We had got the booking for Sunday and Monday nights. We decided to start driving on Saturday itself to make full use of the weekend. Our cook packed us a great lunch of puliyogere and thayirsadam, just like the old days when we would pack food and eat on the wayside. Our target destination on the first day was Hubli, where we hoped to find a decent hotel to stay at. Rather than risk the regular jams on Tumkur Road, we decided to take a slightly longer route via Dodbal
lapur and Dabbaspete. It was a good decision, as the traffic was very light and we reached Tumkur around 2 hours after we left. The main downside was the many speedbreakers along the way, it was almost as if each house in evey village had constructed one to slow the cars down.
We had a quick bite at the Kamat Upachar and set out towards Chitradurga. The highway between Tumkur and Chitradurga was awesome, as most completed section
s of the GQ are. On the way to Chitradurga, we saw an amazing vista of over a hundred windmills. Apparently, this is a windfarm run by Suzlon and has
generated a lot of controversy for environment damage.
Once past Chitradurga, the road deteriorates rapidly, with lots of unfinished sections. Unfortunately, our present buffoons in the UPA government view the highway project as a low priority and all work on the uncompleted portions seems to have come to a standstill.
It was now almost 2:00pm and we were looking for a place to stop and have lunch. That's when we realized the other main casualty of the four-laning project, the tree cover. There is absolutely no shade anywhere to be found. After driving for almost 20 km, we found some shade and stopped for lunch.
We progressed slowly, past Harihar, Davangere, Rannebennur. Finally, after we crossed Haveri, the conditions improved and we were able to make faster progress, finally reaching Hubli at 6:30, a full 9 hours after we started. I'd managed to get the name of a decent hotel (Hotel Hans) from one of my friends, but there was no number. Luckily, we found that they had some rooms available and were abl
e to check in. The hotel was average, but the food (both dinner and breakfast the next morning) was really good.
The next morning, we had a short stop at Lake Unkal. This is a fairly large lake in Hubli and looked quite clean, unlike some of the lakes in Bangalore. There is a statue of Swami Vivekananda in the middle (a la Lord Buddha at the Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad)
, but we couldn't really make out from the distance.
The highway from Hubli to Ankola was once described as the "worst road in the country" due to the hundreds
of iron-ore laden trucks from Bellary that had destroyed the road. However, with the collapse of iron-ore exports, the road had significantly improved. The road still bears the scars, everything has a reddish hue, the leaves on the trees are coloured red and the overloaded trucks have sunk the ground by a few inches, making it an unpleasant ride for a car that has a narrower track.
We reached Karwar at lunchtime and checked into the hotel office in the city. The resort we had booked in, Devbagh Beach Resort, is run by Jungle Lodges. As the only access to the resort is via boat, it is relatively uncrowded and clean. The beach is clean and shallow enough that you can venture a few hundred feet and still have the water only reach up to waist level. The waves are also relatively small, so it is a great beach for children to play in. There are varied levels of accommodation ranging from tents to log huts. We had booked a fisherman’s log hut, but due to overbooking, we were upgraded to a higher category of loghut with air-conditioning. Being a enterprise that promotes eco-tourism, there are not that many frills in the resort, no TV, telephone or restaurant. Instead, there is a common dining area with set times for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Nisha was eager to hit the beach right away, but we convinced her to wait until 4 o’clock when the heat subsides a little bit. She had a great time playing in the water till around 6:00 pm, when we decided to head back to the room and get ready for the campfire. It turned out to be a disappointment, as there was no activity planned as such, it was just people getting into their groups around the fire. But, it was a great night for stargazing, the lack of city lights meant that we saw a lot more stars that we ever could in Bangalore.
We were woken up at 5:30 am the next morning for the nature walk. Vidya and Nisha were in no mood to get up, so I went alone. It was quite windy and chilly, but the people who braved it were treated to a fantastic sunrise over the mountains.
The nature walk was quite entertaining, with the guide Anil rattling off quite a few jokes in hindi and Kannada. The highlight was when he dug up some river
crabs and put them on people’s hands for a special photo-op. These were fairly docile and the non-biting variety.
Later on, he dug up a proper ocean crab (chamadi nikalne wala) from the beach. This was a real mean one, when he held up a small stick, it immediately grabbed it and held on with a surprisingly firm grip. He took it back with him, probably a lunch feast.
Soon after breakfast, we went back to Karwar to visit the colony where Vidya grew up. On the way, we stopped at one of her father’s colleague, Mr Saxena’s house. Though they were Biharis, they had grown so much in love with the place, that they had settled down in Karwar itself. It was a beautiful place, with a large garden and lots of trees. The fact that it would cost less money to buy than an average 2 bedroom apartment in Bangalore, left me wondering whether we have our priorities right. The factory and colony were around 5 km away in a place called Biniga. We were taken on a tour of the place by one of the older employees. It was a nice place, clean and well maintained, but as the person explained, it was no longer like the olden days. The plant was being operated with a lot fewer employees and there was a lot of movement of people, so the community had been built around the factory in the 70s and 80s was no longer present. In addition, the beach near the colony had been acquired by the Navy, who had built a 10 foot wall along the road. As a result, Vidya was quite disappointed and was wishing that she had not come to see the place in its current state.
From there, it was back to the resort for lunch and more beach activity. This time, we walked further along the beach and found a small pool of water where Nisha enjoyed herself tremendously. We had to check out the next morning. Before we left, we took the boat ride into the sea that was included as part of the package. If we were fortunate, we would be able to see some dolphins. But, it was not our lucky day. Not only did we see no dolphins, on the way back, the boat broke down. The boatman dropped the anchor and we waited there for almost half an hour for the other boat to come and pick us up. As a result, we could only leave Karwar only by 12:00 pm. Our plan was to visit the famous Mahabaleshwar temple, but due to the late departure, we decided to leave Gokarna for another time and instead visit Yana.
Before the trip, I had researched and found that it was advisable to get to Sirsi and then go to Yana rather than take the direct route from Kumta. So, we went on NH17 towards Kumta and took the smaller state highway towards Sirsi. A few km before Sirsi, we found a turnoff towards Yana. We enquired with a local shop on the condition of the road and got the reply “Channagidde sir, hoga baudu”. As we discovered later, the perception of a good road is very different in Sirsi. The road was average to begin with and progressively got worse. To make things even more exciting, we saw a huge black snake cross the road just before our car. That made me even more cautious, as we didn’t want a puncture or breakdown in that place. Along the way, we considered turning back many times, but the thing that kept us going was the chance that maybe we had taken the bad road and there was a better road to Sirsi. Finally, we reached Yana taking almost 1.5 hours to travel the 30 km. There we were told that the actual rock was a 1.5 hour trek. More disappointing was the news that the only way back to Sirsi was along the same road that we had come. We were so dis-spirited that we decided to skip the trek and head back to Sirsi. The first 15 km were hell, when we came up to a fork in the road. We decided to skip the path we had come on and take the other one to Sirsi. It was a couple of km of the same bad roads and then miraculously, the road improved and we had a fantastic 20 km till we reached Sirsi. We had a quick bite and moved towards Haveri to join the national highway.
The road from Sirsi to Haveri was only marginally better, hardly more than single lane in many places, a broken surface and almost no traffic. We made slow progress and covered the 90 km distance in around 2 hours. A quick stop in Haveri for some fuel and tea followed. By now, it was almost 8 pm and reaching Bangalore was out of question. We decided to stop for the night at Davengere. Luckily, I remembered my friend Shashi, who is from Davangere, and got the names of a few hotels from him. A quick call to Just Dial got us their contact details and we had a confirmed room booking. We finally reached Davangere at 10:30 pm, just in time to get a quick bite before the hotel kitchen closed.
After the adventures of the previous day, the drive back to Bangalore was boring. We reached Neelamangala at 2:00 pm and took over 2 hours to get to HSR Layout. For the third year in a row, I arrived home just in time for new years eve. This time, we were just too tired to stay up, so we did the traditional new year cake cutting at 9 pm before going to sleep!!!