Murudeshwar’s claim to moderate fame, which is likely to grow in years to come as more and more Indians embrace domestic tourism, appears to come from two quarters – the massive Shiva statue that looks out to the Arabian Sea from the meditative seat of “Mt Kailash”; the long sandy beach that stretches against a backdrop of fishing settlements amidst coconut groves and thickly forested hills in the distance.
It is not clear which of the two is responsible for the popularity of this little known coastal town but it may be fair to say that RN Shetty has been smart enough to tap into the time-honoured Indian craze for pilgrimages. Much of the town’s growth comes from his vision. He also appears to own lots of businesses in town, a sort of a monopoly in these parts. The presence of RNS Motors is also there in Bangalore.
He created the giant statue of Shiva. Today a 10-year old concrete gopuram stands to welcome visitors. Now, if you give Indian crowds two beaches of equal nature, what will tip the scale in favour is the one which has a temple as well. General tourists to Murudeshwar visit the temple first and then take a swim at the beach. Of the latter, it will not be surprising if most people consider it equal to washing away their sin. Such is the entrenched beliefs that plaque Indian minds.
Sadly, there is nothing about the beach that I found welcoming. For that matter, it would be safe to say that no Indian beach that’s close to a settlement can be clean. People here lack proper sewage systems. They defecate on the beaches in broad daylight. The tide moves the remains around, up and down the shore. The sun bakes them hard until high tide comes to roll them in its surf. Buffalo dung litters the beach. Visitors litter with empty ice-cream cups, cigarette packets and plastic bags. I noticed a group of crows picking on the carcass of a cat. A little further down, the carcass of a turtle stared to the sun from its eyeless skull.
I was told that there are people who clean the beach in the morning. How much better would it be if visitors took responsibility, took the trash home or disposed them off in the right places! But this is too much to ask of Indians who are yet to learn the essence of civilization.
To the left of the temple and statue is another beach mostly used by fishermen. At half-past eight this morning, I observed boats landing on the beach. Some boats are small, no more than two feet wide and ten feet long. Others are three times as long, twice as wide and motor powered. The latter require joint effort to push the boats up the beach. Boat owners, their wives, local men, women waiting to buy fish fresh for the market – all contribute to pushing the boats up the beach. Once the boat is safe from the tide, the bargains begin. It appears that while there are regular middlemen who buy from the fishermen, there is no commited allegiance. Middlemen suss around a few boats to find the best deal. On the whole, the atmosphere is not as busy as you would expect. Women take their time to fill their baskets, sometimes as long as half an hour before they proceed with their purchases to the nearby covered fishmarket.
The boats bring in mostly small fish (size of a man’s palm), some shrimps and crabs. One woman bought a few pounds of fish at Rs 125. The boat brought around four times that amount. I learnt that the boat left early this morning at 3 am. So, five hours at sea is able to bring a catch of only Rs 500 or less. At least, that’s how it was this morning. Sometimes, locals who live in the area buy directly from the fishermen when the catch comes in. The fishermen may favour such customers as they pay a slightly better price that the middlemen.
Once the catch is sold in this slow manner, the tasks of cleaning the boats and untangling the nets begin. The day is done for these fishermen who perhaps have enough to feed themselves and their families.
There is a direct bus from Karwar. The scenic journey takes about 3.5 hours. Drop off is at the Murudeshwar gateway. From here, a local auto-rickshaw will take you to town for Rs. 25.
We stayed at the RNS Residency, a 3-star hotel. The room cost us Rs. 1500 plus taxes. Excellent room with a balcony view to the sea.
Spicy food but generally good and clean. I was convinced of the cleanliness here and I ordered green salad. I wouldn’t call an assortment of carrot, cucumber, onion and tomato as “green salad” but it was fresh and clean. Elsewhere, an average Indian will do well to eat at Kamat Restaurant where I had breakfast this morning.