The Southern state of Karnataka has many surprises up its sleeve and the best way to discover this is by actually visiting the different parts to experience the myriad cultures, food, sights and more.
The diverse elements of the state that was formed on November 1st, 1956, incidentally celebrated as Rajyotsava Day has a royal connect too. Well, this was always the State of Mysore that was renamed as Karnataka in 1973. The state itself has a motely mix of ancient temples, beautiful mountains, scenic beaches and amazing wildlife. In fact this is why the Tourism department has aptly branded the state – ‘One State Many Worlds’. A pioneer in ecotourism, the state has the second most number of nationally protected monuments in the country, second only to Uttar Pradesh. In fact the state is also emerging as a medical tourism hotspot courtesy its alternative therapy centers as well as holistic health units. Well, most recently Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal checked into a naturopathy center in the State to treat his chronic cough. Likewise Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla Parker-Bowles, Duchess of Cornwall has been here several times for holistic healing sessions! This apart the state is home to several important cities like Mysore, Mangalore, Hassan, Coorg, Bijapur and Shimoga, apart from the capital Bengaluru.
Ring in the festivities
Think festivals and you instinctively think of Deepavali and Dasara. While these are also celebrated with much pomp and gusto in Karnataka, there are also several unique festivals like the Karaga said to be one of the oldest festivals (dating back to many centuries) of the state celebrated to honour Goddess Shakti. Held annually at the Dharmarayaswamy temple in Bengaluru in March/April, the 9 day festivities derives its name from an earthen pot in which the Goddess is invoked and a grand procession is held in honour of the Goddess. There is a fire-walking ritual on the last day which sees frenzied activity where the participants are immersed in devotion. Interestingly the person who carries the Karaga has to undergo rigorous rituals including being confined to the temple with a diet of milk and fruits as the pot he carries is a symbol of the Goddesses’ power. In fact his wife becomes a widow and hands over her mangalsutra and bangles to him and he wears the same in the procession. The Karaga bearer is surrounded by many turbaned, bare-chested dhoti-clad Veerakumaras with uncovered swords which is significant as in the event that the Karaga trips and falls, they are supposed stab him. However, till date this is has never happened. The couple remarry post the festival and the Karaga is immersed in the salt water pond from which it was brought originally. This apart the Hampi Festival is another annual affair that celebrates the birthday of famous poet Purandaradasa. The festival has dance, music, puppet show and fireworks as part of the festivities. Likewise the Pattadakal Dance Festival takes place in January every year is an ode to different forms of dance and also has a crafts mela that showcases the traditional arts and crafts of the state. Ugadi is the New Year of Kannadigas and the nine day Dasara festival is celebrated with a display of dolls at home a tradition unique to the state. If you are in Bengaluru in November, you can also witness the Kadalekai Parishe or the annual groundnut fair near Dodda Ganesha, temple, near the Bull Temple at Basavanagudi. The controversial Kambala is an annual festival celebrated in the South Canara district of Karnataka that involves a traditional buffalo race. Likewise, Naga Panchami, Ganesh Chaturthi and Makara Shankranti are celebrated with gaiety.
Karnataka’s cuisine reflects a beautiful story of the state. If you are looking for traditional food, you can have a typical breakfast of idlis served with mildly spiced coconut chutney, chitranna or lemon rice, puliogare or tamarind rice and khara pongal. Of course the famed bisi bele bhath is a one pot meal made with lentils, rice, vegetables and freshly ground spices and is an absolute must try when you are here. The best part is that this is a great example of a balanced diet rich in proteins and carbohydrates! A typical meal includes Kosambri, a salad made with cucumber, sprouts, and grated coconut and seasoned with mustard and green chilies, Palya, a vegetable preparation made with parboiled vegetables, grated coconut, green chilies and mild spices and Gojju, vegetables cooked in a spiced tamarind curry. The meal will also have Tovve, a mildly seasoned dal curry, Saaru, a rasam, Huli, a thick broth of lentils and vegetables cooked with ground coconut, spices, tamarind and special spice powder. Another rice dish the vangibath a spiced rice with eggplant, ragi mudde or steamed ragi dumplings served with soppina saaru (a light rasam made with fresh greens) are also well known dishes. Likewise when you head to the South Canara district you get to experience a mix of authentic vegetarian Udupi food as well as coastal delights like made with white meats including local fish, crab, prawn, and squid preparations marinated with coconut, ginger, turmeric and local spices. Bhatkal for instance is home to Laun Miriya Mhaure, a fish preparation cooked in a red chilli masala while Ankola is known for Kotte Roti, an idli-like preparation that soaks up the curry. And while in Mangalore try the Neer Dosa a crepe made with rice batter and Kori Roti, crisp wafers made of dry rice and fish and prawn chutneys and pickles. And if you are in Coorg, the Pandi curry or the pork dish is the most famous alongside other pork based delicacies that will entice your palate. And to wash it all down what better than the best fresh filter coffee made with beans from Chikamangalur or Sakleshpur as well as masala majjige, buttermilk with ginger, green chili paste, and coriander.
Karnataka is home to many waterfalls and if you visit them in the right season (post monsoons) it is a great experience to see natural water gushing down in its full glory. The Abbey Falls in Coorg located about 10 kms from Madikeri in the Western Ghats in the midst of thick coffee bushes and tall trees entwined with pepper vines can be accessed via a short walk on the hanging bridge that takes you to close to them. Likewise the small but magnificent Achakanya Falls is a fascinating sight in the monsoons. Surrounded by lush greenery all around, this waterfall is hidden being located within the dense forest range of Western Ghats and a trek will take you to them. The Alekan or Alekhan falls located around 18 kms from Charmadi ghats in Chikamagalur can also be reached via a tough trek along a 90 foot drop. The Apsarakonda Falls in Honnavar taluk of Uttara Kannada descends from a height of about 50 feet to a natural pond formed below and you can witness some magnificent sunsets as well thanks to the endless stretch of the Arabian Sea. For a simpler experience head to the Balmuri Falls a famous picnic spot about 18 km away from Mysore, on the way to the Krishna Raja Sagar Dam. The waterfall has a height of about 6 feet and is smaller compared to most falls. Even the Barachukki and Gaganachukki – the two waterfalls situated near Shivanasamudra in Mandya district created by the Cauvery that runs down a 75 metre gorge before it divides into two branches that flows around the island of Shivanasamudra is easy to access. Among other falls in Karnataka the noteworthy ones include Barkana Falls, Shimoga, Benne Hole Falls and Burude Falls both in Karwar, Chunchanakatte Falls, Mysore, Chunchi Falls, Mekedatu, Dabbe Falls and Hidlumane Falls both in Shimoga, Dondole Falls, Ujre, Godachinamalki Falls and Gokak Falls, both in Belgaum, Hebbe Falls, Kallathi Falls and Honnamma Falls, all in Kemmanagundi and Iruppu Falls, Coorg. Of course the most well know falls are the Jog Falls about 8 kms north-west of Sagar town. This is where the Sharavati river flowing over a rocky bed about 227.50 meters wide leaps from the chains of the ghats. The water has four distinct falls, presenting a sense of transcendent grandeur and sublimity and are rightly named as Raja, Roarer, Rocket and Rani.
Explore your Wild Side
If you love wildlife, Karnataka has an enviable set of national parks and sanctuaries that are home to several species of animals and birds. The state of Karnataka in South India has a rich diversity of flora and fauna. It has a recorded Said to have a forest area of 38720 km which constitutes 20.19% of the total geographical area of the state, this is where 25% of the elephant population and 20% of the tiger population of India reside. The Western of Karnataka are a biodiversity hotspot as well. The Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks part of the Nilgiri biosphere and Kabini are great places to sight these animals. You can also spot other animals like leopard, wild dog, sloth bear, hyena, spotted deer, sambar, barking deer, four-horned antelope, gaur and wild boars. At Kabini, you also have the option to take a boat safari where you can see the marsh crocodile, monitor lizard and a variety of water birds. The common langur, bonnet macaque, jungle cat, slender loris, leopard-cat, civet cat, mongoose, common otter, giant flying squirrel, giant squirrel, porcupine, jackal, mouse-deer, hare and pangolin are also found in these parks. You will need to book a safari at the offices of these parks in advance and typically there is an early morning and later afternoon safari that is conducted. The Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary is situated on the banks of the River Kali at Dandeli in North Karnataka and also happens to be the second largest sanctuary in the state. This is a natural habitat for tigers, leopards, black panthers, elephants, gaur, deer, antelopes, crocodiles and a variety of snakes apart from avian species like the golden-backed woodpecker, crested serpent eagle, white breasted kingfisher, grey hornbill, great pied hornbill, Malabar pied hornbill. The Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary is a protected area and a tiger reserve, situated amidst Western Ghats in Chikmagalur and Shimoga is rich in wildlife with diverse range of flora and fauna. The Anshi National Park in North Karnataka has semi-evergreen and evergreen forests and a rich bio diversity as well. If you are in Bengaluru, stop by at the Bannerghatta National Park that is a combination of a zoo and national park and has safaris that take you through a tiger zone, bear zone, leopard zone and more. The Kudremukh National Park in Dakshina Kannada is home to the Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, dhole, golden jackal, lion-tailed macaque, sloth bear, gaur, sambar, spotted deer, barking deer and more.
If you have a week and want to explore Karnataka in style, hop on to the Karnataka special luxury train the Golden Chariot that will transport you to the lap of luxury taking you on the only luxury train in South India. Named after the iconic stone chariot of Hampi the train is done up in majestic hues of purple and gold has and has 18 coaches, 11 of which are reserved for guests. Named aafter the various dynasties that once ruled Karnataka, each coach has four rooms equipped with a TV and an attached bathroom. Apart from wi-fi, the train has a gym, spa, business centre and control room so it is like a hotel room on wheels! Running between October and March each year, the train offers two itineraries, the Southern Splendour and the Pride of South. The Pride of Karnataka offers you a sneak peek into the diverse sites of the state including heritage, history, architecture and wild life. This includes stops at the heritage city of Mysore, a wildlife experience at Kabini, a visit to the historical sights of Tipu Sultan’s summer palace and tomb in Srirangapatna and Hassan where you can see the unique 57-foot monolithic statue of Bahubali in Shravanbelagola as well as the sculptural marvels of the Halebid and Belur temples. You also visit the UNESCO world heritage sites Hampi and Pattadakkal as well as the caves of Badami as part of the week long itinerary. The food is another highlight and the mix of local and international cuisine on board will whet your appetite.
Tourism minister Priyank Kharge and his team ensures that there is something new all the time and has recently launched Prathama (Pravasi Thana Mahiti) an online management information system that will collect, collate and disseminate information relevant to tourists. The website hosts the list of tourist destinations, hotels, resorts and homestays, facilities for tourists and more. In fact the Government also dedicates each year to a specific aspect of tourism and 2017 has been declared as “the year of the wild”. The tourism department will also be opening 12 eco trails in the Western Ghats and reduce the movement of unauthorized trekkers here. Likewise the famed annual Dasara festivities at Mysore are offered as a package that includes accommodation, meals, sightseeing and events at the Palace. In fact the Golden Chariot has a special run at this time too. The tourism department has also curated royal walks to enable tourists to explore the heritage-rich city of Mysuru. In fact the department is instrumental in promoting destinations in a unique way through events and festivals that showcase the potential of the destination and this is what makes Karnataka a place like no other!
This story appeared in the Dec-17 issue of Spice Route magazine here: Karnataka