Coastal South India : Kannur to Bangalore | Horn please, OK?

Coastal South India : Kannur to Bangalore

Day 7 : Kannur to Bangalore
When : May 2013 | How far : 500 kms | How long: 13 hrs

Sweet home Bengalooru

Like a junkie who's going to be separated from his loot, we tried to squeeze in as much as we could into the last day of our trip
  • a swim in the sea 
  • breakfast at Malabar beach house 
  • drive along Muzhappilangad beach
  • swoop by St Angelo's fort
  • a quick visit to Bekal fort in Kasadgod
  • lunch at Mangalore

All this and a 500km drive to Bangalore. And you didn't believe us when we said we were like junkies.

Sunil our host suggested that we give Payyambalam beach a miss, pretty as it may be, its just another crowded city beach and we had had enough of those. Thottada beach, a one minute walk from the house and off the beaten track, was a much better choice. Completely devoid of people at 7 am its a quiet stretch of golden sand framed by slanting palms and a rocky shoulder. High tide made the water choppy and difficult to go in too deep. Despite our attempts, the sea kept nudging us towards the beach. Taking the hint and not being one to mess with mother nature we returned to the house.

Breakfast comprised of fluffy, steaming appams, chick pea curry, two varieties of bananas and the universal omlette and toast. Eaten in the veranda overlooking a cluster of palm fronds added to the flavours and authenticity.

Saying our goodbyes to our host and his staff and promising to return to  to explore its forts, beaches and art forms we proceeded to our next destination.

Born to be wild

Muzhappilangad beach is said to be Asia's largest and perhaps one-and-only drive-in beach and takes pride of place on the Kerala coastline. Its located in the northern district of Kannur and runs uninterrupted for 5 kms. A broad continental shelf and relatively weak currents make it easy to drive in the water.

The entrance to the beach is manned by two young boys and their uncle. Visitors are charged a 15 rupee fee and asked not to cross the 20 kmph speed limit.  

We reaped the advantages of getting there early on a Monday morning. No other tourists. Tentatively driving along the water's edge we explored the terrain and having gained some confidence tried out a couple of maneuvers. 

The thrill of seeing the sea rise up in white salty arcs on either side of the car was dampened only by the spray getting into the windows and jamming them. Chastised, we moved to shallower waters and switched back to straight line driving. A gazillion photographs and videos later we bid adieu to the drive-in beach and headed to St Angelo's fort.  

Veni, Vedi, Vici

St Angelo's fort in Kannur is considered to be one of the most strategically important forts on the Malabar coast occupied by all of India's western invaders at some point or the other. Built by the Portuguese in the early 16th century, it was captured by the Dutch who later sold it to an Indian Raja. The British seized it in the 18th century and used it as an important military station till India's independence.     

Its a well maintained fort with a dry moat surrounding the main structure. So well maintained in fact that it could pass off as someone's opulent summer home. The green patches could compete with a botanical garden and thick clumps of sunshine yellow Allamanda soften the austerity of the surroundings.

Sandwiched between the Mopilla bay and the Arabian sea, the views defy description. Its easy to see why the fort was so coveted.

Here a fort, there a fort

Kasaragod, famous for the Bekal fort is a short 80 kms away from Kannur.

You need to take a slight detour from the well maintained NH 17 from Kannur to Mangalore to get to it. Alternatively, you can take the state highway which is a tad shorter but poorly maintained and so avoidable. The best route is to take the Kasargod exit from NH 17 and carry on towards the main town. Bekal fort is ~8 Km before Kasragod town. Having left Kannur at noon, we reached the fort just after 1:30 pm.

Bekal fort is traced back to the 17th century and is believed to have been built by Sivappa Nayaka. It was later conquered by the Chirakkal dynasty and subsequently won over by Tipu Sultan. Used as a defense post, the fort spreads out over 40 acres and is flanked by sea on three sides.

The observation towers have an unimpeded view of the sea and Bekal beach. Its easy to imagine soldiers of yore hunkered down at their posts in the middle of a storm keeping watch. I'm surprised Bollywood hasn't invaded it yet. Or have they?

I drove all night

Having check marked all the stops on our list, our growling stomachs reminded us that it was way past lunchtime and we were grossly behind schedule. Mangalore a mere 70 kms away would take us more than an hour and a half to reach (bad roads, heavy traffic). We sped on down NH17 and got to the Karnataka border earlier than anticipated. Feeling lucky about making good time we called a friend for pointers to eating places that would serve lunch at this hour. "Froth on top near Balmatta junction", came the reply.

Feeling high spirited and hungry, it was just after 3 when we reached the river Gurupur bridge on the outskirts of Mangalore.  Our spirits and appetite took a nosedive at the sight of a 2 km long traffic jam leading to the bridge. The jam was caused by a road widening project. We lost more than an hour navigating through the mess and reached Mangalore past 4pm. We sacrificed lunch plans in order to get as many hours of daylight driving as possible. Driving through the ghaat roads in the dark is an experience we wanted to postpone.

Mangalore onward the highway is four-lane all the way till the beginning of the ghaats. Expect heavy traffic till Bantwal which is ~350 km from Bangalore. We put the pedal to the metal and raced across flat land till we hit the ghaats. It was 5 pm and daylight had started to fade. The road for the first 30 odd kms is smooth and the drive scenic however, the next stretch of ~50 km to Sakleshpur is in terrible condition. Coincidentally, this is also the toughest bit with numerous hairpin bends and some steep climbs and descents (makes you wonder).

Racing against time, daylight, and quite a few errant, overzealous drivers (very much like us, one might argue), we finally crossed Sakleshpur by 7 pm. Night had fallen and we braved the next 40 km of undivided highway to Hassan aided by prayers and borderline abuse of the high beam mode of our headlights.

Driving got easier after Hassan. Roads became wider but the highway is still under construction and only one side is open for traffic. Which side to use however remains shrouded in mystery. With no visible signs and a lot of dug up shoulders and dividers, motorists are left shooting(driving?) in the dark. There were times when we saw oncoming traffic on both sides of the road! Channarayapatna, our last stop presented us with a cafe coffee day for a quick loo break and a couple of dodgy chicken 65 sandwiches. The final leg of our journey was on a beautiful, fully functional six-lane highway which started ~20 km after CR Pattana. From there it was smooth sailing all the way home.

2800 kms in 7 days, zero displacement achieved

Triumphant like soldiers returning from war and tired beyond belief, we carried our weary bodies back to our apartment where a bottle of Soju was opened in celebration of a thrilling journey.

A toast to the beautiful land that is our country and its warm, hospitable people.

Stories from the entire trip
Day 1 -> Bangalore to Pondicherry
Day 2 -> Pondicherry to Mahabalipuram
Day 3 -> Pondicherry to Rameswaram
Day 4 -> Rameswaram to Kovalam
Day 5 -> Kovalam to Varkala
Day 6 -> Varkala to Kannur
Day 7 -> You just read it

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