“Adventures bring you closer together as a family, even though they take you far away from home!”
Traveling solo is the new trend these last few years. And of course, family holidays abroad once every few years has been the norm for the evolving, new age nuclear set-up. We have had some wonderful holidays as a couple and as a family after our daughter was born. However, it is nice to step back periodically and do something different, both from an experience and outlook perspective. I suggest that every couple of years, you plan a holiday with your extended family and friends – including parents and in-laws. Call it going back to your roots, or perhaps an exploration of nature and heritage with all your loved ones. Or even with the ones that you have no choice but to like!
One of our best holidays till date was a road trip that we went on with my in-laws. I was always filled with doubt and trepidation about planning anything extensive with them as we weren’t sure of a single destination that would keep all of us happy. Until we hit upon the idea of a road trip with them, that is! My husband had never seen much of Karnataka, our home state, and neither had my in-laws, and I had been wanting to explore a lot more than what I had already seen. So last summer, we planned an ambitious road trip across Karnataka spread over 8 days! What can I tell you? It has not only been one of our most memorable holidays till date, it also brought us all closer together as a family and made for some precious memories to look back on.
Holidaying with your extended family, be it parents, in-laws, siblings and their families, cousins etc. helps you bond on neutral territory. The idea of a common goal of exploring and enjoying the destination gives you all a shared mission to look forward to. It gives your children quality, uninterrupted time with their grandparents and it is a brilliant way for them to learn some great values of honesty, hard work, sticking together with your family etc. I learned a lot about my husband’s ancestral roots on this trip. And my mother-in-law and I came to an unspoken truce on some deep-rooted differences as we discussed our different perspectives over tea on the hills one evening. That is saying quite a bit! With some careful and meticulous planning, holidaying together as a large family makes for a chance to forge strong bonds, create some beautiful memories, and make for a better and positive future together.
I have listed below our detailed road trip itinerary including where we stayed and places of interest that you could cover in each region. However, before we get to that, here are a few points to keep in mind when planning a road trip with a larger family, including the elderly and the young ones:
- Choose a set of destinations that excite and interest all of you.
- Check on the latest reviews of the places. Weather and terrain and stay conditions can all change drastically in the span of just a few years, so make sure your information is updated and accurate.
- Pack according to the weather conditions of the places you intend to visit. A raincoat or umbrella, a hat, sunglasses and a warm jacket are compulsory additions to your travel kit.
- Check on comfortable stays and special dietary needs in advance with your chosen accommodation through the journey. Make sure you book separate rooms so everybody gets their space to do what they want to at the end of a long day. But also make sure the rooms are not too far from each other and the dining and main recreation areas, so it is easier for your family. Also, if you are choosing homestays over hotels, check on meal timings carefully to meet everyone’s needs. Plan for your lunch in advance as you set out for the day. Check on popular local eateries that would be good for all of you.
- Plan with care the amount of road travel and foot travel involved on each day. It is also advisable to design for the travel and walking largely for the first part of the day as both the young and the aged will want to relax by evening. The evenings also make for a great way for you all to come together for a leisurely stroll or a chat around the bon-fire. Carry lots of travel games that can keep you busy on a dull day or during lengthy travel time.
- Be sure to include in the itinerary a few relaxed, “no-activity” days in-between if you are traveling for more four or five days at a stretch to avoid travel fatigue.
- Travel with first aid and make a note of local health care centers or hospitals along your route, for emergencies.
- Also be sure to carry some cash on you. Credit cards, even in the digital era, tend to misbehave or go unappreciated at times in the remotest of places.
- Take along plenty of homemade snacks. You know how it is! The larger the group, the hungrier you get. And as a rule, make sure you start off with a healthy, heavy breakfast every morning of your journey. It keeps you full and set for the rest of the day, even if lunch and snacks turn out to be a bit of a disappointment.
- Have an interesting mix of places planned on your road trip. Adventure and water spots for the young, quiet and solitary for the romantic couple, a few places of historical importance or religious relevance for the elderly. A mix of places not only makes the journey more interesting and rich in experience, it also gives you all lots to share and discuss. This is perhaps the best part of doing a road trip with a large family. You can have something for everyone. With a bit of give and take and patience, it can be a very rewarding journey together as a family.
- One of the biggest advantages of doing a road trip and not a planned getaway to a farther distant land is the choice you have to plan, change and make as many deviations from your original itinerary as possible. You have the freedom to wake up a little later than you intended to and not worry about missing the flight. Or if the elders in the family are too tired after the walk uphill, you can choose to call it a day and check into the homestay quickly without worries about missing the tour bus.
Read on for a detailed description of our travel itinerary, halts and the home stays we chose and places of interest at each stop over.
Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life, said Albert Einstein. And Karnataka is a slice of heaven on this land of life, perfect for you to explore together. Situated on the southern plateau, it is one of the states with the highest average elevations in India, and is blessed with a diverse landscape. It has a mix of the western coastal plains dotted with serene beaches, the lush green Western Ghats that are a hot spot of bio-diversity in India, the northern part of the state that is dry and arid and the central plateau regions that together make for beautiful road travel experiences. Our journey took us across Karnataka for 8 days. We planned on a mix of places that would satisfy the curious wandering soul in all of us. We chose the fag end of May for our holiday as the scorching summer heat in the southern region of India abates by then and there is just the slight, faintest onset of the monsoon clouds that makes for very pleasant traveling.
Day 1. We started off from Bangalore bright and early in the morning packed into our Hyundai Verna 1.6 SX 2012 model which, by-the-way, though fully packed with 4 adults and a growing-up child and our baggage, handled the entire drive and terrain very comfortably save for a couple of mild scrapes over hilly terrain due to the low chassis. Our first stop was at the historic temple sites of Belur and Halebid after roughly four hours of travel (220 kms). We signed up for a detailed guided tour of the 12th century constructions symbolic of the Hoysala dynasty and their contributions and achievements. The architecture, the detailed engravings and carvings depicting the Puranas, Upanishads, and other mythological characters from the Ramayana and Mahabharata made for an engrossing session seeped in Indian history and culture. You can choose the guided tours or rent the audio head sets, the latter are detailed and allow you to explore the site at your own pace. You can be lost in a trance for hours exploring the exquisite craftsmanship of the Channakeshava temple carvings so do keep an eye on the watch if you have a long day ahead of you. Be sure to also pay a quick visit to the Kedareshwara temple and Parshwanath Jain Basadi while in Belur and Halebid.
We carried on from there to Chikmagalur in the afternoon – a short 50 kilometers away that’s doable in an hour at max, and halted there for the night. Chikmagalur, a popular hill station, is the coffee heart of India and it is here that coffee was first cultivated in India. It is home to a number of lovely home-stays on the plantations. These include Thotadahalli Home-Stay, The Coffee Bean Home-Stay and Tata Plantation Home-Stay apart from quite a few luxury properties including The Taj Chikmagalur. We chose to stay at Coffee Bean and the owners made sure that we were very comfortable and well looked after. The rooms were clean and the food was rich and tasty and included a large spread. After a leisurely stroll post through the coffee estate post lunch, the hosts arranged for a Jeep drive to the top of the Mullayanagiri peak in the evening; it was a thrilling and adventurous experience. We watched the sunset over the hills – all five of us as a family, our first sunset together. Back at the plantation, we enjoyed some homemade wine over a few games of Pagade – the ancient Indian board game of skill and strategy popularized by the Mahabharata that made for many a laughs and arguments over the game.
The next morning, we drove up the Baba Budanagiri peak and explored the Kudremukh range too. You can also stop by at the Manikyadhara falls on your way from Baba Budanagiri.
If you do add Chikmagalur to you travel itinerary, be sure to buy some aromatic and freshly ground filter coffee and also plan for hiking trips if possible. The sleepy town offers some excellent views of the western ghats and also boasts of being home to the highest point in Karnataka – the Mullayanagiri peak which is a must do. We spent the afternoon chatting, sipping cups of tea and playing some more board games as we conversed with the owners of the plantation about the history of the estate.
Day 3. This was to be a day of temple visits, each one surpassing the other in beauty and richness. We started off early in the morning from Chikmagalur to Rambhapuri Mutt in Balehonnur, about 30 kms away. The site of our family deity, this was my first visit to the temple as the daughter-in-law of the family. After a quick darshan, we made sure we gave alms of rice and lentils and walked around the scenic surroundings as my father-in-law narrated the family lineage and the historical significance of this shrine. From here, we carried onto Sringeri, the famous temple dedicated to Goddess Sharadamba, the first of the maha-peethas established by Sri Adishankara, the founder of the Advaita philosophy. Built in the 8th Century on the banks of the river Tungabhadra, the stunning architecture of the temple situated in the verdant greens of the western ghats is captivating. It is common practice amongst the Hindus to take their children to Sringeri to seek Goddess Saraswati’s blessings to ensure their education is enriching and complete. The visit to Sringeri brought back fond memories of my earlier visits to the temple as a child with my cousins and my grandmother. A walk by the river is a must do and also take a walk by the temple gardens if time allows. The main temple at Sringeri offers a very satisfying and simple lunch for all visitors, and is worth trying if you are willing to brave the crowd.
Close to Sringeri, an hour’s drive at max, is the shrine of Sri. Annapoorneshwari in Horanadu. Situated on the banks of the river Bhadra, a little smaller in size and stature than Sringeri, but equally beautiful, Goddess Annapoorneshwari is the deity who is believed to feed all who seek her blessings. We visited Horanadu for a quick stop and had our lunch there at the temple. Again, all meals at the temple are free and one can choose to make a small donation towards the upkeep of the place, should you wish to. Post lunch, we carried on to the next stop of our journey, Teerthahalli – about two hours away.
I was personally satisfied that we had visited places of worship that mattered the most to both sides of my family. But I was equally surprised that my husband who is agnostic and not the most tolerant of people had patiently survived the jostling crowds at each of the shrines to seek what he saw as beauty. As the day drew to an end, I realized the weight of the words that beauty, godliness and truth do lie in the eyes of the beholder. Or should I say, the believer? A family that prays together, stays together. And with all the usual trivial misgivings and misunderstandings that come in a joint family, a day such as this helps you realize that at the end of it all, you are all praying for the same outcome…that the family stays healthy, happy and united.
Travel tip: While the roads and driving conditions were mostly very good, do be aware that the journey can be a bit long and tiring due to the winding roads up and down the hills between the temples.And reach the temples early in the morning to avoid waiting in long queues.
Situated in Shimoga district, Teerthahalli is a small, sleepy town cut off from the hectic pace of civilization. A walk down the lanes of Teerthahalli will transport you to the bygone era of small colourful homes with thatched roofs, cows grazing in the fields, the occasional telephone lines and electricity wires cutting across the semi tarred road, elders of the town gathering for an evening tete’-a-tete’ under the banyan tree around the corner, while the children played hopscotch on a nearby sandy patch. Watching these images fly past us as we drove by, we stopped for a while to soak in these moments from a world so far removed, simple and pure. We stayed the night at the Kolavara Estate, a lovely heritage home, nearly a hundred years old and retained in its original form.
Rainfall in the Agumbe region of the Western Ghats are when heaven descends on earth. To watch the clouds open up onto the lush greenery is a sight to behold and experience. We were blessed to witness a small burst of the pre-monsoon showers in the evening as we sat in the central courtyard (called as chauka) having our tea and bajjis (chickpea flour fritters stuffed with vegetables), watching the slight drizzle and the pitter patter of rain drops dancing on the cobblestones.
Day 4: We set off to visit noted Kannada poet and laureate, Kuvempu’s family home in Koppa, a short 18 kilometers away. K.V. Puttappa, a.k.a Kuvempu, was a famous Kannada litterateur and poet. He contributed immensely to Kannada literature and is often considered as the greatest Kannada poet of the twentieth century. Set in a picturesque patch against the backdrop of the hills, the family home is well preserved with artifacts, household items and even certain pieces of clothing from the poet’s childhood and early days. It was a surreal feeling to tour the house and also an emotional one for my in-laws as they grew up studying his literature in depth. As we sat on the ledges outside the home, my in-laws recalled Kuvempu’s famous poems from their school days. We spent the majority of our driving time on the way back discussing the home we visited and imagining their lives in that residence. We also stopped at the literary museum on the way and then at Kuvempu’s Samaadhi. Inspired by the Stonehenge landscape, set amidst barren hillocks, the Samadhi makes for a quiet and contemplative visit and is beautiful in its own stark way.
Post a sumptuous early lunch that included all the local delicacies including Kayi Kadabu, Majjigehuli and Hoornada Obbattu (sweet lentil and flour pancakes) and a quick snooze, we went on to our next destination, to visit the majestic Jog Falls, also situated in Shimoga district, about two and a half hours away. This was one patch of our journey that had less than perfect driving conditions with stretches of semi tarred roads and bumpy patches in between. So check for the latest driving conditions and factor in time accordingly.
The Jog Falls are the highest waterfalls in South India and are created when the Sharavathi river cascades down a tremendously deep chasm of nearly a 1000 feet as she flows down the western ghats. Depending on the time of the year, the Jog is a segmented waterfall with four distinct streams titled Raja, Rani, Roarer and Rocket. The monsoons ofcourse are a different story with water overflowing and combining them all into one huge deafening plunge waterfall. Visit the jog anytime of the year and be left breathless. Visit the jog falls during the monsoons (plan very carefully for this though, as the Shimoga Taluk and the entire region do get very heavy rainfall and it can make for a treacherous drive and visit) and come away mesmerized. The scream of the plunging waters against the lush green Vindhyas is likely to leave you feeling like a speck of dust in the larger scheme of this universe.
Soaked in the spray from the water falls, we headed out for the night to Matthuga Home Stay. I must admit that this was the only stay of the journey that didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Set right in the heart of a plantation estate amidst tall crops about 12 kms away from the falls, it did make for a very interesting get away. The cleanliness in the rooms and overall hospitality standards didn’t leave us very pleased though there wasn’t anything glaringly wrong either. We did have an issue with insufficient hot water for our showers in the morning that caused a delay in setting out on the next leg of our journey. The rooms are also scattered across the plantation and walking up and down to the main house every time we needed something turned out to be a bit of a task with elders around. The food was OK, nothing great to write home about. I wouldn’t go raving about this place to others. But it is one of the very few stay options along this route, if you are headed out to the west coast from Jog.
Day 5: As we set off from Shimoga towards the coast, this was one of the most scenic drives along our route (once we crossed the initial bad patches leading out)– the stretch from Shimoga to Baindur, a small coastal town in Udupi district, about 92 kms away. Lovely narrow stretches of roads interspersed with views of verdant greens and the calming seas, we stopped quite a bit along the way to breathe in the salty air.
We arrived at the Sai Vishram Resort close to lunch time, the place came highly recommended by a friend and did not disappoint at all. Easily one of the best resorts that we have been to, we did have reservations about staying here as it is a strict ‘no non-veg’ and ‘no-alcohol’ resort. But rest assured, the location, the accommodation and the service more than make up for the lack of these enticements and leave you wanting to come back there for another holiday soon. Set on the pristine Baindur beach, the resort boasts of luxurious tents with open to sky bathrooms. Comfortably furnished and very clean, they also serve a wide range of vegetarian delicacies for dinner, breakfast and lunch. We spent the evening frolicking around on the beach while my in-laws lounged on the sun chairs. We were indulged with hot masala chai and hot chocolate and some fried hot eats served on the beach, at our seats. Watching the sun set into the Arabian sea and the distant image of dolphins cavorting about in the water, we sat quietly, not saying much. But I suspect each of us sent up a prayer of gratitude for all that had gone well and all that nature, God, whatever you want to call it, had provided us with. I managed to get away for a long stroll along the beach by myself as father and daughter had some serious conversations about life. As the night set in, we lounged about in our tents after dinner, playing Pagade and Housie, arguing, laughing and bonding over the games. My father-in-law turned out to be the baby of the family refusing to give in on the games, playing until he had killed every other pawn in sight and the last card had been dealt to his satisfaction. Men typically do not talk much, but the day made for some great bonding between father and son as they walked up and down the sandy shores together.
Day 6: We set off early in the morning to the temple town of Udupi. We did consider coming back to Baindur and extending our stay by another night but that would have thrown our well planned trip into a bit of a shakeup and we decided on coming back for more, another time. But yes, Sai Vishram gets a big thumb-up from us for the accommodation, location, service and food….it is a great option for a holiday.
On your drive from Baindur to Udupi, you are likely to be on NH66 and pass through the sleepy beach town of Maravanthe. Make sure this is a part of your travel route as it is one of the most scenic drives in South India. The stretch is about 30 kilometres long and there are patches along this narrow road where you drive along with the Arabian sea on one side and the Souparnika river flowing by on the other. Water laps and caresses the road on both sides as you drive by, leaving you with a very surreal experience. The road itself is a narrow one and You can stop by at the Maravanthe beach during the season to go out into the sea by row boat or speed boats to watch the dolphins play. If you get lucky, you are likely to spot quite a few of them. Go, get there, and experience the joy for yourself. But do remember the stretch is a low-lying area and likely to be closed to the public during peak monsoon.
Udupi has been on my bucket-list for long. As a growing up child in Karnataka, we listened to our grandmum telling us Kanakadasa’s story and singing to us his songs and compositions every day. Udupi is the famous temple town in Western Karnataka, most popular for the Shri Krishna Temple that attracts thousands of devotees every day. The Krishna temple is surrounded by many other smaller temples and the town resembles the ashram life from the bygone times. Typically, the most popular pilgrimage destinations or famous temples are riotous for the amount of tourist disposed garbage and chaos that surrounds them. Udupi stands out remarkably different in this aspect. What astounded us was the cleanliness of not just the temple premises and surroundings, but of the entire temple town. Clean and well swept lanes, often marked with beautiful hand drawn chalk powder designs (Rangolis), quaint little shops selling Puja items and other kitchen and local ware, adults and young men alike, dressed in white cotton dhotis with the trademark Namam (A deep ‘U’ written with yellow sandalwood clay) on their foreheads signifying the Vaishnava sect, the smell of fresh fragrant Jasmine flowers strung into beautiful long threads and garlands… Udupi felt picture perfect and straight out of a R.K. Narayan novel.
The queue of devotees lining up for darshan was very well managed too. Legend has it that a devoted Cobbler of Sri Krishna by name Kanaka came from far away land to catch a glimpse of the deity only to be turned away by the temple authorities as belonging to a lower caste and impure to enter the temple. Disappointed and yet refusing to go away, Kanaka sat at the backdoor of the temple, singing in praise of his favourite deity, requesting him to not disappoint his follower. Lord Krishna is then said to have turned around from the direction in which he was originally facing to allow his beloved devotee a glimpse of himself while the walls between them gave way. This is now the famous “kanakana kindi” where millions of devotees throng to get a glimpse of Krishna. Another fascinating aspect of this temple is that the idol is that of a young Krishna (Muddu or Bala Krishna). “Darshan” or viewing of the Deity is both fulfilling and soul soothing. If you wish to, you can continue to stay on for Lunch at the main hall of the temple or choose to eat at one of the numerous little shops that fill the by-lanes of the temple town, all serving idlis and kadubus and gojjanna that will tantalize the taste buds and leave you wanting for more.
Tip: Be sure to check on the updated dress code guidelines on the temple website before visiting. Sleeveless clothes, short dresses etc are not allowed and the women are expected to be modestly dressed. The men are expected to take off their upper clothing before entering the sanctum sanctorum. Also check on darshan timings and festival schedules as the waiting period could run into hours on auspicious days.
Post lunch at Udupi, we embarked on the long drive to Sakleshpur in Hassan District, our next and final destination. The drive time is approximately 4 hours and a distance of around 180 kilometers. Driving through the coastal belt and then through the western ghats makes for some pleasant road time. But this stretch has very few eateries or notable pit-stops in-between so make sure you have a good lunch and some handy munchies tucked into your bags before you set off.
Sakleshpur lies in the Malnad belt of the western ghats and is again a beautiful town with a temperate climate and lush greens. Coffee, pepper and areca plantations are a common sight here and there are plenty of options to stay on these estates if you were to google them, most of them well rated and decently maintained. We decided to go off the beaten track and chose the Sinnadorai Bungalow on the Kadamane Tea Estates, just on the outskirts of Sakleshpur. Belonging to the Parry’s Murugappan Group, the final approach of about a dozen odd Kilometers to Sinnadorai leaves you wondering if you made the right choice. After the final bit of driving on semi tarred and bumpy terrain, you are met with the majestic white spiked monster sized gates that cordon off the Sinnadorai Estates. Once you have checked in through security, the vistas open up and your eyes are treated to the most majestic sights of acres and acres of tea plantations. The gentle, youthful, bright green of the tea against the looming monsoon skies is exhilarating as you drive in through the narrow route, up the hill to the beautiful, breathtaking heritage bungalow, restored since the time the Myddleton family first owned this property. The hand-me down Victorian features are obvious….columned entrance way, beautiful large porticoes, cozy cottages with wooden flooring and fire places…If there were heaven on earth, am sure a tiny fragment of it fell and transformed into what is now Sinnadorai Estates. Dinner was a cozy affair in the dining hall, prepared to suit your mood and taste buds. We sat outside our cottages post an early supper to listen to the sounds of crickets chirping and the fireflies slowly rising upon us from nowhere, like a million stars choosing to fly past us for a heavenly dance, exclusively for our viewing pleasure.
Day 7: In the morning, we set out for a guided tour of the tea estate and the tea factory, coming back laden with varieties of tea samples and spice purchases to take back with us. Post a leisurely lunch, we took the guided 4*4 ride of a lifetime through the grasslands and hills into unchartered territory, up the virgin hills to a view point called “The 5 Acres”. With a stream running down on one side and greenery and the lush Vindhyas and deep valleys for as far as the eye can see, all around, we huddled together against the chill of the evening. The mist rolling across the acres caressed us and whisked away with them our worries and fears. Once again, we sat around, mostly silent, expressing ourselves only to exhale about the beauty of the place. The only exception to this was our daughter who went frolicking around, unable to contain her excitement at the beautiful sight. You can take up a picnic basket with you to this point and enjoy your meal at leisure as you walk around and explore the region.
From Sakleshpur, you can drive down to Kukke Subramanya, another famous pilgrimage spot in the region and come back via the Bisle ghats to Sakleshpur during your stay here. This can be a day time activity and the Bisle stretch is one of the many beautiful drives through the western ghats and valleys. The trees seem to arch down to make a green canopy through the jungles for your driving pleasure. The roads are superbly maintained and you will want to continue to drive along way after you reach your destination.
The night called for another session of cards and Pagade and some board games and we tucked away into the thick mattresses feeling the chill of the evening even though it was the fag end of summer.
Day 8: We woke up early the next morning for one final trek through the estates before it was time to pack up and head back to Bangalore on the long journey. We bought some tea and spices at the estate and bid farewell after a sumptuous breakfast. We took the long route back home, stopping for lunch and many tea sessions and arrived into Bangalore in the afternoon, tired and satisfied and a little wistful that the long journey was over.
I guess a good holiday is when you are partly sad about the leisurely activities coming to an end and at the same time, eagerly looking forward to going back home and sharing with your loved ones and friends the exhilarating experience you have had. Our road trip across Karnataka was all this and more. Discovering the beauty and diversity that this land has to offer is only possible as you go place by place, experiencing the magic for yourself. As I sum up, I think of Nissar Ahmed, the famous Kannada poet who wrote the popular and patriotic ‘Nityotsava’, elucidating praise of Karnataka and her richness in geological and archeological diversity. While the rendition is a personal favourite, journeying across the state drives home the realization that even this beautiful song doesn’t begin to do justice to the gorgeous beauty that this state is. Go, discover the beauty of this Karnataka which is one state with many worlds in it.