Wave Riding (trying to…)

My friend GB,  who travels a fair bit had told me about this surf camp in karnataka, north of  Udipi, in a tiny village, on a sliver of land that is bordered by the ocean on one side and a river on the other. His description had me hooked and I have been wanting to go there since. Apart from the great scenery, you can learn to surf too!! That was something both of us had never done before and the Shaka Surf Club, in Kodi Bengere was our next and only stop in Karnataka.
As I had mentioned in one  of  my previous posts, our original trip planned completely by yours truly was 66 days long but I was forced to chop chop chop it, when the Other raised his eye brows so high, that he almost lost it. Karnataka bore the brunt of the chopping as it is currently home ground and I thought it would be easier to visit some of the chopped places later, hence only one stop in the state this trip.
We left Palolem in the morning, and were back on highway 66 once again heading south towards Karwar. This part of karnataka is beautiful, the rolling ghats are gentle hillocks as opposed to the massive mountains we saw in Maharashtra (read post – https://aninsightfulnut.wordpress.com/2017/01/25/ghats-and-ocean/).
Riding down the coast allowed us to experience the towns, villages and countryside in a different way, a way we loved. Being on the bike brought us a lot closer to the elements, we were a lot more aware of the subtle changes in the landscape, could spot birds and feel the ocean in the wind. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.
One of the funny things that was common through our trip, were bewilderingly strange sign boards on highways. Some of them were downright hilarious –  including two which proclaimed the following – drive well nations pride and if you sleep your family will weep  but this on the goa – karnataka border is my favourite. I love the infoographic too:)
Mind It !

As much as I love the Palolem breakfast of panckakes / eggs/ mueseli and smoothie we had decided to leave early and eat local Kannadiga food on the way, it had been so long since we had eaten some home food. We stopped at the first darshini ( local eatery designed like a fast food restaurant, serving fresh local fare at very economical rates found all over the state) that was open in Karwar and relished two very average dosas, but we relished it just because it had been so long. Sometimes you can be homesick without knowing it, but we knew that these wouldn’t cut it and an hour later we found a better place and ate two very good dosas, crispy with piping hot sambhar and a coconut chutney that was not too thick or thin with two filter coffees (finally) Satisfaction! Oh coffee how I had missed you. Both of us are very strongly rooted south Indians and coffee people. A few people  have asked me if us being from different religions and completely different family  structures / social / cultural backgrounds has ever bothered us, and the question has always surprised me, because it never has as our values match, but what I think would bother me is if we couldn’t talk to each other in Tamil, or if he didn’t know or appreciate who Rajnikanth was, or even worse dare to support any other IPL team but CSK. We both obviously bleed yellow and haven’t watched IPL for the last two years. Stubborn loyal Madrasis. 
The road to Udipi took us through small fishing towns, coconut trees and lots of orange flags. This was a common phenomenon in Maharashtra as well, a bit of a display of majoritarianism, people even had the flags flying on their motorbikes. I had passed it off as Shiv Sena’s propoganda as rural Maharashtra also had many pictures of Bal Thackerey, very often with tigers. Sometimes he would be walking with a tiger, sometimes sitting with it, sometimes there just would be roaring tiger in the background. But Karntaka was a congress state, and the flags were a bit of a surprise. We also passed giant plaster of paris cows  on open  vans, with a lot more orange flags,  being transported for religious processions near by. More majoritarianism. In the last year India has a country has spent so much time and money debating the life and death of cows and have legally decided in many states that milking them under inhumane conditions and using leather is good but eating them is bad. Not sure what the count is but you need to be careful where you eat beef in this country, cow slaughter is even punishable by death in Gujarat, while it is difficult to get life for rape, and even more difficult to get the judiciary to recognise marital rape. Smells fishy doesn’t it, smells like you just want to tell people what they should and shouldn’t eat, and it is just a giant coincidence that the beef eating majority in this country belong to a particular religion. But that is probably just coincidence, collateral damage in the saving of the cows. So sad ! tch tch.  Wish our government would focus instead on banning plastic straws and start charging for throw away cutlery so there is less plastic in the oceans, invest in renewable energy and afforestation so there is a better environment for the cows they  are trying so hard to  protect as well as those of us who eat them and don’t eat them.

But as I fumed, we left all that behind and began nearing the ocean. The ocean makes me realise how none of these problems matter, and how insignificant we are in the larger scheme of things. The ocean calms me like nothing else. We rode through this scenic beach and stopped for some coconut water at the waters edge.  That was the pick me up I needed.
Cannot get tired of these roads at the water’s edge – Maravante’s Beach
Maravante Beach

We reached kodi Bengere by noon, a beautiful linear village with no compound walls just coconut trees and houses connected by a single road by the beach. It was almost everything I wanted it to be.
Ever since GB told me about this place, where you sleep in tents on the beach, and look behind you to see a river, I was imagining a most serene place where I could really catch up on some writing between the surf lessons.

But life had other plans.
As I said we rode through a narrow road, the beach on one side, houses scattered amidst coconut trees on the other with glimpses of the river behind – so picturesque.. but we were  bang in the middle of a temple festival. There were loud speakers tied to every other coconut tree blaring remixed devotional songs (din chak din chak din chak… aaaa..oooo.. din chak), and streamers of the ominous orange flag were looped from tree to tree. To top it all we were just not able to find the elusive surf club on this road.
Hoardings every few feet incase you missed the festival
After riding to the end of the village, called delta point, where the river meets the sea and the up and down the same road twice in search of the camp, we bumped into a bunch of young city looking people, and luckily for us they happened to be Tushar and Ishita the couple who run the place and the other guests, and due to some email mix up they weren’t expecting us. But luckily that was sorted out quickly and the camp manager and in-house yoga instructor Saurabh showed us the camp, so we could dump our bags and asked us to join them at the temple for lunch.  din chak din chak din chak
Delta Point

The village has a mosque and a small percentage of muslims but is primarily Hindu, who were a strong close knit community. An idol of a some hindu deity (I think it was Krishna) had washed up on the shore and had been temporarily housed in someone’s house till the village could come together and build a temple. Since then the temple has been a big part of the village, in holding the community together and creating a network where they all stand up for each other and help each other in times of need. The village had recently raised 5 crores or some equally large amount to rebuild the temple. They had hired architects from Kerala, and the temple was grand – aa stone wood and concrete structure.

The new temple
Now after spending all this money it made no sense to keep quiet about it, so they were throwing a 10 day gala, with food for the entire village, loud music for the entire village and they had invited all the other villages. it is in this chaos we rode into, ironically searching for some quiet.
This is the kind of thing I avoid, loud religious festivals with a mob mentality, and it is exactly where we found ourselves. We were herded under a canopy where the villagers were being served food, and before we knew it we were waiting in line for bisi bela bath.
A group of men were organising the show, serving food, directing the crowds etc. We took our plate of food and sat by the beach. The food was below average, the crowds and noise were annoying, but we were eating on a pristine beach with sand between our toes. The sand here was softer than any sand, like talcum powder and if we tried hard enough we could drown out the noise. But we both were having misgivings about staying here.
Supplies to feed the village

We couldn’t find any of the others in that crowd and headed back to the surf club. All the houses of the village are lined up against the road with their backs to the river, and you need to cross the road to hit the beach. The width of this strip of land was probably between 50 to 100M. The surf camp has one building, a 60 year old tiled roof structure which has a interesting and rather colourful history, it was even an arrack shop at one point in time. Interestingly the village women got together and have ensured there are no alcohol shops in the village, you need to  go to the next village to buy booze if you are so inclined. The surf boards are kept in this building and it is where Tushar and Ishita live, but you are welcome to use their kitchenette and it is also where you can access some wi-fi and the showers. The rest of the camp is a beautiful open space under the trees, dotted with tents and a communal dining space under some floating orbs. You can hear the ocean the whole time, or in our case whenever the loudspeakers were off. There are two toilets at the end of the camp too, the contents of which like all other houses in the area are let directly into the river. Tushar, who is an architect too and I got talking and we hope to collaborate on a holistic decentralised al sewage management system in the near future.

Camp dining area overlooking the river
Each tent holds two air mattresses, but has no space to move around. You can crawl into sleep, but have to spend the rest of the day outdoors. This is something we love, and were ok sleeping on air mattresses for two days, and using a common toilet, but if it is not your cup of tea, there are plenty of hotels in Udipi and Manipal which are 20 – 50 KM away where you can stay and drive up for surf lessons. If you stay in the camp you need  to remember that it is a camp and not a hotel, so you will have to fetch your own water from the kitchen, and clean your tea cups. They charge 8000rs a night for a couple, including three meals and one surf lesson. You can pay more and take additional surf lessons if you wish.
We made ourselves comfortable at the hammocks in the camp and decided to wait, there were plenty of dogs and beautiful white cat for company. The most spirited of the dogs was django, who couldn’t use her hind legs but would drag herself at great speed everywhere lest she missed out on something. She really is something amazing.

As we lay under the trees and peered at the still river, we heard something behind us. Two of the village boys were on the roof of the building, prying open the tiles and trying to jump in to the house, the Other is fluent in Kannada and went up to check if they were thieves. I was sure they were, the boys however spoke no kannada, this village was tulu speaking but managed to explain that they needed a key, which was inside and were well known to the shaka club, one of them said he worked here too. But we weren’t having any of it. They looked like trouble, our stuff was inside and we were sure they were thieves, probably glue sniffers too.
There was no sign of our hosts, the tiny tents and air mattresses didn’t look very comfortable, the temple music was blaring in the background and there were people trying to steal our stuff, we were seriously thinking of leaving. It was just that I had already paid a whooping 16,000 for two nights and we weren’t sure if we could get a refund. This place was definitely not for us.
Sometimes it is good to be wrong, and I am glad we were really wrong.
Tushar, ishita, saurabh and the rest of the crew ( 2 english surfer boys, a english-dutch couple and a lebanese girl who were new to surfing like us) came back and we all sat around the table, and after round of introductions etc and got chatting. The other and I had decided to ask for our refund, but as we got talking, we were disarmed by everyone’s smiles and how genuine they were. As for the two village boys, we befriended them too in the course of our stay, one was from one of the houses on either side of the club and the other from a neighbouring village and did indeed work there, both were also learning to surf. As I said sometimes it was good to be wrong.

While we were chatting some of the village men came in a big group (somehow groups of angry mobbish patriachal men and religious festivals go hand in hand in India) and called Tushar out, it looked like an argument and there was a lot of gesticulating, but they eventually let him go. He came back and told us that the village men had requested that we surf a little away from the village and women be modest in their attire as guests from other villages were coming, and there was no crowd control. Some of them may be lewd and and offcourse these men were doing their moral duty and saving the village and the women’s honour, we all know that if women covered themselves we can achieve world peace and abolish rape in the same instance. So this little announcement obviously started a heated debate amongst us. It was interesting to get in perspectives from the the foreigners too, but in the end we stood divdied. Group A where I fell, said we were in a rural village, during the time of a festival, and wearing shorts over our swimsuits for a couple of days wouldn’t kill anyone. I was ok doing this as for the rest of the year, and all the time that the surf club had been there, there was nothing but acceptance and love. The villagers truly liked these two, who taught the children surfing for free, and helped some of the ladies economically through jobs in the camp. The women in the houses around took turns to make the meals, and another one cleaned the camp etc. However the other group felt that if we listened to them once it would be setting a pattern of moral policing and who is to decide where it would stop. As we argued back and forth, one thing one of the girls said stuck with me. She said it is not like I am wearing a bikini and prancing around seeking attention, I am being respectable in a one piece with short shorts on top of it. This threw me off for a second, so somewhere even them most liberal ones mongst us have been conditioned so deeply on what is decent about the human body and what is not. My argument to this was that everything about the body is decent,  whether it is naked, a bikini or a one piece, and I had a problem when the person in group B was labelling a particular piece of apparel as indecent and another one as decent. This had nothing to do with the length of hem lines in my opinion, it was just respecting the cultural identity of a village during a festival. This is a village where women didnt swim in the ocean despite living next to it, leave alone wear swimsuits, and guests from many other villages were expected, some of them who probably had never seen foreigners, or women in shorts, and sometimes they could be curious, sometimes if they were in a gang they could be aggressively curious. In my opinion as long as it was short term, there was no harm being preemptive. You wouldn’t wear a bikini in the vatican or at mecca, and we were in their village during a festival.
Before we could settle our argument, it was time for our evening surf lesson and three european women whho were not staying there but had signed up for the lessons had arrived ending the discussion. We piled into the car, with our boards and drove a KM down to the secluded beach, as suggested by the villagers.
Surfing is amazing, but I didn’t manage to surf at all. It is also very very difficult. Initially I was better, I managed to surf lying down the first evening, but I lost all strength the next morning and kept diving nose down and getting violently thrown of the board. It was the opposite for the other, he didn’t find his balance the first day and spent his time sitting on the board or bobbing up and down but the next morning he was a star, he even managed to stand for 5 seconds, which I missed as I was underwater trying not to swallow salt water and get hit by board which always followed me at great speed everytime I fell.
You need a lot of upper arm strength, so do some weights and swim before you go for your surf lesson. I found the board really heavy too. Also two lessons won’t cut it, if you really want to surf, I suggest you spend a week there. Please also be prepared to get bruised and battered, as you pull yourself up and off the boards your knees and elbows will get scratched and if you lead a sedentry life like me, you will ache all over. It is a good ache, and knicks and cuts heal in a couple of days so don’t let it stop you. Surfing, or atleast being in the ocean and trying to surf in amazing enough.
While waiting for waves, we would also lie on our boards and paddle which is a lot of fun. Since we were on boards, we could go a lot deeper than when we just swim and on our second morning, we were lucky enough to see two dolphins. They were just swimming calmly this time, we saw the rise and dip of their fin and that’s it. It was a brief moment of magic. There is just something so nice about being in the ocean, with the sun on your back and the whole world in front of you.
 Marley , Shaka’s chief protector watching over the surfers

While we were not surfing, we spent our time making new friends, or chilling under the trees, there were a few hours of respite now and then when the temple music didnt play and we made the best of it.

To nap or to blog – the eternal question
They also have a kayak which you can take out on to the river, which we did for a bit but it is not as fun as being in the sea. The beach offers splendid sunsets like the rest of the coast, and you can see a great sunrise over the river.

Tushar and Ishita started surfing on this tiny beach while they were in college a decade ago and decided to settle here, and run this camp. They surf everyday and participate actively with the local community, teaching the children how to surf, to speak english etc. Their house is a open house and village children breeze in and out helping themselves to a biscuiit or more often the wifi.

The village women cook all the meals, and everyone at camp eats together. There is usually fish everyday, but the village had decreed that no meat should be served during the festival so it was all vegetarian fare, rice, sambhar, rasam, local vegetables with coconut and fried poppadums. It was delicious. In my experience, food cooked in village homes with the most minimal ingredients somehow taste the best. I really don’t know how they create such marvels with 5 ingredients. The first meal at the temple was a terrible predecessor, the meals here are some of the best I have ever head.

And as I said earlier it is a camp, and you have to wash your own plate.
The best part of the shaka expereince for me was meeting the wonderful people, we spent evenings around the bonfire, singing, strumming the guitar and sharing our choice of poisons and our days gathered around the communal dining table, in harmony and warmth, a group of people who probably will never meet again, but have the memories to cherish.
Atleast till they fade…
Our last  sunrise over the river

Published by: aninsightfulnut

I am quite the wave rider, have surfed through life quite happily. From school, to college and work and college again and work work work .. and now I am afraid I am running out of waves... and hence the blog. I spend my lunch breaks reading quite a few, and have been itching to join the band wagon. Plus my favourite bloggers all have lives and don't write as often as I read :)

Categories adventure, growing up, Relationships, Travel, Wanderlust, worldy matters1 Comment

One thought on “Wave Riding (trying to…)”

  1. The common dining area with the hanging lamp shades looks like a little piece of paradise! Feel like going there just for that, and of course meet the couple. They seem quite interesting!

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