Coorg: Where the Hills Call


It is not the first time that Prasanth and I were travelling to a destination during its off-season. We have done that with Goa in the past, and now we did it with Coorg. It took me a long time – almost the second or third day into our trip in Coorg – to realise that what one sees in the fancy, doctored photographs on travel websites and Instagram is not always true. Rather, I learned that only the best seasons of the different places are actually projected to the world. We sometimes mistake those images to be the actual image of the place, and think that that would be how the place would greet us whenever we visit it.

So, the image of Coorg that I had always harboured in my mind, (the place being one of those in my bucket list), was of a land covered with lush verdant coffee plantations, sopping with rain, fragrant with spices, having cool and misty climes. I had pictured myself walking with my husband, wrapped in warm, cosy shawls on cool evenings amidst the coffee plantations, and returning to our homestay to delicious aromatic mugs of coffees.

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Road tripping from Thrissur in Kerala, to Madikeri in Coorg during the sweltering heat of May, we thought we were in for a great escape. The long and winding roads in Kozhikode and Kannur had drained us already by afternoon. But the image of the awaiting greenery kept us going.

Entering Coorg, the weather was not how I had nurtured in my imagination. It was still pretty hot being pre-Monsoon. We reached Madikeri town just in time for lunch, and filled our hungry selves with biryani at one of the restaurants that were teeming with tourists. Note, there aren’t many options for an inexpensive meal in Madikeri town and the restaurants are absolutely basic. During peak hours, even the menu is limited and meals like biryani will be the best bet. Don’t expect too much from the food or the eateries – be prepared to give a toss to service, ambiance, and hygiene!

It was only when we neared our homestay that the place that I had imagined started taking shape. Dense emerald hills greeted us through narrow winding roads. For our stay in Coorg, we had booked three different homestays – Chirpy Blooms, Chingaara, and Hinterland. (Find detailed reviews below)

Following are the places we covered in our five days in Coorg:

Places to see

Abbey Falls

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A not so high waterfall that gushed with a healthy body of water, Abbi Falls was intensely crowded even during the off-season. It offers some good photography if one is able to get lucky enough to capture them without the crowds. Also, as the waterfall cascades in levels, it can be a bit tricky to get the entire waterfall in the frame – for this you will need to find a good high location on one of the rocks. An old metal bridge is another charm that attracts tourists and gives a good view of the falls.

To visit or not: It is a popular tourist spot, so is usually one of the first destinations for first time visitors.

Time required: About 45mins

Raja’s Tomb

A set of antiquated tombs of the royal dynasty, the burials reflect an Islamic style of architecture. The place is quiet and did not have any visitors apart from us when we visited it in the late evening. Located in the town, it is easily accessible and well-marked on Google maps. It is a small place and doesn’t have much to see, therefore doesn’t require much time to look around.

To visit or not: This place can be omitted from your itinerary if your schedule is packed.

Time required: Half an hour

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery

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Located in Bylakuppe at a distance of 37km from Madikeri, the region is a Tibetan settlement with one of the most beautiful monasteries. Home to one of the largest colonies of Tibetans outside Tibet, the encampment came into being in the early 1970s. Located in a secluded region, the place offers an immediate sense of calm.

Monks can be seen in and around the monasteries, going about their daily duties. Restaurants and shops are a major attraction where people throng for shopping.

Marvel at the riot of colours and gigantic statues of Buddhist idols, and spend some time in quiet peace inside the prayer halls of the monasteries. If you get lucky, you can get hold of a monk who can oblige to tour you through the monasteries and explain the history of Tibet depicted through the remarkable art on the walls.

To visit or not: It is one of the main attractions during a visit to Coorg and will appeal to those looking for a relaxed day out. Spend some time in quiet peace at the prayer halls inside the monasteries.

Time required: Half a day

What to eat: Momos, noodles

What to buy: Porcelain cups, bamboo baskets, incense, coffee powder, spices such as cardamom and pepper, t-shirts, harem (Alibaba) pants

Nisargadhama

On our return from Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, we visited Nisargadhama – an island rich with flora and fauna. At about 2kms from Kushalnagar, the place is a tourist attraction for families with children.  A hanging bridge leads into the park, which is lush with bamboo and teak trees. Animals such as deer and rabbits can be found here, along with a variety of birds. The river Kaveri is a highlight at the place, where visitors can have boat rides. Tall termite hills are a curiosity at this place as well.

To visit or not: The place is promoted as a nature reserve, but what meets the eye can be disappointing. It is a mediocre place in terms of attraction. Can be overlooked from a packed tour.

Time required: Two hours for the nature park + one to two hours for shopping

What to buy: A few shops selling authentic wares inside the park is perhaps the only aspect of interest within the park. You can buy spices, coffee powder, skin care items such as oils, creams, and face packs, and handicrafts from here.

Outside the park is a long street full of shops which is a shopper’s delight. Objects with intricate woodwork is the highlight in these shops – furniture, paintings, combs, treasure boxes, etc., are available in different kinds of wood such as teak, mahogany, sheesham, sal, etc.

Nalknad Palace

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A beautiful remnant of Coorgi royal history, the Nalkanad Palace is a charming beauty. Dating to the 1790s, it was the abode of Prince Dodda Veerarajendra. The palace served as a hideaway for him, as he attacked Tipu Sultan from this location, which was advantageous as it was nestled in the middle of a thick forest.

The palace is built in the traditional Kodagu style of houses, and is two-storeyed. It is has small rooms, with a long verandah. The walls that were once richly ornate with art are now a shadow of the past, as the artwork has almost faded and peeled off.

The views from the palace are alluring, with the Tadiandamol peak also visible from one side.

It is located in Kakkabe, about 38km from Madikeri.

To visit or not: It is worth a visit, as not just the palace, but even the journey towards it is picturesque.

Time required: About half an hour

Dubare Elephant Camp

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A place for elephant lovers, the camp enables one to get up close and personal with the gentle giants. Located in Kushalnagar, one can spend a day in the life of the elephants by observing them and even participating in their daily routine. Visitors can watch the mahouts giving the pachyderms a bath in the Kaveri River, feeding them, and taking them for walks. Tourists are allowed to touch the animals and feed them the bundles of hay that the mahout makes.

To visit or not: This is a worthwhile camp where one can interact closely with the elephants so do include it in your travel plan for Coorg.

Time required: Two to three hours

Iruppu Waterfalls

Another one of the several waterfalls in Coorg, the Iruppu Falls is an exquisite cascade of water. It is located near the Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary and is the starting point for the Brahmagiri Peak trek. One can even bathe in its waters at certain locations where the waters flow. Its location is a pleasure for the sight and other senses, as it is teeming with lush vegetation. The fascinating Malabar Blue Bandit butterfly is a common sight here. One can be easily enraptured by the sheer delicacy of nature and become oblivious to the passing hours!

To visit or not: A definite spot in the journey plan, one must take a generous time out for the place. Trekkers are required to take permission from the forest authorities to undertake the Brahmagiri trek.

Time required: About two hours (without the trek)

Tadiandamol Trek

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The highest peak in Coorg, with an altitude of 5,740ft, the trekking trail to Tadiyandamol is beautiful and rewarding for its scenic natural beauty. Starting from the Nalkanad Palace, it passes through diverse landscapes that will leave you breathless…not from the fatigue but from its picturesque views.

It is an open trek which requires no permission or fees. It is a well-marked trek and chances of getting lost are close to nil. It is an easy level day trek that takes about four to six hours in total to complete. It passes through vast open grasslands in the beginning, and then one enters the thick Shola forests, to finally ascend the steep climbs towards the end. It gets cool and misty towards the heights of the hill.

The trek requires minimum level of physical fitness, with good sure-footedness towards the end for steep climbs on slippery rocks. Some light snacks or lunch with 2l water per person will be required for the trek.

Watch out for leeches as you enter the forest. There are camping spots in the first half of the trail in the areas of the open fields where there are big boulders and rocks for shelter. Camping on the peak is not advised as it gets extremely windy and foggy, with no source of water. It is also not advisable to trek during Monsoons when it gets slippery and foggy.

Stay

Chirpy Blooms

Location: Chirpy Blooms is located about 9kms from Madikeri town. It is a place for those who wish to stay away from the town and main roads, in the lap of nature. We were able to locate it correctly purely with the assistance of Google Maps.

Accommodation: Chirpy Blooms is a duplex house where Mr Thimmaiah and his family live below and the upper floor is given to travellers. The place is tastefully done up with red tiles lined with cement that exudes a cosy rustic feel. Tiled roof keeps the place cool. The place is clean and in good condition. You will need to keep in mind that this is a place for those with a genuine love for nature, and those who get hysterical at the sight of insects and spiders might do well to keep away.

Facilities: A beautiful balcony provides scenic views of Mr Thimmaiah’s thriving garden and the wonderful misty hills in the distance. Hot water is available at all times. The beds are not the most comfortable; though if you have had a long and tiring day you wouldn’t even notice. They do provide blankets, though you may want to carry bed sheets of your own to spread under the blankets. The ceiling fan in the room was not working, and we had to ask for a pedestal fan. I was dissatisfied with the lighting in our room as it turned out to be extremely dim at night and early morning. Viewing the mirror was extremely difficult and I had to use the mirror in the bathroom.

Food: Easily the best part about the whole stay. Mr Thimmaiah served large portions of hot and wholesome freshly made food cooked by his wife. We were delighted to dig into authentic Coorgi specialties. The quantity of each dish was overwhelming as we forced ourselves to take a bite of each dish despite happily filled bellies.

Service: Mr Thimmaiah is available during the mornings and evenings at your beck and call for any assistance. He is kind and patient and willing to attend to any complaints.

Costs: At Rs. 2,500 per day, the place comes across as a bit expensive. The dinners cost an additional Rs. 250 per person.

Verdict: A pleasant stay for those interested in a remote location, away from the raucous cacophony of city life. It will be really difficult if you do not come in a vehicle of your own as it is far from the town and all other places of interest. Chirpy Blooms is a good choice for couples and families. It is a tranquil place buzzing with insects and interesting pets of the Thimmaiahs such as dogs, cats, hens, and a majestic turkey!

Chingaara

A guest house that is like your own private retreat, Chingaara is an immensely cosy place nestled in a forest. It is a perfect escape for those looking to stay in the midst of nature, away from the hustle and bustle of the town.

Location: The guest house is located atop a steep height with an uneven, rocky path. They provide a jeep to ferry you to and from the guesthouse. After checking in, try walking down from the guesthouse, which will take you about 20 minutes.

Accommodation: All the rooms have double rooms, except Room No. 7, which is a smaller one. We chose this room, as it is also isolated, being the only room on the second floor, and opens right into the common balcony. The rooms are quite comfortable, with clean and neat spaces. There is a common balcony where one can relax during the day and night. Stretching out in the comfortable chairs, during the daytime, one can view the fascinating verdure that surrounds all around, and laze in the evening as the sun sets, hearing the merry singing of birds. At night, one can come back again after dinner to gaze at the star-spangled sky and enjoy the still silence of night intercepted by the cries of insects.

Food: One of the highlights of the stay is the food. Chingaara offers a lavish spread at all times of the day. A buffet system with high quality fresh food ensures that visitors have their fill and are satisfied. There is also unlimited tea and coffee throughout the day.

Service: Another big factor that makes one’s stay truly satisfying is the service. The manager, Mr Babanna, is an extremely affable man and instantly puts one at ease. He ensures that all of one’s needs are taken care of and makes sure one has an enjoyable stay. He has been there since several years and so knows the place really well, and is good at giving guidance on how to experience the places around. The owner, Mr Sarath was also kind and helpful.

Facilities: There is a small library in the lounge area where one can unwind with books; unless one allows oneself to get distracted by the fascinating views from the parlour.

The rooms do not have TV and the place does not provide wi-fi – a policy the management follows to adhere to their theme of connecting with nature and not technology.

One of the quirks of the place are the pet donkeys and dogs at the place. They are friendly and provide great amusement to the visitors. Babanna’s interaction with them is adorable.

Cost: Rs 2,300 to Rs 3,200

Verdict: It was unfortunate that we got to know of this place towards the end of our stay in Coorg. It is a place almost anyone would surely love, and definitely return to. As we shall. 🙂

Hinterland

Continuing with our search for remotely located homestays, we zeroed in on Hinterland through online search. And true to expectation, it is definitely situated in a faraway place, in the middle of forests and plantations. It is owned by a kind family who live in their own house next door. They are helpful and non-interfering in your stay.

Location: Hinterland is located in Kutta, about 85kms from Madikeri. It is very close to the Kerala border.

Accommodation: With just two rooms, Hinterland offers an exclusive stay in the middle of nowhere. Though the rooms are adjacent, a partitioned verandah separates the entrance of the two rooms. Our room was cosy and comfortable, and well furnished. The place was neat and clean. It is an extremely quiet place. However, wild elephants are known to appear in the location, who come down at night from the nearby jungles. The house owners have set up metallic wires that are electrically activated that function as safety fence to keep the elephants away from trespassing into the plots. It is advisable to not go out or come into the plot late night when the elephants come down from the forest. There is a beautiful stream some metres away from the homes.

Facilities: Hot water was available all day in the bathroom, though one needs to bring their own toiletries.

Food: The owners can arrange for food if you inform them in advance. You will need to travel a bit to look for eateries as there are hardly any, and certainly not close by. We found Robusta Cafe at about 10-15 mins drive from the homestay, and had to depend on it for our food at all times of the day as there wasn’t a better alternative. Since the cafe shuts early at night, we were compelled to have early dinners as well.

Cost: About Rs 1,000 a room per night

Verdict: A place for those who want to stay in a deeply remote location with a lot of peace and quiet. Finding food is definitely a challenge. Wouldn’t return to this homestay though, as it is far from most places of interest.

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4 thoughts on “Coorg: Where the Hills Call

  1. Hi guys,

    Enjoyed reading about your Coorg Trip. And you Ch, are an amazing writer of course. But, it’d have been a bit more appealing if you’d added some photos of the homestays as well.
    Well, the details you have portrayed are crisp and vivid and furthermore I just loved the structure, which you’ve maintained throughout.

    That’s it for time being, and enjoy your holidays.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Dileep, for reading the story so closely and giving your valuable feedback. You are absolutely right about about adding pics of the homestays. I wanted to add them, as it only makes sense to do so, but unfortunately we didn’t have good pics of the homestays. So that’s something we shall keep in mind in future.

      Like

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