Udupi unplugged

Sandy & Vyjay | Updated on May 17, 2021

Centre stage: Kere Basadi, an 850-year-old Jain temple, stands right in the middle of an emerald lake   -  SANDY & VYJAY

Karnataka’s best known tourist destination offers a melange of experiences across drama, faith, heritage, food and adventure for the discerning traveller

* If Udupi were a person, it would have multiple personalities

* On the one hand, Udupi is synonymous with the Sri Krishna Matha, making it a revered pilgrim spot; on the other hand, its many beaches make it a destination for leisure and adventure

* It is believed that the St Mary’s islands, off the coast of Malpe, were formed when Madagascar, which was attached to India, got separated owing to volcanic activity millions of years ago


The drum beats rose to a crescendo. All eyes were transfixed on the demonic character who leered from behind a make-shift screen held up by two of his assistants. In a flash the evil face of the demon was replaced by the wise visage of a hermit with a flowing beard. The hermit jumped to the centre of the stage where a woman stood behind a line drawn with chalk.

The audience clapped in appreciation as the rhythmic beats smote the darkness with their hypnotic sound. We were at an amphitheatre on the edge of Malpe Beach in Udupi district, watching a Yakshagana performance titled Jatayu Moksha that depicts the dramatic events which led to the abduction of Sita by the demon king Ravana in the epic Ramayana.

In many ways the transformation of the personalities of Ravana also defines the character of Karnataka’s Udupi district itself. If Udupi were a person, it would have multiple personalities.

On the one hand, Udupi is synonymous with the Udupi Sri Krishna Matha, the centre of the Dvaita school of Hindu philosophy and a font of spirituality. Churches, Hindu temples, mosques, and Jain temples together weave Udupi into an enigmatic but enchanting place that offers a colourful melange of diverse experiences. On the other hand, the many beaches in its vicinity make it a destination for leisure and adventure.

The famous Udupi cuisine traces its roots to the Udupi Ashtamathas and is satvik to the core. It consists of vegetarian fare that is rich with the flavours of jaggery and coconut. A variety of pumpkins and gourds lends a wholesome taste to the sambhar while the saaru or rasam is tangy and somewhat sweet. Raw bananas, colocasia leaves, and jackfruit are some other ingredients that add to the flavours and texture of this unique cuisine. Pure vegetarian meals co-exist with the coastal cuisine of Tulunadu which offers a spread of seafood preparations.

Heritage salvaged

Udupi is often referred to as the “cradle of Indian Banking”, and Manipal — which lies just over 6 km away — has always played an important role in the Indian financial spectrum. It has also emerged as an educational centre and a university town. We drove towards Manipal, a contemporary melting pot of cultures, for a rendezvous with the past.

In the shadow of modernist buildings and in the midst of the concrete jungle of Manipal lies an oasis that comes as a whiff of fresh air. This is the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village, a place that is more often than not overlooked by visitors.

“It is the pride of this place, the only wooden structure to have survived from the Vijayanagara times,” says T Harish Pai, joint secretary of the Hasta Shilpa Trust which manages the museum, while taking us on a guided tour. Pai’s passion is a reflection of the vision of the late Vijayanath Shenoy, whose labour of love is the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village Museum.

Shenoy was a banker and a connoisseur of architecture. He collected artefacts and salvaged what he could from heritage houses that were being demolished. His collection over the years gave shape to the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village. After his demise, the museum has been managed by a trust, of which Pai is joint secretary.

The live museum spread across 6.5 acres is a multi-sensory experience that delights visitors with its aesthetic appeal and heritage value. It is a collection of 26 heritage homes and structures reconstructed from authentic material. One of the unique exhibits of the museum is the only surviving wooden structure in the world dating back to the Vijayanagara Empire. The museum is the best kept secret of Udupi district, and a fitting ode to the magnificent past of the region.

Immaculate wonder

As we turned another page in Udupi’s enigmatic book, we found ourselves 34 km from Udupi town in the tiny hamlet of Attur in Karkala Taluk. What drew us there was the beautiful St Lawrence Basilica.

The façade of the Church stood in spectacular fashion, its perfect contours framed in the background of a clear blue sky, bathed in an aura of divine beauty. The interiors of the ancient church have a sublime effect with its vast space, and daylight slipping in through beautiful stained glass windows create a magical effect. The church dates back to the 18th century and is dedicated to St Lawrence — one of the most venerated Roman martyrs and a patron saint of the poor. There is a serene “miracle pond” within the Church known for its annual festival locally known as “Attur Jatre”, or Attur Fair.

Picturesque temple

Udupi’s air is filled with the mysticism of different faiths and religions. Our exploration of the multi-dimensional character of Udupi took us next to another small village called Varanga, some 39 km from Udupi town.

We walked down a flight of steps to reach the emerald waters of a lake. In the distance, right in the middle of the water, stood what is known as the Kere Basadi, an 850-year-old Jain temple. A boat takes visitors to this enchanting temple, which is also known as Chaturmukha Temple. The temple is dedicated to Padmavati who in Jainism is considered to be the yakshi or attendant goddess of the 23rd Tirthankara, Parshwanath. The idols of Parshwanath, Neminath, and Anantanatha, who were all Jain Tirthankaras, are also found in the temple.

Footsteps of Vasco da Gama

We watched the crystal clear waters of the Arabian Sea rise and fall against the strange but geometrically shaped rocks. The rocks had a columnar shape and it was a wonder how, despite millions of years, their shapes had not been distorted. We were now at one of the geological wonders located in Udupi district, the St Mary’s Islands off the coast of Malpe.

Inhale the sky: Nature is at its pristine best in the uninhibited St Mary’s island   -  SANDY & VYJAY


The rocks were no ordinary rocks: They have stood witness to the ebb and flow of the sea for more than 88 million years. It is believed that these islands were formed when Madagascar, which was attached to India, got separated owing to volcanic activity millions of years ago. The rocks are known as columnar basaltic rock and are believed to date back to that time.

It is also believed that on his way to Kozhikode, Vasco da Gama had stopped here and placed a cross, naming one of the islands O Padrão de Santa Maria, from when it came to be known as St Mary’s Islands. Today St Mary’s is an uninhabited island where one can enjoy the bounty of pristine nature. The island is reached by a ferry from Malpe beach.

At Malpe beach one can indulge in water sports including jet skiing and parasailing. As we flew high up in the air above the blue waters of the sea, tethered to a boat, hanging by a harness, Udupi stretched out below invitingly — an ocean of experiences, a melange of places, some explored, and many waiting to be explored.

Sandy & Vyjay are couple travel writers from Bengaluru and they blog at https://imvoyager.com

Travel log

Getting There : The nearest airport is Mangaluru at a distance of about 59 km from where a cab can be hired to drive you to Udupi

Stay: There are many pretty resorts, including the Paradise Isle Beach Resort

BLink Tip: Do not miss the Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village Museum

Published on May 14, 2021

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