Sunday, March 04, 2007

Udupi: a temple and food sojourn

Udupi (58 kms from Mangalore, 400 odd from Bangalore), notes the Outlook Traveller guide, is Indias favourite kitchen. Having spent a considerable amount of time in a place known for its Udupi hotels (Bombay) and a place known for its Darshinis/Sagars (Bangalore), that was some expectation.

If you would like to know in a nutshell, the result, it is this – Udupi did not disappoint – on any count.

If you are a hedonistic pet pooja seeking foodie or the more accomplished on the hierarchy of needs seeking spiritual solace, or if you just need to decide where you fit on the spectrum, Udupi is the place for you. Want inspiration – Udupi will let you be inspired whether the route is through your stomach or soul.

From Udupi, Sringeri, Dharmasthala and Horanadu are a longish but doable drive away. The journey to Kollur Mookambika (a powerful goddess highly revered from Kerala, which is where the bulk of visitors hail from) is the shortest of them all and is well connected by fast driving private buses from Udupis bus stand. If you want to cover it all in one day, a cab is the best option and you can pray to your god it as the driver zips along merrily on the road. Or take a leisurely pace and cover it all over the space of a few days. If you are a nature lover, a drive to any of these places takes you through some spectacularly verdant scenic beauty, so a camera might be a good accompaniment to your spiritual and gastronomic sojourn.

Udupi is temple land, as much as it is food land. There are temples all over the place. It is a like a buffet in every sense of the word for gods and food. Whatever is your cuisine or god, your stomach and your mind will go back happy.

The Krishna temple alongwith the Ananteshwara and the Chandramoulishwara temple are a spiritual experience by themselves in their quaint and small structures. They are probably the most inconspicuous of any temple in any part of India, given their rich history, but very rewarding, just by virtue of the atmosphere, especially in the mornings.

A look at the Mookambika temple and you are instantly transported to Kerala with the Kerala registered vehicles and the white gold set-mundu of Kerala - quite a contrast amidst the verdant beauty of the place.

Dharmasthala, Horanadu and Sringeri deserve a piece all by themselves – which we can do for another day.

Now we turn our attention back to Udupi. In a single sentence, Udupi’s cooks know how to make food tasty. While their set dosas (with a dab of butter), Neer dosas (served with grated coconut and jaggery ) and onion dosas are like the starting tricks of the magician opening a great show, it is their versatility to prepare “anything” that makes it magical. A bhelpuri in Udupi will not resemble a bhelpuri anywhere in Bombay, but you wont complain – it will be tasty in a way that only it can be. During our over 2 days stay there, we realized this and ordered all the exotic stuff on the menu and like a true genius, we were never let down at any point in time. Punjabi cuisine, sweets, desserts all passed the test of food with flying colours – and no stomach churn either. Don’t look for a menu. Some of the older restaurants do not have a menu and depend on the recollections of the days menu from the server.

Want to savour a little bit of time gone by? Try the Mitra Samaj hotel near the Krishna temple. It takes a bit of doing to locate it, but it is worth the visit. Amidst all the newer restaurants, like the Gauls, this one is still standing – thriving is more like it.

On Udupi, we aren’t done yet. The beaches are a story in themselves. The Kaup (locals call it Kapu) beach is like walking on sand fine as talcum power and water clean as a mineral water bottle. The lighthouse on the beach adds to the mystique. Nothing like spending an evening there listening to the waves thump in. It is perhaps the most peaceful of experiences. As compared to a touristy beach, Kapu beach is like going to a quiet corner of your mind. Malpe is a close second to Kapu – minus the lighthouse.

St. Marys isles is good in parts – the clean parts. The noisy, badly organized boat ride and the overall cleanliness almost manage to kill the beauty of the island – and at this rate they will succeed in a few years if not months in running it to the ground.

Udupi can cater to the tourist who knows what he wants or who is trying to find he wants and therein lies the beauty of the place.

(An edited version of this made it to print. Click on title)

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