I think it’s now safe to say that the Karnataka coast, or Karavali as the locals call this coast, has a ready identity, driven by sustainable principles and curated for the discerning explorer by professional persons.
The year 2020 brought me back to my home town Mangalore after 10 long years. When I left in 2010, I had the impression that Mangalore had a confused identity. There was the old and conservative pitched in battle against the young and restless and the two were tearing into each other as was evident from the several cultural clashes that emerged from that time. We all saw the horrifying media coverage. Tourism was non-existent except religious tourism and the commerce was mostly driven by trade, medical, education and real estate.
Now I have been back for almost a year and the Mangalore I see is very different from the one I left. You would expect that over a long period of time. But most cities don’t change drastically in 10 years. However, every city in its lifetime, reaches a take-off point at which it grows and evolves at breakneck speed or it goes into slow decline. The Mangalore of today is tasteful, sophisticated, globally aware, commercially busy, and conscious about art and culture on the one side and equally about fun and adventure. The HDI numbers are very good as is the connectivity. I suspect that the population has also exploded. As per the last census numbers, Mangalore had a prosperous population but a small one. The next census will show a huge growth in that number. Also, Mangalore as a district, works like a single urban agglomeration and the population of the district is many times more than just the city. Mangalore had a huge expat population of her natives working overseas, in hospitality, IT, banking and in cities like Bangalore, Pune, Chennai and Mumbai and a lot of them have come back home during the covid crisis and found it hard to leave thereafter. The quality of life here is a stark contract to the big city grind.
As a result of all this progress, the coast needs to provide an outlet for the people to engage in. Kerala always had the Gods own country tag with wellness in the lead. Goa always had the big food, copious amounts of booze and ‘good times’ tag with its colonial mood and slow pace. Susegado. I think Mangalore has always stood in the tall shadow of Kochi and Panjim.
But over the months I have spent here, it is evident that a new culture of tourism has emerged on the coast. Hiking, surfing, river activity, fishing, farming, artisan and skill based tourism, strong culinary programs have emerged giving the tourism on Karnataka’s coast a very unique identity. A lot of these projects are micro tourism setups promoted by village committees and local friends clubs and spreads the benefit to the whole community. You would be hard pressed to find a single big ticket project anywhere between Mangalore and Karwar. Instead there has been an explosion of homestays, riverine adventures, climbing trails, camping, and agriculture and of course Surf shacks which has taken a dimension of its own with big ticket events on the beaches. The upscale products are also small in size more like upscale manors than resorts and hotels. People have been flocking to a lot of pop-up events and cultural functions at various scenic venues that give it a certain farmer’s market quality and also the choice of variety.
Recently Mangalore hosted the Mangalore Surf Open and the Nandini River Festival both of which saw a health attendance of locals and visitors and high quality action. At last count there were over 10 surf shacks on the cost from Mangalore to Gokarna. There are also more than a handful of prominent river adventure hubs run by village action committees and youth clubs. Hiking trails are well established at Belthangadi, Chikmagalur, Kodachadri and Kudremukh. Gokarna that always seemed a distant cousin of a 1980s Anjuna, is now a bustling tourism hotspot with a underlying sustainability vibe. No rooms available any weekends.
In terms of connectivity the Infrastructure is ready. Unlike neighbouring Maharashtra and Kerala where the costal roads are slow going, the Karnataka Coastal tollway is one of the most picturesque high speed corridors in the Country. One could leave Mangalore after breakfast at 7am and be at Panjim for lunch by 1pm in the afternoon. On that journey the eye is constantly delighted by mountains to the rights, oceans and cliffs on the left and several beautiful river crossings and small fishing bunders. The food is wholesome and every town has a secret cuisine waiting to be discovered. The Mangalore Airport now run by Adani Airports has a very modern terminal with direct connectivity to Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Coimbatore and one hop to anywhere via Bangalore. About 7 airports in the GCC region also have a direct international flight into Mangalore. Being a hub of healthcare and education as its two major industries, medical and ecological tourism at Mangalore have all the necessary infrastructure ready and waiting for the long haul.
An interesting opportunity now emerges with so many ‘out of work’ hoteliers of Mangalorean origin and others having come back from the big cities in India, the gulf and from cruise liners. There is a plethora of travel and tourism talent just waiting to be deployed. This is now a great opportunity for these professionals to turn entrepreneurial with small amounts of start-up capital and a lot of talent to create boutique experiences for travel and tourism along the coast. If properly harnessed, one could well see Coastal Karnataka emerge as a one with nature, ecological tourism hotspot over the next decade and create a brand of its own with a mix of picturesque locales and professional management. Combined with the ever popular temple tourism and pilgrimage tourism that already exists, I would not be surprised if this region can emerge as a leader in the ecotourism space. This would be a great non-polluting industry to create jobs and drive the economy of the whole coast. With good people to people coordination and policy support from government, the opportunities are limitless.
I think it’s now safe to say that the Karnataka coast, or Karavali as the locals call this coast, has a ready identity, driven by sustainable principles and curated for the discerning explorer by professional persons. It’s a dream destination for anyone looking for unspoilt, unique and authentic experiences. This is an incredible time to be here, to witness this evolution from up close and to have the opportunity to foster and define it.