This long weekend (21st to 25th december) Kaustubh and I had been on a trip to Coorg. To sum it up in a few words, Kodagu is very scenic …what comes to my mind when I recollect our experience is the lip smacking food, pleasant weather, lush green valleys, acres and acres of coffee estates and the majestic mountains of the Western Ghats of Karnataka.
On Friday afternoon we boarded the flight to Bangalore from Pune. Our Madikere-bound KSRTC bus was scheduled to leave Bangalore just before midnight. We reached Kushalnagar before dawn and checked into a hotel. After refreshing ourselves, we booked a taxi and headed to the Kaveri Nisargdham.
Kaveri Nisargdham is a large island in the midst of the Kaveri river (connected by a rope bridge) and a picnic spot for families. The place houses deer and rabbit enclosures and also offers elephant rides. We spent time walking about the entire place, mostly along the cool riverside, taking pictures of the serene beauty around us -- elephants, deer enclaves, bamboo shoots and a view from the tree-top shelters.
After a scrumptious lunch back at Kushalnagar (‘Kings restaurant’ - the non-veg served there is very very tasty), we visited the very impressive Namdroling Buddhist monastery at Bylakuppe. This place of worship is supposed to be the largest Nyingmapa teaching centre for Buddhist lamas. The campus consists of a big dormitory at the entrance, 2 temples, a prayer room (here we witnessed a big group of young monks recite prayers aloud) and a playground where some young monks were playing a game of cricket. The domes of both the temples are Tibetian looking -- colourful and sloping at the corners. A remarkable feature of the temples is that they are studded with colossal, colourful wall paintings that are detailed upto the smallest square millimeter. Inside one of the temples is a huge hall in which there are 3 gigantic, gold plated statues, the centre one being that of the seated Buddha. The place below the statues is covered with colourful floral decorations and lamps. Some say the place gives you a feeling of being in Thailand! On the whole, the temple emanates a sense of peace within.
We spent the night at Dubare Inn, located on the bank of river Kaveri at the elephant training camp in Dubare Forest. Chirping of birds filled the air as we strolled along the riverside just before sundown. At night, the bonfire and later the candle-light dinner outdoors in the cool, gentle breeze under the full-moon-light made the stay very romantic! ;)
The next morning, a short ferry ride across the Cauvery took us into the abode of the elephants and very soon we saw mahouts leading their elephants to the river bank for their bath. This daily spectacle has been commercial affair and tourists are charged a small fee for witnessing it. For an additional sum, you can even bathe the elephants with your own hands. We decided to watch from a distance. The sight of these giant creatures frolicking in the water and enjoying a scrub administered by their mahouts was something we were seeing for the first time. After the bath, these elephants were led back to land and fed giant ragi balls which they devoured hungrily.
After this, we headed off to what was the star event of our trip – a visit to the Tata coffee plantations at Pollibetta – supposedly the only ‘coffee’ estate owned by Tata in India. We motored down from Dubare camp to the Tata coffee estate in a jeep. The road is serpentine, cutting through acres and acres of verdant coffee-pepper-cardamom plantations. Its no wonder Kodagu district of Karnataka is known as the ‘Coffee bowl of India’!
We met our guide at the TCL reception centre who first took us to show some bungalows. Our first stop was the Taneerhulla guesthouse. This beautiful 90-yr old villa has been maintained so well, you’d feel you’ve gone a century back in time – large airy rooms with warm wooden flooring, large halls leading to at least 20 rooms each with a unique furnishings, a red-carpeted staircase, fireplaces in every rooms, antique furniture, the eye-catching oil-paintings on the walls, hand-embroidered drapes, cutlery and manicured lawns outside the villa – all is simply exquisite and exudes class and flair. Each bungalow has its own cook and care-taker.
As we chatted with our guide, we learnt that Coorg was a legacy with the British – most of the estates here still bear British and Scottish names. With a little over 26 estates spread across Coorg, Hasan and Chikmangalur districts, Tata coffee is supposed to be Asia’s largest coffee producer and India’s largest producer of black pepper.
Our next stop was the bungalow at Cottabetta estate and later the Woshully estate. We just couldn’t stop admiring the bungalows – each had a unique view of the plantations and a plush indoors and only could wish to stay here the next time!
At the Woshully estate, our guide walked us through the plantations and educated us on the two basic varieties of coffee -- Robusta and Arabica. True to its name, the broad-leafed Robusta is a stronger and better yielding coffee bean grown in the lower elevations of south Coorg. But it is the milder Arabica that's internationally preferred and fetches a better price too. In between the continuous foliage, leafy trees like rosewood, teakwood and silver oak are planted in order to protect coffee from sunlight. These also serve as support for the pepper vines.
Walking on, he explained that young coffee fruits are smooth and round. They gradually ripen from green to red. To protect the fruit from pests (mainly ants) gamaxine is usually sprayed on the crop. Coffee picking is normally done between November and March. The cherry-red fruit is pulped, and the separated coffee beans are washed, dried and then sent for curing.
He then took us to a huge cemented area reserved for cleaning and drying the coffee beans. The workers there were fixing the machine that separates the coffee beans from their covering. We waited until the machine was in action and then saw how this is done. Surprisingly, the dried coffee beans have not even a faint smell of coffee to them!!
As we walked back, we noticed a small patch of toddy plantation. The guide told us that in some places, in order to make complete use of the land, toddy and vanilla is planted. The guide seemed in no hurry at all as he walked up to a cardamom plant and showed us the raw fruit. He then took us to see the vanilla vines and explained how the vanilla beans, after they are fully grown and ripe, are processed to get what we know as the vanilla essence. As we walked through the plantations, he showed us dead skins of snakes. He told us that so far there has been no news of snake-bites and asked us not to worry.
As we made our way across the plantation back to the main road, we came upon tidy rows of houses that are the labour lines and homes of estate workers. Most workers and the manager live on the estate and have a noticeably deep bond with the place. We dropped the guide back to Taneerhulla estate and headed to the Tata storehouse to buy coffee, tea and cardamom. A visit to Tata Coffee Ltd is a must - this place has an old world charm about it! :)
The next morning, we visited one of my ex-colleague at his home at Kushalnagar. It was a typical Coorgi home. His mum made us filter coffee that tasted awesome! After taking their leave, we taxied down to Abbey falls - an hour’s drive from Madikere. Nestled amidst private coffee and spice estates, the water cascades over the rocks into a calm, limpid pool. This picturesque waterfall has been featured in many Kannada movies. The place was a bit of a disappointment as no one is allowed to enter the waters. We had to satisfy ourselves by taking pictures from the hanging bridge itself.
After this, we visited the tombs of King Lingarajendra, now preserved by the Archaelogy dept of the Govt. of Karnataka. The royal tombs of the Rajas are located on a hillock in the high embankment of Madikere where we find tombs of King Virarajenda and his wife Mahadevi Amma, his brother King Lingarajendra, the royal priest and Bidhandra Bopu and his son Somayya (the chief commandant of the army) who died fighting Tipu sultan. What struck us was ‘graves’ of Hindu rajas and Islamic style of construction of domes. The guide explained to us that in Lingayats, the dead are buried.
After a fulfilling lunch at Madikere (chicken curry and kerala parota), we sped off to Bhagamandala. Also known as Triveni Sangam or 'Dakshina Kaashi', Bhagamandala is the confluence of the sacred rivers of Cauvery and Kannike and legend has it that a third river, Sujyothi, a subterranean stream, joins the two rivers. Nearby is the Bhagandeshwara temple (hosting a Shivling, statues of Maha Vishnu, Subrahmanya and Ganapati), a pilgrimage site which was under renovation. We sat for some time by the riverside at the Triveni Sangam, enjoying the coolness of the water in the cloudy afternoon.
Our next stop was Telecauvery ( Tele meaning head in Kannada ) – place of origin of the ‘Ganges of the south’. A huge stone temple has been built near the peak of the Bramhagiri mountain. At the entrance of the temple is a small pavilion that offers a breathtaking view of the valley – a combination of green foliage below, continuous mountain ranges and the azure sky overhead. After a darshan of the famous "Shiva Linga" (installed by Sage Agasthaya), we walked up the steps that lead to the Bramhagiri peak. The panaromic view from the top was absolutely mesmerizing! We had to force ourselves to get going as we were advised to watch the sunset from ‘Raja’s seat’ at Madikere.
Madikeri -- the capital of Coorg formerly called Mercara, is known to be one of the famous hill-stations of South India. What is noticeable about Madikere is that it is dotted with red-tiled bungalows. Our first stop in Madikere was the Omkareshwar temple. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this temple is an unusual mix of Islamic and Gothic styles of architecture.
The story behind: This temple was built in 1820 by Lingarajendra -- the then ruling King -- to ward off the evil caused by "Brahma Rakshasas".
Nearby is the holy tank. Regular poojas are performed in the temple for the different deities like Lord Subrahmanya and Ganesh.
One interesting feature of this temple is that there is no restriction on photography even inside the temple. The guruji let us take pictures of the famous Shivling (said to have been be brought from Kaashi) from up-close -- something unusual for a temple in south India and a welcome change indeed !!
Soon after this, we hurried to the Raja’s seat. The Raja's seat is so called because , according to legend, the kings of Kodagu spent their evenings here, at this vintage point, watching spectacular sunsets. Overlooking a deep valley is the delightful garden, this is a favourite tourist spot in Madikere. The lovely flowers in full bloom and the fascinating view of the winding roads made the visit a memorable one. The garden also hosts a musical fountain show in the evening (similar to one in Vrindavan Gardens - Mysore). An added attraction, especially for the kids, is the toy train "Baba Saheb Express" nearby.
We spent some time back at the Hotel Crystal Court before we boarded our late-night bus back to Bangalore. Something to appreciate about KSTRC is that it offers one of the finest bus services in South India.
It was 4:30 in the morning and the garden city of Bangalore was still wrapped in pre-dawn darkness. From the KSTRC bus stop, we walked to the Bangalore Bus terminal and boarded a bus to my parents’ home. Back at my parents’ home, we found enough time to unwind before we boarded our flight back to Pune. Like all good things come to an end, so did our holiday to Coorg…the land of warriors, coffee and spices