Coorg: The Coffee Cup of India
As I sat in the lobby of the resort in Virajpeth surrounded by lush green forests, and soft music played in the background, I let the slow pace of life relax and rejuvenate me. The resort staff constantly seemed on their toes but never in a hurry, always smiling and welcoming. I noticed their slim and trim frames even as I battled with my slowly but steadily increasing waistline. The nutritionist in me got thinking of the reason for virtually everyone seeming lean and in good shape. Was it the fresh air and lush green surroundings? Was it their sunny disposition and outlook towards life? Was it the spices with medicinal properties which they consumed that naturalists swore by? Was it the coffee that the Coorg people sipped on? After sampling some filter coffee, I was more or less convinced that I had cracked the secret of their narrow waistlines with no apparent sign of excess adipose tissue. Coorg is known as the Coffee Cup of India, and the coffee here is aromatic with a rich flavour. Whether Robusta or Arabica or a blend the only thing you will want to do is to sip cup full of ‘hot capi’ and curl up with a book and just gaze at the vast expanse of verdant hills.
Most of the early coffee planters in Kodagu or Coorg were Scots from the colonial era. Coorg has also been described as the ‘Scotland of India’ because of the similarities that the two share like mountains, picturesque landscapes and cool, misty weather. Call it by any moniker, Coorg, nestled in the Western Ghats in Karnataka, is home to scenic vistas of valleys and hills with gushing waterfalls, diverse fauna and flora and of course the coffee and spice plantations. Whether its families, trekkers or nature lovers this quaint hill station will attract them all and its allure and offerings will impress one and all.
After landing at Mangalore airport, a three-hour drive where we passed several villages and hills took us to Virajpeth in Coorg. The resort spread over several acres was in the middle of the forest with tastefully decorated cottages and beautifully landscaped gardens with flowers blooming. A swimming pool, clubhouse and restaurants that served sumptuous cuisine were other attractions. It was the beginning of monsoon, and so there was a nip in the air, and it would drizzle every now and then which was a welcome relief from the sultry heat of summer.
The following day we set off to see the Abbey Waterfalls a frequented tourist spot. Nestled within a lush green plantation, a walk over the steep slope took us to the vicinity of the waterfall. We got a magnificent view of the waterfall from a hanging bridge overlooking it. The spray from the waterfall was refreshing as we made the most of the opportunity to click pictures.
Next, we drove to Madikeri town, which is the main Coorg headquarters. Raja’s Seat from where the king would sit and gaze at the sunsets is located in a garden here. It provides a panoramic view of the verdant valleys and hills enveloped in mist. A toy train running near it was a delight for our children. We then headed to the Madikeri Fort that dates back to the 17th Century. Initially constructed by Muddu Raja with mud it was later rebuilt in granite by Tipu Sultan. We walked over the ramparts of the fort and then headed to the market to pick spices for which Coorg is known. We retired early to bed that night as the next day was to be action-packed with lots of sightseeing.
Located 35 km from Madikeri is Bhagamandala a peaceful spot on the foothills of Talacauvery. It is known for the Triveni Sangam or the confluence of the three rivers, i.e. Cauvery, Kannika and Sujyoti rivers. There were a few faithful who were performing pooja and taking a dip here to complete the shraddha rites for the souls of the departed members of the family. The Bhagandeshwara Temple is located here too, which is frequented by the pilgrims also.
Talacauvery in the Brahmagiri hill is located 8 km from Bhagamandala. Talacauvery, when translated in English, means the source of the river Cauvery. It was wet and misty as we climbed the stairs to the temple. It is located at the height of 1276 metres above sea level, which explains the low temperature and the feeling of walking in clouds. A huge water tank was located in front of the shrine, which is believed to be the spot where the river originates. Pilgrims take a dip here and offer prayers. We saw a newly married couple shivering and shyly holding each other as they took a dip and performed some rituals.
At the rear of the temple were a flight of 150 steps that take you to the hilltop from where the vistas are seen. We were in two minds whether to make the effort to climb to the top as it was very cloudy with low visibility. The children were more enthusiastic than me, and we soon climbed to the top only to be greeted with a no show. The arduous climb had left us a little breathless and tired, and so we decided to just sit there and catch our breaths. Miraculously the skies cleared, and the mist disappeared, and we were bestowed with a scenic view of the hills and valleys. The climb was well worth it, after all.
The Nalknad Aramane Palace was built in 17th Century by a Haleri ruler Dodda Virarajendra. The ruler had escaped from Tipu Sultan and taken refuge in this palace which had an underground tunnel for escape. As we entered the huge gateway to the palace, we found ourselves in the courtyard with the palace in front and a Kalyana mandapa to our right. The Kalyana mandapa was on a raised platform and is where marriage ceremonies took place. The palace with white exteriors and wooden pillars and clay roofs was simple and elegant. The palace had a durbar hall where meetings and events took place. A secret flight of stairs took us to underground rooms. The kids and we almost ended role-playing the king and queen trying to escape from the enemies.
The last on our list for the day was the Chelavara Falls with a depth of 150 feet. The locals refer to them as Embepare (Tortoise) falls because the waters fall on a rock in the shape of a tortoise. The way to the falls is risky and steep. The water collects in a pool, and one needs to be cautious to not slip or fall. But the falls are a hit with tourists wanting to click a selfie with the waterfalls in the backdrop.
The next day we decided to take it easy and relax and rejuvenate at the property. The resort had various events like a magic show, Warli painting for, coffee making, Coorg-style saree draping workshops, coffee plantaion tours and so on. As we explored the property, frogs would hop along the pathways unexpectedly, and this made the kids want to scamper away, but we soon got used to them. What was unusual was that they were in shades of orange, yellow and ocher a far cry from the olive green and brown ones we commonly see. The peace and tranquility interspersed with bird calls and sightings of bulbuls, magpie robins, … and even turkeys was refreshing and invigorating. Coorg is indeed a paradise for nature lovers.
A trip to Coorg would be incomplete if you didn’t visit the Dubare Elephant Camp on the banks of the Cauvery river. We had a great time as we went on an Elephant Safari. We could feed the elephants and even bath them for a couple of rupees. It was fun to watch the elephants bathing and spraying water from their trunks on the onlookers.
Our next stop was the Namdroling Buddhist Monastery in Bylakuppe. The moment we stepped in the monastery, we felt we had been magically transported to Ladakh or Tibet. What many travellers are unaware of is that Bylakuppe is the second largest Tibetan settlement in India. The locals call the shrine the Golden Temple. Children in maroon robes, training to be monks were chanting and reading the scriptures. Our children were excited to spin a series of prayer wheels with inscriptions.
As we entered the shrine, we were spellbound by its architectural and artwork brilliance. The magnificence of the shrine with giant Buddhist gold idols and intricately carved backdrop and paintings left us awestruck. After the initial amazement the temple that left us speechless, we just let the peace and tranquillity of the place permeate us.
The last place on our list was the Nisargadhama Park. We walked on a hanging ropeway to this ecological park which is surrounded by Bamboo groves. There were numerous enclosures for animals like deer and rabbits. The kids were thrilled to see these creatures and excited to watch them in close proximity. Boating facility is also available here.
When it comes to shopping in Coorg do pick up the spices here and coffee of course. We also picked a coffee filter to savour the filter coffee back home. Essential oils and aromatic oils like Eucalptus, Lemon grass and so on are also good things to pick here.
There are numerous other activities that you can do in an around Coorg like river rafting, visiting spice and coffee plantations, going on nature treks, bird watching and so on. If you want an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and its fast-paced life, then Coorg is where you should head. Whether you are a nature lover, wildlife photographer, a honeymoon couple or a family wanting to experience nature up close, there is something for everyone in Coorg.
Nearest Airport: Mangalore is the nearest airport. The other option is Bengaluru. From there you can drive down to Coorg.
Distances: Mangalore to Coorg 156 km
Bengaluru to Coorg 286 km
Where to Stay: We stayed at The Club Mahindra Virajpeth. Many people prefer the homestay option, which is a good option while others prefer to stay at the jungle lodges. You can do a net search for an array of staying options depending on comfort and budget.
Shameera Somani is a writer and publishes a travel blog called 'So Many Travel Tales'. This Coorg travelogue is courtesy of the blog.
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