Friday, July 16, 2010

Mangalore, Surathkal and Udipi

Sometimes you travel to places which were never in your radar. One such place for me is Udupi. This small coastal town on the Western Ghats in South Karnataka is known to most of us for the famous Udupi Restaurants and cuisines. Udupi is equally famous in that part of the world for its temples, specially the centuries old Krishna temple, known as the Udupi Sri Krishna Matha. The educational hub of Manipal is also attached to this town.

It was Nov, 2009 when I got a chance to visit the small costal town of Mangalore in Karnataka. I was on an official trip to the Mangalore Refinery & Petrochemicals Ltd (MRPL) which is a subsidiary of my parent company ONGC. Many of you might not know that MRPL was a Birla Group Company which went sick around year 2000. ONGC acquired this sick company and turned it around in few years. This was unprecedented in Indian corporate history – a PSU acquiring a sick private company and turned it around. It is considered as a masterstroke of the then ONGC Chairman, late Subir Raha.

As there was no direct flight from Delhi, we had an overnight stopover at Mumbai. As options were very limited, we took the early morning Jet Konnect flight from Mumbai. There is a small but international airport at Mangalore, called the Bajpe airport. Located on the Western Ghats, the landscape is full of hillocks. The airport is located on one of the hillocks. We crossed several hillocks on our 16 km journey to the MRPL plant, which again is located on another hillock.

Once the official engagements were over, we had decided to explore the areas around. We had a car at our disposal, but very limited time – at best 4 to 5 hours of the evening. Our colleague at MRPL suggested we should make a trip to the famous Krishna temple at Udupi. They spoke highly of the temple and the beliefs the locals have on this deity. We had in mind a visit to a beach and some local market. We were told that quality cashew is available there. Udupi is some 60 km from Mangalore. If we go there that would consume most of our time. Thus we had to prioritize things.

Beach and sunset came first because living in Delhi, we do not often get to see them. So it was Surathkal beach. Then it would be Udupi and if time permits we were to try cashew shopping next morning, may be on our way to airport to catch the 1130 flight back to Mumbai. These were obvious choices as both Surathkal and Udupi falls on the NH17 while the Mangalore city and the market is on the opposite direction.

We headed out of the MRPL complex to the Surathkal beach for enjoying the sunset. Though I am not able to recall the distance, it was within 10 km. It was about half an hour or so to sunset when we had reached. The beach is located very close to the REC Surathkal (now called NIT) campus. It was a small but peaceful beach. Only a handful of people were there enjoying the sea and the sun, half of which were probably REC hostellites. No hawkers or vendors, because it is not a tourist hangout. The boulders strewn around on the sand added to the beauty of the place. A lighthouse provides an ideal backdrop. We spent the entire afternoon there till the sun went down the horizon. I collected a small dead starfish for my kid. She was delighted to see the starfish.

As evening was falling we set out for Udupi. A major part of the highway was in real bad shape. The craters were so large that cars can not avoid getting scratched on its belly. The effort of the driver was to minimize the damages to the bottom of the car. It was dark when we finally reached Udupi after about 1 ½ hours of drive. There was not much rush in the temple. From our general experiences of a temple visit, we started looking for shops for offering / prasad, but there was none. Language is the biggest barrier in finding things in southern part of India. Later we found that the system of such offerings does not exist there. When we were looking for entrance, the fellows manning the main gate, asked us to hurry as aarti was about to start and gates were being closed. It was such a coincidence that we had reached the temple just in time for the aarti.

We joined the small and manageable crowd inside waiting for the aarti. The process started with subordinate priests initiating the process. Then the head priest entered the scene and formally started the aarti. The complex became abuzz with chants and Karnatic music. Many people wishes to be there to attend the aarti, but that wish remains unfulfilled. And here, me, not vey devout, yet the lord had chosen me to be here to witness the aarti. This overwhelmed me. This made my evening. I will never forget this occasion.

The aarti went on for about half an hour. The darshan of the deity is to be done through a small window called the navagraha kiTiki, the window of nine planets, while doing parikrama of the Sanctum Santorum. This window which is covered with artistically carved silver plates. You will find many materials on it in the net. There are two unique facts about the temple: 1) the deity is not facing the main entrance. In fact it is facing backwards and has to be seen through the 'Kanakana Kindi' or the small window at the back of the temple. And 2) Lord Krishna is worshipped here in his form as a child or small boy. As a child can easily get gratified, the lord here can also be easily gratified. He fulfils wishes very easily. This belief brings large no. of devotees to this temple. The attire of the deity is changed on a daily basis. So every time you get to see him in a new avtar.

We spent some more time in exploring the temple complex. The main building is a wooden structure, well ornate in south Indian style. Statues of various deities / gods adorn the building. Prasad can be bought from a counter, once you complete the parikrama. The temple is managed by a group of eight temples collectively known as Astha Matha. Each of the Ashta Mathas performs temple management activities for two years in a cyclical order. There are few other smaller temples in the complex. There are souvenir shops in the complex from where we bought photo of the lord. While entering the temple we had to leave the footwear outside, just by a wall, unattended. There was no system to deposit shoes. Surprisingly the shoes were there when we returned. It seems lord by his influence had kept bad elements away from his complex.

On our way back, we had stopped at a roadside hotel for tea. We were easily identified as outsiders. Not much tourist type of people comes to that village tea stall. Some of the locals started to get into conversation with us. When they learned that we are from Delhi, one of the boys proudly announced that he had been to Delhi once. He spoke of the wide roads, big cars he had seen and admired in Delhi. Well, most things always look good from distance. We had enjoyed everything we had seen that evening, and that boy enjoyed what he had seen in a concrete jungle.

Next morning, we were informed of an informal breakfast meeting. This left us no time for visiting the local market. While leaving, we were given mementos as parting gift. When we opened the gifts, it had two packets of cashew! This is what we wanted to buy, but could not find time because we had chosen to go to Udupi. Did we gratify the Lord Krishna by preferring to pay a visit to him rather than going shopping? May be. Certain things do not have logical answers.


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A.K said...

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Hi, mat

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