111.ODISHA. (5) Paradip, Bhitarkanika & Chandbali

The river Mahanadi starts splitting into distributaries west of Cuttack and meets the sea at several points with Puri at the southern end and Paradip at the northern. This forms a huge delta perhaps as big as the Godavari basin but smaller than the Sundarbans.

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In terms of economic activity and the consequent prosperity however the two northern deltas are far behind their southern cousin. The road distance between Puri and Cuttack is currently 160 Kms. A direct coastal road would reduce the distance by about 40% but will entail considerable expenditure to bridge the various distributaries of the great Mahanadi. After travelling through the region extensively I strongly felt that this huge region could be developed much faster with better road connectivity. Right now, the entire region appears to be grossly underdeveloped.

Paradip or Paradeep is an artificial harbour and has considerable importance in bulk cargo trade, especially in iron or from the India’s eastern region and the petroleum products imports. Coal and Fertilizers are other important items.  The dust of the imported coal lying around in the town is processed in pallets by the locals and used as cooking fuel. This is certainly a take on our age-old cow dung. People have merely substituted the coal dust for the cow dung.

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There being no significant historical or religious places the commercial activity dominates the town. But there is always something if you look for it. Not ancient but from the recent past is found. A romantic place housing a famous lighthouse called FALSE POINT LIGHTHOUSE built by the British and a cemetery for the Englishmen who worked there. This lighthouse seems to have been an institution by itself. Upon inquiry, you will come to know that this place was equipped with even a small hospital for the inhabitants who were employed in connection with the lighthouse. I will not be surprised if someone tells me that they had a priest to preside over the frequent funerals.

The major question is: how to reach the place. The place is shrouded in mystery and there being no Tourism Industry in Paradip, is seldom explored. An attempt has been made by an employee of the Lighthouse administration to throw some light on the history of the place. One can easily access it here:

http://www.dgll.nic.in/WriteReadData/Publication/Publication_Pdf_File/FalsepointLightHouse(2).pdf

It is difficult to locate this place on the Google map. One can see a place called Batigraha- lighthouse which is quite far from the sea and the map does not show a connecting waterway. The lighthouse may be (now, after silting for more than 150 years) far from the sea but the access is by boat through a navigable channel which you don’t see on the map. During this coastal drive we have had several problems with the Google map.

There are three sources to reach the place:

1 There is a boat service to and from the villages around which runs a ferry- looks quite dangerous. It is a schedule service and is dependent on the tide timings. And if you enlarge the picture you will see more motorcycles being carried.

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2 The Lighthouse has contracted a boat for supplies which makes a trip every day. You (and me) are not entitled to this service but I guess one can talk to ‘right people’

3 Look for a private operator who can hire a motorboat.

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We get up very early in the morning. Our objective is to prove the manager at the OTDC Resort wrong. He has told us that it is impossible to go to False Point and return alive the same day. We wander around on extremely bad roads, damaged by the very heavy vehicles plying in the port area and reach a beach from which the boats are supposed to be plying. There is nobody around here. We return towards the town and, on the way, take a diversion to the Fishing Harbour.

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All fishing harbours in this country look alike. The difference may be in the numbers.

We make inquiries at the fishing harbour.

‘How do we go to False Point from here?’

‘No, this is not the place from which you can reach your destination. The fishing boats do not offer that kind of service’

‘What’s the alternative?’

After a brief thought the man suggested that we should perhaps hire a private boat.

‘Where do we find one?’

‘There are not many but there is one owned by Sahoo. Go across the fishing harbour, drive on the road along the waterside and look for a Restaurant visited by the fishing-trawler operators. We follow the instructions and reach the place.

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Pradipto Kumar Sahoo is more helpful than expected. He opens up even more when we describe to him our mission of the coastal travel. Pradipto is in his middle age, owns a few businesses- a restaurant, a motorboat, perhaps a fishing trawler and a distribution business in Chemicals and hardware.

Yes, he has an 8- seat motorboat but has no other customers for the day. He is trying to develop a tourism business in the Mahanadi estuary. He has problems created by the port authorities who do not want traffic in the approach channels in the port crossing the river. And then there are private parties operating dedicated private jetty operations in the area who might not like the disturbance in the channels.  He has plans for ‘Kerala-style’ houseboat operations in the Mahanadi. Ambitious, to say the least but a very practical and forward-looking person. We don’t find many of them easily.

The private boat tour works out quite expensive as there is none to share the cost of the 8-seater.  We discuss and Pradipta is very understanding and considerate. We agree on a mutually acceptable figure for the boat ride of nearly four hours excluding the waiting time. We agree to come back and have lunch at his restaurant for which we select a bunch of  fresh Blue Crabs at the harbour.

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The licensed boat operator takes his own time to arrive. He has just returned from his native place in Andhra Pradesh last night and reported for work late and then had to go to the jetty with a plastic can to bring the diesel. In the event the boat was very efficient. We were comfortable despite the fact that we were sailing upstream.

To the left above is the storage facility for the imported Phosphates. Right Up is a barge in the estuary and at the bottom is one of the industrial establishments upstream on Mahanadi.

It is a great experience to go upstream through inhabited channel banks although they are not anywhere near the population density of the Kerala backwaters. The construction of the large huts needs to be studied if not already done. They look very sturdy. Unfortunately we did not have an opportunity to land and have a look.

The scenes from the backwaters look pretty at this time. Life should be much more difficult in the wet monsoon days.

The picture at the bottom with the hanging pots is still a mystery for me. I showed to to several people on the mainland and nobody could explain what it is all about.

We miss the way (waterway) once and have to return back and take the correct route, losing half an hour in the process. We manage to reach the landing site which is about 200 meters from the Lighthouse.

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The lighthouse is a massive structure like no other we have seen in India so far. The huge plinth and the bottom, the painting and the surroundings are like no other we have seen.

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The area surrounding the lighthouse is huge. The In-charge of the lighthouse is a very helpful gentleman who has grown up here when his father was working at the lighthouse. We are offered a climb up the lighthouse. This is unlike at other lighthouses where the suggestion would have been resisted. The people at most of the Indian lighthouses consider the visitors a nuisance. Here it was different. We turn down the offer as we have been given a total time frame by Pradipta and we need to return to the mainland in time for the lunch. The Blue Crabs are calling. In the process, we miss out on some views from the top of the lighthouse.

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The area surrounding the lighthouse have many monuments of the past including the old utility and the residential buildings and the cemetery. Here are some of the structures in the compound.

Top Right is the cemetery, bottom left is the hospital and the right is the drinking water well.

The return journey is quite frightening and takes much longer. There is high tide now, water is rising and there is heavy wind in the opposite direction. We sail quite a distance upstream to make it to the fishing harbour at Paradip.

After feasting on the crabs, we move on to the resort and after some rest move to see another Lighthouse, the one serving Paradip. Yesterday we had been sent off from the gate of this lighthouse as were about 90 seconds late for the schedule timings. They try to send us off again today. The people at this lighthouse do not want visitors. The person in charge at this place in Mid-March 2017 is a particularly vicious, extremely arrogant and unfriendly bureaucrat who thinks the lighthouse and the surrounding property is his private preserve. They try to persuade us not to climb up the lighthouse despite the fact that it is officially permitted on payment of a prescribed fee.

Despite all the efforts made by the keeper to keep us away, we decide to climb. The person assigned to us inform us that we do not have a right to visit. We can be denied an entry without assigning any reason. This is downright insulting and the motive is by now clear. That prompts us to be adamant.

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As a last attempt, the man tells us that we are too old to climb. We insist that we can and do.

It turns out to be worth the effort, climbing and fighting the petty officialdom.

Here are the scenes from the top of the Lighthouse.

The beach:

The grazing grounds for cattle:

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The harbour side:

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The residential part of the town which is very neat and clean- the modern town:

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A little out of the town is this Shani temple with the ferocious ‘Shani’ right on the gate.

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We are done with Paradip and have to move to the next place which happens to be Bhitarkanika. We now need to cross the distributary of Mahanadi which we crossed yesterday the previous day to reach the False Point but much upstream. This part of the river is used for massive sand-mining operations, highly mechanized.

We stop on the way fro breakfast at a junction off the highway and come across a Musical Instruments shop:

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The Mrudang and a wide variety of Indian percussion instruments are here to see and buy, mostly for the religious functions.

We do not find our daily dose of green coconut here and settle down for a nice watermelon:

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This is not an easy ride. We drive along the narrow country roads connecting villages and small towns to reach the mangrove forests which is called Bhitarkanika. ‘Kanika’ is a largely inaccessible island on the mouth of one of the distributaries of Mahanadi and the portion of the mangrove-infested estuary upstream is known as Bhitarkanika- Inner Kanika.

We take the Pattamundai-Aul-Rajkanika route to reach the place called Khola Gate in the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary.

We have booked our stay at an expensive lodge as there are not many places to stay available in the area. W arrive in the late afternoon and take a short walk around the village and the riverside. The shape of the huts here is peculiar. The roof comes right up to the ground.

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The place is promising as far as birds are concerned. We are instantly rewarded with the sighting of a Lesser Adjutant Stork.

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The real fun begins the next day morning. We get very early and get on to a motorboat with a well-trained guide and boatman. In the first 15 minutes of the early morning ride we spot five species of Kingfishers, a record of sorts, at least for us.

The first one to make his appearance is the Brown-Winged Kingfisher.

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The Black-Capped Kingfisher followed:

A pair of  Collared Kingfisher came along:

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And then there was the Pied Kingfisher:

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And then there was the Common Kingfisher and the White-breasted Kingfisher.

Bhitarkanika is mini Sundarbans. In fact, it has crocodiles in more abundance than the Sundarbans. Even birdlife is much more profuse. The only thing absent here is the Tiger and the huge Bengali crowd. In my understanding tigers don’t like noisy people and that is the reason they have become man-eaters in the Sundarbans.

And also the other bird species like the White-breasted Waterhen which is quite common all over the country but here in the mangroves she looks very bright, clean and fresh:

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And here is the father of all chicken we eat- the Red Junglefowl- Gallus gallus. (apologies for a bad picture)

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The Mudskippers are a delight to watch at the low tide when they dominate the mud between the water and the dry land:

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And here is an eagle and the photographer taking rest after the early morning efforts:

This estuary extends further upstream up to Chandbali and beyond. In fact, there is a tourist boat service run by OTDC from Chandbali to the sanctuary. The boat service would take about two hours but reaching Chandbali by the road takes considerable effort and time.

We take the Pattamundai-Aul-Rajkanika road to reach the banks of Baitarana river and cross the bridge into Chandbali.

At Aul we stop to buy some fruits and we are told by the locals that Aul used to have a palace which is now not accessible as we should proceed to Rajkanika and visit the palace there. When you say (or I say) ‘palace’ it implies kings have stayed in this little hut. And this one is highly rated.The Telegraph, the prestigious newspaper on Saturday 9th April 2011 said that this palace is ‘ poised to become a major hub for overseas tourists’ Six years down the line the palace is closed and waiting for the overseas tourists to come and open it. This palace is said to be housing the ‘largest crocodile skull’. Does this imply that it is the skull belonged to the largest crocodile? I doubt. In any case this palace looks pretty with open grounds inside and outside the gates. There were tell-tale empty ice-cream cups on the outer grounds (from where the pictures below were taken) to indicate a recent evening of festivities.

One need to cross this bridge on Baitarna river to reach Chandbali from the south side.

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Chandbali was an important riverine port in the early part of the last century. It connected the agricultural hinterland of this part of Odisha with Calcutta by the river and the sea. Hardly any signs of the past glory of the port are visible to-day. The town is used by the people who intend visiting Bhitarkanika and those visiting the temple at Aardi. The Aardi shrine is easier to visit by boat from here rather than by road from the north. Chandbali has an OTDC Aranyanivas. The term Aranyanivas is used for the hotels and resorts which were earlier Forest Department guest houses.

As we not find anything interesting around and we decide to take a boat upstream on the Baitarana to a place called Aaradi. This place is famous for its temple of Akhandalamani. It is a Shaivate temple and has a legend about its origins. It is too long a story to be dealt with here.

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What assaults your senses here is this crass depiction of sexual acts on the walls of the temple. This appears to be a peculiarity of Odisha temples. I am not sure if anyone has an explanation for this feature which is not found in other Shiva temples or at least not found in such explicit manner.

The Baitarana upstream from Chandbali is otherwise an interesting boat ride. The major economic activity perhaps is sand-mining.

The mode of transportation around the area is the country boat.

Coastal Odisha journey will continue in the next post.

 

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Photographs by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

79. GOD’S OWN COUNTRY – 7. Thrissur, Chalakudy.

In the previous post, we had covered most important coastal parts of Thrissur district. What we did not touch on was the city of Thrissur.

Thrissur or what was earlier known as Trichur is called the cultural capital of Kerala. It has a number of religious institutions and was once a major centre of Hindu religious education. It is also important for some Christian denominations.

The town appears to have been built around a temple complex with huge grounds which serve as grounds for numerous socio-cultural activities. It is also the ground for the annual festival of Pooram. All those decorated elephants that you see in the tourist brochures are from here. The festival relates to Shri Vadakkunathan Temple which is the most important shrine in the city.

It is an imposing temple and nicely maintained.

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Peacock feathers are still sold openly in the compound of the temple.

The area around the temple is used for various activities like practicing for group dance.

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The people seating here in small clusters are not gossiping. They are playing Chess.

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There is a second temple on the backside of the main temple here. It was late and I could not gather the details.

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If you have interest in them the compound sports a few species of birds. Here is a Tree-Pie and a Barbet.

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The skyline of the town is dominated by the Basilica of Our Lady of Dolours has the tallest church building in India. It belongs to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and dates back to 1814, 200+ years old.

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Thrissur also has a Chaldean Syrian Church which belongs to the St Thomas Christians who trace their origins to Thomas the Apostle who came to India in 58 AD.

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Thrissur has a couple of  Museums. Even the small towns in Kerala sport a small museum. The Keralites appear to chrish their past of which they are justifiably proud. We had to skip the museums for paucity of time , except for the museum at Sakhtan Thampooran Palace. It is a small museum and could have been skipped in favour of the Museum of Art.

The place was actually a fort and some signs of the same are still visible in the noise of the Bus Station on the opposite side of road. The Palace is in solid teakwood and a beauty in simplicity, characterestic of Kerala.The contents of the museum has not much to write home about.

Thrissur town is not located on the seashore but the district has a few beaches. Snehatheeram is one of the newly developed one. Getting to the beaches on the seaboard from the highway is a challenge. At Snehatheeram beach, this restaurant roof is made entirely of the Coconut leaves, a rarity these days.

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TheBlueDrive is a coastal journey and we have avoided the temptation to drive some distance towards the hills which are greener and cooler, especially in the Western Ghats. An urge to do some forest birding takes us to Chalkudy which by itself is not far from the coast but the Ethirapally falls that we visit are.

If you have been watching Indian movies, especially the Soth Indian ones, you will have seen Ethirapally falls.

To reach this place one has to do quite a bit of descend and then a steep climb.

The forest area of Vazhachal is quite extensive and has waterfalls at three places. Two are not as spectacular as the one above.

On the way is the Thumboormuzhy River Garden with a hanging bridge.

dsc_3736The hills of the Western Ghats are spectacular and beautiful but are outside the scope of our present travel programme which is cover the entire coast of continental India. May be another time.

Our objective in coming to the hills was to do some birding. We stayed at Chalakudy in the plains and drove into the hills which took time and consequently we did not have the best of the birding time. That is not to say we did not see anything at all.

The Hill Mynah, not a easy bird to come by was there to welcome us.

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My old friend Scarlet Minivet was perching high up in the canopy.

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The Black Capped Kingfisher, normally found near the sea was not expected at the high altitudes but was found enjoying himself in the cool stream waters.

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The Racket-Tailed Drongo had the insects on the newly opened flowers of Silk-Cotton tree to feed on.

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The Pond Heron,proabably the commonest bird in India after the House Crow was seen enjoying himself in the flowing waters.

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We return to our base at Chalakudy and have a late lunch. At the restaurant on the highway we find some ‘Cutlates’, which we decide against and go in for ‘Meals’.

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The digression is not over. We have to get back to serious work now. The next stop is the great historical city of Cochin and the district of Ernakulam of which it is a part.

Text and Photographs by Suryakiran Naik

Additional Photographs; Veena Naik

 

 

 

68.ANKOLA , GOKARN & (TULSI VIVAH)

The third part of the title to this post is in the brackets for the simple reason that it is not a place but a festival.

We leave Karwar with a heavy heart. The sea (and Kali river) has been very generous to people of Karwar. They enjoy such variety of seafood that we have not seen on Indian coast so far in this expedition.

When we started TheBlueDrive, one of our friends gave us a clue. The colour of water changes from place to place and we should photograph it. Yes, the colour changes but the subtlety of it is so sensitive, one cannot capture it in a camera and faithfully record it. Modern techniques can change the colour and the texture and the tinge and whatever so much, this exercise would be meaningless. All the same I remembered the advice when I saw the black colour of the waters of river Kali.  The picture below is just an attempt but when you see the waters especially in the creek, it is darker than the rest we have seen.

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We pass through the town and proceed towards Ankola. The southern half of Karwar town is dead. Dead because it is under the Armed Forces. When a place becomes a Cantonment or a Naval Base it ceases to be a town. The town or the village becomes subservient to the Armed Forces. The charm of the place is lost to the ‘regulations’. Many of these ‘rules and regulations; inherited from the British were meant to separate the Superior White Man from the Inferior Brown Man and they still separate the Superior Services Men from the Inferior Civilian Men. The road from Karwar southwards is closed to your right by erecting a fence of tin sheets, to prevent people seeing the Naval Base. This looks ridiculous if one understands the power of modern photographic equipment and the Satellites. Defence Budgets shall always remain beyond questioning. It looks like the armed forces do not want their own people to see what the potential enemies can see by other means. The dispute about allowing the annual Christian fest on the Anjediv island still continues.

Anyway. What one can see immediately after leaving Karwar is the presence of a species of Bamboo growing on the hill slopes. You will not see this so profusely in the coastal areas in the nort but a similar species is seen in the interiors.

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The night before we leave Karwar we observe that the market of Karwar has a riot of flowers and sugarcane. It would have baffled an outsider to the region. We could guess that the preparations for the festival of Tulsi-Vivah due tomorrow are on.

After reaching Ankola we make a halt at ‘Kamat’ hotel close to the highway with the intention of resting for the day and looking at the Tulsi-Vivah event in the evening.

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The Kamat establishments are clean and dependable but most of them are vegetarian.

After a couple of hours of rest we decide to go and have a look at the seashore. There are a number of beaches near the small town. We choose to go around north to south and have a look. We drive through the villages preparing for the Tulsi Vivah event in the evening. Lovely ambience all around.

The twin beaches a few kilometres from the town are beautiful. One cannot fail to notice two things here.

One, a temple on the rocks by the sea. The devotees offer firewood to this deity. As we cannot read the Kannada script, we fail to gather much information about this and there were not many people around who could speak the languages we speak.

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The other thing is the presence of white sandstone. We had observed this stone in Malvan fort in Maharashtra. Now it is acquiring shades of colour which will become brighter and more varied as we move southwards.

The beach is devided into two by a small hillock. the northern part is a clean beach with the temple at the end. The southern part has a fishing harbour. The hillock inbetween has a quantity of broken beer and liquor bottles giving an indication of its use.

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Veena and her camera are after a Kingfisher that just landed on the coconut palm.

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This is the one. Don’t think that this is the one who you see frequently. The one frequently seen is the White-Breasted Kingfisher. This one is a much rarer Black-Capped Kingfisher, although they look similar, they are not the same.

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We return to the town and proceed to a temple to watch the Tulsi-Vivah proceedings. The first temple we visit has two Tulsis in its compound. Here the Tulsi Vivah is observed as Tulsi Puja. The Tulsi plant and its pedestal is covered by sugarcane brought by the devotees who do not celebrate the festival at their own homes for some reason or the other.

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In the neighbourhood people do the wedding in their own compound. Some wait for the village priest to come and do the ceremonies, some do on their own.

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Tulsi Vivah is a very complex story from Padma Purana involving a woman by name Tulsi and Lord Vishnu. The Wikipedia article on the subject is very simple and lucid. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulsi_Vivah

Tulsi Vivah is incidentally the Title of 1971 Bollywood movie starring Dara Singh and Jayashree Gadkar, a local girl from Sadashivgad who made it big in Marathi films.

There are many ways the Vivah is conducted. In Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts of Maharashtra a full-fledged wedding ceremony is conducted. Here in North Kanara district it looks more like a worship (puja) of the plant. The common item is the sugarcane and the Tulsi plant growing in front of the houses and temples. ‘Prasad’ of puffed rice is distributed.dsc_7707

Later at another place near Gokarn we could find this simpler decoration using mango leaves.

Incidentally Hindu weddings stop being conducted during Monsoon months and do ot resume until the Tulsi’s wedding is conducted.

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We visit another temple at Ankola to see the actual proceedings in the hands of the temple priest. This was more elaborate and we made videos.

Here the bride as well as the bridegroom were suitably decorated.

Between Karwar and Gokarn there are a number of small beaches all along the coast. We decided to skip them. There are also a number of temples but none very significant. Ankola has a church called Church of St Paul’s Mar Thoma.

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Gokarn is a pilgrimage centre for Hindus. It has the famous Mahabaleshwara (Shiva) temple and half a dozen other temples.

The place located between the estuaries of Aghanasini and Gangavali and also has a long beach which is favoured by western tourist.

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The tourist trade seems to have become more important than the pilgrimage trade.The shops and what they sell will bear this out.

The ladies selling flowers at the temple have been trained by the western tourists to pose for photographs and demand money.

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The ‘Malabar Coast’ is supposed to start from Gokarn and end up at the end of peninsular India. However going by the current district nomenclature we are still on the Canara Coast. May be the names are overlapping. As if to prove that this is a part of Malabar Coast, spices are being sold on the roadside near the Gokarn temple, off the large bags as they used to do in olden times.

In the following picture you can see the Rath or the vehicle of Lord Mahabaleshwara. It has been dismantled and stored. It will be assembled for His use on the festival days. The mortals have parked their vehicles by the side.

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From Karwar onwards you will see this Korean brand of icecream  very prominently wherever you go.

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You will wonder why Koreans chose this place to popularize their brand and not other bigger places.

The reason is this is not Korean or Japanese or Chinese as it looks. This is a combination of two Konkani words. Hanga (here) and yo (come) meaning Come Here.

Text by Suryakiran Naik

Pictures by Suryakiran naik & Veena Naik