I kept waking up, peering through the curtains to check if the morning had broken. The train had been chugging along all night, through winding tunnels in the Western Ghats. Many had raved about the spectacular drive to Konkan. Having chosen a train journey from Bangalore instead, I was hoping to catch as much a glimpse as a train window would allow.
The train came to a halt soon enough. As fellow passengers scrambled to catch a quick hot cuppa of saccharine tea at the station, I stood at the door, taking in the crispness of a rainy, verdant Konkan morning. The station was Puttur – the majestic ghats had started fading away, the landscape gradually metamorphosing into the coasts of Konkan. Mangalore, my final destination, was only an hour away.
The halt at Puttur
I was on my way to Phalguni River Lodge, a Jungle Lodges property on the outskirts of Mangalore. Perched atop a hillock by the Phalguni River, the lodge offers a peaceful stay away from the noise and chaos of Mangalore. At the same time, it is close enough to explore the sights and sounds of the city and its surroundings. A destination suited to a family holiday, it offers many choices for children in particular. The lodge is right in the middle of Pilikula Nisargadhama, a tourist park spread over 370 acres, which includes a biological park, a soon-to-be-inaugurated Science Centre, a lake with boating, a water amusement park, an artisans’ village et al. The Phalguni River Lodge campus even includes an Ayurveda health therapy centre, with a 15-acre Kudremukh tree park in its vicinity.
A tiger at Pilikula Biological Park
As I checked into my suite, I was taken in by the view my balcony offered – monsoon clouds were lazily floating in and out of the valley below. When they consented and gave way, the unshackled rays of the sun darted ahead lending the slithering Phalguni River an amber hue. As the mist cleared, the outline of coconut groves and areca nut plantations along the river banks became vivid and sharp. Across the valley was a table-top plateau; the yellow lights of airplanes flickered as they flew in and out of the Bajpe airport located on the plateau. As tailor-made as Phalguni River Lodge was for family holidays, I was restless to explore beyond.
The view from Phalguni River Lodge
“I must walk down to the river” I decided. Mahadevan, the naturalist, accompanied us, and we made our way downhill along a rain-drenched road. A firefly, a floating butterfly, a giant spider, a gushing stream, a troop of wild mushrooms: sights that gave us company as we walked on, safe from the drizzle under a blue umbrella.
Eventually, the road ended and we plodded through the wild undergrowth and along village houses, before it all cleared into the grassy riverbank. A tarpaulin-draped speedboat was anchored, almost an oddball in its surroundings. “We plan to start water sports soon; just waiting for the monsoons to get over” Mahadevan explained. It seemed an ideal spot for water adventures, though I wished that the calm of the river would not be broken.
On the banks of River Phalguni
We trekked back uphill. “Do you want to see the artisans’ village? It attempts to showcase rural Dakshina Kannada life” Mahadevan inquired. “Sounds interesting, why not?” I quipped. Mahadevan led me back to the lodge and then beyond, in the other direction, towards the village. “They have artisans engaged in traditional rural crafts: weavers on handlooms, potters busy shaping mud clay pots and so on” he added “The products are available for sale too. I will also take you to Guthu Mane, a house typical of the landlords of the Bunt community, which has been built and recreated inside the artisans’ village”.
We walked past artisans busily engaged in their craft, almost nonchalant about passing tourists. The Guthu Mane was built in the middle of an open field – one glimpse at the entrance and I knew it promised to be unique. Ornate wooden columns rose up to support an intricately carved ceiling. I walked up the brick-red entrance steps, past the tall, wide wooden door, and found myself in the inner square-shaped courtyard. There were rooms and columns on all four sides; the large, open courtyard in the centre was used by families for drying everything, and for household chores. I could not help but imagine a landlord relaxing in a massive chair, presiding over and watching his family and servants bustling about the long corridors, flitting from one room to another.
Weaving on a hand loom
The entrance of a Guthu Mane
I returned to a comforting, hot lunch at the lodge – neer dosa and chicken curry – replete with the distinct flavours of Mangalorean cuisine. The meal followed by a hot cup of coffee recharged me, and I decided to head out to Mangalore city. The manager graciously decided to accompany me. We first visited St. Aloysius Chapel, built by Jesuit Missionaries in 1880. The chapel is breathtaking, with every inch of its columns, ceiling and walls hand-painted by an Italian Jesuit Antonio Moscheni in 1899. Photography inside the chapel is currently prohibited. Inside, a gentleman associated with the chapel diligently took us through its history and art. He pointed to the marble sculptures on the walls. “It takes time to realize, but those are not marble engravings; those are hand painted as well”. I looked up, amazed. “The only parallel to this chapel is the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City” he concluded.
Panambur beach was our next stop, where we watched the sun sink into the rough, choppy waves of the Arabian Sea. Families were out on a weekend jaunt, with a few adventurous ones even queued up for speedboat rides. Even more adventurous was a gaggle of giggly girls, trying (unsuccessfully) to take selfies with a horse. Entertaining as all this was, the quietness of the lodge beckoned me.
As we made our way back to Pilikula, the manager asked “Have you had Pubba’s ice-cream?”
“No!” I said.
“Well, then your trip to Mangalore is incomplete; you must try the Gadbad flavour” he affirmed, swerving the wheels right on to the road to Pubba’s.