Pebbled paths flanked by areca nut trees lead visitors to their cottages, across bamboo bridges over flowing rivulets. Painted red and yellow, the cottages overlook a perennial stream called Kapila, a tributary of the river Netravati. A swing suspended from a branch above the water encourages visitors to wet their feet, stare into the forest, and listen to birdsong coming through the foliage. Life ebbs and flows at the Stream of Joy homestay.
Some 12 km down the road from the burgeoning pilgrim hub of Dharmasthala, in western Karnataka, Stream of Joy is content to hide behind the trees of an areca nut plantation in a quiet village called Arasinamakki. Over the last few years, the simple four-acre plantation has developed into a homely escape from urban civilisation. Waking up in one of its four cottages is accompanied by a peace that quickly turns to curiosity—was it the call of a whistling thrush or a bulbul that broke your slumber?
The homestay is only a couple of years old, but the owner Kashinath Damle offers hospitality that feels like it’s been honed over decades. The cottages are basic, but clean and comfortable. Faded paintings adorn the walls, and shelves balance assorted bronze trinkets. During morning walks, Damle’s enthusiasm is infectious when he’s explaining the difference between a robin and a wagtail, or when he’s piling second helpings of his wife’s delicious home-cooked food on to dinner plates.
There is no television or internet here, and for the most part, not even cell phone reception to break the illusion of complete isolation. The closest thing to technology is the plantation’s plate-making factory that recycles dried betel leaves into sturdy plates and bowls. Visitors are welcome to learn about this and when they’re through, they can wade knee-deep in a stream, ride the gentle currents on a bamboo raft en route to a man-made waterfall, or walk through the dense forest on the other side looking for ruined Jain temples.
The temple town of Dharmasthala, 22 km from Arasinamakki, is visited by thousands of Jain and Hindu pilgrims every day, but is organised well enough to not seem crowded at all. The town, looked after by a lineage of Dharm Adhikaris known as the Heggades, is spotlessly clean, with paved roads and lush gardens separating numerous houses of worship. Just beyond the entry gate, a staircase to the right leads to an elevated courtyard with a 39-foot-tall Bahubali statue overseeing proceedings as pilgrims bask in its shadow.
Visitors must enter the courtyard bare foot, so it’s advisable to make the walk up either early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid returning with blisters. Dharmasthala’s centrepiece is the 800-year-old Manjunatha Temple.
The original stone structure has seen many modifications; today it is a mixture of concrete and marble. Pilgrims queue up as early as 6a.m. to pay their respects to Lord Shiva. Past the temples, the theme switches from spirituality to history: the Manjusha Museum houses thousands of artefacts ranging from prehistoric carvings to displays on the evolution of cameras and watches. A vintage car museum further ahead has more than 50 vehicles from the early 1900s. The collection includes a 1924 Rolls Royce and the original VW Beetle.
The forests around Arasinamakki are deep and dense, and hide their fair share of little secrets. Scores of birds of different species populate the trees. Deeper in the forests are crumbling ruins of Jain temples, some more than 700 years old (a guide is required to get to them). In Kokkada, 12 km from Arasinamakki, off the road towards Nelyady, ringing bells and mooing cows set the scene for the open-air Southadka Temple, where locals often make offerings of food to an idol of Ganesha that sits under an ancient banyan tree. There are many different and interesting local stories about how this idol got there. Shishila, 5 km from Arasinamakki, has a fish feeding pond also called the holy fish pond. Unlike similar ponds in South India, it is free from crowds. Visitors can stand atop a little yellow suspension bridge and throw handfuls of puffed rice into the pond and watch as the school of ‘holy fish’ awaken, (some are several feet long) thrash about, and swallow every last morsel within seconds.
The cottages at Stream of Joy homestay are fairly basic, with clean bedding and spotless bathrooms. There is no air-conditioning, but with the abundance of greenery around, it isn’t really missed. The only mobile service provider in the area is BSNL, with no coverage for other networks.
The tariff includes accommodation in a cottage, all meals, birding walks, and bamboo rafting; book at least one month in advance. (94818 50225; www.streamofjoy.com; doubles ₹2,500, includes food, accommodation and a guided tour of 10km around the property).
Food at Stream of Joy is a homely, all-vegetarian buffet of Mangalorean dishes, from idlis and Mangalore buns for breakfast, to simple, yet delicious, three-course meals with various vegetable preparations, the staple sambar-rice, and desserts ranging from gulab jamun to potato halwa. Non-vegetarian food is generally hard to find, although there are a few small restaurants in Ujire market that serve it. While at Dharmasthala, visitors can sit on the ground with pilgrims, for a free lunch at the dining hall which serves hygienically prepared sambar and rice (noon-2 p.m.).
Arasinamakki is around 300 km west of Bengaluru, in the Dakshin Kannada district of Karnataka, surrounded by the forests and mountains of the Western Ghats. It is 22 km away from the popular pilgrim hub Dharmasthala.
Air Mangalore is the closest airport to Arasinamakki, around 77 km away. Air-conditioned KSRTC buses are available from Mangalore to Dharmasthala and Nelyady.
Rail Nettana (Subrahmanya Road) is the closest railhead, 37 km away. It is connected to Bengaluru and Mangalore.
Road Arasinamakki is around 300 km from Bengaluru along the Bengaluru-Hassan Mangalore road. The roads are well maintained, especially in and around Arasinamakki and Dharmasthala.
Rickshaws in the area are plentiful and have standard rates and tariff cards. KSRTC buses are cheap but infrequent—the wait for a bus can be more than half an hour.
Being a heavily forested area, the temperature in Arasinamakki is a few degrees cooler than the neighbouring areas, with an average of 30°C from March to October. There is heavy rainfall between June and August, and winters are reasonably cool with temperatures between 18-25°C.
Appeared in the August 2012 issue as “A Home By The River”.
In 1996, a group of city boys thought it a good idea to go fishing in the “holy fish pond” at Shishila. The locals warned them of dire consequences, but they went through with it, nonetheless. They were caught, of course, and for their folly, had their heads shaved by the villagers. Humiliated, the boys sought revenge, and returned late at night and poisoned the stream, killing the entire school of over 200 fish. The villagers were mortified, and gave the dead fish a burial next to the pond, with a carved, stone fish as a headstone which stands, to this day, as a reminder of the massacre and the evils of greed. The pond has been repopulated since, and feeding the fish puffed rice is considered a sacred ritual.