Celebrating the bliss of Coorg with all its splendour
Kodaimelanadu or Kodagu or Coorg: the name itself conjures up images of verdure — gushing cascades, babbling brooks, green hills, gorgeous dales, gurgling rivers all together flaunting the munificence of Mother Nature. Oh! Add some coffee plantations. A compulsive coffee drinker like me cannot find a better place than Coorg for a sip of delight. After an hour’s drive from Mysore, our chauffer announces that we are entering Coorg.
The scenery is mesmerising. The winding roads take you through a maze of greenery. At every labyrinth, you meet a collage of colours which explode into shades of green, brown and yellow. The roads seem to have no particular destination. They just lead you from one part of paradise to another. As we squint though the green fabric, we 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. We deliberately slow down to take in the moment. It is an ode to nature. No wonder it has been attributed the sobriquet ‘Scotland of the East’.
Coorg is all about coffee with a fair amount of cardamom and pepper thrown in. As we drive in, the sylvan surroundings hit us. Our destination is Siddapur. After following the Orange County signage the car finally enters the resort. After a short break, we decide to take a tour of this secluded paradise. The whole district seems a tree shadowed coffee estate, dotted with a few market places with speedy bars, pork shops and elegant vegetable displays.
As we travel, we learn more about coffee: its history, its getting smuggled into India and the difference between arabica and robusta. There is an overwhelming feeling of seclusion. From a distance you can spot a coffee pod, but it is difficult to spot your immediate neighbour. All this time, I am in a clicking frenzy 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. Our guide announces the names of each and every bird. At times he replies to their calls in a simulated tone. After spending a few hours, trying to know the avian diversity of Coorg, we head 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 down into limpid pools to join the river Kaveri. A combination of unprecedented rain the previous night and the steep path make the trek difficult. An army of clouds envelopes the hill, a sight worth beholding.
I try out some Kodava food on my way back to the resort. The central dish of Kodava cuisine is meat, with a fine underpinning of rice. I taste the irresistible pandi curry, a subtle pork dish, cooked well by adding a local fruit, Kanchampali. This mouth-watering dish represents the specialness of Kadava dishes and is hard to find outside Coorg. The dry spices are roasted before grinding them, giving a toasty flavour to the thick curry. I return to my luxurious cottage after having a refreshing tour of the place. It is dark now, and the sky is clear. I step out of my room and walk towards the woods, on a stretch of road with no artificial light. The moon shines brightly and the trees are laden with millions of fireflies; the woods seem decked up for some fat Indian wedding.
This is my first trip to the Western Ghats, and I very enthusiastic to discover them. Next day, at six in the morning, I spring from my bed to go deeper into the mist laden, verdant hills. Murthy, our guide ushers us through a forest which abuts the resort. It is Dubare Reserve which encompasses an area of 50,000 acres — the home of the pachyderms. Majestic rosewood, teak and other hardwood tree species stand around us like sentinels. Giant parasitic vines (that uncannily resemble monstrous creatures) are swathed around large banyan and other trees in a macabre bond. The forest keeps getting thicker and more enchanting. Walking fearlessly in the forest, brushing against the small vines and lopping branches out of the way, eyes constantly hovering to spot any wild animal, marking the footmarks of the elephants — turns out to be the most enchanting leg of the trip.
We walk down to the Kaveri, the river flowing unmindful of the inter-State row over her waters. We take our seats on a coracle, to drift on the green waters, gauging the moods of the river and the pristine surroundings. “Sir, apart from this beauty, Coorg is gifted with a very rich history,” says our guide, adding, “The British gifted coffee to Coorg. The first estate was established way back in the 1850s by an Englishman John Frawler. Along with coffee, pepper abounds here, growing as a vine allowed to climb the shade trees. Coorg pepper is considered to be the best in the world, sir.”
He then tells us about the invincible Kodava people. “Coorgis are said to be descendents of the Greeks. Neither Tipu Sultan, nor the British could conquer this land.”
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 Jaffarabad. In the North-east corner at the entrance are two life size masonry elephants, while a church stands in the south-east corner. The fort offers panoramic views of the city from its walls. The centuries-old Madikeri Fort with its stone ramparts also houses a prison. Among the other architectural treasures that Coorg boasts is the Omkareshwara temple built by king Lingaraja in 1820, in a mosque-like style, with an impressive central dome and four minarets, which are surrounded by Basavas, or sacred bulls. On the top of the dome sits a gilded ball with a weathercock.
Another splendid place to see is the Raja’s seat. It is a small pavilion with a garden surrounding it, offering a view of the green valley below. As the legend goes, the kings of Coorg spent their evenings here along with their consorts. The spectacular view from here of the melting sun, parrot-green fields and the far stretching mountains will take one’s breath away. We return to the Orange County Resort, a little break from this oasis of tranquillity. The last Kodava dinner by the lake under the bright sky is waiting for us: a luxurious setting created by candles, stars and sounds of silence. The next day I insert a packet of aroma rich Coorg Coffee in my luggage. As for the greenery, it is etched in my thoughts, to recollect in the days to come.