I kept waking up, peering through the curtains to check if the morning had broken. The train had been chugging along all night, through winded tunnels of the Western Ghats. Many had raved about the spectacular drive to Konkan. Having chosen a train journey from Bangalore instead, I was hoping to catch as much a glimpse as a train window would allow.
The train came to a halt soon enough. As fellow passengers scrambled to catch a quick cuppa of saccharine tea at the station, I stood at the door, taking in the crispness of a rainy verdant Konkan morning. The station was Puttur, the majestic Ghats had started fading away; the landscape gradually metamorphosing into the coasts of Konkan. Mangalore, my final destination, was only an hour away now.
I was on my way to Phalguni River Lodge, a Jungle Lodges property on the outskirts of Mangalore city. Perched on a hillock atop Phalguni river, the lodge offers a peaceful stay away from the noise and chaos of Mangalore. At the same time, it is close enough to explore the sights and sounds of the city and around. It is indeed a perfect destination for a family holiday, with many choices for children in particular. The lodge is right in the middle of Pilikula Nisargadhama, a tourist park spread over 370 acres and including a biological park, a soon to be inaugurated Science Centre, a lake with a boating centre, a water amusement park, an artisans village et al. The Phalguni River Lodge campus even includes an Ayurveda Health Therapy Centre, with a 15 acre Kudremukh tree park in its vicinity.
But as tailor-made as Phalguni River Lodge is for perfect family holidays, I was restless to explore beyond. As I checked into my suite, I was taken in by the view my balcony offered. The monsoon clouds were lazily floating in and out of the valley below. When they consented and gave way, the unshackled rays of the sun darted ahead lending the slithering Phanguni river a hue of amber. As the mist cleared, the outline of the coconut groves and arecanut plantations along the river banks became vivid and sharp. Across the valley is a tabletop plateau; the yellow lights of the air-planes flickered as they flew in and out of the Bajpe airport located above.
“I have to walk down to the river”, I decided. Mahadevan, the naturalist, accompanied and we made way downhill on a rain drenched road. A firefly, a floating butterfly, a giant spider, a gushing stream, a troop of wild mushrooms; we moved on, safe from the drizzle under a blue umbrella.
Eventually, the road ended and we plodded through the wild undergrowth and along village houses, before it all cleared up. We had arrived at the grassy riverbank. A tarpaulin draped speedboat was anchored almost an oddball in its surrounding. “We plan to start water sports soon, just waiting for the monsoons to get over”, Mahadevan explained. It seemed an ideal spot for water adventures, though I wished that the calm of the river would not be broken.
We treaded back uphill. “Do you want to see the artisans’ village, it attempts to provide a glimpse of the rural Dakshina Kannada?” Mahadevan inquired. “Sounds interesting, why not?” I quipped. Mahadevan led me back to the Lodge and then beyond in the other direction as we walked to the village. “They have artisans engaged in traditional rural crafts: weavers on handlooms, potters busy with shaping mud clay pots and so on.” He added,”The products are available for sale as well!” “I will also take you to Guthu Mane, a house typical of the landlords of the Bunt community that has been built and recreated inside the artisans’ village”. We walked past the artisans engaged in their craft, busy in their daily work, almost nonchalant about the passing tourists. The Guthu Mane is built in the middle of an open field, one glimpse at the entrance and you know this is unique. Ornate wooden columns rise up to support an intricately carved ceiling. I walked up the brick red stairs past the tall and wide wooden door, and found myself in the inner square shaped complex. There were rooms and pillars on all four sides, with a vast open space in the middle; a space used by the families for drying and other household chores. I could not help imagine a rural landlord resting on a massive chair, presiding over and watching his family and servants bustling in and about the long corridors, flitting from one room to another.
I returned to the lodge and a comforting hot lunch. I relished the distinct flavours of Mangalorean cuisine as I tucked into my neer dosa and chicken curry.
The meal followed by a hot cup of coffee recharged me and I decided to head out to Mangalore city. Sharath,the lodge manager, graciously decided to accompany me. We first visited St. Aloysius Chapel; built by Jesuit Missionaries in 1880. The chapel is breathtaking, with every inch of its columns, ceiling and walls hand-painted by the Italian Jesuit Antonio Moscheni in 1899. Inside the church, a gentleman associated with the Chapel diligently took us through the history and art of the Chapel. He pointed to the marble sculptures on the walls. “It takes time to realize, but those are not marble engravings, those are hand painted as well”, I looked back up amazed. “The only parallel to this chapel is the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City” he concluded. (Photography inside the chapel is prohibited)
Panambur beach was the next stop, as we watched the sun sink and set over the rough choppy waves of the Arabian Sea. Families were out on weekend jaunts, a few adventurous queued up for a ride on the speed boat. And then there were a gaggle of giggly girls trying (unsuccessfully) to take a mobile camera selfie with a horse.
It was almost the end of the day, and time to retire back into the quietness of the Lodge. As we made our way back to Pilikula, Sharath asked, “Have you ever had Pubba’s icecream?” “No!” I said.”Well, then your trip to Mangalore is not complete, you must try out the Gadbad flavour.”he affirmed as he swerved the wheels right on to the road to Pubba’s.