Day 6: Kozhikode – Mangalore

Some people don’t learn their lessons. I am one of them. At least, in this moment of divine introspection, I am ready to admit this. And if you value your life, you’re not supposed to remind me that I accepted this. At any point here onwards.

So, today, we drove ~240kms. We started at 11:00. And we parked at 7:30. On the way, we took a small detour to see Kappad beach (Kozhikode itself), and then Bekal Fort. Yes. That’s the story in short. In detail, its a lot of things!

Our maths was precise. 240kms. 4 hours of drive on the better Kerala Highways. Or, maybe 5. One hour of Bekal Fort stopover maybe. We were a little tired, and wanted to take it easy. We had a decent breakfast at the hotel, and got sufficient sleep before starting off this time. So, no 5AM hurries, and no continuous planning. The only thing we had done was we had identified a hotel at Mangalore (The Saffron) and another at Udupi (Sai Vishram or Janardhana) as potential overnight targets. You see – Uncleji at the homestay had warned us that in Kerala, we should stick to nicer hotels even if we have to pay more. You should not trust these cheap hotels. Lots of funny business, he said. We got the drift.

We had planned to take this day as a light one. Little driving, and lots of sightseeing, driving by the coast, and all the good things that come to your mind when you’re close to the ocean.

At 11, we set off. At 12, we were crossing Kappad beach. At 1, we crossed Vadakara, and at about 2 we crossed Kannur. There are a few things you need to know if you’re ever going to do this route.

  • It is actually beautiful. In patches. It’s full of greens, groves and shades almost all through. There are several instances of you crossing a “backwater”-ish formation and most of them are beautiful because they’re generally untouched.
  • It is called a highway. Mumbai people can akin it to Jarimari road that connects Sakinaka to BKC, or a slightly better version of chapel road/hill road connect in Bandra (during evenings). For those who are not familiar with these stretches, you can compare it to the sound that comes when you are grating a tiny piece of aluminium against the wall. That screeching sound. Yes. That bad. The road is well laid, but for a highway, it spends most of its time inside villages. The concept of a by-pass does not exist. And since we are all such nice people, the road next to our house or shop can be used for the following activities (in no particular order) – parking my vehicle (in no particularly ordered or civil manner, and my vehicle can be a fully loaded truck too), getting together with 5 people and chatting, holding hands of another person of the same gender while walking, shitting and spitting, asking my cow to wait for me, generally running across the street, yogasana (esp the variety which involves outstretched hands). I am sure I am missing at least a dozen more things I had on my list.
  • It’s a two lane highway with no dividers. So, at any point, the probability of someone trying to take you head on or run you over is 0.5.
  • While the beach is probably less than 300 meters away from you, you rarely get a glimpse. Because the alleys that take you to the beach also have a huge density of houses. It is definitely not our answer to Highway 1 of US.
  • The bus drivers of Kerala are as bad or worse than the BEST or DTC/Blue line guys. You’re better not taking them on.

I am being too cynical here. If you have the time, then idle away and drive at an average of ~30kmph on this highway (NH66 also known as NH17) and enjoy what the God’s own country has to offer. There are several small places right throughout the drive – Thalassery, Mahe, Kannur, Payannur, NIleswaram, Kanhangad, Palikere, Bekal, Kasaragod, etc. that you can take small detours at. Lots of temples. Lots of beaches. The urge to compare one beach to another dies after you realize that you’ve been comparing twins and then quadruplets and then whatever the right term  for two identical siblings might be. It’s a beautiful countryside. Take your time to explore. If you love to see the temples, well – this could be a great trip. If you want to do beach hopping, well you could do that.

Moving on, through the driving ordeal, we reached Bekal, eventually, at 3:30 or so and had lunch at Nirvana. Nirvana is a property right next to the fort. Our GPS screwed us (once again) in trying to locate Vivanta by Taj. Also, we were a little frustrated with the driving part and Bekal seemed like a beautiful place, so we did consider taking a luxury break here. But as GPS would have it, we didn’t. Anyway, the lunch we had at Nirvana was a disaster. And we quickly moved on to the fort which is mesmerising, to say the least. As you explore the various arches and the expanse of the fort, you can’t but admire the beauty and the magnificence of it. It’s not magnificent in the Lal Qila way, but the ocean in the background, and the white sand uncrowded beach gives it a texture that is unbelievable. Its clean and well maintained, and some more weeding out work is going on right now. We marked Bekal as another place where we may want to come and spend a weekend in peace at some later time.

At 4:45 or so, we moved onwards. As we were getting to Mangalore, we debated whether we wanted to go forward till Udupi. Eventually, with the high beam driving along the two-lane highway and the quality of roads deteriorating as you enter Karnataka, the decision was made in favor of staying overnight at Mangalore.  The drive on this road is exhausting. Overtaking is a balance of skill, timing, patience and speed. And one of the worst things that can happen to you is when a truck driving at 11.5kmph feels like overtaking another truck driving at 11.45kmph. Which happens quite often here.

Tomorrow’s plan – Udupi, Maruvanthe, Murudeshwara, Gokarna.

Day 5: Nagarhole/Kutta – Kozhikode

Summary: The reason we went to Kozhikode? We will come to that in the details. But this morning, we took a long stroll aroung the 40 acre estate, then checked out Iruppu Falls and the temple. After that, much deliberation happened and we drove towards Kozhikode via Wayanad. The short and sweet distance to cover took about 4.5 hours in total. The round and round and the world comes down trip made the khalasi seat biwi a little light headed. But we checked into a tripadvisor recommended hotel Asma tower in the evening and decided that the day would end here. So, it was a short 300 odd km day. Why 300? Since Kozhikode is less than 200km? We will come to that too. But the crisp takeaway – 300 odd kms over 8.5 hours of driving. Loved the beautiful wayanad region, figured out that of the three beaches around Kozhikode, Kappad is considered better, but Kozhi’s own beach is the really crowded one. Major Marina Beach and Golden Beach feeling happened. And learnt a few tiny lessons about better road tripping, maybe.

So, as expected, we couldn’t get up at 5:30, so Nik missed the 5:45, and we got all fired up to catch the 6:15 bus. Its a different matter that I was so sleepy that I almost slipped and broke my hand. But since we had to continue marching forward with no real pain (?), I did not. All good. At 6:15 the bus did not turn up. Yeah. It was one of those scheduled buses that may or may not make the schedule. The uncleji at the homestay, Mr. Raghu suggested we go to Gonikoppal to drop Nik. His mental maths was that the distance was about 25 kms. On the meter, it was about 45. Well, this, I am used to happening to me. Across India. “Bas thoda sa hai, paidal nikal jaiye” or “bas wo thoda aage hai. left side mein” kinds. Anyway, uncleji accompanied us for showing the way, and I didn’t complain because that early, with the fog still not cleared and the weather a pleasant cold, I was enjoying it.
After a 90km round trip, we had Nik packed and despatched, and biwi had ordered for coffee and breakfast. For the breakfast we had rice balls with bhaji (alu bhaji) and chutney. And some poached eggs. Delicious. Again. And that’s when the deliberation happened. After much debate, the end conclusion was – hold your breath – lets take a walk. The homestay streteched for several acres and we decided to take an unsupervised walk and do some meet and greet with the nature. It was a beautiful time of the day and the walk across the estate was great fun. We came back an hour or so later, and then decided to explore the Iruppu Falls. Now, here is a funny thing about Iruppu falls. All the local signages are for Irpu falls, while google talks about Iruppu or Irpu or Irupu,  and occasionally leads you to different places, one of them being 98kms from the homestay. Better sense prevailed, and we asked Renuka, the wife and the primary caretaker for the homestay.

With some little confusion, we covered the 7-8km distance to Irpu Falls. Another example of some place with great potential gone waste. The damn fall is about 120 odd steps of trekking up away. While you get to the fall, there are several treks that offshoot from there. Now, the problem I have is – most of these are not safely laid out (which is somewhat ok), are completely unsupervised and with no cellphone signal either (which could still be fine), and are never mentioned anywhere until you reach that signboard which says – a 6km trek to XXX and and 9km trek to YYY. It also expects you to buy a ticket, but you can’t see a ticket counter to buy the trekking ticket from. And with dustbins every 20 odd steps, our fellow countrymen still decide to throw plastic bottles and piss wherever mother nature reminds them. So much for tourism promotion in our country. Ideally, someone who’s into trekking can spend a couple of weeks easily in the region, just ticking off one interesting trek after another. But we sold our ideals around the time of independence. So, zip it.

The irpu temple is under renovation (at the base of the hill). The legend goes that when Rama-Lakshman et al were crossing this place during their vanvasa, Ram was very thirsty and wanted Laks dude to get him some water. Laks dude fired an arrow into the ground and that’s how the rivers and the water fall came into being. The place is also called Lakshman Teertha, and the place where Rama did the worship of Lord Shiva is the Irpu temple. Holds great respect and has more visitors during Shivratri. So, if you are looking to trek, you can avoid that particular time of the year.

We came back an hour and a half or so later from the fall, and proceeded to do some touristy stuff. We bought vanilla tea from the nearby shop! Yeah! With that taken care of, we came back to the homestay, had another great meal. And then packed and left. But not before another round of deliberation happened.

See. The original plan was that we will go towards Kasargod from here and then stay at Bekal or something. Our calculation, which had gone haywire over the last couple of days, suggested a 4-5 hour drive. But Uncelji was of the opinion that Kasargod is a waste of time and a much worse drive (road quality wise), and we should rather go towards Kozhikode via Wayanad. Especially since Kozhi is just 2 -2.5 hours away. And Kerala has better roads than Karnataka.After a lot of very Indian discussion-  where the alpha male speaks with great confidence about things he has never done in his life but has definitely got an opinion about, and the alpha female (or beta female) decides to occasionally chime in with some details thoughtfully. Its only later that you realize which part was correct and/or relevant.

Now, at the end of this drive to Kozhi, I realized a couple more things. One – don’t trust everything and everyone (this actually was just a reinforcement) and two – I do look like Schumacher or Alonso from some angle. Anyway – no major complaints since it only took 4-5 hours to get to Kozhi and by then we had given up any hope of moving further up to, say, Kannur or Kasargod. That being said, since the entire drive is through the wayanad region and you go and up down the entire ranges, its a beautiful serpentine road. Two lanes. No divider. And people driving at Thalaivar speeds. Anyway, biwi rose to the occasion, and drove another 40 odd kms this time (she did a 30 odd km ranging towards Nagarhole as well yesterday). After that, she decided that this was too much and so she started periodically dozing off in the khalasi (conductor/helper/chotu) seat.

As we were getting closer to Kozhi, we realized that we’d rather stay here overnight and then start towards mangalore/udipi and beyond. We did two things that most respectable internet savvy people do. We checked the things to do in Kozhi. Surprisingly, there isnt much. Second, we checked travelguru or something to see which might be a decent mid range hotel to stay at. We picked Asma Tower and came out very satisfied. Ask them as you book, and they will easily offer you a 20% discount on rack rates.

So we had some mean fish dish which came wrapped up in delicious tomato based masala and fried and then steamed inside a banana leaf. That with Appam and some soup. Some more lying down, reading and the lights went out. The plan for the next day – 120 odd kms to Mangalore (2-3 hours) and then take a call for the go forward. And maybe, drive till Bekal and beyond.

From a roadtrip perspective, three important lessons –

1. For road conditions, refer to . The guys on those forums are probably the best updaters.

2. For every destination you are thinking of plan +/- 50km radius as well. Because there are too many things that may not be in your control.

3. And this one’s important – It’s very difficult to find hotels with rooms that are not damp or have absolutely clean bathrooms. After Asma, we realized that it does make you feel a lot better if you are sleeping in a nice clean place. It might be a tad more expensive, but sometimes, it’s worth it. At least, plan for it so that you’re not surprised if you don’t get it.

And yes, we are excited about finally starting on the west coast drive – the konkan experience!

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