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India: Karnataka: Bijapur, Coorg, Hampi, Kudalasangama, Mysore, Nagarhole with Irpu Falls
Coorg, Karnataka: Scotland of India
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
The line describing this hill station is not mine. That’s how the city fathers have marketed this sleepy little town, nestling at an elevation of 1525 meters on the southwestern end of the State of Karnataka, about 350 kms from Bangalore or about 140 kms from Mysore. To be fair to Scotland, the town was a distant cry. Roads need to be mended, town needs to be cleaned up and tourist facilities need to be added. Coorg has been hyped more than necessary. Probably, that’s the reason why my observations may sound a bit wry. Coorg is a nice holiday place minus the hype.
Contrary to popular belief, Coorg is not a town. It’s a District. Or rather, was one during the British Raj. Presently the District is known as Kodagu and the main town – the District Headquarter is named Madekeri. Usually, Coorg is compared with Munnar – the other hill station in southern India in the State of Kerala. Coorg is known for its coffee while Munnar is known for its tea. While Coorg is ‘plantation’, Munnar is ‘garden’. And that’s the essential difference in the landscape. Coffee plantations are wild. Tea gardens are manicured. Munnar offers many vantage points, Coorg has only a few. Check out my article on Munnar and you will know.
For our New Year holiday, we decided to spend 3 days in Coorg and 2 days in Mysore. Accompanying me was my wife Vrunda; younger son Anuj; my cousin Ujwal, his wife Jaya and their daughter Amrihtaa. So, everybody had company! Bangalore was our meeting point. Ujwal would come from Mumbai and me from Pune. We were scheduled to meet at 9AM at Bangalore airport. However, due to heavy fog in Pune, I got delayed. We reached Bangalore at 12 noon!
To give ourselves some extra room, we hired a Tempo Traveller (mini-van) that would seat 12. We had an option of hiring a van for 6. But with luggage, the first option made more sense. Taxis are abundantly available in Bangalore. You can easily book one online. Typically, each type charges per km subject to 250 kms of run every day. Driver’s allowance is at Rs 250 per day. Our driver was Rama. Good guy - knew Hindi and little bit of English too. He would be with us for the next 6 days.
The new Bangalore international airport is 45 kms from town. Road to Coorg was on the other side! Cutting through intense Bangalore traffic we finally reached Coorg at 8 PM in the evening. The additional hours were due to a lunch break, a tea break, traffic congestion and patches of bad roads. We were booked at Mahindra Club Resort – a beautiful property on the edge of the valley (but no direct view; Mahindra at Munnar offered a great view) just about 5 kms from Madekeri town. Dead tired from our journey, we had dinner at one of their restaurants and crashed for the night.
While most were in their beds, Anuj and I woke up early to catch the sunrise at 6 AM and shoot some pictures of the morning mist. Like I mentioned earlier, we had no easy access to any vantage point. We ventured out on some inroads aimlessly. We did get a couple of good pictures, but nothing was up to the mark. Nonetheless, the 3 km walk prepared us for breakfast.
Breakfast was a lavish spread displaying cuisine from northern and southern (obviously) India, not to forget some international selections. The icing on the cake (at least for me) was the freshly brewed filtered coffee. Coffee from Coorg has my high recommendation… keep having it at regular intervals!
At 10:30 we were ready to leave for Talcauvery – the origin of River Cauvery – the most sacred river in southern India. Though the distance was just 50 kms from our hotel, the travel time took 3 hours – thanks to narrow hilly roads with patches of potholes! Just 8 kms before Talcauvery is Bhagamandala the location of Triveni Sangam (confluence of 3 rivers). River Cauvery, River Kanika and River Sujothi (this is a mythological one – you can’t see it out there.) This is a scared location. It’s believed that a dip by the family members at the confluence liberates the departed souls. River Cauvery makes a journey of 800 kms all the way up to Poompoohar in the State of Tamilnadu. A temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, named Bagandeshwara, is located on the banks. After paying our respects we moved forward towards Talcauvery.
Next 8 kms was an uphill drive. Temple premises surround the origin of River Cauvery. Vans and buses need to be parked half a km away. Cars can come almost at the gates of the temple. The premises have temples dedicated to the River Cauvery, Lord Shiva and Sage Agasthya. A few hundred steps up takes you to a view point, which of course, I avoided. The sun above was not very welcome. After spending about 30 minutes in the premises, we turned back.
At around 4PM we were in Madekeri. 8 kms away was the famous Abbey Falls. The parking is about a km away from the falls. The path to the falls calls to negotiate many steps and slopes. It certainly can get tiring, but the walk is definitely worth it. A hanging bridge has been built to give visitors a breathtaking view of the Abbey Falls. We returned to the hotel at about 7PM. Just about time to get ready to join the gala New Year dinner & celebrations.
The next morning we were ready to explore the famous Namdroling Monastery popularly known as Golden Temple, located 45 kms from Madekeri. The monastery is situated in village Bylakuppe, 4 kms from Kushalnagar off the main road to Mysore. The centre is dedicated to the teachings of wisdom and compassion of Buddha and the Palyul lineage of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism.
Namdroling was established by His Holiness Pema Norbu Rinpoche (also known as Guru Padmasambhava) shortly after he came to India from Tibet. With only 300 rupees in his hand and with just a handful of monks, he laid the foundation stone of the three-storied main temple that then covered an area of 80 square feet. His Holiness the Dalai Lama consecrated the spot and bequeathed the name Namdroling Monastery. Today the monastery is home to nearly 5000 monks and nuns, renowned as a center for the pure upholding of the teachings of the Buddha.
The main hall has 3 massive statues, plated with gold. Statue of Buddha is in the centre standing 60 feet. On the sides are the statues of Guru Padmasambhava and Amitayus, both 58 feet in height. The wall paintings depict Dzongchen teachings. Outside the monastery, is a Tibetan market where one can shop for curios.
By the time we reached Medekeri it was 1PM. Though the time was not appropriate, we made it a point to visit Raja’s seat. Located on the edge of the valley, the location offers spectacular views. I could only imagine the scene during sunrise and sunset. This is the place where the erstwhile king spent time with his consorts. There’s an entry fee of Rs 5 per person.
Post lunch, we organized for a trip to a coffee plantation through Mahindra’s travel desk. Rs 300 per head included cost of transportation and a tour of the estate with the owner of the plantation. We started at 3PM to visit Sandalkad Estates, located 13 kms from the hotel on the Mysore road. Our host for the tour was Faisal, a 3rd generation member managing the plantation. Faisal was very enthusiastic taking keen interest in explaining the nuances of coffee growing. We walked parts of the 225 acre, 150 year old estate through pathways surrounded by coffee, vanilla and cardamom plants with a lining of silver oak trees. Here’s our learning.
Mainly 2 types of coffee are grown in the region – Arabica and Robusta. As the name suggests, Robusta is a strong plant with a life of around 80 years while Arabica lasts for about 40 years. According to the learned, the Robusta variety of coffee ranks amongst the best in the world for its flavor and aroma. Karnataka produces 70% of the total coffee produced in India. The process involves cultivation, harvesting, cleaning and sun drying. The coffee beans are then packed in 50 kg bags and sent for further processing which essentially is roasting. This is the key. The method of roasting coupled with quality of the bean determines the flavor and aroma. And thus the price. By the way, the most expensive coffee in the world is retrieved from a civet’s shit!
The estate also offers home stays. They have 5 cottages named Honeypot Homestay. A double room costs about Rs 3500 that includes breakfast. Meals can be ordered at additional costs. I think it would be a great idea for nature lovers to hang around here for a few days. The estate attracts many species of birds.
By 5:30 PM we were back in Madekeri. We had some time on hand to do the must - spice shopping. I would recommend a visit to a shop called Coorg Greens. They had on shelves almost all types of spices & dried fruit – cleaned and neatly packed.
Dinner that night was at the hotel. The next morning we would leave Coorg to visit Irpu Falls and explore Nagarhole National Park.
Coorg Image Gallery Photo viewer
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