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A sip of coffee in Coorg

A sip of coffee  in Coorg
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Kodaimelanadu or Kodagu or Coorg – the name itself invokes emerald landscapes, gurgling waterfalls, babbling brooks, green hills, gorgeous dales, rushing rivers and acres of luscious coffee plantations.

A compulsive coffee drinker like me could not find a better place than Coorg for a sip of that heady elixir. After an hour-long drive from Mysore, our chauffeur announced that we were entering Coorg. As you drive, the winding roads take you through a maze of greenery. At every labyrinthine, you meet a collage of colours which explode into shades of greens, browns and yellows. The roads seem to have no particular destination.

They just lead from one part of paradise to another. As you squint though the green fabric, you pass plantations of coffee, cardamom and pepper, which merge with forests, foliage and fauna. There are no villages, no people, no shops, and no cars. An ode to nature, the uneven terrain and cool climate make it a fantastic area for trekking, birdwatching or lazily ambling down little-trodden paths winding around carpeted hills. No wonder it is called the  Scotland of the East. Coorg is all about coffee, with a fair amount of cardamom and pepper thrown in.  As we drove on, the sylvan surroundings hit us.

Our destination was Siddapur.  After following the directions of Orange County Resort’s signage, the car finally entered the resort. After a rest of a few hours in the lap of nature, we decided to take a detour of this secluded paradise. The whole district seemed a tree shadowed coffee estate, dotted with a few markets with snazzy bars, pork shops and elegant vegetable displays. As we travelled, we grew wiser about coffee: its history, it getting smuggled into India and the difference between arabica and robusta. There was an overwhelming feeling of seclusion, where from a distance you can spot a coffee pod, but it is difficult to spot your immediate neighbour.  

All this time, I was in a click frenzy mode to capture the intricacies of nature. Coorg is a paradise for bird-watchers and accounts for nearly 25 per cent of the avian population of the state. I knew my day was made. Our guide announced the name of each and every bird. At times he replied to their calls in a simulated tone.

After spending a few hours trying to discover the avian diversity of Coorg, we headed towards the splendid Abbey falls. Tucked away between private coffee and spice estates, Abbey Falls offers a splendid backdrop for a weekend picnic. As one makes one’s way past stocky coffee bushes and tall trees entwined with pepper vines, the falls make a sudden and dramatic appearance, as they cascade their way down steps into limpid pools to join the river Kaveri. A combination of unprecedented rain on the previous night and a steep path had made the trek difficult. An army of clouds had enveloped the hill, a sight worth beholding. This short visit enlivened our desire to closely know this Kodava land.

I didn’t hesitate to try some Kodava food on my way back to the resort. The central piece of Kodava cuisine is meat, with a fine underpinning of rice. I tried the irresistible Pandi curry, a subtle pork dish, cooked well by adding the local fruit, Kanchampali. This mouth-watering dish represents the uniqueness of Kadava cuisine and is hard to find outside Coorg. The dry spices are roasted before grinding, giving a toasty flavour to the thick curry. I know I am a foodie, and a big one; but after having a tummy-full Pandi curry, I had no desire left to feast on ‘obbittu’ and ‘neeru dosa’.

I returned to my luxurious cottage after making a nice detour of the place. It was dark by then, but the sky was clear. I stepped out of my room and walked towards the woods, on a stretch of road with no artificial light. The moon shone brightly and the trees were laden with millions of fireflies, and the woods seemed decked up for some big, fat Indian wedding.

This was my first trip to the Western Ghats, and I was very enthusiastic to unravel all the secrets it hid. Next day, at six in the morning, I sprang from my bed to go deeper into the mist-laden verdant hills. Murthy, our guide, ushered us through a forest. It was the Dubare reserve, which encompasses an area of 50,000 acres – the home of the pachyderms. Majestic rosewood, teak and other hardwood tree species stood around us like sentinels. Giant parasitic vines (that uncannily resembles monstrous creatures), swathed around large banyan and other trees in a macabre hug. The forests kept getting thicker and more enchanting. That, to me, was the most interesting leg of this trip; walking fearlessly into the forest, brushing against the small vines and lopping branches out of our way, constantly on the watch to spot any wild animal, noticing the pugmarks of the elephants.....aah! it was so enchanting.

We walked down to the river Kaveri, flowing unmindful of the inter-state row over her waters. We got seated on a coracle, adrift on the green waters, gauging the mood of the river and our pristine surroundings.  ‘Sir, apart from this beauty, Coorg is gifted with a very rich history’ our guide explained.

On insisting he tell us the more, he said, ‘The Kodavas are an ancient, warlike tribe, said variously to be descendants of Indo-Scythian or Indo-Greek  invaders or migrating Kurds or Persians, and their rulers, the Haleri Rajas, were exiled by the British, who inducted the Kodavas into their army and gifted coffee to Coorg.

The first coffee estate was established way back in the 1850s by an Englishman John Frawler. Along with coffee, pepper abounds here, the vines climbing in the shade of large trees, and it is considered to be the best in the world. Neither Tipu Sultan nor the British could truly conquer this land,’ he added proudly.

Kodavas have a distinctive dress, the men wearing wraparound robes called the Kupya on ceremonial occasions and the women a distinctive style of sari, with the pleats at the back and the loose end pinned at the right shoulder. They carrying ceremonial knives and have distinctive martial war dances. Coorg has a long history of battles; the Madikeri fort is a living testimony to that.

Built first as a mud fort by Mudduraja in the last quarter of the 17th century, it was later rebuilt in granite by Tipu Sultan who named the site as Jaffarabad.  In the north-east corner at the entrance, are two life size masonry elephants and a church is present in the south-east corner.

Our last Kodava dinner by the lake under a bright, starry sky was waiting for us: a luxuriant setting created by candles, moonlight and the sound of silence. Coorg is rejuvenation guaranteed. The next day we took away packs of the aroma-rich Coorg coffee and sweet memories of the mist-laden green hills but left our hearts behind forever.  

How to reach
Madikeri is the nearest bus station. There are frequent buses available from Mysore, Mangalore and Bangalore to Coorg. Coorg is just five hours drive from Bangalore and three hours from Mysore and Mangalore.

Accommodation
Budget hotels available in Coorg include Caveri Residency, Hotel Cauvery, Hotel Chitra and Fort Mercara, located 500 mts from Raja’s seat and offering beautiful views. For luxury, try Kadkani, an ultra luxurious retreat set in a dale amid silent forests by the Cauvery River; Vivanta by Taj, built across 180 acres of misty rainforest; Golden Mist, one of Coorg’s finest plantation stays, with a 26-acre property of rice paddies, tea, coffee and spice plantations; the snug, earth-coloured cottages at the Alath-Cad Estate Bungalow, set in a coffee plantation; Coorg Planters’ Camp, an eco-resort in Kirudale featuring tented accommodation; Misty Woods, immediately uphill from Nalakunad Palace near Kakkabe; Orange County resort, a 300-acre coffee plantation; Bamboo Loft; Palace Estate; or Green Hills Estate, a quaint planter’s bungalow.

Hotel Mayura Valley View, on a secluded hilltop past Raja’s Seat, is a government hotel and one of Madikeri’s best, with large bright rooms and fantastic valley views from its restaurant-bar with terrace. Or try heritage homestays like Gowri  Nivas, School Estate and Java Mane, wildlife lodges like Elephant Corridor and Kalmane, hilly escapes like Kabbe Holidays and Honey Valley, riverside getaways like Sand Banks Polaycad Bungalow and Silver Brook.

To Do
Head to Valanor a backwater of the river Kaveri, for some adventure sports or tee off in any of the pristine links in Coorg. You can go out and discover the amazing waterfalls where famous Bollywood films have been shot – the Abbey falls, Mukkodlu, Mallali, Irpu and Chelavara Falls. Other falls are deep inside the forest. A day visit to Dubare Reserve or Nagarhole National park is also a nice idea. You can also just sit around and watch the fog rolling by.
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