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The great train journey: Half the fun of Devbagh is simply getting there!

By Aparna Datta

Devbagh. A name that resonates in the mind, creating a sense of anticipation, of being transported into a world inhabited by gods. A apt name for the new beach resort promoted by Jungle Lodges and Resorts at Karwar.

Compared to neighbouring Kerala, or Goa, the Karavali region in Karnataka’s coastal belt is relatively under-developed in terms of tourism. But the upside is that you could get a stretch of pristine white sand all to yourself. One such place is Karwar, in Uttara Kannada, with an excellent beach which is said to have inspired Rabindranath Tagore to pen his first play. With hills plunging into the sea, the landscape is awesome.

Devbagh is situated on a peninsula, surrounded by the sea on three sides. In fact, to get to the resort, you have to take a three-kilometre boat ride, which takes the barometer of excitement up several notches. The closest transit point is Karwar, which is well connected by road (NH 17).

The more scenic access is the Konkan Railway from Mangalore to Karwar. A distance of 357 km, it’s a spectacular ride. Indeed, half the fun of Devbagh is simply getting there!

At 6 AM the railway station at Mangalore is wide awake. Passengers are already in a queue buying tickets for the Madgaon Passenger scheduled to leave at 7.10 AM. The second class ticket from Mangalore to Karwar costs Rs 41 (in 1998) – it’s a steal. The train steams out on time, the compartments relatively uncrowded; by the time the train reaches Karwar it’s packed out like a suburban train.

The mood is happy and easy-going, in sharp contrast to the travel-weary expressions of people on trains elsewhere in India. Perhaps it’s because travel on this stretch is still a novel experience. I watched a young Malayali couple, first-time travelers on this train, trying various ways of stowing away their luggage, getting startled with the sudden darkness that descended with the first tunnel, and recalled the sense of adventure which trains offer. Or perhaps the atmosphere is relaxed because most people are headed for Goa – the land of saudade.

The train meanders through lush green paddy fields, through numerous tunnels, the charms of Dakshina Kannada on view for free.

The Madgaon Passenger stops for a couple of minutes at every station en route – the faster train is the Madgaon Express which leaves Mangalore at 14.45 PM and has limited stops. The stations look glossy and new but hawkers are scarce, so make sure you carry whatever snacks and eatables you need. Sandwiched between the coast on the west and the Western Ghats on the east, the Konkan Railway could well become one of the great train journeys of India.

The trip takes about six-and-a-half hours to Karwar. Along the Konkan line, the railway stations are some distance from the towns, so be prepared to negotiate with the auto drivers who generally wait for incoming trains (buses are also available).

Once an important trading center of the Arabs, Portuguese, British and French, Karwar is a port town. Somnolent in the mid-day sun, it feels very different from Mangalore on the other end of the line, which is forever bustling.

Karwar offers much scope for tourism development, but environmentalists have created paranoia in these parts, as in Dakshina Kannada, to the extent that local people seem opposed to any development. In this context, the creation of Devbagh is all the more remarkable. Jungle Lodges and Resorts has an office near the Bhadra Hotel, from where you are directed to the jetty. A motor-boat awaits to ferry you across to the resort. Sun in your eyes, spray on your face…and enchantment takes over.

At the resort, you have a choice of staying in ethnic log huts on stilts with thatched roofs, or in tents. The food is wholesome- make sure you try fish fried Karwar-style. The service is attentive. When you want action, take a day trip to Gokarna. Or walk on the wild side at the Kali Wilderness Camp at Dandeli. From Karwar, Dandeli is 117 km, amidst the thick forests of Uttara Kannada. Devbagh is a good base, with easy access to other spots.

Devbagh is an ‘Eco-tourism’ resort. Don’t expect air-conditioning or swimming-pools, or exotic entertainment. This resort is for the New Age traveler – keen on nature and conservation. The creation of the resort meant displacing some villagers- the management averted opposition by involving locals in a Village Forest Committee and arranging resettlement and rehabilitation. This experience holds pointers for any tourism project in ecologically sensitive areas: Jungle Lodges have successfully evolved their approach and are currently managing a number of resorts in hill areas and wild-life sanctuaries with the same eco-friendly concern.

Devbagh is a great getaway. If you want to be incommunicado – this is it! Best of all – it doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket.

© Aparna Datta

Published in Saturday Times, The Times of India, Bangalore, May 23, 1998



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