made it 50km up the coast to Udopi - when the foul weather and encroaching darkness made us call it a day. We camped at nearby Malpe beach outside the Paradise Isle Beach resort, a nice little beach with a few resorts and the obligatory Ghandi statue.
On the way we passed a huge ship building yard which Andrew was very interested in - it was an Indian company in partnership with an American company and currently they are contracted to produce over 100 small ships within the next 20 years. Employing over 1000 staff it seemed a thriving business.
The next morning - Thursday 25th - was Andrew's birthday! Unfortunately it carried on raining torrentially as it had been doing all night. Even more unfortunately poor Andrew had a very sore back. The beach like so many in India is a pilgrimage site and some hardy pilgrims had still braved the rain to bath in the sea. It was a relief when it did tip down as it dispersed some of the crowds that gathered around the car to watch our every move! You can't really see in my picture but Andrew shaving using the inverter in the car - is like a Beatle's reunion concert for pulling power and could form a crowd in seconds!
It is one area of travel in India which is hard on me- though Andrew takes it more in his stride. Staring here isn't a social no-no like it is at home and people of all ages completely unembarrassedly stand 3 feet from you and stare at your every move! You have to remind yourself that generally no harm is meant and they are merely curious but day after day it gets a bit wearing! Andrew says he feels like a rock star - I just feel that my personal space is under attack!
We retreated to the Paradise Isle beach resort for a birthday breakfast in their dining room. At the advice of the hotel manager who had noticed poor Andrew's sore gait we then went straight to the local Ayurveda Hospital. Located at Muniyaal this turned out to be the world's leading centre for this brand of medicine so Andrew was in good hands! The founder of this medicine was Dr U Krishna Muniyaal and the centre - the Muniyaal Institute of Ayurveda Medical Science- is now run by his son also a world renowned practitioner Dr M Vijayabhanu Shetty. Andrew's 2 hour treatment consisted of having hot oils poured on his back and a massage. He felt like new straight afterwards but as I write a couple of days on he is again sore. I think this sort of medicine is an ongoing treatment - diet exercise and massage in a series of sessions rather than as a one off - but it certainly provided some relief.
This had taken up much of Andrew's birthday so we headed back to the beach to camp - perhaps we'll celebrate next week! The next morning we drove a few hours further up the coast to our next pit stop Gokarna. Around 50km south of the Goa border this is an interesting little town which is a weird mix of Hindu pilgrims and hippies - though the latter seem to be fair weather hippies only as the pilgrims predominated when we were there!!
It is actually quite attractive with lots of little narrow streets with wooden houses winding between the temples. We came a bit unstuck in one of these! The main road to the beach was shut for some reason so we had to wind our way down the said higgledy piggledy lanes. One was on the corner of a temple and someone had parked in a stupid place leaving no room to turn the corner - we went as carefully as we could but touched and smashed the other car's tail light.
We couldn't stop there so we signaled we'd carry on to the beach (it was a dead end so we couldn't go elsewhere) and drove on. Two minutes later a car load of about 10 fairly agro guys turned up. They couldn't speak English so a poor hapless bystander who did was brought in to interpret. After a bit of back and forth we decided that whilst we felt we were in the right this was what we had got 3rd party insurance for so we tried to give them the details. They wanted money but we told them we were insured and showed the papers. At this point - with no more ado- they all backed off and left. Still don't understand why but I guess the insurance was worth having for this reason alone!! First incident of this nature we've had in all our time on the road!!
We had a look around Gokarna - there were several temples but all were closed to non Hindus- but we saw plenty of interesting pilgrims and lots of shops selling various "holy" artifacts. There was a revered lingam or phallic image of the god Shiva.
For dinner we enjoyed the best Masala Dosa ever at a great little place Pai Restaurant. The kind owner also made us a couple of other local specialties to try - Banana Buns and a sweet with semolina nuts and fruit called sheera - which was absolutely delicious.
On Saturday 27 June we drove on past scenic paddy fields and coconut palms until finally after crossing the Karnataka Border and paying a mere 100 rupee "fine" aka "bribe" we crossed into the state of Goa. For a while the rain held off and we had a pleasant drive to our next stopping point the beautiful Southern Goan beach of Palolem.