The drive up to Karkala is splendid in the rains, especially the stretch after Hassan when the road curves into the Siradhi Ghats and then twists, turns and sharp bends. These ghats receive 4,500 mm of rain every year, so the ever green forests blanketing the slopes make the drive itself memorable. At the crest of the ghats, the view of panoramic valleys, tumbling water falls and gurgling streams that grow into the Netravathi and Gurpur rivers, is stunning. You are sure to spot wild orchids blooming high in the canopy. If you are lucky you might even spot the black-hooded King cobra, slithering on the wet rocks see king a little light and warmth.

The Jains here, attired like their brethren up north, speak the local languages of Kannada, Tulu and Konkani with a distinctly different accent. Jainism is believed to have taken root in Karnataka in the 6th century BCE when Lord Mahavir travelled to these parts and won over King Jivandhara of Hemangada and his courtiers, who became his disciples. By the 10th century CE, Jainism had spread all along the Karavali coast and in the towns and villages along the Western Ghats, bestowing piety and some of the most famous monuments in India to Karnataka. Karkala is among the most important of these sacred places. From the centre of this picturesque little town rises the 300-ft-high Gommata Betta, crowned with a 41.5 ft monolith of Lord Bahubali, the first Jain tirthankara. Visible for miles around, the colossus sends a regal welcome to pilgrims.

Statue of Bahubali
Statue of Bahubali


Karkala, in parts, appears as aged as Mother Nature herself. Ancient shrines rub shoulders with newer temples and Mangalore-tiled cottages nestle amid concrete buildings. Come here to replenish your spiritual side.

Bahubali Monolith

A wide staircase carved into the rock ends before towering granite walls and an ornate gateway at the heart of Karkala. Overlooking the sprawling, stone-flagged courtyard stands the majestic statue of Bahubali, or Gommateshwara, consecrated on February 13, 1432 by the Bhairasa dynasty, feudatories of the Vijayanagar rulers. Climb up to the pedestal for a close examination of the gigantic statue, a bird’s eye view of Karkala and of the paddy-green countryside.

An elephant sculpted from stone at Karkala
An elephant sculpted from stone at Karkala

A Mahamastakabhisheka, or ceremonial anointment of the statues is performed every 12 years, and is a big event in the Jain calendar. Water is poured in a purification rite from 1,008 kalashas (pots). This is followed by abhisheka (ceremonial bathing), heralded with bugles and the beating of drums. Hundreds of containers of milk are emptied on to Bahubali’s head, followed with rice powder that cascades down in clouds of white. The statue is then anointed with coconut water, sugarcane juice, liquid turmeric and red sandalwood paste.

In front of thousands of assembled Jain pilgrims, monks shower rose petals, before washing the statue. Then, oil lamps are lit all around creating a stunning sight.

Chaturmukha Basadi

On another hill opposite the monolith is this basadi (Jain temple). Completed in 1586, it has four identical carved gate ways built into high walls. It houses lifesized statues of three tirthankaras Sri Arhat, Malli and Suvrata, small images of the 24 tirthankaras and one of Padmavathi Yakshi. The intricately carved Manasthambha Pillar adorns the square in front of the basadi.

Other must-see temples here include the Ananthashayana Temple, and the Mahamaya Mukhya Prana Temple.


Hiriangadi, a kilometre from Karkala, is worth a visit for its Neminath Basadi complex, dwarfed by a 60-ft-tall Manasthamba. The complex also has many basadis as well as the Bhujabali Brahmacharya Ashram.

Elephant at Gommateshwara temple
Elephant at Gommateshwara temple


This town, 8 km before you hit Karkala, is famous for the St Lawrence Church, built in 1845. The shrine and the parish have a rich history, and receive pilgrims from all over the world, for people swear that their prayers have been answered here. The village also has a fine temple of Mahalingeshwara, with a copper-plated garbhagriha.


About 16 km before you hit Karkala on the winding ghat roads nestles Moodabidri, another important Jain centre. Moodabidri earned its name from the lush bamboo thickets that thrived in its eastern portion (mooda means eastern portion, bidri means bamboo), though there are hardly any left today.

Thick stone pillars at Gommateshwara, Karkala
Thick stone pillars at Gommateshwara, Karkala

Legend has it that a Jain monk from Sravanabelagola unearthed a granite image of Tirthankara Parshvanath. The idol was installed in a temple built around it, known as Guru’s Basadi. The town flourished after the installation and the grateful townsfolk built 18 splendid basadis. Ancient palm leaf manuscripts are preserved at Guru’s Basadi.

Wealthy Jain merchants, under the direction of the Vijayanagar Governor, Devaraya Wodeyar, built Moodabidri’s thousand-pillared Tribhuvana Tilaka Choodamani Basadi between 1429 and 1430. The temple is housed within a walled enclosure in the heart of the town. The approach is through a narrow street that leads to an imposing gateway. In the centre of the open quadrangle is the basadi, with pillars each carved in different styles. From here, one walks through two large hallways covered with gabled and tiled wooden roofs, highly reminiscent of Sri Lankan temples. Beyond lies the sanctum sanctorum.

Elaborate statues in a basadi, Karkala
Elaborate statues in a basadi, Karkala

Moodabidri is believed to have been a Jain centre since the beginning of the Christian era, and developed as the Kashi of the Jains in south India. Most of the town’s inhabitants were traders who did business with merchants from Africa and China from the small ports on the coast.

Racing Season

Karkala-Moodabidri’s famous Kambala water buffalo races are held throughout the area from November to February. Paired buffaloes from all over the district race through the paddies to the beat of drums. Don’t miss a race if you get the opportunity. The action is also followed by much drinking and merriment.


Most of the options in Karkala are basic and are centrally located around the bus stand. Base your stay instead in Moodabidri, which has very good options. If you do need to stay in Karkala, Hotel Suhag (Tel: 08258-231991/ 92; Tariff: 624-1,890) offers room service, laundry facilities and a restaurant.

Hotel Prakash (Tel: 234981; Tariff: 700-2,020) in the same area is another option, with a restaurant and room service.

Moodabidri offers the best stay options. Pancharatna International (Tel: 08258-238152-56; Tariff: 500-2,250) near the bus stand has 55 rooms. Navami Comforts (Tel: 236011-13; Tariff: 500-1,600) in Navami Plaza Complex has 40 rooms and two dorms. The pick is Soans Resort (Tel: 236261; Tariff: 2,500), located in a beautiful farm at Belvai, 4 km from Moodabidri.


Believe it or not, even though this is the home of the legendary ‘Udupi Hotel’, it’s hard to come by any eatery that serves a mouth-watering, crisp masala dosa or a plate of fluffy rice idlis.

Sagar Restaurant (Tel: 08258-230602), located in Karkala’s Gopal Tower, serves south and north Indian and Chinese food. Amrita Restaurant on Market Road has south-Indian vegetarian fare. Try the surnalli dosa.

Nonvegetarian fare can be had at Madhura Restaurant (Tel: 235630), half a kilometre from Karkala’s bus stand on the Mangalore Road. Try the Madhura Special thali and the ghee roast dosa.

In Moodabidri itself, Hotel Sharada in Lavantha Complex serves only vegetarian food. Hotel Kadal, near the bus stand offers both vegetarian and nonvegetarian. Golden Gate, at Alangar Junction, 2 km from Moodabidri towards Karkala has separate south-Indian vegetarian and nonvegetarian restaurants. The latter serves south and north Indian and Chinese cuisines and also has a bar. Try the tandoori machhi here.

Most of the hotels’ restaurants are open to non-guests as well.

When to go September to March Location The holy town of Karkala is tucked into the Siradhi Ghats above the coast, 44 km from Udupi Air Nearest airport: Bajpe, Mangalore Rai Nearest rail: Udupi


Tourist Offices

Department of Tourism

Government of Karnataka

No. 49, Second Floor, Khanija Bhavan

Race Course Road, Bengaluru

Tel: 080-22352828



Central Reservation Office

Badami House, NR Square, Bengaluru

Tel: 43344334/ 37

Cell: 08970650070



A One-Stop-Shop

No 8, Papanna Lane

St Mark’s Road


Tel: 43464351/ 53

Jungle Lodges & Resorts

GF, West Entrance, Khanija Bhavan

Race Course Road


Tel: 40554055


Tourist Information Counter

Bengaluru International Airport

Devanahalli. Cell: 08970650072

Kempegowda Bus Station

(Majestic) Bengaluru Tel: 22356246

Cell: 08970650075

Department of Tourism

Govt of Karnataka, KSTDC Hotel Complex

Ramdurgi Road, Badami

Tel: 08357-220414