Most Indians know of Udupi as the type of an inexpensive restaurant that generally serves vegetarian food in the South Indian style. Not many know of the sleepy coastal town from which this great cuisine originated, that does duty as the headquarters of the eponymous Udupi district in the Karavali, or coastal region of Karnataka. Still fewer know of its reputation as the location of a Krishna temple with rich history and a monastery established by the founder of one of the three main philosophical strains of present-day Hinduism. Many, however, have heard of Manipal, a major educational centre, and a suburb of Udupi, that attracts students from all over India and internationally.
Rather confusingly, the town of Udupi lies in Udupi taluka which in turn is in Udupi district. This article covers not only the town, but also its surrounding areas, the region roughly corresponding to Udupi taluka. The taluka is one of the three divisions of Udupi district and it likes on the coast, with the Arabian Sea to its west. The other two talukas are Kundapura, which lies to its north and Karkala, which lies to the west, on the foothills of the Western Ghats. To the south of Udupi is Mangalore, which is the headquarters of the Dakshina Kannada district.
The history of Udupi revolves around the story of the Krishna temple and matha (monastery, also spelt mutt)
While the temple is believed to be in existence for over 1500 years, the idol was installed by the sage Madhvacharya in the 13th century. He is the founder of the Dvaita philosophy, which is commonly translated as dualism. In contrast to the older Advaita (non-dualism) propounded by Sankaracharya, Dvaita philosophy holds that the human and animate souls have an independent existence from the divine Universal Soul, of the Paramatma. The adherents of the Dvaita philosophy are generally Vaishnavites, who worship Vishnu in his various incarnations, among whom Krishna is one.
Legend has it that Madhvacharya used his divine powers to miraculously save a ship that was in the thick of a storm. The ship happened to have set sail from Dwaraka, the city that used to be Krishna's home, and was carrying an idol of him. The captain of the ship, in gratitude, gifted the idol to his saviour, who then went on to install it in the Krishna temple where he worshiped.
In the midst of propounding his philosophy and performing miracles, Madhvacharya also found time to establish a monastic order consisting of eight mathas (Ashtamathas) located in various places around Udupi. Each of these mathas were headed by one of his main disciples, and he decreed that after he passed on, they and their successors would head the main Udupi matha in rotation for two months each. One of his notable later day successors, Vadiraja of Sode Matha, who lived during the 16th century, changed the tenure from two months to two years. This practice, called Paryaya continues to this day. The handover to the new head of Udupi matha happens on 18 January on even numbered years, and is an occasion for much celebration and many religious ceremonies.
Politically, the city had an uneventful history. It was ruled by various feudatories of the Mysore kings till it was taken over by the British, who then made it part of the administrative district of Kanara, which was then divided into South and North Kanara. Udupi was part of the former. After independence, South Kanara became Dakshina Kannada, and in 1998, Udupi district was hived off from Dakshina Kannada, with the city as the headquarters of the district.
It had a nascent career as a financial hub till the 60s, with many banks being established here, but most of them got nationalized. Manipal, a suburb Udupi city is an important educational and medical centre owing to the efforts of T M A Pai in the 60s.
The weather is fairly equable throughout the year, due to the nearby Arabian sea. Temperature ranges from 30 to 35 degrees centigrade in day time and is around 25 degrees during the night. Humidity is normally high most of the time.
The rainy season is from June to September. At this time the monsoon shows its true colours in this area. Within seconds, you can find yourself soaked in rain water.
Udupi is well-connected with the cities on India's west coast. NH66 (formerly NH17) runs right through Udupi, connecting it to Mumbai and Goa to the North and Mangalore and Kochi to the South. Konkan Railway connects Udupi to the same cities. The city is around 406 km from Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka. Rail connectivity with Bangalore is good, but travelling by road is a nightmare due to the poor condition of the roads near the Western ghat sections.
Mangalore International Airport is 59 km from Udupi. The airport is well-connected with major Indian cities and a few Middle-eastern destination.
Prepaid taxis (non air-conditioned) can be booked from the counter located inside the arrival terminal at ₹780 (as on 14-Jun-2008). They take approximately 1.5 hours to reach.
Goa's Dabolim airport is around 300km from Udupi. Getting in via Goa is not the most practical or convenient way to get to Udupi, but if you are planning to combine a vacation in Goa, this is a good option.
Udupi is a major station on the Konkan railway route. There are connections with Mumbai and Mangalore. Major trains including Rajadhani Express stop at Udupi Railway Station. A night train is available from Mangalore to Bangalore, known simply as the Mangalore-Bangalore express.
Udupi is located right on National Highway NH66 (formerly NH17) connecting Cochin with Mumbai. See Karavali#Get in about the lowdown on this route. This connects Udupi with Kerala, Coastal Karnataka (including Mangalore), Goa, and the Konkan region of Maharashtra. Drive in on your own only if you are used to driving on Indian highways. Alternatively, hire a driver or take a cab.
From Bangalore, you first need to come to Mangalore via roads which mostly pass through zig-zag hilly roads, or ghats. NH48 is the road that connects Bangalore and Mangalore, which passes through Shiradi Ghat. However, the ghat roads seem to get damaged every year, so make inquiries in advance and decide which of the four ghats is relatively passable and adjust that portion of the route accordingly.
Buses regularly ply from major southern cities to Udupi. You may choose from Volvo (AC buses), Airbuses or KSRTC buses depending on your budget.
Buses, cabs and autorickshaws are ways to get around the city. Udupi has excellent city bus services run by various private companies. Buses generally start and end at the main bus stand. Bus stops are located throughout the city. Ask around. Tickets can be bought once you board or from the conductor just before boarding. Rates start from ₹5 per 2km.
Hired cabs are available, though they can't be hailed off the street. They are unmetered, but as a general guide, ₹15 per kilometer for an non-airconditioned compact car for short distances is a good starting point.
Autorickshaws can be, and are generally a cheap mode to travel. For autos, fares start at ₹20 for the first 1.5 km and go up by ₹14 every kilometer after that. This is assuming that they agree to go by the meter, which they generally do not. Nonetheless, this is a good guide to estimate the rate you should agree to.
Walking around the city when the weather is good is a nice experience. There aren't any footpaths though, so you will have to share the side of the road with autos and bikes.
Udupi has some nice beaches, lush greenery, the quaint charm of a small town and many temples. Many of the places to visit are not very well known to many people outside of Udupi. If you are an adventurous person who loves nature, there is a lot to explore in Udupi.
Udupi has some great beaches, but thankfully, they aren't big water sports destinations like Goa. If you are the adventurous sort, you can head south to Mulki, Mangalore where the Ashram surf retreat combines surfing with spiritualism.
See if you can catch a performance of Yakshagana, a Bhoota Kola or a Naga Mandala. The latter two are essentially religious rituals, but a sight to watch. The Yakshagana is a genre of dance-drama that is native to the Karavali region. The performances are advertised only in local Kannada newspapers, so it might be somewhat difficult to catch them. Also, to fully appreciate Yakshagana, you need to understand Kannada or Tulu.
While Udupi, like any other city of moderate size offers many opportunities to shop, the Ratha Beedi area around the temple is a popular and interesting destination to buy what it is best known for. Most people who visit the temple combine their religious sojourn with a shopping expedition. On major festive events, the area around the Krishna temple comes abuzz with many temporary shops set up for the occasion. Befitting Udupi's status as a culinary paradise, many of the items on the must shop list at Ratha Beedi are culinary. Snacks and juice extracts top the list. Spices and oils used in traditional Udupi cooking can also be bought here. Shops that sell vessels and other implements used to prepare Udupi-style cuisine are scattered all over the street. Among these are aluminium pans to make guliyappa and the aruvamane used to scrape coconuts.
Other items to look out for are wood handicraft items such as agarbatti stands, idols of deities, alters, etc. This is also a good place to buy Ayurvedic medicines and massage oils.
Clothing, particularly silk sarees but also other traditional Indian and western dresses, and Jewellery are the other two big items that ought to be on your shopping list in Udupi.
For your Saree/Dress purchases:
Udupi is famous for traditional jewellery. Famous jewellers are:
Snacks and packaged food
You can also buy traditional packaged food here. The 'Wheat Halwa', Banana Halwa that is made up of Ghee and the 'Banana Chips' of this place are well-known. Mango pickles from here are great as well. Purchase these items from any local store. Enquire in any of these local stores for other local coastal delicacies.
The vegetarian cuisine of Udupi is famous all over India and among Indians abroad. For this reputation, it must thank the Sri Krishna temple and its traditions. The temple offers free food to everyone who wants to partake of it. The cooks have traditionally been the Brahmins belonging to the Shivalli sect, who, over the centuries, have perfected the art of cooking that adheres to "Satvik" principles. This requires, not just vegetarianism, but also that they avoid food like onion and garlic, as these are said to excite the baser senses. In spite of these limitations, the food of Udupi tastes great, with subtle flavours.
Starting from the middle of the 20th century, many people from Udupi (and the Karavali region in general) migrated to Mumbai for better career opportunities. Often, the migrants were bachelors who naturally craved food from back home, and a significant number were Brahmins who would not let go of caste related taboos against eating food cooked by non-Brahmins. The Udupi Restaurants came up in Mumbai to cater to this group of people. Very soon, these eateries, serving cheap, nutritious and vegetarian food became very popular and spread all over India. However, very few of these restaurants have stayed true to their roots - and today, you are likely to find the usual South Indian-North Indian-Chinese cuisines in those restaurants.
It is fair to say that Udupi, being a temple town, is not a great place to have alcoholic drinks, and this sleepy town is not known for a vibrant night life. You can always try the famous Ginger soda which is available at all local shops. You may also try the unfermented toddy which is extracted early morning from coconut trees. This can usually be found near the beaches.
Religious Places around Udupi