Mangalore to Dharmasthala

This is a brief account of my bus ride from Mangalore to Dharmasthala. Dharmasthala is an Indian temple town on the banks of the Nethravathi River in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, India. The town is known for its Dharmasthala Temple, which houses the shrine of Lord Shiva.

Planning my Dharmasthala temple trip

So there’s this uncle of mine – all of 75 years, single and retired – who spends most of his waking time visiting places. Every morning, he wakes up, gets dressed (he wears only whites – a bit like Obama there – no decision fatigue, you see), takes the first bus that comes his way, and sets off to wherever that bus would take him. No, I exaggerate. He occasionally chooses the second bus too.

While he doesn’t care much for the potential dangers that his adventures may expose him to, his sisters (my aunts and my mother) are a worried bunch until he gets back.

They can put the CIA to shame when it comes to keeping the tab of the man in whites – their use of informers and the latest communication gadgets at their disposal (Nokia 105/ iBall Aasaan 2 White or equivalent) are worth a chapter in ‘Clandestine Service Trainee’ training manual.

Though my mother keeps nagging him about his journeys and advises him to spend the rest of his retired life safely planted in an easy chair (so she could gulp down her heart that had found its way to her mouth, thanks to my uncle’s excursions), I secretly admire the way he lives his life, travelling and meeting people.

How to reach Dharmasthala from Mangalore

Having been softened up by years of a comfortable life, I longed to do a very earthy, basic, ‘rugged’ (and possibly dirty) trip using only my two feet and basic public transport.

In other words, I wanted to be my uncle for a day. So I decided to kick off a series of such rugged trips on a religious note, with one to Dharmasthala.

Dharmasthala, located about 75 km (about 2.5 – 3 hours) away from Mangalore (where I live), is an Indian temple town on the banks of the Nethravathi River in the Belthangadi taluk of the Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka (That line, courtesy Wikipedia).

If you are into temples and ever come to this part of the world, Dharmasthala is a must-visit temple; the others are Kukke Subramanya, Udupi, Murudeshwar, Kollur, etc. Sringeri and Hornadu.

Bus from Mangalore to Dharmasthala
My ride

Going from Mangalore to Dharmasthala turned out to be a breeze – I just had to take one of the frequent KSRTC Express buses.

So I set out early last Friday, and crossed the fish market to get to the KSRTC bus stand. I got a bus almost immediately, and it was mostly empty, with only about 6 – 7 bored looking fellow passengers on board.

So I got a window seat (which actually gave me a high – the child in me is still alive – yay!) and settled down with a content smile.

The ticket to Dharmasthala cost me Rs 64, and the ride was uneventful, except for some fun provided by a fidgety Malayalee guy who kept asking, ‘Are we at Dharmasthala? Yet?’ every time the bus pulled into a town bus stand.

Dharmasthala Temple

I dozed off for a while and woke up when we were nearly there. I looked back, and that fidgety guy was nowhere to be seen. Finally, the bus conductor informed me that he had got down at Ujjire, about 10-12 km from Dharmasthala. ‘Well, he sure’s going to miss lunch at Dharmasthala temple’ – I thought to myself.

The Dharmasthala temple
The Dharmasthala temple
Guest houses for devotees Dharmasthala
Guesthouses for devotees
An old (working) weighing machine in front of a shop in Dharmasthala
An old (working) weighing machine in front of a shop in Dharmasthala

The KSRTC buses stop right in front of the temple premises – and are very convenient for devotees.

As soon as I got down, I got into one of the small, clean-looking tea stalls for tea to shake off my lethargy. The walkway to the temple has old, long, multistoried rest houses built for the pilgrims on the right and a line of shops to the left.

Since the instructions said I couldn’t carry my camera inside the temple, I left my camera and bag in the luggage room nearby and entered the temple.

Dharmasthala temple timings: Since the inner sanctum was closed from 11 – 12 pm due to pujas, I had to wait in a Q. After a while, we were let in, and I had enough time to see the deity and say my prayers.

The prasad (for which I had paid Rs 100) was a bag of goodies that included sweetened puffed rice, a sweet powder, raisins, and some appams. So I munched on the appam and made my way to the dining hall. Dharmasthala offers free food and subsidized shelter for pilgrims.

Lunch at Dharmasthala temple

The dining area, named Annapoorna, is huge and generally filled with pilgrims. One has to sit on the floor for lunch, but they have also set aside tables for people who cannot squat.

The meal consisted of rice, rasam, sambar and a side dish – all served hot, topped off with a sweet for dessert. I found the food extremely delicious and wiped my plate clean before walking out a satisfied person. As some of my friends would say – ‘Brahmin khush hua’ (translating to ‘Brahmin is happy!’) – a phrase we say after a satisfying meal.

It is commendable that most big temples (in Karnataka?) provide free food to millions of people.

Things to do in Dharmasthala

Once outside, I collected my bag (no charge for storing the bag, but Rs 2 for keeping my worn-out flip flops safe) and went over to a shaded area where people crowded around the temple elephant.

Give her (the elephant. It’s a she) coins, and she would bless you by placing her trunk on your head. Some devotes offered bananas and got extra blessings while I stayed a trunk’s length away from her.

Dharmasthala temple elephant
I stayed a trunk’s length away from her
Dharmasthala temple elephant
“Bless you!”
Dharmasthala park
A walk in the park
Dharmasthala park
Still at the park.

Next to the temple is a park, which is well maintained. I clicked a few pictures there and walked over to the Manjusha museum. The way it looked from the outside (too small/ dingy), I did not have high expectations. The entry charge was Rs 5, and to my surprise, the narrow entranceway opens into a large hall, at least 75 – 100 meters in length, filled with exciting old stuff.

There’s enough material in there to spend an hour if you are a history buff. From paintings, idols, cameras, coins, and weapons to personal items used by kings – like ivory brushes, hairdryers, monocles, pens – the museum takes you back in time and is worth every rupee (and more) you paid to enter.

Unfortunately, the building itself looked very old and dangerously damp in places, and I wonder if many of these articles would last for much longer.

Dharmasthala museum
No, not a museum piece. He’s a visitor.
Dharmasthala chariots
Dharmasthala rathas
Carvings on a chariot
Dharmasthala rathas
Carvings on another chariot

Right opposite the museum is some old chariots (typically used in temple festivals) with intricate carvings. From there, I moved on to the vintage car museum.

On the way, my eyes fell upon a couple of discarded aeroplanes protected by fences. The car museum is worth a visit too, and again, I wasn’t allowed to take my camera inside. Along the way were more guest houses built for devotees.

The road to nowhere. So I didn’t take that.
Dharmasthala car museum
Cabin baggage up to 20 kgs allowed.
Sights from around the temple

I wound up my day trip with another coffee and boarded a bus back to Mangalore.

Thus, the first of my ‘rugged travels’ was done, and I’d become a fan of such trips. I am now planning a ‘Goa on a shoestring budget trip around the end of October, early November. More on that later.

I hope you enjoyed my Mangalore to Dharmasthala blog.

Read all about my budget trip to Goa here:

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