Day 1: My first couch surfing experience

The plan for Day 1 of our journey was to start from Bangalore and reach Mangalore and then enter Kerala from Mangalore. There are multiple routes to enter Kerala from Bangalore but I chose this route because I knew the roads are good for most of the drive and there was this sense of completeness when you start the Kerala trip from the northern tip of Kerala.

I started from Bangalore before sunrise and hit the Hassan road. I always prefer leaving the city earlier so that I hit the highway before the city traffic kicks in.  Since its December the road was foggy at places and offered a brilliant view. The whole fields were covered in fog which looked like a huge white canvas and all you have to do is draw anything into the canvas. One of the best things about road trips is, one can stop anywhere one wishes and enjoy the moment. I did the same too. Pulled the car to the side and got out to enjoy the moment. It was a bit colder and the fog gave an amazing view. I clicked a couple of pictures and continued the trip.

On my last trip, I had food in all the small shops. The shops were so small that they didn’t have any names for them. The food was almost always amazing and very local to the area. That’s something I want to try for this trip too. I stopped at a small food truck near Hassan to have our breakfast. After breakfast I continued to Sakleshpur and then into the Shirady ghats roads.

Shirady ghats is a very beautiful stretch. I think thats true of any stretch of road crossing the western ghats. Driving in these roads during the monsoon is one of the best experience of my life. Its one experience I would suggest everyone to try. Drive a car when its raining into the ghats section with Illayaraja music and thats one experience you never again forget in your life.

I had stopped for tea near Sri Chowdeshwari Temple and found a river flowing behind the temple. I decided to take a bath in the river and got into the Kempu Hole river, one of the major tributaries of the Netravati river. The river was flowing smoothly with crystal clear water and green trees as its backdrop. I have made this a ritual these days. Every time I find a water body I jump in to take three dips. This way one day I will be able to put down a huge list of rivers where I have taken a bath in. The idea was originally from one of Jeyamohan’s travelogues. A bath in the river was refreshing and I continued on the journey forward.

Kempu Hole River

On the way, we found an emission test center and got an emission certificate for the car. That was one document I didn’t get in Bangalore. I wanted to be sure to have all the documents with me before going on a longer trip. Now the list of documents I needed to drive a car in Indian roads is complete.

Due to the unrest caused by protests against Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Mangalore and the police firing which followed that, we were not allowed to enter the district and our internet was also blocked. We didn’t realize that our internet was blocked for sometime. We were thinking it’s because of poor connection in the hills and even tried restarting the mobile hoping to get the connectivity back. So with the help of some locals we took a detour to enter Kerala through a different route.

Shri Panchalingeshwara Temple, Vitla

We stopped at a small village called Vitla for lunch and had veg meals. I found a nice Kerala style temple nearby. The food and the temple looked closer to Kerala culture than the Kannada style. After some nice lunch we went and explored the temple. It was a shiva temple and the architecture was different. It looked less like any dravidian temple and looked more like a huge boat. The temple had a huge enclosure around it and a small well with a board mentioning only the priests are allowed in. The temple was closed when we went there. There was a group of people starting their Ayyapa pilgrimage from the temple.  Our next destination was Payannur.

Shri Panchalingeshwara Temple, Vitla

The roads were almost non existent in this region. There was some repair work happening and there was a lot of red sand involved. It just made my white car dirtier. But when you go on a trip you can’t expect your car to be very clean. It took us some time to get the internet back and eventually to reach the highway. Smaller roads are always beautiful and especially when you are in Kerala. The roads might get narrower and steep but its always beautiful.

We had a couchsurfing host near Payannur. Couchsurfing is a platform similar to airbnb but for free. The benefit of using Couchsurfing other than a free stay is the local experience one gets as part of it. If I had not stayed with the host, I would have probably never known of an island called Madakkal on the west coast. If not for couchsurfing, I would have stayed in a hotel and never learnt about the local crowd here.

Our couchsurfing host was kind enough to provide us with some tea and cakes. The island was filled with coconut trees and I spent some time watching the sun set into the Arabian sea behind the coconut trees of the nearby island. Sunsets are always beautiful anywhere. But watching them on the west coast adds more to the beauty. This was the first sunset of the trip and it looked like it was fresh out of a postcard. There were kids playing football in a small field nearby. Kerala is known for its fascination for football and one would see it in the t-shirts of the kids.

The sun is behind the coconut trees.

Once the sun set, we took a stroll in the village trying to find something to eat for dinner and also trying to buy some mosquito killers. The village didn’t have many options for that. We got some bananas and packaged biscuits and returned back.

Our host introduced us to his friends and took us to his hangout place. The place was an old abandoned jetty. One of the friends had returned from Dubai and will be returning in a few days. It is a common norm in Kerala to go to Gulf countries and to make enough money and settle down back in India. Our host will also eventually go to the Gulf where his parents are currently working, but he is trying to push it as much as possible. One of his friends was trying to catch fish in the light of the moon and was not successful. The place was dark and lit by the moonlight. The backwaters to three sides and the Madakkal island to the other. We spent some time there trying to memorise the beauty of a not so well known place. It would have been a very normal night to the guys there, but for me it’s one night I am not going to forget for a long time to come.

Our host invited us to a family function. He mentioned it’s a spiritual gathering of close relatives. Once a year they go to the nearby island and have prayers and have dinner together. Our host was a muslim and I had never been to a muslim spiritual function. And why would I say no to free food?

Postcard worthy?

To reach the island, we had to take a boat. Our host arranged for a boat and we reached the island. My host like me was not a spiritual person and we decided to skip the function and come back once the food is being served. Until then we decided to stay at the beach. In the darkness when we were trying to find the path to the beach a lady in a nearby house guided us in the right direction.

That was one thing which made me wonder. If there were four strangers in the darkness roaming aimlessly around near my village, there is a lot of chance they are lynched for the fear of being thieves. But here the lady herself helped us without asking for it and that too when there was a guy in the house. I felt like a female in the house coming to meet strangers even when a male is available are sings of the long gone matriarchal society of Kerala. This kind of incident didn’t only happen once but all across Kerala.

We finally reached the beach and stayed there for sometime. The beach was pitch dark. In front of me was the mighty Arabian ocean and I looked to the sides, the beach extended till where I would see. It looked like a never ending beach on both sides. Behind me after a few feet where a line of trees cleanly separating the beach from the rest of the island. I was so tired, I lied down on the sand and went to a slumber within minutes. Then I woke up to realize it might not be safe to sleep there.

Once the food was being served, we reached the place and waited to have our dinner. It was already around 11 PM and we were hungry. Traditional north Kerala style mutton curry was served. We sat at a round table and a tub of rice and a bucket of mutton curry was placed in the middle of the table with each of us having our plates. Since we were already hungry, we had food to our hearts content.

The crowd in the function was majorly muslims in their white clothes and white turbans the typical malabar muslims. But there were Hindus too with Kerala saffron mundus and felt I would spot christians too with clean shaven faces and in western attire. That is Kerala for you, Unity in diversity. Every generalization has its exceptions, so don’t come arguing that it’s not the case. It’s told every man sees what he wants and this is what I saw.

The only road leading to the island. The road is surrounded by backwaters.

After the food, we came back to Madakkal again on a boat. That’s how we ended our day 1 of the trip. We did take a detour from our initial plan and also had to skip the crocodile temple and the Bekal fort of Kasargod district. But whats travel if everything goes as per plan. We didn’t cover one tourist destination today. Starting from the bath in the river to the dinner in a muslim function everything was unexpected and was good experience. Everything that starts well ends well.

This post is part of a series of posts. Do check the whole series here.

3 comments

  1. Travel is all about experiences and the best part is when you get things unexpected – like a peek into the culture of the place you visit. And, certain unique things happen when you stay with a local, like you got to know about that island. I have had some great experiences with locals in the villages of Spiti Valley and recently in Sikkim. I have written about those. Road trips are really wonderful and like you mention that you can stop at places and feel the place, that’s something you can experience only in a road trip.
    Thank you for sharing this piece. I enjoyed reading it. Will come back and read the series.

    Like

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