If you are driving in India, you better beware of black cats crossing your path. It is supposed to be dangerous for your onward journey. I have to google for where this superstition came from, because it reeks of some medieval European superstition from the dark ages. Indians, however, being democratic in nature, have included cats of all colors, lest they feel left out. So, to modify my earlier statement, "If you are driving in India, you better beware of cats crossing your path." You are supposed to wait a little and let another vehicle pass you before you move.
However, in Malpe, you don't have the luxury of waiting because you will have cats crossing your path at least ten times a day. Malpe is this fishing town on the West coast of India, and the stench of fish all over this small town is so overpowering, that it draws cats, Mallus, and Bengalis alike. Unable to resist the smell, they run here and there in search of fish (raw for the cats and cooked for the Mallus and the Bengalis)... and are bound to cross your path more often than once. I pardoned the cats and drove on. Driving on and off the beach was our mantra for the four days we were at Malpe.
The trip was an unplanned one, although I had applied for leave on Friday much in advance. We have to go somewhere, but that "where" part was kinda undecided till Oct 31. When we left home early morning on Nov 1, we did not fight over the route much until we reached Nelmangla, 26 kms off Bangalore, on the Pune highway. I was all for driving to Shimoga and then to Gokarna, while Sayantani wanted to turn left toward Mangalore. Her parents must have been silently supporting their daughter sitting on the back seat, because, at Nelmangla my car suddenly veered to the left and went straight towards Hassan. So much for being the driver cum husband cum son-in-law . . . talk about being lonely in a crowded jeep.
The road vanished after crossing Sakleshpur. All the fast cars that had overtaken me earlier were stuck there, trying to negotiate the potholes. Pardon me, guys, for that faint smirk on my lips when I overtook all of them, did the bad roads at speeds of around 30 kph, and left them far behind. The road is nonexistent all the way to Mangalore, so they couldn't catch up with the Bolero even in their wet dreams. However, I must admit that I missed the 16" wheels of the Scorpio. There were some Terracans and Endeavors that didn't need to worry about the potholes at all, but those are real SUVs after all.
Shuvo told us of this really bargain place at Udupi that had big rooms on offer for only Rs 400 a night, but I was skeptical about Udupi being this religious town with only vegetarian food available. I was so mistaken! While I expected young, barebodied, tonsured Brahmins clad in dhoti roaming all around town, I got to see a very cosmopolitan crowd there. The food at Hotel Kediyoor was a wide choice from steaks and cold salads to delicious chicken kababs. Surprise of surprise, there was even a Bunts Hotel serving awesome pork sarpotel, the Catholic cuisine in Mangalore/Malpe. Bengalis always look for places that serve a lot of meat, and once we were satisfied with the menu, we headed toward Malpe beach, only 4 kms from Udupi.
We liked what we saw. The beach was clean and not very crowded. Not much of the local crowd, and not littered with poop either. The fisherfolk on the shores have constructed nice little bamboo toilets for themselves (could have been an NGO that constructed these for them), and we could sit there watching the odd couple making out in the sea. The sea is rough and you are not supposed to swim, but there were adventurous people who could be seen like black dots in a really dark sea till late in the night.
We had an awesome dinner at Paradise Isle Beach resort, facing the beach. They have a nice spread and if you like seafood, you have a lot of choice. At least we thought so until we discovered Hotel Karthick the next day. At Hotel Karthick, you get sting ray (called Torakkai) fried in a lot of masala. It was spicy and can serve as a fantastic starter with beer. One morning we thought of driving some 60 kms to Maravanthe, but had to come back after having traveled 20 kms. The roads were nonexistent as usual, and my in-laws didn't like being tossed around inside the vehicle. The first day they didn't have a choice, but this time round we had to drop the Maravanthe idea and head back to Malpe and Udupi.
We compensated for that by trying a ride on the water scooter. Aaron sat at the front, holding the handlebars and I sat behind the guy who drove it. It was just after sunset and there was a chill in the air that our lifejackets couldn't protect us from. And when this sexy little thing zoomed into the waves and was thrown high up into the air, I could feel my heart trying to come up to my mouth. With my mouth firmly closed I wondered how my little son was braving it, sitting way up front, the first one to take in all the sea water. The thing bounced and almost flew over the water and man, was it scary! We came back intact, thanks to the skilled driver (who tried all sorts of antics with them waves), and little Aaron wanted to do it again. I said it was getting dark and avoided a second trip, but was surprised to learn that while I was trying to hold on to dear life, he actually checked the speedo in that thing!
The route to take while coming back was something that put us in a spot. For the first time we all agreed that we should come back via Manipal, Perdoor, Agumbe, Shimoga. Asked around and even the local guys agreed that this was still an okay road. We started off on Nov 4 with our minds full of the waves, the beach, and the taste of seafood. And it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The road got better after Manipal, and although it was pretty narrow, the greenery all around made up for the slow speeds. We stopped for tea at this time-warped place called Perdoor, where a local gentleman chatted us up. People there seemed untouched by the urban hustle and were nice and smiling. Almost felt like we were back in the hills where people are hospitable and nice. We cheered up and moved on toward the Agumbe ghats. Stopped to click some pictures all through the route until we reached Shimoga. It took us four hours to do only 148 kms, but it was worth the time. Shimoga to Bangalore was the usual route, peppered with aggressive drivers with KA02 and KA03 numberplates. My jeep failed to keep up with the fast cars again as they were happily doing 160 kph, rushing back to the mad, modern world, scowling at life in general. I keep hoping Aaron will not be one of them, but for a guy who checks speedos at the age of five, one can never tell.
P.S. Do check out this video . . .
and for some more pictures, go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/42521957@N00/sets/72157602938366911/