lush greenery, meandering roads lined with the prettiest of flowers, unending carpets of coffee plantations and verdant hills playing peek-a-boo with fleeting clouds. sounds like paradise on earth? Well, this is Coorg aka Kodagu for you.
At an altitude of 1525mt and a distance of 270km from Bengaluru, it is the most popular hill station in Karnataka. Also known as Scotland of India, Coorg is synonymous with breathtaking scenery, coffee, spices, oranges, homestays and the unique Kodava culture. With a plenty of picturesque towns like Madikeri, Kushalnagar, Pollibetta and Somwarpet to explore, Coorg is a land of superlative beauty and forms for a perfect rejuvenating break, away from the urban chaos. The best part about this affluent hill station is that it offers a kaleidoscope of experiences spanning religion, wildlife, culture and nature.
An ode to Cauvery
Nestled in the Brahmagiri hills of Coorg is Bhagamandala or Talacauvery (also spelt as Talakaveri) which is believed to be the origin of the river Cauvery. At a distance of about 50km from the district headquarters of Madikeri, Talakaveri has a temple dedicated to Goddess Kaveri. It is a holy site and a popular pilgrimage for the local Kodavas. The place of actual origin is earmarked by a tank that has been constructed and each year the river appears as a spring here. This special day falls in mid-October each year and is the first dy of the Tula month of the Hindu calendar. Celebrated as Cauvery changrandi day, scores of pilgrims flock to witness the spectacle of the river gushing as a fountain head. Replet with panoramic landscapes and gorgeous vistas, the view from atop the temple is stunning on clear days.
Tryst with mini Tibet
At a distance of about 45km from Madikeri is Bylakuppe which is one of the largest Tibetan settlements of South India. A colourful little town with a large Tibetan refugee population, it is home to several monasteries with the Namdroling Monastery being a major attraction. Popularly known as Golden temple, the monastery is a picture of grandeur and splendour. Exquisite paintings and magnificent mural adorn the walls which form the perfect backdrop for the tall idols of Buddha. Apart from the Golden temple, Bylakuppe has several shops where you can pick up Tibetan handicrafts, shawls, prayer bells, junk jewellery and other knick-knacks.
Playing with Pachyderms
If you are a fan of nature and wildlife, Coorg offers umpteen opportunities to indulge the wildlife enthusiast in you. Walking and trekking trails are aplenty and if you are a keen birder you are sure to sight species like the Grey hornbill, Blue capped rock thrush, Oriental white eye and several species of shrikes, pigeons, bulbuls and parakeets. The Nagarhole National Park in Coorg is one of the premier tiger reserves of the country and is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. Even if you are unable to spot the elusive tiger, the park has plenty of wild bison, elephants, leopard and deer. However, if you are looking to have some fun and a little bit of adventure, head to the elephant camp in Dubare. A project undertaken by the Karnataka Forest Department in partnership with Jungle Lodges and Resorts, it is a unique initiative in eco-tourism. Situated on the scenic banks of river Cauvery, the camp has several elephants that are trained in house by naturalists. Visitors can literally get up close and personal with the pachyderms and enjoy a session of bathing and feeding elephants! Watch mahuts prepare food, groom the animals and even train them to obey commands. Apart from elephant interaction, the camp also offers river rafting, fun elephant rides and coracle rides. A visit to the camp is sure to sensitise you to the need of protecting and conserving these gentle creatures.
Coorg is a land where nature’s beauty is at its enchanting best. There are several hillocks and waterfalls including the Abbey falls that are popular with visitors. The Irupu falls located on the way to Nagarhole National park is yet another splendid spot. Also known as Lakshmana Tirtha Falls, this place is popular even as a pilgrimage spot as there is a famous Shiva temple on the banks of the Lakshmana Tirtha river which originates at the point of these falls.If you are fascinated by the world of coffee, Coorg has hundreds of acres growing both Arabica and Robusta coffee. Nicknamed ‘Coffee cup of India’, Coorg also has the unique distinction of being the place where the world’s most expensive coffee, Civet coffee is produced. Apart from coffee the climate is conducive to the cultivation of spices like pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and cloves. Plantation walks, berry picking, coffee brewing and tasting sessions are just some of the other experiences you can indulge yourself in.
Known as Kodavas, the native inhabitants of Coorg are known for their hospitality, queer rituals, ingrained customs and unique food. The traditional attire of inhabitants of Coorg is also quite unlike any other in the country. While men wear a long coat with a red and gold sash, the women wear a saree with the pleats tucked at the back. Most of the men served in the armed forces and till date it is a tradition that at least one member of the family joins the army. Their weddings take place sans a priest and their food is predominantly non-vegetarian. Given that historically Coorg was a land that was largely inaccessible with little or no foreign influences, their food was largely derived from the local produce and hence includes the extensive use of rice, jackfruits, pork and colocasia leaves. ‘Pandi’ (pork) curry, bamboo shoot curry and kadumbuttu (rice-flour balls) are some staple dishes and Kachampuli, a native namesake fruit is a signature ingredient that is a preservative and akin to vinegar. A stop over at an authentic homestay is sure to give you an unforgettable experience in Kodava rituals and culture. Also, do not forget to pick up a customary bottle of Coorg honey and plenty of home made chocolates as delectable souvenirs when you return!
Words: RASHMI GOPAL RAO