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
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
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