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On its east Udupi district is bounded by higher ranges of Western Ghats. The width of the districts gets narrower as one proceeds from south to north. Geologically, the district represents mainly the Dharwar Group of rocks, intrusives and rocks belonging to the Recent period. The Dharwar Group is composed of metamorphic rocks belonging to the earliest time in the history of the earth. High grade rocks belonging to Sargur Group represented by talc tremolite actinolite schist, hornblende schist and isolated bands of ferruginous quartzite occur as enclaves here and there. Laterite is found mostly in the interior part of the coastal plain.Western Ghats with dense forest having canopy are to be seen all along the eastern boundary of the district. The towering peaks intersected by valleys offer grandeur to the landscape. The Agumbe Ghat lying in the midst of Sahyadri mountain ranges connects the coastal part with the plains. The highway which passes through Karkala and touching Dakshina Kannada bifurcates into two, one leading to Sringeri and another to Kudremukh, is yet another important connecting road in this region. Kodachadri which lies to the north of Agumbe is the highest peak (1,341 m) of the district. Below the ghat section, the plains get opened up as one proceeds towards west. There are high hills on the slope which is not very steep. In the cultivated land are to be seen the paddy fields, coconut plantation, arecanut and cashewnut plantation. There are barren lands with red soil, here and there and there appears to be less representation of the flat ground. The coastal part of the district assumes importance from the point of view of resources. Here, there is more density of population and equally a bee hive of economic activities. The coast line is generally straight and the backwater areas are ideal for fisheries and boating. Towns like Baindur, Gangolli, Kundapura, Malpe, Padubidare etc. have developed into fishing and trade centres.
The district has rich water resources due to its unique geographical position and climate. The south west monsoon brings a lot of rains both to the coast and the ghat sections. During monsoon period, i.e. June to September, as there is heavy down pour the rivers and streams of western ghats flow westward though the length of the rivers are short but carry a huge volume of water. River Gangolli near Kundapura joins with five tributaries and subsequently flows into Arabian Sea and hence is called Panchagangavalli. Here the estuary is large and there is also a harbour.
Swarna, Seetha, Haladi, Chakra and Kollur are the important rivers of the district. The river Seetha joins with Swarna near Barakoor before flowing into the sea. The backwaters of most of the streams are ideal for boating.
The low lying coastal part stretching from west of Western Ghats to the sea was called Parashuramakshetra or Parashuramananadu in legends. The story goes that Parashurama after defeating all the kings of kshatriyas, while proceeding towards western Ghats to herald his victory, encountered the sea and was enraged and threw his axe (parashu for axe) towards the sea and ordered the sea to withdraw from the point where the axe fell. The king of sea sincerely obliged his order. Whatever could be the legend there is ample scope to think that the present coastal part was once, under the sea in the geological past and the land got exposed when the sea got retreated.
Laterite: Laterite (brick stone) occurs all along the coastal part
and is restricted to the upper part of the rock formation and is one
of the important building stones of the district. Right from the Vishnu temple of Angakarvat (Anandavati) of Combodia, laterite is being used
throughout Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada and Udupi districts
since a long time. But, it was named laterite only when Buchanan
visited Malabar in 1807. Laterite could be cut into desired size just
as a log can be cleaved and made into piece. In Malayalam, it was
called vettukallu and ittikakallu, but, Buchanan called it laterite. Laterite
in Greek, literally means brick. The rock is called Jambittige in other
parts of the State. The use of laterite could be traced to
Mahalingeshwara temple of 8th Century A.D. located on Shambhugadde
near Udyavara. In Jain Basadis (temples) it is generally seen that
either mud or laterite walls are erected between the pillars. Laterite
is being used for construction of small granary, pond, well, diggings
since a very long time.
The origin of laterite has been scientifically explained. The country rocks - granite, gneiss and basalt - for instance, are subjected to the process of weathering.
The colour of laterite may vary from brownish red to blackish brown and yellow depending on the mineralogical constitution. There are laterite quarries at Parkala in Udupi taluk, Mudurangadi in Karkala taluk.
Granite:Though both granite and gneiss share common mineralogy, they differ in the mode of origin. While, granite represents a typical igneous rock, gneiss is a metamorphosed form of granite formed under specific temperature and pressure within the earth's crust. However, they exhibit similar physical features. Both are hard rocks and generally occur below the lateritic cover in Udupi district. These rocks are abundant around Karkala taluk and near Udyavara of Udupi. The surface generally appears dark since it is exposed to rains and sun. It is opined, that, the name Karkal is derived from Kariyakal which literally means black stone. However, if chipped, the inner part appears to be white in colour. Since granite is a hard rock and normally free from fractures, it is easy to cut into bigger slabs of desired size. It is to the credit of Ranjala Gopala Shenai of Karkala, who sculptured two imposing statues of Bahubali using granite. The statue of Gommateshwara at Venoor and Karkala are carved out of granite. The threshold pillar (garudagamba), the thousand pillar basadi of Jains at Mudabidri is yet another master piece sculpted in granite. Granite finds its use in a variety of structures which include enclosures of temples, garudagamba, buildings, bridges and even as foundation stone.
Basalt: Basalt represents a typical dark, hard rock of volcanic origin. Though it is found in some parts of Udupi district, it is almost in weathered condition giving rise to dark soil rich in magnesium and encourages the growth of coconut trees.
Acid Volcanics: St. Mary's Islands about three kilometre west of Malpe, expose spectacular columnar rocks as though chiselled by human hands and exhibit polygonal outline. This rock was earlier identified as basalt but now a detailed study has indicated that these are silicic volcanic and sub volcanic rocks of rhyolite and granophyric dacite composition, formed about 88 to 90 million years ago when greater India and Madagaskar got separated. These unique structures are preserved by Geological Survey of India as National Geological Monument and are one of the main tourist attractions of the coastal part of Karnataka.
Iron Ore: Leteritic iron ore generally contains about 45% of iron. If iron exceeds 50 - 55%, then it qualifies to be classified under iron ore. By and large, the gangue in the form of quartz and other impurities reduces the quality of the ore and such ores have little use for the extraction of metal. Laterite occurs on a large scale in the coastal part.
Fire Clay/Black Clay: Fire clay is pitch black in colour, but, on mixing with water, it turns into pale red colour. Quartz occurs as impurity in minor amount. Deposits of fire clay occur in many wet lands as well as in places with stagnated water. After necessary purification, fire clay is used in the manufacture of tiles, bricks and for pottery in cottage industry. Pale red clay when burnt turns into bright brown colour. Extensive deposits of fire clay are reported from Udupi and Kundapur taluk.
White Sand: The coastal part of the Udupi district has rich deposits of white sand in the shore. But, the deposits have plenty of salt content in them which disqualifies for use in the manufacture of cement. White, smooth sand resembling the grains of sugar is reported from Tenkagrama, Badagrama, Udyavara, Bykampadi, Hejmadi, Kapu, Uliyaragoli and Mulur. The deposits contain 96% Silica, rendering them suitable for the manufacture of transparent glass or bottles
River Sand: West flowing rivers joining the sea, generally carry sand grains of bigger dimensions in their load. Since river sand is generally free from salt content, is preferred for mixing up with cement used for constructions. River sand is being quarried from the beds of Mulki, Seetha, Gangolli and other rivers and supplied to other parts of the district.
Shells: The shells of marine organism get accumulated in the beach after the death of the organisms. Chemically these shells are completely made up of calcium carbonate, which is generally burnt to recover lime. Lime is used for white washing the buildings and for pan beeda. It is also used in poultry farm and in the manufacture of insecticides. The foam associated with the shells is used for cleaning and polishing the glass.