Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Tropical Paradise

In honor of our topic of the week, Supriya is running a post we first published in December 2010.

Of all the places I’ve visited, a tiny dot of a village in southwestern India ranks as my all-time favorite.

I’m a city girl, so I was surprised by my affinity to this quiet, coastal town called Murdeshwar. Since childhood, I’ve traveled to India pretty regularly, at least every couple of years, it seems, and visited most of the big cities. In my younger days, I made attempts to visit rural areas, but never made it there, daunted by the lack of adequate roads and transportation connecting the cities I visited to the villages I knew of.

From the time I got married, I’d been hearing about a little farming village near Murdeshwar, in the state of Karnataka. It’s the town from which my mother in-law hailed. One of her brothers still lives there, in the original family home that their father built and where all his children (plus a few grandchildren and even great grandchildren) were born. I’d often heard how gorgeous this place was. In fact, it had been a running joke between my husband and me that whenever we visited any beautiful place, he’d make the inevitable comparison with his mom’s village outside Murdeshwar. Until several years ago, when seeing was believing.

We’d made the trek from Bangalore, piling into a large van, fifteen of us in all. We started early in the morning, our hired driver at the helm, and stopping about halfway for a late lunch in the mostly Muslim-populated town of Hassan, outside Mangalore (not to be confused with Bangalore). It was a long and sometimes bumpy ride but eventually, we arrived, late in the evening, skirting the tiny village where our relatives lived. All the adults, myself included, agreed that I—yes, me alone—might not be able to handle the rustic accommodations in the village, so instead we stayed at a lovely seaside resort in the neighboring town of Murdeshwar. (How thoughtful of the others to “rough it” for my sake.)

Since we’d arrived at night, we couldn’t see much of the town. We checked in and dragged the kiddos up to sleep, leaving our wide balcony doors open, the blanket of stars shining in and the sound of crashing waves lulling us to sleep. At breakfast, we sat in the seashell-shaped restaurant that jutted out into the Arabian Sea, surrounded on three sides by water as we ate South Indian comfort food, watched fishermen throw their nets out, and felt the gentle sea breeze roll over us. That experience alone was worth the twelve-hour journey.

But just outside our resort was the real treat, one of the most phenomenal sights I think I’ve seen. A towering statue of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, lords over the beach town. He’s 120 feet tall, made of cement and steel reinforcements, and his shimmery, silvery form can be seen from almost any vantage point in the area. While photos don’t do it justice, I found it hard to pull away from this truly spectacular sculpture.

We visited the area soon after the tsunami that devastated parts of Southeast Asia. While this region of the South Asian coastline wasn’t hit too hard, the gorgeous white-sand beaches had been wiped out. It still looked pretty amazing to me, especially a particular strip of beach along the nearby town of Manki, which was so pristine and untouched, it looked as if we were the first to discover it.

Okay, so there were no lazy days at the beach, no cocktails with little umbrellas in hand. It was a different kind of vacation entirely. We watched the kids dip their toes in the foamy waves as the sunset exploded into a thousand shades of red. We climbed rocky cliffs, collected seashells, and marveled at not being able to find a single bottle cap or cigarette butt along the way. We took long walks, sharing quiet lanes with an ambling cow or two, and watched the tall grass sway through the rice paddies on either side of us.

At the old family home, we ate fresh-cooked meals, lovingly prepared for us by an aunt who slid our food into a hundred-year-old clay oven known as a tandoor. The beautiful old house also featured a bona fide cradle room where my husband’s eldest uncle slept as a newborn some 85 years ago, followed by his ten siblings and several generations of progeny. We spent a lovely evening around a bon fire while the elders sang and the children danced. We drank from a real working well. (Okay, I watched others drink from it.) We toured the huge family plantation, a stroll that lasted a few delicious hours, as we delighted in every variety of tropical fruit, peppercorn, and unusual herb or vegetable we’d never heard of. Nearby, we visited stunning temples with incredible historic significance, their stories appearing in ancient holy scriptures. 

It probably isn’t the most exciting part of the world to live in, and definitely not a destination for surfers or jet-skiers, but it was one of my best-ever beach vacations.


  1. This sounds like my kind of vacation! So many new sights and cultural experiences. I can see how the place made a big impression on you. I so want to go to Murdeshwar now! And that statue of Shiva is impressive even in a photo.

  2. Yes! This sounds like a magical place full of character. How exciting to go somewhere off the beaten track and experience it through the eyes of the locals.

  3. I don't know what I loved more - the descriptions or the pictures. The pictures were incredible!

  4. What a great piece! I visited Mysore and Bangalore over 30 years ago, and reading this piece felt like I was back in S. India - Lanice

  5. Supriya,thank you. It was such a good post. I wanted to go to Murdeshwar when first learnt of the Lord Shiv murti, the beach is an excellent added attraction!

  6. Sounds perfect. I hadn't read this one before.

  7. Thanks, ladies. Yep, I get wistful whenever I recall this vacation. Which is a little funny, because before I went, I used to roll my eyes whenever my husband compared any place we visited to it. Until I understood why. A little slice of heaven.