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God's own country, one is told, is in Kerala. But that is only part of God's own country, which extends north into Karnataka also. While this region is called Wyenad in Kerala, it is called Malnad in Karnataka. It is only that there has not been much commercial hype on Malnad in the media .. at least not as much as what one reads about Kerala. That is one of the biggest advantages for the serious traveller who will find Malnad to be a quiet retreat, far from the madding crowd. Miles and miles of forests, acres of plantations, rolling hills, gurgling streams, scenic water falls, exotic flora and fauna, picture perfect houses, very friendly locals, temples and places steeped in history, ... everything is in Malnad. It is undoubtedly a photographers delight where every shot can turn out to be picture-perfect.
Thirthahalli, a small town 55 kms from Shimoga and 330 kms from bangalore is the centre of Malnad region. This town is located on the banks of river Tunga. Thirthahalli has an affluent Archeological history with Neolithic rocks in the Kunda hills near Agumbe and potholed burial chambers found at Arehalli near Thirthahalli. There are many tourist destinations in and aroud Thirthahalli such as, Kuppalli, Kavaledurga, Kundadri, Kodachadri, Agumbe, Chibbala Gudde etc.The myth of the origin of Thirthahalli dates back to Ancient History. It is believed that Parusharama, a sage, chopped off his mother Renuka's head following his father's orders. Later Parusharam washed the blood stains by dipping it in various rivers but was unsuccessful. Finally he was able to wash it in the river Tunga that flows in Thirthahalli and that place was called as Rama Thirtha and the name originated as Thirhthahalli. Rama Mantapa was built where Parusharama cleaned his axe and Hindus consider Thirthahalli as a holy place where a dip in the river will cure one's sins.
The thick deciduous forests tend to make the weather a little humid during winter and spring. Monsoons bring heavy rains and the region comes alive with hundreds of streams. The rivers are full and the cascading falls are a treat to the eyes.
Homestays are a perfect way to stay in Malnad where you can stay with the family who own the homestay and the experience could be unique. Bananki is one such homestay about 9 kms from Thirthahalli. There are many others in proximity too. Typically, the homestays provide clean, comfortable and a homely environment to stay and cost around Rs.1,500/- per person per night. This includes room and board consisting of 3 meals - typical Malnad cuisine. Many homestays let you taste their own in-house wines in quaint flavours - apple, banana, jackfruit and many such exotic varieties.
There are several other places to visit around Thirthahalli.
Kuppali or Kavishaila is the ancestral house of National poet Kuvempu. His house is now converted as a monument paying tribute to the great poet of Karnataka. Kavishaila is the hill top where Kuvempu once sat and relished the beauty of nature.
Agumbe, well known for the sunset in the Ghats in Karnataka has a rich natural beauty to ponder on. The ghat has hairpin curves and rich with flora and fauna. Travellers will be enthralled by this beautiful place which is 27 Kms from Thirthahalli. Driving on a pleasant evening to this spot will be a nice experience. Agumbe has the distinction of of recording among the highest annual rainfall in India.
The famous Jog falls is about 100 kms from T.halli where the river Sharavathi comes cascading down 900 feet into a gorge from different locations. The beauty of the falls lies in the different cascades that seem to fall down in different ways; majestically in one location - called Raja, with a thunderous roar in another location - called Roarer, sensuously in one - called Rani, and very swiftly in another - called Rocket. The falls are among the highest in India and will leave the tourist feeling in awe, especially during the rainy season.
Kundadri, a mountain peak close to Thirthahalli is covered with dense forest in the Western Ghats. There is a simple 17th century Jain temple on the top, with two small ponds formed by the rock with lotus all through the year. The water level in the pond is reportedly constant all through the year..
Varahi is located amidst the rich greenery of Malnad and is well known for underground hydro electric powerhouse. This place is also attractive for its backwaters..
Kavaledurga is located 20 Kms from Thirthahalli and has a rich historical background. There is an ancient fort constructed by a local chieftain Shivappanayaka. Travellers can get panaromic views of the Western Ghats from the top of Kavaledurga.
A fish sanctuary in Thirthahalli, Chibbalagudde is located 10 Kms from the city. This place is also known for Sidhi Vinayaka temple and a lot fishes that wait for the devotees and tourists. This is one of the enchanting places to visit in Thirthahalli. This is one of the bird sanctuaries in Karnataka that receives variety of birds from across the globe during rainy season. These birds come every year and bird watchers find this place a relishing experience.
Huncha is situated 60 Kms from Shimoga, heart of Malnad. This place is popular for the Jain Mutt which was established centuries back by the monks belonging to the Nandi Sangha of Shri Kunda
Kodachadri is a magnificent place for trekkers. It is quite popular for the rich flaura and fauna. Photographers can capture the beautiful landscapes and even wild animals in Kodachadri. Travelers can also reach the hill top by hiring local jeeps.
Sringeri is a hill town located about 50 kms from T.halli. It is well-known as the site of the first math established by Adi Shankaracharya, the renowned exponent of the Advaita philosophy, in the 8th century. Located on the banks of the river Tunga, the place is famous for the Sharadamba temple. The math provides free lunch everyday for the thousands of visitors who throng the place. This is characteristic of all the temples in that area.
Located close by is Horanadu which is probably the show-case for Malnad region. A photographers delight, the place offers some of the best locales for tourists to immerse themselves in nature.
Going west, Malnad region gradually merges into the coastal region, with the azure Arabian Sea providing the perfect backdrop for the rich green tapestry of forests and plantations.
All in all, travel to Malnad should be on top of any serious tourist visiting Karnataka.