IT’S BEEN SIX MONTHS since my trip to Gokarna, a quaint town in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, which is blessed with sun-kissed beaches as well as windswept hills. And yet, every time I look back on that road trip, I pinch myself. How did I see what I saw and how did I meet whom I met in just six days, without a plan and in the midst of a pandemic?
It was 4.15 am on January 17, 2021. My partner and I hit National Highway 48 from Bengaluru, the city we live in, also the city that speeds off to Gokarna any chance it gets. I am not a ‘sun, sand, and sea’ person, so why was I heading to Gokarna for six days? One, because I had been to most hill stations in the state already, and two, what other options did I have given the travel restrictions? This internal monologue came to a screeching halt at 7.30 am, when our car rammed into another, divesting the vehicle of its rear bumper and us of thousands in ‘fine’.
We stood on the expressway shocked, wondering if this was a sign to call off the trip. But I’m glad we didn’t overthink. We fired up Google Maps instead and looked for attractions ahead of us. The town of Mundgod stoked our interest at once. It’s a massive Tibetan settlement dating back to 1966. We had heard of the Bylakuppe Tibetan colony in the state, in the hills of Coorg, but never this.
NEVER SAY NO
After cruising on the expressway for an hour, we turned into Hosur, a village of wobbly paths but also charming fields in the Uttara Karnataka district. An elderly farmer went past our car in his bullock cart, and my partner stuck out his head to ask him if I could hitch a ride. The farmer obliged, and I jumped on. In an attempt to make small talk, I enquired, in broken Kannada, about the crops he grows. He thought I was asking for an eatery and invited us over to his house. The Uttara Kannada lunch his wife had prepared—jowar roti, saru, palya, and omelette—had us licking our fingers clean. As we were leaving, she stuck a rose in my hair and packed badam puri and chakli for the road, while her son dropped us off to a neighborhood where the Lambadis live.
Also called Banjaras, Lambadis were traditionally a nomadic tribe, known for wearing tattoos and colorful attire done with lepo, or mirrorwork embroidery. Even today, older women wear traditional backless cholis and long lehengas even as they perform house chores like washing the dishes. I don’t know how they manage it, because these attires are hot and heavy. I can state this confidently because when I entered one of their homes in a crop top and a Japanese trouser, the local girls insisted I try on a velvety bridal costume that weighed at least 10 kilograms. The revelry and photo-op ended abruptly and awkwardly when my blouse, which was hanging by a thread, came undone.
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