Udupi (also spelt Udipi), on the west coast, 60km north of Mangaluru, is one of south India’s holiest Vaishnavite centres. The Hindu saint Madhva (1238–1317) was born here, and the Krishna temple and mathas (monasteries) he founded are visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year. The largest numbers congregate during the late winter, when the town hosts a series of spectacular car festivals and gigantic, bulbous-domed chariots are hauled through the streets around the temple. Even if your visit doesn’t coincide with a festival, Udupi is a good place to break the journey along the Karavali coast. Thronging with pujaris and pilgrims, its small sacred enclave is wonderfully atmospheric.
Udupi’s railway station is at Indrali on Manipal Rd, 3km west from the centre, and there are at least five trains in each direction daily.
Udupi’s three bus stands are dotted around the amorphous square in the centre of town: the KSRTC and private stands form a practically indistinguishable gathering spot for the numerous services to Mangaluru and more long-distance buses to Mysuru and Bengaluru and between northern Kerala and Goa. There are hardly any direct buses to Gokarna or Jog Falls, so you usually have to change at Kumta or Honnavar for both. The City stand is down some steps to the north and handles private services to local villages.
As a busy pilgrimage town, Udupi offers ample inexpensive accommodation, which is only likely to approach capacity during a major festival.
As you might expect of the masala dosa’s birthplace, there are many fine, simple south Indian restaurants in Udupi, where you can sample these and other veg favourites. The vast majority of places are pure veg: for non-veg food or alcohol, you’ll have to try a posh hotel restaurant such as the Sriram Residency.
Udupi’s Krishna temple lies five minutes’ walk east of the main street, surrounded by the eight mathas founded by Madhva in the thirteenth century. Legend has it that the idol enshrined within was discovered by the saint himself after he prevented a shipwreck. The grateful captain of the vessel offered Madhva his precious cargo as a reward, but the holy man asked instead for a block of mud, which he broke open to expose a perfectly formed image of Krishna. Believed to contain the essence (sannidhya) of the god, this deity draws a steady stream of pilgrims, and is the focus of almost constant ritual activity. It is looked after by acharyas, or pontiffs, from one of the mathas on a two-year rotation system. They perform pujas (5.30am–8.45pm) that are open to non-Hindus; men are only allowed into the main shrine bare-chested.
Top image: The sculptures on Gopuram of the Sree Krishna Temple in Udupi, Karnataka, India © d_dodin/Shutterstock