Flanked by the soaring Western Ghats on the East and caressed by the mighty Arabian Sea on the West, Karnataka’s 320km long coastline is dotted with pristine beaches and scores of antiquated temples. Many of these beaches and temples are unknown, unsung and unexplored- and that is their biggest attraction.
With gentle waves, miles of golden sand, a tranquil ambience and acres of emerald foliage, Karwar has all the makings of the perfect seaside holiday destination. The captivating landscape is ringed with rugged hill ranges, thick woods and mysterious valleys. This paradise is said to have inspired the great Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore to pen his first play. The area’s historic attractions are the Sadashivgad hill Fort with a Durga Temple, the unique Octagonal Church, the 300 year Old Venkatramana Temple with ochre paintings and the Naganath Temple. Of the five islands off the coast of Karwar, Devbagh is easily the most enchanting.
Best Season: September to mid May
Just 4km from the mainland, this tortoise-shaped island is renowned for the hilltop Narasimha Temple, which attracts thousands of devotees during the annual jatra held on Pushya Purnima every year in early January. Kurumgad is steeped in history complete with the remains of a fort and ports for cannons.
The island affords a breathtaking view of the sea, sand and the neighboring islands. Kurumgad also offers visitors a whole kaleidoscope of exciting activities such as trekking, fishing, dolphin and seal-spotting, boat rides to neighboring islands, diving, snorkeling, treasure hunts, guided tours and star gazing.
With its narrow streets, traditional houses and temples, this unassuming town has become the favorite haunt of pilgrims, Sanskrit scholars and beach-buffs. Locally, it is believed that Gokarna derives its name from a legend in which Lord Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow. Literally meaning ‘cow’s ear’, this village is formed by the ear-shaped confluence of two rivers. Om Beach, one of Gokarna’s five acclaimed beaches, takes the shape of an ‘Om’, a spiritual symbol. The other beaches, wedged between cliffs that protrude into sea like graceful fingers, are Gokarna, Kudle, Half Moon and Paradise. The drive up the winding path that leads to Gokarna is a scenic delight with the rocky Western Ghats on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other. Here, the opportunity arises to experience the famed Karnataka hospitality in friendly guesthouses run by localities.
Best season: Year-round.
Murudeshwar is essentially for lovers of solitude. For those moments of inspired introspection, there are beachside hillocks with the perfect view of waves crashing and spraying on the rocks. The beaches, the Shiva Temple and the tallest Shiva statue in India- they all add to the meditative ambience of the place.
St. Mary’s Island
This delightful getaway is 30 minute boat-ride from Malpe Harbor. This palm-fringed island is 300m long and 100m wide and has unique basalt rock formations jutting out into the Arabian Sea in intriguing shapes. The Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama is said to have placed a cross here in the 15th century.
Marwanthe is a scenic seaside town where the West Coast Highway snakes its way along the coast on one side, and the picturesque Kodachadri Hills forming a backdrop to the Sauparnika River on the other. Marwanthe wears the look of a fairyland, especially at sunset, when the sky turns crimson and the golden rays of the sun are reflected in the sea as well as the river.
Baindur, a hamlet 45km from Marwanthe with a lovely beach nearby, Ottinane with its overhanging cliffs and romantic sunsets and the Belaka Theertha Falls– are the other scenic attractions in the area. The region is also a well-known destination for water enthusiasts.
Best season: August to March.
Bhatkal, the main port of the Vijayanagar Empire in the 16th century is located just 16km from Murudeshwar at the southern-most point of the district. It has two small but interesting temples- the Jain Chandranath Basadi and a 17th century Vijayanagar Temple with intricate carvings typical of the period.
Best season: August to March.
At the mouth of the Malpe River, about 6km from Udupi, is the natural harbor and important fishing centre of Malpe. Endless stretches of golden sand, graciously swaying palm trees, clear blue skies and the gentle murmur of the sea set the perfect mood for an idyllic holiday. Across the bay is the island of Darya Bahadurbagh. Other places of interest in the area are the Balarama Temple and Malpe’s oldest tile factory, set up by the Basel Mission.
Situated 12km south of Udupi, on the West Coast Natonal Highway, Kaup has a lovely beach, an ancient fort and an old 100ft. high lighthouse. The two temples of Goddess Mariamma and the Jain Basadis are the other must-see spots in Kaup.