Winding down the narrow roads of the Western Ghats with enough twists and turns to churn whatever is in the stomach, one finally emerges in the coastal area of Karnataka near Honnavar Town where the mountain road meets the so-called National Highway NH-17. The “highway” is quite narrow by International standards and was badly worn out and exposed in stretches. Swollen rivers and lakes were all around us as we drove North towards Goa, reaching a wet and windy Colva Beach (Colva is near Madgao for those familiar with the larger cities of Goa).
Monsoon is a lean season in Goa and one does not generally need reservations anywhere in any class of accommodation. We just walked into a hotel that’s a stone’s throw away from Colva Beach. Although Goa tries to promote “monsoon tourism”, I know why most prefer the dry season. In this wet season, the sea is very rough and has a muddy tinge, there are no beach shacks to have a drink and eat some fresh local seafood. The sand on the beach is wet and somewhat dirty with left over plastic covers stuck in the sand, remnants from the tail end of the high season. Asking around, I came to know that they (whoever they are) don’t clean the beaches during monsoon simply because no one really comes beach side. But this is also the best time to go to Goa since there are no crowds, restaurants are all open and seating easily available unlike during the high season and generally the entire place wears a deserted look, which suits me fine. If better promoted and if the Government cleans up the place a bit, this would be an ideal monsoon lover’s paradise.
The morning turns out dark and gloomy, looking out towards the sea from the hotel window it appears like menacing clouds are about to make landfall and attack with fury and that’s precisely what happens, just as I step out the door of the lobby for a short walk across the street to a South Indian Udupi style breakfast joint called Sagar Kinara (what else!). The strong gusty wind catches me unawares and breaks my umbrella. Holding the tattered remains of the same and getting drenched, I made it to the restaurant for hot Idli and coffee. It’s raining very hard by now. It’s as if a dam in the sky has burst open and water is literally pouring down. For those who want to experience real rain and get away from the rest of the parched country, this would be the place. For lovebirds, the sounds of rain falling outside the window, the ever-rustling sounds of the coconut palm, the dark gray clouds heavily laden with rain provides ideal conditions to stay indoors and snuggle. For those who love getting wet in the rain or don’t mind a bit of a soak, like me, nothing will stop us characters from venturing out at the slightest pretext. Just watch out for objects flying around in the wind and falling tree branches!
We ventured up to Panjim, the capital city of Goa. I think a separate blog is in order, to fully describe this little town that makes up the capital of this small state. I’ll do that when I go back for housewarming in November. There are too many things to describe about Panjim that can’t be done here. I love the Old Portuguese buildings that are all over, well restored and in active use centuries later. The waterfront areas, in particular the river Mandovi’s banks, have some fine examples of such architecture. One can walk along the river on well paved walkways and lined with gardens and have a first class view of the boats that ply the river leading out to sea on one side and on the other side you’d be seeing these architecturally aesthetic buildings and you’d continue walking all the way to Campal and the Goa Kala Academy. All this is for another blog. Back in South Goa 45 minutes of driving later, we stopped for lunch at the famous Martin’s Corner and I kept my eyes peeled out for celebrities but no such luck. Photographs of Indian glitterati are hung on the wall showing how popular this place is. I found the ambiance to be delightfully Goan with murals of Mario Miranda’s cartoons on the walls. I ordered Goan food, the staple fish curry and rice combination and that was simply great. I’d say the service was fantastic too.
Next day was the big day for us. The apartment was all done and delivered. The swimming pool is near ready as is the community center and gymnasium. The keys handed over and the paperwork done, it was time for a celebratory lunch. There’s a restaurant called Fisherman’s Wharf near Mobor beach that’s right on the river Sal. One can see the line of fishing boats berthed silently, waiting for the monsoon to end before the fishing season starts. The ambience and food were both good. Sal River had turned muddy like all others.
(River Sal from Fisherman's Wharf)
Now, Mobor Beach needs a special blog too, as it’s my favorite. You’ve got white powdery sand, nice seafront, classy hotels nearby and at one end the River Sal empties itself into the sea. It all sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? It is worth a visit to anyone who has not been there. After lunch we drove up to Ponda and after visiting the Laxmi Narasimha temple in nearby Veiling, which I go to every time I am in Goa, we headed back out towards Karwar, the coastal port town in Karnataka. Not finding a decent place to stay in Karwar, we continued on into the night, something I swear I’d never do again.
The same road, NH-17, had completely become a lunar landscape during the brief two days that I was away in Goa. There had been extensive flooding of the road, heavy rainfall, stormy winds, downed trees and power lines, you name it. The same road we had traveled earlier was unrecognizable. Driver and I had to keep looking for signs that said we were still on NH-17 as neither of us could remember the road being that bad just a few days before. Night driving is insane. Add copious rain, poor general visibility, stray cattle (even at night!) and humans running across poorly lit or sometimes even completely dark NH-17 and it adds up to be a dangerous recipe. What with blinding lights coming in the opposite direction from drivers who never dip their lights, ill defined sign boards and directions, and you know you are close to an impending disaster. Luckily we escaped some very close calls that night.
We snuck into Kumta, another coastal town not far away from Karwar and hunkered down for the night at a decent place. There’s a rest stop in between Karwar and Kumta and I’d recommend a stop here at the Kamat Yatrinivas restaurant at any time. I liked their breakfast and generally everything else on the menu. They’ve got a sugarcane juice machine and will make fresh delicious cane juice for you while you wait, for a low price of Rs. 12 a glass (US 25 cents!).
(Flying fox - hanging from a tree on the banks of the Payaswini - click on the picture for an expanded view)
The next morning looked promising, with the sun partially out, visibility reasonably good and it was only then that we could see the real damage the excessive rainfall in this area had done. Heading out South towards northern Kerala, we saw people marooned, away from the road, their houses and huts were like little islands in a sea of muddy water. There was flooding all the way South and the roads did not show any signs of improvement for the entire length of the Karnataka coast that NH-17 follows.
(Hanging bridge - still pic - over Payaswini River)
Five bumpy hours later we arrived in Kerala. Interior roads in Kerala were still good and we made good progress. Staying back in Kanhangad town and visiting the somewhat disappointing beach there and our social visit completed, we drove next to Kuntar village for more socializing. Kuntar is on the banks of the river Payaswini that had also turned red and was flowing strong. They’ve made a new suspension bridge that now connects the other bank of the river. It was fun walking across the bridge and fun to see the greenery all around. Bats hung in trees in hundreds near the water, noisy as ever. These were flying foxes and I’ve never seen them from that close up.
Returning to Mysore via the hill town of Madikeri was interesting. Getting out of the nice Kerala roads, one encounters the Sulya-Madikeri road winding uphill, to be an extremely bad road. What makes up for this bone jarring experience is the vista. The hills all around, coffee plantations, the cool atmosphere and light intermittent rain followed us all the way to Mysore. The weather suddenly cleared up as we were just outside Mysore and the road, State Highway SH-88, was a real pleasure to drive on. The trip was therefore an overall success, bad roads adding to the adventure. I hope those who read this are prompted to visit Jog and possibly Goa; I heard the monsoon is getting weaker over the area now.