When we told people our holiday plans included a weekend in Mangalore, we got used to their reactions. Most would correct us – thinking that we were obviously a bit stupid or suffering from speech impediments. "Ah yes" they would say "Bangalore, centre of India’s IT and call centre industries". We patiently repeated ourselves and insisted that we were indeed going to Mangalore and, having previously been to Bangalore, we were in no rush to go again.
To some degree I can understand their confusion. Bangalore is famous all over the world; Mangalore is barely famous even inside India. OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but not too much. We went for several reasons. Firstly – in the tradition of the great climber George Mallory, we went ‘Because it’s there’. Secondly, we had an open invitation to "Come and see my city – and see how much nicer it is than Bangalore" from an Indian friend and thirdly, it just happened to be conveniently between Kochi and Goa. Faced with an extraordinarily long train journey or two slightly more manageable ones, we decided to change our tickets and chill out by the sea.
Mangalore is a coastal city in Karnataka, just over 200 miles west of Bangalore. Whilst in Europe that would be a three hour drive, you can expect to take the best part of a day by road. Fortunately we approached from the south by rail on an overnight train from Kochi. The city has a population of just short of half a million, making it the 21st largest city in India though it’s a mere minnow compared to the major cities of Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata
It has a long tradition as a port and ranks as India’s 9th largest based on the amount of cargo it handles. It’s also the main port for coffee exporting and handles a lot of agricultural products from the fertile and tropical areas nearby. None of this is going to have you reaching for your credit card and planning a visit. Actually, if you’re looking for world class attractions, you’re unlikely to choose Mangalore but it does have a surprising amount of rather fun things to do if you’re looking to pass a couple of days and aren’t expecting the Louvre or Buckingham Palace. You will probably struggle to find too much information about what to see and do – in fact I think my guidebook allocates no more than a few column inches to the city. However, go with the right attitude and you can find charm in this place. Fortunately we got a good briefing from our friends on what was worth a look.
If you can, do try to find a way to get to the beach. We were lucky to be taken to a stretch of spotless sand near to a club for merchant navy people. In any European city it would have been packed with sunbathers, but late on a Saturday afternoon we had the place to ourselves. We were also privileged to get taken to a ‘club’ – one of the sports and social societies to which our friend and her family belong.
On the Sunday we indulged in masses of Mangalore tourism. One of the most unique things about the city – and do be surprised because it’s never happened in any other city we’ve visited in India – is that auto-rickshaw drivers DO use their meters, even for tourists. I have a greater chance of winning Miss Universe than getting a Delhi taxi or rickshaw driver to use his meter but in Mangalore, all we did was smile, tap the meter and say "Please". Not one driver challenged us. Mind you, they don’t see many tourists.
First stop was the spectacular Kadri Manjunath Temple, a complex of temples along with some astonishing statues, a bathing pool and plenty to see. From there we headed to the Bejai Museum, one of the oddest (and lamest) museums we’ve seen in a country with plenty of competition for that honour. Lunch followed in one of the city’s air conditioned malls and then we flagged down another driver to go to the Sultan Battery, an old (and no longer very original) riverside fort. Our driver refused to leave us there because he knew what we didn’t – that it was a five minute attraction and one from where we’d never be able to find a driver to take us back. I handed him my notebook with the last of our must-see attractions, St Aloysius chapel, and he not only drove us there, but hunted for someone to show us around, sat and listened to the guide and then took us back to the hotel – again recognising we hadn’t a clue where we were and would get lost if we tried to find our own way.
Faced with killing time for a few hours before our train the next day, I’m ashamed to say we did wander off and find another mall, wandered round the shops and drank over-priced cappuccinos. It’s fair to say that you could probably squeeze most of what we did into a 24 hour visit to the city and if you had longer, there were a few more temples on offer but I’m confident we saw the best – and possibly some of the worst – of what the city had to offer. If you have limited time, my recommendation would be to see the Kadri Manjunatha temple and St Aloysius chapel. You won’t miss much if you skip the museum and the Sultan Battery.