A Voyage Through Islands...

Nov 15, 2009

“Mera Bad luck bee kharaab hai” – I muttered remembering a Johny Lever dialogue when I was told the entries were full for the state level “Island Expedition 2009” conducted by the Udupi unit of Youth Hostel Association of India (YHAI) scheduled between October 30 and November 1, 2009. I had lost all hopes of getting into the group of lucky 100 and almost forgot about it.  Suddenly a ray of hope emerged when I was informed by Udupi unit of YHAI that I was in with just 3 days to go, courtesy last minute cancellation by unlucky few who could not make it due to exigencies that cropped up in the course of 2 months since the booking was done.  With lady luck smiling I grabbed the opportunity and headed with my rucksack for 3 days of journey to “kudru”, (islands known in local parlance) thinking of nothing but rivers, sea, sand, rocks, beaches, nature boat and loads of fun that comes with all this. The base camp was at temple city Barkur, the ancient capital of Tulu King Alupas. 

The group of hundred assembled at Kalikamba temple at Barkur was an assortment of avid trekkers who had come down from different parts of the country, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chitradurga and from Mangalore and Udupi.  Prof K S N Adiga, an ardent trekker who had traversed every remote and exotic place any trekker would love to tread has been the brain behind the Island Expedition planning every detail meticulously and even conducted pilot trekking to know the route we were to trek. 

We were divided into groups of 15 and off we started at 10.30 am with our packed lunch towards our destination, the first being the rich and fertile “Bennekudru Island”.  The bridge built 8 years ago has enabled easy traveling and about 150 families dwell in this island which was one of the biggest jaggery manufacturing areas in the state other than Mandya.   Meandering through the sugarcane harvested fields I had the nostalgic feeling that took me my childhood days where we used to run helter-skelter in the paddy harvested fields. I could feel the smell of the grass and the haystack as we walked through the fields. 


Nostalgic Moments  

We headed strait to the jaggery processing unit which prepares 100% pure jaggery.  I had a sudden impulse to pick sugarcane from the heap that was waiting to get crushed but remembered it was against the YHAI rules and controlled my desire.  The jaggery produced in the unit is in a semi solid paste and is pure without adding any chemicals or preservatives except for very small quantity of lime and castor oil. This jaggery is mainly used for medicinal purpose in and around Udupi and Dakshina Kannada. As our mouths began water at the smell emanating from the big Khadai where the juice was boiling, we were treated to pure sugarcane juice to quench our thirst. I devoured a few glasses of the juice and topped it with a few servings of jaggery paste thinking I may not have another chance to savor the pure jaggery. 

Group-wise we huddled into the waiting boats and headed towards the second island “Soolu Kudru”.  As a safety measure YHAI had arranged for as many life jackets as possible. Wearing our life jackets (with only limited jackets available men were magnanimous risking their lives and ensured all ladies wore the jackets) though the sun straight over our heads we enjoyed the nature in its pristine form. The cool breeze coupled with our excitement made the boat journey a delightful and exuberant one.  It was in the boat that the participants coming from different corners had an opportunity to get to know one another and strike a rapport.  I had boat Company in Anuradha who had come all the way from Mumbai and we got along as we shared a similar kind of temperament.  Soolu Kudru is a small island spread across 50 to 60 acres full of coconut trees.  Some rested in the shade with the cool breeze cascading from the river while others went exploring and came back with Brahmi (thimmare) leaves and peacock feathers.  We retreated with a heavy heart on learning that it could be our last visit to the place which we were told is sold to bigwigs like business tycoon Mallya and cine star Ambarish. It means in future the entry fee itself would put off ardent nature lovers from visiting. 

Another boat ride took us to the Kini/Rebello Island, another vast expanse of coconut grove where we rested for our lunch point. Sitting in the shade we enjoyed the bounty of nature endlessly in the tranquil atmosphere and the cool breeze.  The final boat journey towards our first day’s destination was more enjoyable and hilarious as the low tide meant the boats could not proceed towards the shore on their own.  The over active ones got into the water and did the needful to bring them little closer.  But nothing could prevent the muddying of our clothes and legs in the slush once we got down and enjoyed the fun element.   


Sun Sea and Sand 

We strolled across the narrow areas of golden paddy fields much to the delight of passers-by who watched us in amusement.  The serpentine queue of city bread men and women passing through and uneven and slushy paddy fields is not a very familiar sight in this area.  After a long and arduous walk of a few kilometers we arrived at Parampally Padukere where we could site our tents overlooking the sea shore.   We had our welcome drink and could not resist the temptation of running towards the beach. It was getting darker and the time was just ripe for us to witness the sunset that too on a beach.  As the son disappeared with its gold-crimson rays on the other side the moon was just playing hide and seek appearing in between the coconut trees. It was a sight which many were waiting to capture with their cameras.  

It was an entertaining evening as we were treated to a unique folk art of this area which was like a surprise gift.  The dance form is known as “Houndarayana Kunitha”, performed by young unmarried males of the fishermen community on the night of Tulsi Pooja.  These robust looking youngsters dancing in unison as they sing is a unique experience exhibiting their stamina, co-ordination, rhythm and of course grace.  A sumptuous dinner awaited us and having had an early morning I captured the corner of the tent and was off to the dream world.  

It was the early morning (3.30 am) drizzle that woke me up from my dream world.  Luckily it did not rain heavily though we were told it had rained heavily just 8 kms off the place we dwelled.  Most of us were up by 4.30 am and went to the sea shore for our morning ablutions soon after bed tea.  We were ready with our rucksacks and packed lunch for a long and strenuous beach walk stretching 16 kms with our rucksacks crossing Padukere, Sasthana Kodi, Hoode. It was during the beach walk I developed a comradeship with trekkers from Mumbai Anuradha and Geetha and we hit of well.  The endless stretch of golden sand decked with colourful sea shells, the vast green Arabian Sea with its roaring waves, the blue sky, the swaying coconut trees, the chirping of birds, the hot son – made the long trek enjoyable and memorable.   Many of us had multiple blisters due to sandal bites but that did not dampen our spirits. Again it was the ice cream man in cycle who took my memories to my childhood as I devoured the milk candy (dood candy) on the way. 


Halt at Aasare Thota 

Tanned, tired and looking haggard we reached Malpe, a natural harbour and an important fishing centre of coastal Karnataka.  It was only after reaching the end point I could feel the tiredness in my knees.  However the fishing boats on the other side of the harbour area drew my attention and off I went to have a look around.  Sitting in the Malpe jetty we could see the St Mary’s Islands also known as Aasare Thota (meaning place of shelter) or Tonsepaar.   We had to wait for nearly two hours for the arrival of the group many of them looked like wounded soldiers with their feet covered with plasters.  After a cool drink made of green gram and some urad  daal and pakoras our journey to the much awaited St Mary’s Island began.

When all other visitors to the island were coming back our group was heading towards it that raised many eyebrows.  The island is not inhabited and visitors are not allowed to stay overnight.  For the first time in the YHAI team had succeeded in obtaining the permission of Udupi DC to stay there overnight.  Ever since the permission was accorded she has ensured the island is cleared of the grass grown and makes it comfortable for us to stay.  St Mary’s is a set of four small islands off the west coast of Malpe and are known for the unique formation of basalt rocks which have crystallized into columns and split into vertical hexagonal blocks. It is treat to the eyes and soul to. These Islands form one of the four geological monuments in Karnataka state of the 26 Geological Monuments of India declared by the Geological Survey of India. 

Having got an opportunity to stay overnight in this island we were all excited lot. There were no tents and the open ground was our bed and the sky was the blanket.  Cooking was not allowed at Aasare Thota and it was ferried to the venue.  We threesome created our own bed from the blankets we carried and slept blissfully.  As I opened my eyes in the middle of the night (next day was full moon day) I was ecstatic to see the sky riddled with stars. It was an altogether different experience.  Imagine what would have happened if it has rained!  Hats off to Prof Adiga and the committed team of Udupi Unit for this rare feat achieving the unthinkable! 

No other programme was scheduled for the 3rd day we made an early trip toward the rocks to enjoy the mystic of the sea and the never-ending magic it carries with it apart from getting a feeling of the rocks that fascinated us. It felt as though I was standing on perfectly chiseled vertical wooden logs huddled together. One could gaze endlessly at the vastness of the sea without getting tired of it from this elevated position.   

The breakfast call brought the back to the reality and it was decided we clean the beach and the island of plastic visible all over. The large green bushes in the island were the major dumping areas of plastic for visitors and we had to do all sorts of acrobatics to pull them out from the bushes.  With large bags we made it a mission to gather the plastic spread across the shore and the island and within the next 2 hours a huge heap of plastic was gathered.  By 10 visitors had started coming and many watched us with a bewildered look as we were gathering the junk.   After lunch we lined up for our certificates and to bid goodbye for our fun filled 3 days of island expedition. 

The ferry ride back to Malpe harbour was the icing in the cake of the fun we had.  The new ferry inaugurated the same morning played Baila songs of Melwyn Peris that tempted us to an impromptu dance and we were soon joined by other young crowd in the ferry.  From there we took to our routes armed with the fond memories of the time spent together sharing a passion we all loved to indulge in.  Now the photographs keep us reminding of those jolly good days.  All the fatigue has disappeared and only fond memories linger on. 

by Florine Roche <br>Pics by Subash Pai
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Comment on this article

  • azra, srinagar, J&K

    Wed, Jan 13 2010

    brought back fond memories, thank you.

  • A.S.Mathew, U.S.A.

    Wed, Nov 18 2009

    Beautiful pictures. Even the very tranquillity of the pictures makes us to relax. God's magnificent handicraft.

  • Anil, Halealve

    Tue, Nov 17 2009

    Madam, Simply Superb. Next time when such an event is organised, please do let me know..My email is anilsouza@gmail.com

  • Sunil Fernandes, Kota/Dubai

    Mon, Nov 16 2009

    Very good article. Thank you very much to Florine for sharing her experience of expedition. Houndarayana Kunitha is very famoous in Udupi-Kundpaur surroundings. I think first time this kind of folklore came to light in E media through this article.

  • Murali P, Kapu / Mumbai

    Mon, Nov 16 2009

    A nice article, it is a pleasure of reading. I felt like I am also trekking with you guys.

  • vasntrj, udupi/Abudhabi

    Sun, Nov 15 2009

    Excellent place, give us more photographs, please.

  • Dr.Anand and geeta Pereira, Sakleshpur/kadri

    Sun, Nov 15 2009

    Dear Florine Roche,its a pleasure to go through your articles.In it there is a strong message about conservation.Its nice to know that you are a lover of nature and go all out to enjoy natures hidden secrets. we look forward for more of such articles.

  • Jaimini P.B., Manipal,Sharjah

    Sun, Nov 15 2009

    Excellent Photos..No doubt

  • Borewell Puttaka Laxminagar, Uppinangady

    Sun, Nov 15 2009

    beautiful scenery.super snaps.what a amazing nature.if anybody want peace of mind they must spend few days here.thank you daiji.

  • subodh, goa

    Sun, Nov 15 2009

    good work keep it up only few people think about the cleanliness of the beautiful beaches in mangalore

  • Lydia Lobo, Kadri

    Sun, Nov 15 2009

    Wow ! Thats a nice one. You made me experience it as if I was a member of your group. Too heartening to see the heap of plastic junk you guys collected. I can say nothing but 'Thank You' for having contributed towards lessening a bit of our monther nature's burden.

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