Named after the ancient temple of Mangaladevi at Bolar, 3km from the city centre, Mangalore was one of the most famous ports of south India and frequented by Arab traders. It was already well known overseas in the sixth century as a major source of pepper; the fourteenth-century Muslim writer Ibn Battuta noted its trade in pepper and ginger and the presence of merchants from Persia and Yemen. In the mid-1400s, the Persian ambassador Abdu’r-Razzaq saw Mangalore as a lucrative “frontier town” of the Vijayanagar empire, which was why it was captured by the Portuguese in 1529, and later Tipu Sultan and the British. Nowadays, the modern port, 10km north of the city proper, is principally known for the processing and export of coffee and cocoa (mostly from Kodagu), and cashew nuts (from Kerala). It is also a centre for the production of beedis (local cigarettes).
Mangaluru’s strong Christian influence can be traced back to the arrival of St Thomas further south. Some 1400 years later, in 1526, the Portuguese founded one of the earliest churches on the coast, although today’s Rosario Cathedral, with a dome based on St Peter’s in Rome, dates only from 1910. Closer to the centre, on Lighthouse Hill Road, fine restored fresco, tempera and oil murals by the Italian Antonio Moscheni adorn the Romanesque-style St Aloysius College Chapel, built in 1882.
Bajpe airport, 22km north of the city (bus #22 or #47A or taxis for ₹450–500), has regular flights to Bengaluru and Mumbai besides services to Goa, Hyderabad and Kochi. There are also daily connections with the Gulf States.
The railway station, to the south of the city centre on Station Rd, sees daily services from cities all over India. Though rail services to Goa and Mumbai operate from Mangaluru, note that Konkan Railway through trains do not stop at the city terminus. A better choice of train connections north and south is at Kankanadi, around 10km north, or Kasaragod, an easy bus ride across the Kerala border.
Mangaluru’s busy KSRTC Bus Stand (known locally as the “Lal Bagh” Bus Stand) is nearly 3km north of the town centre, in Hampankatta, from where you can catch city buses to most local destinations. Private buses use the much more central stand near the Town Hall. Agents for luxury and overnight services to Bengaluru and beyond include Anand Travels and Ideal Travels, both opposite Milagres Church on Falnir Rd, and Vijayanand Travels.
The main area for hotels, KS Rao Rd, runs south from the bus stand and has an ample choice to suit most pockets. You can also stay out of town by the beach in Ullal, 10km south of the city.
Mangaluru’s tenth-century Manjunatha temple is believed to be the oldest Shiva temple in the city and an important centre of the tantric Nathapanthi cult, a divergent form of Hinduism and similar to cults in Nepal. Enshrined in the sanctuary are a number of superb bronzes, including a 1.5m-high seated Matsyendranatha, made in 958 AD. To see it up close, visit at darshan times (6am–1pm & 4–8pm), although the bronzes can be glimpsed through the wooden slats on the side of the sanctuary. If possible, time your visit to coincide with mahapuja (8am, noon & 8pm) when the priests give a fire blessing to the accompaniment of raucous music. Opposite the east entrance, steps lead via a reddish-coloured path to a curious group of minor shrines. Beyond this complex stands the Shri Yogishwar Math, a hermitage set round two courtyards.
To escape the city for a few hours, head to the suburb of Ullal, where a long sandy beach stretches for kilometres, backed by wispy casuarina trees. It’s a popular place for a stroll, particularly in the evening when Mangaloreans come out to watch the sunset, but a strong undertow makes swimming difficult, and at times unsafe. You might be better off using the pool at the Summer Sands Beach Resort, immediately behind the beach. Towards the centre of Ullal, and around 700m from the main bus stand, is the dargah of Seyyid Mohammad Shareeful Madani, a sixteenth-century saint who is said to have come from Medina in Arabia, floating across the sea on a handkerchief. The extraordinary nineteenth-century building with garish onion domes houses the saint’s tomb, which is one of the most important Sufi shrines in southern India. Visitors are advised to follow custom and cover their heads and limbs and wash their feet before entering.
Top image: Our Lady of Dolours chapel surrounded by greenery of coconut palms at Bishop's House, Mangalore, Karnataka, India © DSLucas/Shutterstock