The salubrious climate and picturesque setting make Chikmagalur, a destination laden with multiple options to enjoy the coffee capital of India. It could be – an adventure destination, a wildlife holiday, an opportunity to live a planter’s life in a coffee estate, a pilgrimage site or a luxury getaway from city life. Chikmagalur offers a dash of every ingredient that makes the dish of holidaying exotic, thrilling and relaxing.
1. Adventure Arena
The vast greenland that is Chikmagalur offers immense opportunities to trek. The challenging routes to Kudremukh (9.5 km, base camp Mullodi) and Mullayanagiri (3km, base camp Sarpadhari) that wind through lush shola forests and grasslands before reaching the peak are picturesque enough to take the strain off walking.
Kemmanagundi, a beautiful hill station located amidst the lush forests of the Baba Budangiri hills is worth indulging in – especially in the flowering season, which is at its peak from August through October. The Orchid collection at the Horticultural department is also a must-see. Attracted by the scenic beauty of Kemmenagundi, Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV built a summer palace amidst huge gardens of exotic flowers and many medicinal plants. Kemmanagundi offers a range of scenic attractions including waterfalls, streams, dense and lush foliage, beautiful gardens, picturesque landscapes and view points of the valleys and mountains of Baba Budan Giri range. Hebbe Falls is the main trekking attraction of Kemmenagundi that can only be reached by a steep downward trek of about 10 km.
Mullayanagiri is the highest peak in Karnataka, at nearly 2000 metres. It is the highest mountain between the Himalayas and the Nilgiris and has amazing trekking trails. Located 12 km from Chikmagalur, a temple of Lord Shiva keeps a watchful eye from the peak of this hill on the surrounding Western Ghats. Don’t let the steps daunt you (I stopped counting at 87!), because walking through the mist to reach the peak is indeed a surreal experience.
Roughly 90 kms away from the main town of Chikmagalur are the towns of Kalasa and Horanadu, through which the Bhadra river flows. These are rafting hotspots and kayaking can also be done on the eight-km stretch on the Bhadra. Best time for rafting is during July and August.
2. Wildlife Wonderland
Kudremukh is located about 96kms from Chikmagalur at an altitude of about 1800mt above sea level. The entire region is thickly covered with dense forests and tea and coffee plantations. Along with tigers, there are several other wild animals such as leopards, bears and gaurs, spotted deer and many more varieties of fauna can be seen. The park is also home to several species of birds like the Malabar trogon, Malabar whistling thrush, great pied hornbill and the imperial pigeon. There are several options of accommodation near the park and you can choose depending on your budget.
Bhadra Tiger Reserve is also a haven for wildlife aficionados and also close to the spot (Lakkavalli Dam) where Kenneth Anderson killed a particularly notorious man-eating tiger. If you choose to stay off the beaten path, take a boat safari on the waters of the Lakkavalli Dam to spot kingfishers, cormorants and even jellyfish! The animals from the Bhadra Reserve such as bisons, elephants, tigers, leopards, wild boars, and many others drop by to take a sip of water sometimes.
Once at Bhadra, do take about an hour’s detour to visit the Sakrebyle Elephant Camp about 14kms from Shimoga. Elephants from the nearby forests arrives this place to take bath and play in the backwaters of the Tunga river (or play a game of football with the schoolchildren that come for picnics here) before they go back to the forest. At any given time, there are about 25-30 elephants ranging from less than a year old to even octogenarians and above. It is not every day that you can interact with pachyderms and these ‘elephant interactions’ are reason enough to see these gentle giants up close.
The best time to explore the wild side of Chikamagalur is between October and May.
3. Living A Planter’s Life
Forget all your worldly worries and drown them in a cup of coffee – or a whole estate of it. The hilly wetlands of this Chikmagalur are ideal for a variety of crops such as coffee, areca and cocoa. The iron-rich soil, low temperature and high altitude are ideal for the coffee bean to mature slowly. Opt for a homestay in a estate. The whole charm of staying in a plantation is far away from the cacophony of a busy world. Silence, fresh mountain air and melodious birdsong are the mainstay of these estate dwellings. A great opportunity to savour nature and its tranquillity, while enjoying the luxury of putting your feet up on an antique planters’ chair and watching the world go by! If the inaction gets to you, learn more about planting a coffee sapling to harvesting the beans, sorting and roasting them – depending on which season you go in.
4. Pilgrimage Site
Sringeri, the first math or monastery established by saint-philosopher Adi Shankaracharya, is located 88 kms from Chikmagalur on the banks of the river Tunga. The Kodanda Ramaswamy temple, built in Hoysala architectural style, is another highlight of the district. The splendid Amriteshwara temple (67 kms away from Chikmagalur), built in 1196 AD by Amriteshwara Dandanayaka, a general of the Hoysala ruler Ballala II, is a must-see. The entire temple is built using black soapstone quarried from a small hill called Annegudda, 20 km away.
Devanur (35 km) is another place popular for the 17th century Sri Lakshmikantha temple and the 13th century Sri Siddeshwara temple. Gangamoola (110 km) is located amidst thick forests. The three main rivers, the Tunga, Bhadra and Netravathi originate from here.
While Chikmagalur brews most of India’s and a lot of the world’s coffee, there is more to it than the serene and absolutely picturesque coffee plantations. Do yourself a favour – just go find nirvana here!
Best Time to Visit: September to March.
Getting There: Chikmagalur is 250km away from Bangalore.
Written by Aarti Kapur Singh