Thursday, April 19, 2012

Introductory Ignominies

I’m sorry, but did I miss the memo on how people ought to introduce themselves now? Since when did “North Indian” and “South Indian” attain an ethnic label all their own? Are official Indian government forms now demanding you declare yourself thus?

“Me? I’m just a North Indian guy”, someone once introduced himself to me. What? That tells me absolutely nothing about you, apart from the fact that you are possibly of less than average intelligence for introducing yourself like that. Or you credit me with little or no geographic sense. Either way, you are far from becoming my favourite person. I feel almost apologetic that my geographic knowledge is as sound as it is. Dangle a tempting enough reward and I can name every state and union territory. Yes, I am geeky like that. It’s still a hell of a lot better than being plain ignorant or just mindlessly accepting absolutely pointless labels.

An even bigger sin is introducing yourself while adding “I am from North” or “I am from South”. Forget the fact that you probably lost your definite articles about the same time you lost your marbles, but you leave me hanging onto the edge of my seat. North of where? South of where? The equator? North Hampshire? South America? One of the Koreas? Pray, tell, where is it that such a dazzling nincompoop as yourself sprang from?

And if “North Indian” and “South Indian” are indeed accepted labels now, why aren’t people going around saying they are “East Indian” and “West Indian”? What is this - the Doordarshan weather update of the 80’s which conveniently left out the entire North East and the cloud-covered Andamans? I mean, if this is the way it’s going to be done now, we might as well go the whole hog.

Truth be told, I am sick and tired of hearing the aforementioned labels and this growing regionalism around me. For the love of God, just name your home state. If someone hasn’t heard of Bihar or Andhra or Uttaranchal or Kerala or some Pradesh or Nadu, they probably aren’t worth conversing with anyway. Unless you enjoy particularly scintillating conversation with half-wits. In which case, you might as well introduce yourself as an imbecile. Imbeciles, in my experience, are not limited to any specific geographic regions. Most unfortunate. Ideally, they ought to be confined to strait jackets.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Cooing over Kurumgad

I am not a city person. I will maintain that to my last breath. Sure I can honk with the best of them, bicker with the worst of them and appear perfectly at ease in a city bursting at the seams with people, vehicles, noise, smoke, garbage, a million one-ways, insane mayors, loud people, rude people, inconsiderate people, "I-me-myself" people, people and more people. But I need to get away from it all. For a little peace and quiet. Nothing like a little trip to the hills or to the beach to restore good cheer and general sanity. I am beginning to conclude that people grow progressively nicer as you move closer to the coast or further up the hills. Serious. It’s the boors in-between who seem to have no other purpose in life other than to drive every living being in their vicinity absolutely mad. The coastal lot is happy, laidback, pleasant and cheerful while the hillbillies are pleasant but quieter, gentle, helpful and courteous. It has to do with the cleaner air closer to the coast or on the hills. How else would you explain it?

So while I spent the previous weekend sauntering around the cool green hills I call home, with two pooches and billions of chirruping cicadas, birds and the odd frog or two for company, last weekend saw me making my way to an island with four certified mad hatters I call friends . 

Sun (plenty of it), sand, surf and some hilarious company ensured I had a break that I thoroughly enjoyed. This post will be a somewhat serious write-up about the place and how to get there (mostly because I found very little useful information about the place and route before we started out). 
Kurumgad Island is about a half-hour boatride away from the coast of Karwar. The island’s distinct shape is what inspired its name, which means “tortoise shape”. The boatride to the island is interesting. Kurumgad comes into view only once the white sandy beach line of the more popular Devbagh recedes into the distance.

The resort there, “The Great Outdoors”, is very basic yet functional and definitely not for the luxury traveler. The entire island, about 2.5kms in perimeter, belongs to the resort. 

The resort offers clean but very simple bamboo cottages and “tented accommodation”. The tents are pitched on concrete platforms with tin roofs. The island has no electricity so lights and fans are run on a generator that is switched off during the day until the evening. They depend solely on water from a natural spring on the island, which runs low during the summer. A notice in our bathroom requested us to please limit ourselves to one bath a day. A request we decided was worth ignoring, considering the amount of perspiration the blistering heat evoked. Nonetheless, the water never ran out. 

The island could be straight out of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventure series. A rocky coastline all around, except for the white sandy cove which is suitable for swimming and other water sports. The water in this naturally formed cove was very gentle, so even the most nervous of non-swimmers was quite happily neck-deep in the salty water. (Smitten promptly donned a bright yellow lifejacket and spent several happy hours bobbing around in the water, amusing the rest of us with her unintentional and apparently uncontrollable skittle-like movements.)

The resort offers a few “watersports” – banana boatrides, snorkeling and a ride in a rubber dinghy towed by a speedboat. It also organizes boatrides to spot dolphins, which are fairly abundant in the area, lolling around lazily in the bright blue water, quite unconcerned by gawking humans.
The rest of the island is rugged, thick with trees, shrubs and bushes. Birds, snakes and tortoises are quite easy to spot in the crazy canopy of aerial roots that dot the island. 

There was also a mention of otters frequenting “Mystery Creek”, which was apparently formed millions of years ago during an earthquake. The otters eluded us.

There are remains of a fort, a garishly painted temple, a canon and an abandoned lighthouse. There isn’t much to do once you are done exploring the area and taking a dip in the sea. We spent the rest of our time taking pictures, contemplating the beautiful sunsets and sunrises and napping or reading in the several hammocks that overlook the sea.

The food was simple but tasty Mangalorean fare. While fish and chicken were part of the regular buffet and barbeque, prawns and crabs are cooked up on request (keep in mind that anything you ask for has to be brought over from the mainland, so it could take a while). Only beer (Kingfisher) is served. Carry your own booze if you fancy anything else. The vegetarians didn’t complain about the veggie fare either and I’ll just take their word for it.
 The resort staff was pleasant, helpful and courteous. One of them, the Kurumgad Hoff, would sit patiently on the beach for as long as we wanted to stay there, keeping an eye out for any sort of danger – rising tide, us swimming too close to the rocks and so on – before escorting us back to the resort, which is a ten-minute walk away from this area.

 As we sat quietly watching the sun sink into the Arabian Sea on our last evening there, I mulled whether or not to write about this unexpectedly pleasant getaway. While a part of me wanted to keep it selfishly to myself – the less tourists that get there, the more chance of it remaining as unspoiled and peaceful as it is now – I finally decided that I would do the place an injustice by keeping mum. If a place, just a ten-hour drive from the chaotic city of Bangalore, can restore such a feeling of peace and general bonhomie, it deserves to be talked about.  
 (Driving instructions from Bangalore to Karwar (about 520kms): Head out of Bangalore via Yeshwantpur onto NH4 (the Pune highway). This goes past Tumkur, Sira, Davanagere, Chitradurga, Haveri and then Hubli. At the Hubli stretch of the highway (do not take the turnoff into the town), take a left after the toll gate toward Karwar (NH17). Karwar is about 120kms from here. Follow NH 17 and at the T-junction, take a left. This is the Yellapur ghat section. At the next T-junction, take a right toward Karwar. From thereon, it is pretty much one straight road until you reach the Karwar Port and naval base. The Great Outdoors’ office is about 200m from the port main gate, and the jetty for the boat to the island is about 3kms after that. The island has a private parking lot at the jetty where you can safely leave your vehicle. This route, although slightly longer than other routes, is a good road. Carry ample food and water as there are hardly any decent pitstops on the highway after Chitradurga. NH17 is even more deserted, with just the one functional petrol bunk.)