My 2-year-old daughter gently whispered into my ears ``they are calling you for breakfast”. The tone kept increasing at every unsuccessful attempt until I was fully awake; face drenched with sun rays peering through the foliage and barging through my room window. I stepped out of my “Coffee Cottage'', built from the wood of coffee plants amid a grassy meadow adorned by a necklace of a lazy river. The river bisected coffee and pepper plantations amid the serene ambience carrying along a flock of ducks making their way downstream. I thought I was dreaming about some exquisite location before the chirping of birds and aromas of lip-smacking Kodagu cuisine brought me back to my senses. We were actually in Coorg! My family was waiting for me at the alfresco dining area with the traditional breakfast of Akki Roti and Tomato Chutney.
After this first trip to Coorg 15 years ago, I have been frequenting this place. Coorg also known as Scotland of India is nestled amid the rolling hills and lush greeneries of Western Ghats at the southernmost tip of Karnataka. Karnataka is the largest coffee producer in India with Coorg taking the lions share in this. Captain Robert Cole, the Superintendent of Coorg in 1860s during the British rule in his book An Elementary Grammar of The Coorg Language has the best description of this region. He writes The thunderstorms during this season are often magnificent. The war of the elements is carried on here in a grander style than in the low country. Banks and mountains of clouds move against each other with the order of armies. The sound of heavy cannon is heard from a distance, solitary discharges of the electric fluid shoot through the gloom. The lightning lose their intense and fearful glare, and the rain pours down in torrents.
I still remember when I told my colleagues in Bangalore about Coorg before my first visit, none of them got excited as hardly anyone knew about it except that it was in Karnataka. We reached Ammathi braving the uneven terrain with the last stretch of 100 kilometers taking almost 3 hours. Hotels for stay and restaurants for meals were few and far between. Coorg was famous for homestays from the early days. Today, the scenario has changed dramatically with excellent infrastructure and plenty of accommodation options. At least 1,000 homestays have sprung up in last few years in almost every corner of the district. Coorg is extensive and almost vertical with end-to-end distance of about 200 kilometers. While the place is evolving, two things have remained constant; the natural splendor and local hospitality and this is what attracts travelers and keeps the economy going.
Lush green plantations and serene beauty havent changed in Coorg and thats what attracts the travelers from world over.
On numerous trips to Coorg over 15 years, I have stayed with many local hosts in their estates and sometimes with them in their own homes. Coorgis are one of the most hospitable communities. They welcome you into their space and treat you to the most delicious local cuisine. I had to hit the gym twice a day for a couple of weeks after my return from Coorg. To do complete justice to the entire region, an 8-10 days trip is warranted. My way of enjoying Coorg is to spend time with the hosts at the homestay for a couple of days. It is intriguing to learn about their culture, accompany them on walks inside their sprawling coffee estate, understand intricacies of coffee processing and of course relish local cuisine with them on the same table. Next, I would venture out on a drive, stopping frequently to soak in the landscape until my desire for ecotherapy is satisfied. A vehicle is a must to enjoy the beauty and explore hidden gems.
Quack, quack the sound you repeatedly hear for hours while seating at the sandy deposits of a lazy river inside a homestay in Ammathi.
Bangalore is the ideal starting point when traveling to Coorg and there are many approaches depending on which place you use as a base. To reach south, you should pass through Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, which is my favorite route. For center and Madikeri, it should be via Hunsur/Periyapatna or Holenarsipura and for the north, it should be via Sakleshpur. Each route offers its own version of scenic beauty. I have seen numerous wildlife on the highway passing through Nagarhole Park. The best time to pass through is early morning or late afternoon. You can halt and take safaris inside the forest; however, its not my agenda as rarely do you spot endangered species from cat family. The probability is higher to spot them on the highway when no other vehicles are around.
Sighting elephants is common in Nagarhole, here is an elephant couple engrossed with each other while vehicles pass by on the highway.
South Coorg is off the tourist radar. There are good homestays in and around the small town of Kutta. This part is famous for trekking on Barhmagiri hills with the peak at 5,000 feet and remains mist covered most of the time. It is home to abundance of wildlife and water springs.
Irpu falls: a cascaded waterfall with crystal clear water from a height of 170 feet.
As we drove further north on the mountain trails, we witnessed the panoramic views of misty hill slopes and the undulating paddy fields under the blue skies. There are few stunning places around Madikeri and one of them is Rajas Seat. This used to be a favorite viewpoint of the kings of Kodagu in ancient times and hence, named Rajas (Kings) Seat. You need to be extremely lucky to have clear skies to get a glimpse of stunning sunset from here, the panoramic view atop the hill will be etched in your memory for a long time.
The favorite recreation point for the ancient Kings, a breathtaking view at Rajas Seat is a must visit spot.
The sound of the gushing river and intoxicating aromas of spice and coffee plantations greet you at the parking lot creating anticipation of something stunning down the hanging bridge. Not far from Rajas Seat is the scenic grandeur of Abbey Falls. Its view from the hanging bridge built over Kaveri River provokes a sense of excitement especially if it is during the rainy season when the white noise dominates.
Abbey Falls: Water falls from a height of 70 feet into a pool before merging with River Kaveri.
About an hour towards the west is the holy site of Talakaveri located in Brahmagiri hills. It is believed to be the source of River Kaveri, one of the 7 sacred rivers in India. The last 10 kilometers of the drive goes through winding roads and beautiful landscapes. There are few temples including the famous Brahma temple; mostly crowded with religious tourists. For the less religiously oriented, the drive is still worth it. There is a steep track to Brahmagiri hills just near the entrance of temple. A 30-minute climb reaches you to a stunning viewpoint of the Western Ghats. Many travelers unaware of this viewpoint return from Talakaveri and are disappointed on discovering what they missed out.
Atop Brahmagiri hill you can see Shola of Western Ghats dividing Karnataka and Kerala.
There is a small Tibet in Coorg! Yes, you read it correctly. Bylakuppe, a small village near Kushalnagar is the largest foreign Tibetan settlement in the world. It boasts of a sprawling Buddhist Monastery (Namdroling Monastery) famous for its grandeur and beauty, also known as Golden Temple, built in 1963. It is the largest teaching center of Nyingmapa in the world and a home to 5,000 monks and nuns. You can sit inside the colorful and beautifully decorated main hall where the devotees come to worship and meditate. One can also take a stroll around the monastery and interact with the monks to learn about their culture and lifestyle.
Main hall of the monastery with statues of Buddha, Padmasambhava and Amitayus, standing tall at 40 ft. The walls are decorated with elaborate Thangka paintings.
The neighborhood of Kushalnagar has an interesting island spread across 64 acres, Nisaragadhama. The island is formed within Kaveri River and is a home to bamboo forests and different species of birds. The entrance to the island was through a hanging bridge made of ropes and wood, now replaced by a new suspension bridge with solid structure. Mornings are the best time to visit to enjoy the place and beat the crowd. The sound of wind blowing through 10-metre tall bamboo trees with sunlight filtering through blending with the chirping of birds is a beautiful experience. Boat rides in the river including paddleboats are available to enjoy the beauty of the island. The island also caters to kids with several kid-friendly activities. There is a government operated Forest Resort inside the island where you can stay for one night in bamboo cottages and experience nature in pitch darkness of the night. The accommodation is basic and inexpensive, but nature lovers will treasure the experience.
Enter Nisargadhama through newly built suspension bridge over the river with thick bamboo forest on either side.
There is an elephant camp in Dubare. Although it sounds exciting, I would give it a miss. There have been numerous complaints of elephant abuse in this park over several decades with these magnificent tuskers heavily chained to restrict their movements put through insane torture and at times pay for our entertainment with their lives.
This entire eastern region borders with Mysore and keeping this in mind helps you save driving distance on your return. You can quickly get onto Mysore highway heading into Bangalore. Mother Nature showers her blessings as we leave Coorg and drive back home.