On 19th of March 2016 I embarked on my first solo road trip from Chennai to Canacona and back. Being a person who loves forests, mountains and places devoid of civilization, I charted a route that wound and cut through the western ghats in Karnataka instead of the NH4 or NH48+NH66. Route taken: Chennai > Bengaluru (N) > Hassan (B) > Kudremukha via Kalasa > Sringeri (N) > Agumbe > Sagara (B) > Sharavati Wildlife Scantuary > Bathkal (B) > Gokarna (N) > Karwar (B) > Canacona (N) > Chitradurga (B) > Bengaluru (N) > Chennai. Initially I was apprehensive about this circuitous route considering my navigation and problem solving skills, but I took it anyway. It turned to be a very thrilling and memorable ride, there was a point in the Kudremukh mountains where I actually felt like I was ODing on the adrenaline rush.
N= night stop. B= short break.
Best parts of the trip –
Kudremukh range and Agumbe
The longer route between Kalasa and Sringeri via the Kudremukh range passes through some of the best parts of the wildlife range. The ascents are not very steep, the roads were fresh with no traffic, and just the right number chicanes and twisties to provide a thrilling ride. Route: Belur/Mudigere > Kalasa > Kudremukh > Sringeri. I came across at least 2 shortcuts to Sringeri between Mudigere and Kalasa, but chose the longer route through Kudremukh.
Cutting through the Sharavati sanctuary by ferry
Lesser taken , slower and longer route between Sagar and Bhatkal. On the highway that runs through through Sagar, there is a busy market like street heading in the western direction. This road will go to Sigandur, where there is a functional ferry service. The ferry ride is cheap but one may end up waiting anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour for all the loading to complete. After crossing over, the road from the west bank of the river to the outskirts of Bhatkal is devoid of traffic and people. Passed through thick woods on long stretches of broken tarmac, almost devoid of civilization. A good suspension and relaxed mood is required to enjoy this stretch.
OM Beach Gokarna
After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at finding a nice place to stay in Gokarna town, I called up a friend, who suggested I go to a hotel ( I cannot recollect the name of the hotel now) on Kudle beach. After getting lost going in circles around the central temple tank, I let my phone do the navigation. The GPS took me south away from the town, up a steep hill and then on to a side dirt track. But the track ended at a locked up private property. Frustrated I went back to the main road and continued up the hill. A few minutes later, where the road turned around near the edge of a cliff and I was greeted by a beautiful view of a golden sunset on the beach. It was down hill from this point on, and after a few kilometres I ended up at OM beach and luckily found a place to stay in Namaste Cafe that is right on the beach. This place is priced reasonably with rustic and luxury cottages. There is also a reasonably good bar and restaurant with direct access to the beach.
Cotigao National Park
Saw a sign board with directions to the national park about 20 km north of the Karnataka Goa border on the Eastern side. I had plenty of time before sun down, so I swerved right to the access road. There is a forest office, down about 1 km on the access road where you can get a pass to enter the interior regions of the park. The park has a network of broken tarmac and dirt roads. The red dirt roads will take you into the forest where there are watch towers/animal sighting points, and the broken tarmac roads to the fringe villages.