We all know Manipal and it’s universities. What we don’t know is beyond the college going aspirational swarm of youth, hanging in the dark, shady and the only pubs of the town across their perfect college campuses, lies a virgin tropical village, surrounded by rivers, backwaters, beaches, peninsula, islands, culture, heritage, ayurveda, art and surf. Since my brother was there pursuing his dream to become the master chef himself, I got a chance to visit and explore this little quaint town n around myself.
With Manipal began my two and a half month long journey across the southern coast and the northern Garhwals in November 2012.
Every November I’m in some place new. It’s my luckiest month.
One of the biggest reasons to come to Manipal was to go meet the surfing duo Ishita Malviya and Tushar Pathiyen who have inspired me much to take over the board myself. They are the founders of Shaka Surf Club on Kodi Bengre beach in Udupi, some 10 kms from Manipal. Their little surf shack is located on a peninsula with backwaters on one side and the Arabian sea on the other side.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t meet Ishita as she had fractured her collar bone and was getting treated, but nonetheless I met Tushar who was my surf instructor for the day. We arrived at the beach in a beach van loaded with surf boards listening to Bob Marley tunes and their surfer dog Marley.
The surf experience.
We’re all equal before a wave.
– Laird Hamilton
I was pumped to select my own board from a collection they had over the years, but Tushar picked one for me which was a long board suitable for beginners. It was twice my size and I was worried if I can handle it when the waves kick in on me. We practised paddling and standing up lying down on our boards at the beach itself before getting into the water. It didn’t seemed like a big task. There are just 4 steps to surf.
2. Paddle harder
3. Stand up
4. Ride the wave
Tushar is a true beach rat and will teach you a hundred hacks of living on the beach. And, it wasn’t just me and Tushar going to surf. There were about seven more local kids aged between 10 – 17 years who were surfing the waves before I even stepped into water. Then there was Amy, who is a runs a surfing NGO with the aim to surf across the world to bring about change. Just like what Tushar and Ishita are doing in Udupi. Udupi isn’t exposed to tourism. To bring a surf culture in a beach village like that, they need to involve the local community in more than one way. They taught the local kids, both girls and boys to this sport called surfing, so much that now it’s a very common thing in their culture. Even local village women have come to surf these days which is remarkable.
With high energy and pumping heart I jumped into the water with my surf board and we paddled deep into the water, so deep that when I looked back, I was more than 20 meters away from the beach. I have always felt very comfortable in the sea but just the thought of being so far away from the land was causing some sort of hesitation in me. But then I had to remind my fearing mind that the board is attached to my leg and the board never sinks. If I am in a “wipe out” situation, all I have to do is get back on my board that’s all!
When there are so many surfers in the water, you follow certain rules and do not invade any other surfer’s space in any circumstance to avoid collision. We were all sitting on our boards staring at the horizon, waiting for the perfect wave to come and the wait was over sooner than we thought. It was time to test everything I’ve learnt. When the first tide arrived, I start paddling hard, racing to stay ahead of it before it transforms into a wave and I would ride it, I was sure about that. I paddled and I paddled and I paddled hard and it seemed like I haven’t moved an inch. No matter how far you paddle, the current will just pull you back in. But you don’t give up, you gotta get the wave before it breaks and I did, for a split second, I stood up. That feeling, before I could feel it, I was in a whirlpool getting sucked down and again with my surf board flying above the surface.. Tushar helped me climb back on the board and I lied on it to catch my breath and courage back. Watching the kids owning the wave, you can’t let your spirit break over one single wipeout. So, I told myself – “THIS TIME, IT’S MINE!” And it was, for more than a split second. I could stand up for a few seconds and I knew then, what it’s all about. That feeling can’t be explained, but experienced.
I paddled and paddled until it was too hot to be paddling under the sun. It wasn’t enough. I wanted more. We spent the rest of the day on the beach, playing, swimming, learning, skateboarding, having fun, waiting to ride the waves again.
I went back to my brother’s apartment and narrated all the adventures of the day. Successfully convincing him to bunk class the next day come with me to take surf lessons. I was expecting my body to be exhausted from the rigorous paddling throughout the day, but my limbs felt strangely numb. I spent the rest of the day outing with my brother and his friends and retired early for the night to catch the 6 a.m. surf.
Next morning as I woke up, I realised the what the day one of surfing has brought. I could not lift my arms. It felt like there’s a heavy weight on my shoulders which I can’t lift on my own. That wasn’t all, my legs were full of bruises in black and blue which were caused due to falling on and off and getting hit by my board repeatedly throughout the day in the water. I was drained of all my energy and had to call the day off.
After having the world’s best dosas for lunch, I went to the Krishna Mutt Temple only to realise that there was an important festival in the night for which the preparations were going on. Unfortunately, I lost all the pictures from that night, except for this clip from my iPad.
The next day, brother and I took to the streets and go to places that he’s never been to before. There was a shack, which was the only shack on the entire stretch of the Udupi coast. It’s not even a shack, it’s a tiny hut that belongs to a family who live right across the beach road, along the backwaters. I asked him – “So what do we have?” To answer that question, he took us to his house where today’s menu lay in a bucket full of the day’s catch. I picked up a variety of freshwater and saltwater fishes for lunch and what a lunch it was. I have never had such authentic flavoured fish anywhere before. For drinks, he offered fresh tender coconut. And when he says fresh, he means it. Before I asked any further questions, the man just climbed up a coconut tree and cut fresh coconut and threw them on the sand. Have you ever had that fresh a coconut? I had. There were no glasses and I learnt to drink the water directly from the coconut. The only problem was that there was a lot of water, more than any coconut I had before.
Later, we went looking for a bridge that I have read about somewhere. It’s a stunning hanging bridge. Looking for it, we rode on some amazing narrow roads where there is no sound of a vehicle, only the sound of the trees, the water, the birds… It was surreal and the bridge, magical.
The next afternoon, we decided to take a boat to St. Mary’s Island some 20 minutes from the crowded Malpe beach. The island was a no man’s land with mysterious hexagonal rock formation and the sand replaced with billions of shredded sea shells. Bird’s took over the rocky beaches with white sands and clear waters and even more pristine sunsets. Need not say more, the pictures have more to tell.
Although my brother is no longer in Manipal, I would still visit the place again. To take that missed surf lessons, to spend the sunrise on the island, to catch fish with the fishermen family, to learn to climb the coconut tree and to spend the sunset hanging on the hanging bridge again. You are welcome to join me 🙂
With this, I took a train train ticket for Gokarna in an overcrowded general compartment sitting on the train door with other sari clad local women, watching the sunset as we travelled along the coast and stopped at every single village.