Malanadu – Day 3 – Sringeri, Udupi & Murudeshwar – Coasting along the Malabar

Route map: Sringeri – Udupi – Murudeshwar – Gokarna.

Abode of the Supreme Goddess

It was a beautiful dawn on Day 3, when the clouds descended on the town of Sringeri. We were up and ready by 6 AM to visit the Sringeri Sarada Temple. Sringeri is the capital of Adi Sankara’s legacy, he set up the Sarada temple here and also the first of four Sankar Mutts, when you say Adi Sankara, Sringeri is the first place that comes to one’s mind. Sringeri is nestled deep in the Western Ghats, closer to the Kudremukh Range. Whether it is the climatic or the geographical location of the place or the spiritualism associated with it, there is something magical about Sringeri that is so refreshing and makes one feel totally at peace.

The day began with a lovely view of the cloud covered Thungabhadra River right outside our hotel room window.

It was also a special day for Mr. and Mrs.Your’s Truly as it was their wedding anniversary.

By 6.30 AM, we were driving down the still cloud- kissed lanes of Sringeri to the Sarada temple.

The Sarada Temple at Sringeri was originally a wooden structure. The existing structure was built in early 20th Century AD but the temple dates back 1200 years atleast to the time when Adi Sankara set his foot in Sringeri.

There is also the 700 year old Vidyasankar temple right next to the Sarada temple. The presiding Deity of this temple is Lord Siva known here as Vidyasankar. If it is an ancient temple in South India, the sculptural beauty goes without saying, you will only exhaust your knowledge of adjectives if you sit down to describe them !

Both these temples are located on the banks of the Thungabhadra River, the Sankar Mutt is on the other bank across the river. There is a bridge connecting the temples and the Mutt. We could not visit the Mutt because it opened only at 9 AM. On a previous visit to Sringeri, we had been to the Mutt, it is a quiet place among the woods with a mandir for Adi Sankara and quarters for the current Muttadhipati. It was a trance like experience to sit in the mandir and listen to the vedic chants by young children. Also, if  one is visiting Sringeri around noontime, the temple prasadam, the free meal is not to be missed, the food is simple but tastes divine.

Another good thing about Sringeri is that it is usually very quiet and less crowded unlike the heavily crowded pilgrim centres in India, where people are so keen to get a glimpse of the Deities that they forget the very purpose of visiting a temple. In temples like Sringeri, you really feel the connect to spiritualism.

We were back to the Hotel, packed up and went down for breakfast, we can never forget the Semiya Upma and Gulab Jamuns we were served, we finished up bowl after bowl until we emptied the kitchen !

Starting from Sringeri at 9.30 AM, we headed towards Udupi. The idea was to drive through the Kudremukh Range which has some amazing landscapes but turned out that those amazing landscapes were actually on the other side Sringeri called Horanadu. Udupi was on the opposite direction. Google Maps showed us a complete green patch and called it Kudremukh Range but it seems the entire stretch falls under the range of mountains called Kudremukh ! We didn’t have to be very disappointed though because we had to pass through the Kudremukh National Park, which meant a drive through the dense forests. We have driven through a few national parks in earlier trips but the grey, winding road sandwiched between dark green forests on either side, never ceases to take our breath away !

As we drove on, the landscape slowly changed, the clouds seemed higher, the green mountains now looked blue and finally we reached the plains bordering the coast. Having got used to clouds at touching distance, we felt like throwing a tantrum wanting the cloud clad mountains back !

While on the way to Udupi, a little pup following its mother suddenly ran across the road. We braked heavily and turned completely to the right to avoid hitting the little one but it was too confused and came in the way of our car. When we looked back it was lying on the road, it was such a painful scene and it broke our heart, we wanted to go back but we had already gone way ahead. We were so sorry for not being able to avoid it and so felt guilty that the thought kept cropping up every now and then, it was very difficult to smile after that.

Udupi Krishna Mutt

It was lunch time when we reached Udupi. We drove around half the little town in search of a parking place, found a narrow lane to dump our cars and walk up to the Udupi Krishna Temple. The moment we stepped out of the cars, it started raining heavily. From that moment onwards, the rain bearing clouds chased us wherever we went for the next 1 1/2 day of our trip.

People directed us to the Krishna Temple. When we went for the darshan, we found something wrong. The idol looked very different, it looked like anything but the little Krishna we all heard about. Each one of us came up with a different description but none of us could place a Krishna idol anywhere. We also found a small opening where Madhvacharya,  the 13th Century Vaishnavaite philosopher, who propounded the Dvaita philosophy is believed to have attained Moksha. The temples in this part of India from Kerala right upto the Konkan Coast are mainly built in wood and have the same sloping roof structure. Bewildered, we walked around until we found an elderly person who saw us mumbling in confusion and told us the story of Chandramoulishwara, then it struck us that we were inside the Chandramoulishwara temple and the idol was actually the face of Chandramoulishwara !! A photo of the idol on one of the walls gave us a clear picture. The Krishna Temple and Udupi Mutt was adjacent to this temple. What more can you expect from a group that swears by Google Maps !

Udupi Krishna Mutt was established by Madhvacharya.

To describe the Krishna Temple and the idol, one can only use the word “cute”, the cute little idol of Krishna holds a laddle for churning buttermilk and faces away from the main entrance. The idol can be viewed only from a little window. There is a story which says that in the 17th Century, an ardent devotee named Kanakadasa was denied a darshan of Lord Krishna and he prayed from the window, the idol then turned away from the main entrance to face the window so that Kanakadasa could get a darshan. From then on, everybody can only view the Deity from the window. How interesting are these stories and legends that one comes across in these temples ! The temple is open at all times during the day.

Udupi Tiffins, here we come !

The visit to the temple over, we shopped around the market for a bit and then went to explore the famous Udupi cuisine. It seems the Udupi cuisine was the result of creative thinking of the priests of the Krishna Mutt, who wanted to offer different varieties of prasad to the Deity and the Udupi tiffins were born.We first went to Woodlands Hotel, they didn’t have dosas and we walked out offended, what is the fun of going to Udupi and not eating the renowned dosas ! We walked all the way back to the Krishna Mutt area and found an ancient looking tiffin centre called “Mitra Samaj”. The entire Udupi town has an old world charm to it.

Soon we were feasting on “Benne Masala Dosas”, we wanted to taste more authentic Udupi tiffins and found a group of ladies eating some kind of delicacy, we stared at their plates for such a long time that those ladies began to get annoyed. Finally, we shamelessly pointed to their plates and asked the waiter (who was already exasperated with us) to get us “those”, we later learnt that they were called “Mangalore Sweet Buns” and they tasted yummy, we were even tempted to pack them for the remaining journey  !

Murudeshwara – A giant tribute to Lord Shiva

It was almost 3 PM by the time the entire Udupi episode ended and we were driving down the NH leading to Gokarna. In between Udupi and Gokarna is Murudeshwara. This NH wasn’t a great one and did take up more time than estimated but we also drove through some fantastic views like this one, where the road went very, very close to the Maravanthe Beach on one side and Sauparnika river on the other:

Murudeshwara has very recently become a place of tourism after a temple was built here for Lord Shiva by a businessman/philanthropist. The temple has a 20 storied Gopuram and a 123 feet tall statue of Lord Shiva overlooking the Arabian Sea.

Both the structures are grand but somehow, they lacked the mesmerising beauty of the ancient temples of India, especially the Gopuram.

There is a beach resort here. The maintenance of the surrounding areas was not upto the mark, it was too crowded and noisy. One should appreciate the idea and effort behind this temple though. This particular view of the Gopuram and statue was lovely.

Murudeshwara is a good stop over while driving down to Gokarna, 70 kms away. After a quick tea break we resumed our journey to Gokarna at 5 PM. THe drive was on the sea coast with hills in between, sunset views cropped up every now and then but our last attempt to view sunset, this time sunset over the sea, didn’t seem feasible because as sunset time neared, heavy, angry storm clouds gathered overhead and just as we entered Gokarna, the clouds broke loose and it poured !

Half way though the journey, there was a twist in the tale, we got a news that there was likely to be an indefinite petrol/diesel dealers strike from that midnight. Even if our cars had full tanks, it still wouldn’t be enough for us to reach back Hyderabad ! That was the last thing we needed. We had a few jittery moments, we had even planned to buy some 20 litre cans and store diesel ! Luckily, a few hours later, we got the good news that the strike was called of and we breathed a sigh of relief, thank God for small mercies !

In the heavy rain, we reached our resort, Makara Village, an ethnic resort 12 kms on the outskirts of Gokarna town. Makara Village has individual cottages named after Hindu Zodiac signs and great place to stay. One of us wished back in Agumbe to see a snake and the wish came true at Makara Village when a baby snake slithered in the lawns before the cottages. A full 30 minutes were spent trying to beat down the snake but the clever little reptile knew better and had escaped long back.

One of the guys also gave us the happiest news that the little pup that came under our car was actually safe ! It seems they saw it fall down, picked it up and put it on the other side of the road. Though it’s leg was hurt, it was still safe with its mother. That was the best anniversay gift we received!

The night was made special for the couple celebrating their wedding anniversary through a very touching gesture by our guys, where they got them remarried (as if once was not enough) with the entire team bearing witness. They still haven’t told the couple how they managed to buy those garlands secretly when they seemed to be with the rest of the gang throughout, that too when it rained non-stop. This wedding anniversary shall forever remain the most memorable one for the couple.

The dinner that followed was a feast. Travel, good food and great company – what more could one ask for.

The couple that took the room opposite the lawn where the snake was found, blocked the space under the door with foot mats and shoes !

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