Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Offbeat Karnataka - St Mary's Island (Udupi, Karnataka)

Note: My love for Karnataka began with an impromptu trip to Jog waterfalls, Gokarna and Murudeshwar (in 2014)(this & this). My next two short trips to Karnataka [Hampi/ Badami/Pattadakal (Oct 2015)(this & this) and Udupi/ Mangalore (Jan 2016) are testimony that its not love anymore, it's a full-blown obsession! And guess what, St Mary's Island was my #1 reason to squeeze in a trip to Mangalore during an extended weekend. Read on to know why!
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Offbeat Karnataka
Our bus passed through narrow lanes of Udupi, flanked by coconut trees on both sides. Most of the seats were occupied by locals who gave us curious glances. Our bright color clothes, hats and glares were inviting attention. Finally after passing thorough a nondescript lane, the bus suddenly arrived at the long expanse of Malpe beach, the fine sand glowing in the January sun.

Udupi, Karnataka is most visited by devotees who come here to the Krishna Math. For beach bummers, Malpe beach is a nice spot to relax at and the most popular beach in Udupi. The beach stretch is long, offers entertainment to suit all ages, boat rides, dolphin sighting, rides for kids (ferrous wheel, etc) and many food joints serving junk food, coconut water and also fresh fried fish cooked in local style (as cheap as INR 50 for a medium size fish!).

You see that tiny Island in the distance....?
But I wouldn't settle for just another beach. I was here on a mission to find crystal clear blue waters amidst, intriguing rock structures and coconut trees swaying in the breeze at St Mary's Island.

How to get to Udupi from Mangalore

We made Mangalore our base for the short vacation to Udupi and Bekal. We took a private express bus (INR 55/ person) right outside our hotel (Hotel Woodland's on Bund's hostel road - 5 minutes walk from Jyoti circle) which was going to Manipal through Udupi bus station. The frequency of express bus is very good and the ride was 
comfortable.

It normally takes 1.5 hours to cover the distance between Mangalore to Udupi on NH66 via Surathkal, Kapu (another popular beach!). However, me and my friend both dozed off before Kapu and woke up to see junk food giants (KFC, CCD, etc) on both sides of the road.  We were at Manipal and these food joints were aptly located to cater to the burgeoning student population of Manipal! Luckily, our bus was returning to Mangalore and the driver/ conductor (on realizing our goof up) was kind enough to drop us at Udupi bus station.


How to get to St Mary's Island, Udupi

St Mary's island is a tiny island off Malpe beach in Udupi. There are mini buses every few minutes from Udupi bus station to Malpe beach, just look out for screaming conductor, eager to fill the bus. That's exactly what we did and in just INR 10/ person we arrived at Malpe beach in about 15 minutes time. Alternatively, one can even take a rickshaw, usually run by the meter.


Once at Malpe, we quickly freshened up at the paid washroom (a respite for girls!) and headed to the most crowded part of the beach.  Once there, we bought a ticket for INR 200/ person (counter is a desk on the beach) to St Mary's island. There is a speed boat from Malpe to St Mary's every 15 minutes.  We boarded our boat (unfortunately we did not get front seats) and within minutes set off towards the tiny island we could see in our line of vision. The boat was much slower than what I'd have liked but it gave us the chance to spot a dolphin (dorsal fin) bobbing out of water at leisurely intervals! The ocean here had many migratory birds visiting and feasting on the fish!

Docking!

St Mary's island

The moment our boat docked, I couldn't believe the sigh in front of me!  It felt like I was back in Andaman, the lush blue water and white sand etched in my memory. Unlike Andaman, this island seemed to be quite a popular spot for the locals!

LOVE at first sight
The tall, vertical rock formations (made of baslatic lava) have interested geologists. Research suggests the basaltic lava formations were formed volcanic activity at the time when the country of Madagascar was attached to India, rifted much later.


Wikipedia tells me that this Island was declared as a National Geological Monument in 2001 by the Geological Survey of India.

Vertical limit...
Geology aside, the dark vertical rock formations and the bubbling clear blue water around them make for a stunning sight. The backdrop makes for gorgeous photos. and just fyi, this is the only place in India where such rock formation is found!

Exploring the other side of the island...
The Island, also known as 'coconut island' is very tiny.  One can walk around the entire island in about 20 minutes. The sand is fine and white and seashells are plenty.

You Beauty

We took our time walking around the Island, admiring the rock formations, dipping our feet in the sand, rifting through sea shells and generally soaking up the beach vibes.  And clicking tons of photos and spotting fish (yes the water is so clear!) from our perch, atop a vertical rock formation!


Apart from the marvels of the rocks, St Mary's is a popular spot for birding and dolphin sighting.  However, for such a tiny Island, the shoreline is rather dirty (plastic bottles, plastic, chips packets, etc).  If you are visiting the Island, I'd humbly request you to take back your trash/ use the bins.  Also, it would help if an NGO/ ferry guys (considering a fee of INR 200) organize monthly drive to clean up this island so that it remains true to its name i.e. Paradise island!

What would it be like to catch a sunset here....or perhaps camp overnight?
I would have loved to catch the sunset from St Mary's but the last ferry out is at 6 PM (if I remember correctly!). Also, we had plans to catch the from a lighthouse (more on that soon!).  Though I wish camping/ staying the night on the Island was allowed (*wishful thinking*)!

Fascinating rock formations!
I would highly recommend a day trip here, especially if you're in/ around Mangalore/ Udupi :) It's worth the effort as the spectacular landscape will leave you mesmerized!

Still not convinced....???? Watch this tiny clip!

video

Tips for visiting St Mary's island

  • Best time to visit the Island is between Dec to March (April/ May may be too hot and in the monsoons the ferry is shut) - Jan was lovely, though even then the sun was too harsh!
  • Dress conservatively as most tourists are locals who would probably stare at you if you're in skimpy clothes/ bathing suits [I opted for linen pants, tee, scarf and a hat!]
  • Get here early, crowded tiny Island isn't the same as peaceful tiny Island
  • Ferry guy will ask you to finish sight-seeing in 1-hour, I suppose you can stretch that to suit yourself
  • Sunscreen my friend!
  • There is no drinking water available on the Island, carry plenty with you!
  • Don't drink too much water as there is no toilet on the Island :P (use the one at Malpe beach before you get on the boat!
  • You'll find odd snacks (Bhelpuri) and ice cream here - eat at your own risk
  • Take tons of photos because St Mary's island is gorgeous! 
  • Thank me for the offbeat recommendation ;)

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