The stretch of the Phalguni (Gurupura) river between Kuloor and Sulthan Bathery in Mangaluru is a hive of activity on Friday morning, and Yathish Baikampady can be heard bellowing orders to a group of volunteers, who are hanging up banners and lights along the riverbank.
“We are putting the final touches to the preparation for the river festival,” explains Yathish, a core member of the festival's organizing committee and the CEO of the Panambur Beach Tourism Development Project. “We want to bring life back to the rivers and the riverbanks,” he adds, before walking up to a boatman tying up his boat in the platform set up to berth jetties ferrying in the river.
For the next two days, the platform will be the centre of attraction, welcoming visitors to the first river festival in Mangaluru. The festival is being held on the banks of the Phalguni river in Kuloor, Sultan Bathery and in Tanneerbhavi on January 12 and 13 with the aim of promoting the riverbank as an eco-friendly tourist attraction and is the brainchild of Dakshina Kannada Deputy Commissioner Sasikumar Senthil.
For one to reach the venue, organisers admit that travelling by road would be a bumpy ride, as there is only a mud road from the highway. “Instead, we want visitors to the festival to come by boats. We want to encourage activities in the river," says Yathish. This stretch of river in the area is abuzz with boats of different sizes.
Visitors will be charged Rs 50 to go to and from the Kuloor river bank venue. Entry to the festival will be free of cost. Visitors can also reach the venue on bicycles and two-wheelers, but the entry of cars will be restricted. According to Yathish, there is a mandatory plastic ban on festival venues. Temporary jetties will be built on the shores for the event.
The main attraction of the festival is water-based activities. At the Kuloor point, visitors at the festivals can try kayaking and stand-up paddling, organised by the Mantra Surf Club in Mulki. “We were asked to be part of the festival and since we have a group of people who practise surfing and stand-up paddling at the surf club, we readily agreed to be a part of the festival,” says Tanvi Jagadish, a Mangaluru surfer and India's first woman stand-up paddleboarder.
There will also be a boat race on Sunday to cap off the festival, and a rescue system with the help of local fishermen and cooperation of veterans will be in place.
The three venues have been decorated with the works of local artists. A large number of artistes will also perform at the festival, which will be held throughout the day from 8.30 am to 8 pm. Special music and dance performances will also be held on the ferry in the middle of the river. “A variety of performances like chende, dhol, koraga dance, dhapp dance will add to the grandeur of the festival,” says Yathish.
Local delicacies will be served in stalls set up along the riverbank, a flea market will be set up at the Kuloor Bridge, and a film festival will also be held.
“This is not just for entertainment, but also to raise awareness about our rivers and to encourage the youth to preserve our environment,” adds Yathish.
Sasikumar, however, plays down the questions of pollution that occurs with increased activity on a riverbank. He says that they aren’t aiming for tourism on a global level and commercialising the event, but locally they want it to be a place that people in Mangaluru can go to.
“When I talk about tourism, I’m not talking at a global level. With proper directions at a very early stage, we can control a lot of bad things that will happen out of unregulated tourism,” he says.