Indian Travel Diary
Chapter 11: Mangalore

March 11th, Madikeri/Mangalore

The bus leaves Madikeri at 9:40 a.m. and we head west through country with high hills and thick vegetation. There are a variety of flowers to be seen, including datura with their large white funnels hanging down. Lots of coffee planations around here, with houses built halfway up the hillsides, presumably belonging to the plantation owners. And later there are rubber plantations beside the road.

It's a bumpy ride. We stop at a few unremarkable towns and eventually arrive at Mangalore about 1 p.m. The Rough Guide mentions the Dashamani Grand as a decent place to stay, and I get an autorickshaw there. It's on one of the main streets. They have decent rooms for 300 rupees, so I take one, looking out in the direction of the coast, a decent view for a change.

It's 2 p.m. I go to the hotel restaurant for lunch. Looks quite good. I have a fresh lime soda and a bowl of ten fried prawns for fifty rupees, quite tasty. Then back to the hotel where I sleep for three hours. Wake at sunset. Feeling low-energy and depressed.

I go out looking for an internet place. Mangalore is quite the big city after Madikeri, and the initial impression is not unfavorable. I find an internet place and spend two hours there. The connection is not fast, but adequate for what I need to do. Then it's dinner at the same restaurant as where I had lunch: a fruit cocktail (good), an OK chicken moghalai with rice, and for dessert a slice of butterscotch icecream (good), all for 150 rupees (US$3).

March 12th, Mangalore

I sleep well, except for waking a few times, and get up at 8:30 a.m. I call room service to order breakfast, but this hotel doesn't do breakfast (and the hotel restaurant is closed mornings). So I go out looking for a restaurant where I can get a Western breakfast (eggs, coffee, toast). I go to the Woodlands Hotel. They have a restaurant but it serves only Indian breakfasts (idlis, dosas, etc.). I get an orange juice. I go to another hotel: same thing, only Indian breakfasts. I walk up the street to a third restaurant: same thing. I'm beginning to despair of getting a decent breakfast when I find a hotel which has a restaurant serving American breakfasts for 55 rupees. I order mango juice (in a carton), fried eggs, toast and coffee. All arrives and is OK except that tea (as tea bags) is brought instead of coffee.

I go out for dinner to the Xanadu Restaurant across the street. It's pleasant inside. I get a half tandoori chicken and a bottle of beer, both good. There's a window near my table which looks out onto a kind of grotto, rocks and pools, in which there are two resident ducks.

March 13th, Mangalore

I go out and spend a few hours on the net, then walk around the town for a bit. Get a chocolate-chip mint icecream at the local Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors shop. I'm the only customer. I wonder why. Then I see that one scoop costs 33 rupees, for most Indians fairly pricey.

It's time I visited the Manjunatha Temple. According to the Rough Guide there's a mahapuja at 8 p.m., "when the priests give a fire blessing to the accompaniment of raucous music." I leave at 6:30 pm. for the temple.

I get an autorickshaw to the temple. It's quite a way and the driver stops before a gate in a wall of modest dimensions. I'm not sure this is the right temple, but the driver assures me. I go in, and there's a large courtyard with a large, single-storey building in the center. I leave my flip-flops near the gate. I meet a young woman who is carrying some packets of incense, here apparently to pay her respects to the deities. Her name is Rekha. She leads me to a door in the outer wall leading into a temple where there is a golden image of Ganesh. There are paintings of religious scenes on the walls. Several other people are present, making offerings and performing prostrations before the deity. Rekha then takes me to the next temple, which has a golden image of Parvarti. Ganesh is the son, Parvarti the mother, and the father, Shiva, is in the main temple in the center of the courtyard. We leave this temple and continue walking around the main temple until we come to the entrance.

It's quite large inside. On the walls on either side at the front are paintings of yogis, presumably distinguished members of the Natha-Pantha tradition, of which this is the main temple. This building has a thatched roof, and within it is a stone temple, elaborately decorated. Within it, in a side chamber, is the 10th-century bronze of Trilokeshvara, the three-faced god who is Lord of the Three Worlds. Two brahmin priests are sitting on each side of the door of this temple (framed by decorated silver plates), dispensing a colored paste to devotees, who smear it on the foreheads. The inner sanctum, presumably very old, is deep within the temple, and is lit by numerous ghee-lamps. It contains a golden image of Shiva, but is too far away to be seen clearly from the entrance. The style of the temple and its decoration is certainly distinctive. I get the impression that the Natha-Pantha tradition is of considerable interest, but there is no literature on display with any information about it.

Ganesh shrine Kashi water
(Click on images to enlarge.)
It's about 7:15 p.m. Rekha and I leave the main temple and ascend some stone stairs to a couple of shrines, including a Ganesh shrine, further up the hill. One has water gushing out and the priest tells us that this is holy water which comes directly from Kashi (the old name for Varanasi). That Varanasi is over a thousand kilometers away does not raise doubts in the mind of one who has faith. The priest gives us a handful of prasad to eat; it's kind of grainy and sweet — tastes good.

The next temple, up a flight of steps, is dedicated to Murugan, the monkey god who was Rama's loyal devotee. Outside it is a huge stature of Murugan, about 10 meters high.

The night is pleasant, neither too warm nor too cool, with the Moon visible in a cloudless sky. We descend to the courtyard. Rekha is leaving. She tells me that she is from Kerala, but now works in Mangalore as a research chemist. I thank her for showing me around and she departs.

I return to the main temple to witness the mahapuja at 8 p.m. The priests are setting up an elaborate arrangement which involves two multi-tiered racks of ghee-lamps. A side-room has cooking fires, over which rice has been cooking, and the priests now bring out a couple of dozen servings of rice, on palm leaves, and place these in a row on a board which is laid between the racks of ghee-lamps. Musicians are preparing their instruments, including a drum and a saxophone. The brahmin priests begin their ritual and the musicians break into a raucous chorus, while two devotees at the front to the shrine ring the temple bells. A dozen of us are standing at the front and we can see way down into the inner sanctum, where there are now hundreds of ghee-lamps burning, in addition to those on the two multi-tiered racks closer to us. A brahmin priest is performing arati, and amidst the darkness of the inner sanctum we can see the multiple flames of the arati instrument being moved in a circle, but the priest himself is not visible. There's an air of mystery to what is going on.

The ritual concluded, a brahmin priest brings a sacred flame to the assembled devotees and we all pass our hands over it and touch our foreheads, believers thereby receiving the blessings of the deity. A brahmin priest now dispenses the palm leaves with rice, coconut, etc., to some people, who put them into plastic bags, to be taken I know not where.

The head priest, somewhat elderly, comes out and raises his arm toward me as if to say, go away. I decide I must be mistaken in thinking that's what he means, but I am puzzled.

It's 8:30 p.m., so I leave and get an autorickshaw back to the city, where I have dinner at the Heera Panna Restaurant, a glass of fruit punch and a bowl of fried prawns.

March 14th, Mangalore

I sleep well and wake at 9 a.m. I go out to the internet place. I decide to check one or two local bookstores, since I've read there has been a book published recently on the history of the Manjunatha Temple. I get an autorickshaw to Higginbotham's. It's quite close, and the ride should cost only ten rupees, but the driver takes me on a tour of the city before reaching Higginbotham's and then demands 27 rupees. We finally settle on twenty.

Higginbotham's is said to be one of the two best bookstores in Mangalore, but it's basically one large room filled with books, half of them technical. They don't know about any book on the Manjunatha Temple. Nothing of interest here.

I walk back along Light House Hill Road toward my hotel. I browse in another bookstore, a smaller one. Nothing much of interest here also, though I do see that they have a copy of Nirad Chaudhuri's The Continent of Circe, which I read thirty years ago. So it's still in print. The author calls India "the continent of Circe" because Circe is the (Greek) goddess who turned men into pigs, and the author claims that the lighter-skinned Indians who invaded India (around 1000 BCE) were related to latter-day Europeans but in India degenerated to their present sorry state, partly under the influence of the debilitating Indian climate.

I have an early dinner at the Xanadu Restaurant. A chicken curry with rice (not bad, though the curry is a bit bland) followed by a caramel custard.

Mangalore is not an unpleasant city, in some ways quite "developed", more so than Mysore. And it's not as hot as Mysore. Perhaps being next to the ocean has a moderating effect on the temperature. The people seem quite relaxed and friendly.

March 16th, Mangalore

Shiva shrine
I spend a couple of hours on the net and receive a message from a friend confirming that he's in Goa, along with another friend of mine.  So I decide to head for Goa to meet them.

I go out to the Manjunatha Temple again to get some photos. I take some photos of the pools, where children are swimming, and of the Ganesh shrine where the water flows out, supposedly from Kashi. I look into some smaller rooms nearby, in one of which is an elaborate Shiva shrine.

I then go to the main temple. No photos are permitted inside. I stand at the front of the stone temple inside, admiring the silverwork around the door. The head priest comes out and, like the last time I was here, gestures at me to get away. Previously I did not think he was serious about this, but today he makes it plain that he wants me to leave. He tries to shoo me away like I was some insect. It could be that he is a Hindu bigot, holding that non-Hindus should not be allowed inside Hindu temples. He shoos me away again. I make the same gesture towards him. Since I don't speak his language I am unable to tell him what a prick he is. Totally offended by his behavior I leave the temple and the temple grounds.

Back at the hotel I get dinner at the Heera Panna restaurant, a so-so chicken pulau. I decide to leave tomorrow for Goa.

March 17th, Mangalore/Goa

St. Patrick's Day, but there's no sign of the green in Mangalore.

I get in an hour on the net then pack and leave the hotel around 2 p.m. and head for the railway station. There's a train at 2:50 p.m. I get a second-class ticket, no reserved seat. Since it's only five hours in the train to Madgoan (a.k.a. Margao), about 450 km from here, one of the main cities of Goa. I figure I can put up with the crowd for that time.

The train arrives about 2:20 p.m. (it starts from Mangalore). I don't know which carriage to board. Eventually I ask at the enquiry desk and I'm told that second class is the last two carriages. By the time I get there most of the seats are occupied, but I find a seat and stow my rucksack on the luggage rack above the seats.

Passengers on luggage rack
The train leaves on time. At first it moves along at about 8 km/hour, but later picks up speed. We are travelling through areas of palm trees and rice paddies (mostly dry). I had forgotten about the hard seats in second class, and it's not long before I have a sore behind.

We stop at various stations. Extra passengers board. The carriage is pretty full. In my section alone there are five people on each of the two benches, plus two more men across the aisle, and in the overhead luggage racks there are two men sitting cross-legged and one lying down, a total of fifteen people.

Most of my fellow passengers are men, but there are a husband, wife and daughter sitting across from me. The daughter, who looks to be around twenty years old, is quite pretty and lively. Even her mother has a certain charm.

Young woman
I decide I'd like to get a photo of the young woman opposite me. Around 7:30 p.m. I get my Nikon out and begin taking photos of my fellow passengers. As usual the appearance of the camera is of great interest to everyone, and there's a general enthusiasm about having their pictures taken.

At 8:30 p.m. we finally arrive in Madgaon. I've consulted the Rough Guide, which mentions the Tourist Lodge (and that it has a restaurant). I leave the station looking for an autorickshaw for the 3 km into the city center, but there are none. Instead there is a prepaid taxi booth, so for fifty rupees I get a taxi. The Tourist Lodge has been renovated, and a single costs 450 rupees (US$10). A bit pricy. The taxi driver recommends another hotel, not far away. He takes me there. Rooms are only 270 rupees, but not especially appealing, so I decide to splurge a bit and I return to the Tourist Lodge. The room is good and 450 rupees is not too much, at least for two nights.

After a welcome shower I go to the hotel restaurant. I order a large bottle of Fosters Beer (for 45 rupees, a lot cheaper than beer in Mamallapuram). The special tonight is King Fish, and I order a plate (70 rupees). It's a slice of fish fried with some herbs or vegetables. It's delicious. And it's European cooking! Specifically, Portuguese. It's good to get European cooking again after two months of Indian food.

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