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Here’s the second part… happy reading 🙂
December 15th, Mangalore/ Madikeri
I wake up at 5:30 am and switch on the TV. A loud and racy Hindi song shatters the silence. At 8:30 am, I check out from the hotel. It’s Sunday and the main road is virtually empty. I take an auto rickshaw to the bus station to catch the bus for Madikeri. Everything around is written in Kannada. After making enquiries, I find the bus to Madikeri already waiting. I climb in, place my bag near the driver’s seat and make myself comfortable in the front row of the 3-passenger seat.
Madikeri is 135 km from Mangalore. The bus conductor tells me it’s a four-hour bus journey. The bus makes a breakfast halt at a small, roadside restaurant. I have a quick meal of dosa (rice-crêpe) with sambar (curry) and coffee.
Situated at an altitude of 3500 ft, Madikeri is a popular hill station, and the district capital of Coorg, which is also called “Kashmir of Karnataka”. Coorg is a wonderful place with forests, coffee estates, hill stations, waterfalls, temples and trekking places. It is also home to many retired army officers.
The bus arrives in Madikeri at 1 pm. It’s a small bustling town. I emerge from the bus station with no idea where to stay. Most of the luxury hotels and home-stays are located away from the town centre. I’m looking for a budget accommodation. I consult my list of hotels in Coorg. I enquire about the location of a few hotels at a nearby shop and I’m told that they are a bit far. One by one, I cross out most of them as they are far from the city. Finally, I zero upon a hotel and board an autorickshaw. After about 100 metres or so, the driver points out to a hotel which he says is good. It features in my list and looks good. I tell him to wait while I check the rooms. The hotel attendant shows me a room but it’s on the ground floor so he shows me another one on the first floor. But I don’t like the view from the window. Walking by, I see a room with the door left open. It looks okay to me. The room has just been vacated and needs to be cleaned. The attendant assures me that by the time I complete the check-in formalities, it will be ready.
I soon discover that Hotel Cauvery is not only the best budget place but also great value for money. I get the room at 700 rupees including taxes after a whopping 35% discount! The hotel doesn’t accept credit cards, only cash payment. There’s an ATM just opposite the road so that’s not a problem. Puneet, the nice young man at the reception, gets me a 20% discount on tourist taxi charges from the person running the business. My sight-seeing tour for two days is fixed for Rs.2500. First day: Bhagamandala, Tala Cauvery, Abby Falls, Raja’s Seat, Omkareshwar Temple, Madikeri Fort and Raja’s Tomb. Second day: Dubare Elephant Camp, Tibetan Golden Temple, Cauvery Nisargadama and Harangi Dam.
I decide to start out with the first day’s tour at 2 pm. Since it is Sunday, the tourist taxi owner is going to drive me to the places.
When my room is ready, I check to see if everything’s fine. I turn on the TV. After a bit of channel-surfing, I’m happy to find both the English music channels – 9XO and Vh1. But I soon discover that electricity is in short supply around here. Fortunately, my hotel is equipped with a generator so within a few minutes, the power returns.
I stop for lunch at a nice little place called “Coorg Cuisinette,” the town’s only restaurant serving traditional Coorg food. The menu is limited to a few pork, mutton, chicken and vegetable dishes. Pork is popular here. The British colonists had a strong presence here and left their mark on the cuisine. I order fresh lime soda with honey, nuputtu (rice noodle cakes) and chicken curry. I’m the only customer around till a large group of retired army officers and their wives walk in.
It’s a quick meal since the taxi is waiting. The first place is Tala Cauvery, the source of river Cauvery, about 48 km from Madikeri. The river is revered by Hindus. On the way, we pass coffee and pepper plantations. We drive higher into the Western Ghats through dense jungle and reach Bhagamandala, situated at the sacred sangama (confluence) of the two rivers Cauvery and Kanika. A third river, the Sujyothi, is said to join from underground. The Sri Bhagandeshwar temple is located nearby. I leave my footwear inside the car and walk barefoot. At the temple, the seat of my cargo pants gets wet after I inadvertently sit on a small puddle of water on a stone ledge. Thanks to the scorching sun, the wet patch dries off by the time I return to the car.
After an 8 km drive we reach the Tala Cauvery temple complex built around the small shrine housing the actual source.
Every year, on a predetermined date (the 17th or 18th of October) at a predetermined time, water gushes up at the fountainhead from a spring. This holy water is carried home by the throngs of pilgrims coming not only from within the state but also from the neighbouring two states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala through which the Cauvery flows. The spring is connected to a small pond nearby. Water from the pond goes underground and comes out after about one kilometre down the hill.
Photography of the spring is not permitted. A number of small shrines are housed within the temple compound. Around 300 steps lead up to the top of the hill. I have no other option but to climb barefoot. It’s worth it when I see the spectacular 360-degree view of just about all of Coorg.
Walking barefoot on the hill is a pleasant experience although it can be kind of painful because of small, sharp stones.
The next stop is Abby Falls. On the way to Tal Cauvery, the snaky road with sharp bends made me feel queasy and light-headed. Now, on the return trip, it gets worse. I climb out of the car to throw up. Thereafter, I feel better.
It’s 6:20 pm when I reach the place. It’s dark as I walk down the path inside the coffee plantation. I walk on the hanging bridge to get a better view of the falls.
It is past closing time so after a quick look around I return to the car.
Since it’s too dark to enjoy the sights of Madikeri Fort and Raja’s Tomb, I decide to skip them and visit other two places before calling it a day. Raja’s Seat, located just 0.5 km from the town centre, is a view point and place where the kings of Coorg used to sit for the valley and sunset views. The place is crowded with tourists. It is past seven so there is not much to see besides a small pavilion and a garden surrounding it. I have two more evenings to enjoy the sunset here so I head for the last place in the tour – the Omkareshwara temple. Built by the king of Coorg in 1820, this lovely temple has both Islamic and Gothic style of architecture. A large pond in front of the temple gives the whole complex an elegant look.
The car drops me back to my hotel. I have a sweet corn chicken soup at the small restaurant on the ground floor and then retire to my room.
December 16th, Madikeri
The alarm goes off at 5:30 am. I feel a bit drowsy. It’s quite cold too so I set the alarm for 6:30 am. An hour later, I call up the tourist car owner to tell him of my decision to postpone the day’s tour. I’m not ready for another day-long road journey. I intend to spend the day looking around the town.
I have breakfast of idli-vada and coffee in my room. At 9:30 am, I leave the hotel to shop for the famous Coorg honey. It’s a holiday for the town because of a local festival. There are numerous shops selling locally grown spices like pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, ginger, nutmeg, star anise, etc. and cashews , honey, home-made wines, and coffee among other things.
Passing by the bus station, I sight an advertisement for adventure sports including rafting, trekking and… riding all-terrain vehicles (ATVs)! I’m curious about the last one and walk into the office. Inside, a girl tells me that bookings for ATV rides start from next week onwards. She’s helpful and thanks to her, I learn of a place where I can get pure Coorg honey. The “Coorg Progressive Bee-keeper’s Co-operative Society, Ltd.” shop. But it is closed for the day. The road to the fort is just opposite the place. I continue on to the fort. The heat is unbearable. I wish I had a cap with me. The fort was built by Tipu Sultan who ruled Coorg for a brief period in the 18th century. There’s not much to see besides the imposing structure. The fort now houses government offices for administration of the local region. The small museum inside is closed, it being a holiday. I return to the main road. There is a small commercial centre which houses a hotel, a few shops and a café. I check out one of the shops selling spices, etc. They are selling home-made chocolates, honey, sweets and of course, spices!
The shopkeeper opens each jar containing spices and holds it below my nose, one by one. The fresh aroma of the spices propels me to purchase a small quantity of each of them. Besides, they are inexpensive! There are so many spices that I have to leave out a few of them. Besides spices, I purchase a home-made pulav masala, vanilla essence, honey, candies, green tea and coffee. A small bottle filled with all sorts of locally grown herbs catches my fancy. The shopkeeper tells me that I have to pour hot coconut oil in it, and retain for two days before draining the oil into another bottle. The herb bottle can be reused seven times till the strength of the herbs is fully utilized. The shopkeeper assures me that it’s a time-tested product for healthy hair so I purchase it as a perfect solution for my hair thinning problem. I check the total weight of the shopping bags. It’s almost 3.5 kg and costs me Rs.1300. I ask the shopkeeper if he can courier the spices, etc. to my home in Mumbai on a regular basis and he says “yes”. That’s great!
Hungry, I head straight to the neighbouring café for a pizza and chocolate pastry before venturing out in the heat again. Further down the road, I find a souvenir shop. Pleased, I walk in to buy a cap and two nice-looking bags. Later, I spend some time at a cybercafe before returning to my hotel at around 2 pm.
At 5 pm, I start for Raja’s Seat to view the sunset. On the way, I shop for green tea and spiced cashews at a shop. I’m surprised by the large number of people, tourists as well as locals, gathered at Raja’s Seat. Most of them are taking group photos at the crowded amphitheatre, while others like me are waiting with cameras in hand ready to capture the spectacular view of the sun descending to set far away beyond the hills.
The panoramic view of the green valleys below Madikeri and the far-stretching blue mountains is simply enchanting!
I try hard to get a photo of the lovely full moon but the bright lamps in the garden keep popping into my camera frame. This is by far the best shot that I can get…
I see Venus shining brightly and click this photo of the simply awesome sight…
The Toy Train next to the garden has generated a lot of excitement. The noisy environment and the cold weather soon makes me leave the place. Back in my room, I tell the room boy to get me a sweet corn chicken soup from the restaurant downstairs.
December 17th, Madikeri
I wake up at 5:30 am to find the power off and call out for attention but nobody is around. Disappointed, I return to bed. An hour goes by and still there is no power. I call out once again, this time a bit more determined to get an answer. I have to get ready for the tourist car which is to arrive at 8:30am. A guy hears me. The problem is fixed and power is restored. At 8:30 am, after having my usual “idli-vada and coffee” breakfast, I’m ready for the taxi. It arrives a few minutes later.
It’s good to know that Kumar, the young driver, speaks English. Well, he’s not actually a driver by profession. He tells me that he works for a leading English newspaper in Bangalore. The taxi owner is his friend and has told him to drive me to the sightseeing places. I sit in the front to avoid queasy feelings like last time.
The first destination is Dubare Elephant Camp about 40 km from Madikeri. On the way, Kumar shows me a place where I can do rafting. He talks to the guys in charge of the adventure sports activities and gets the details. It seems like a fun thing but to do rafting for an hour or so under the hot sun somehow doesn’t appeal to me. I tell Kumar that I’ll try it later after covering all the places in the tour.
We arrive at Dubare at around 10:30 am. To reach the Elephant camp, you have to take a 10 minute boat-ride across the river Cauvery with a return ticket of Rs.30.
The entrance fee to the camp is Rs.30 and if you’re interested in bathing the elephants it’ll cost you Rs.100.
At the camp, you can get up close to the elephants, feed them, pet them and even take a ride on them. The ride will cost you extra.
Yours truly at the elephant camp…
Watch this video: Dubare Elephant Camp
The next place to visit is the Tibetan Golden temple at Bylakuppe. On the drive, I tell Kumar that I want to drive an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). He says there are some places on the way which offer adventure sports including ATV rides. He stops at the first one and speaks with the guy managing the outfit. The ATV track is complete with ditches and slopes for a thrilling ride. It sounds perfect but a bit expensive at Rs.400 for a 2 km ride. It’s been a long time since I last went go-karting so driving an ATV meant great fun. My first experience driving an ATV! I’m all excited and then a bit disappointed when I’m told that one of the guys is going to sit behind as a minder to guide me through the track.
This is me riding the cute little All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV)…
I start the ATV and vrooomm… the minder tells me to slow down a bit. Spoilsport! The fun part comes when I drive the ATV down the ditch and then speed it up the slope. I feel the rush of adrenaline as I navigate the obstacles. It’s fun speeding on the slopes. I don’t realize that the minder is getting goose bumps each time. At the end of the drive, he jumps out of the ATV and says something to Kumar in their language. “Madam…….” I guess he is talking about my “fast and furious” driving because Kumar looks a bit shocked. “You’ve covered this distance in just 4 seconds,” he tells me pointing out the distance and showing me the video recording he has done.
Watch this video: A short clip of me driving a cute little All Terrain Vehicle (ATV)
The Tibetan Monastery at Bylakuppe is located around 6 km from the town of Kushalnagar. It is the second largest (after Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh) Tibetan settlement outside Tibet and not only attracts a large number of young Tibetans seeking enlightenment and education, but also draws huge tourists from all over India and abroad.
I see monks in their unmistakable maroon-yellow robes everywhere around the town.
The entrance to the monastery…
The main attraction is the Namdroling Temple or the Golden Temple.
Watch this video: Tibetan Golden Temple at Bylakuppe
Inside the temple, three beautiful larger than life gold plated statues look down at visitors above the altar. The around 60 feet tall statue of Buddha holds a prominent place, flanked by Guru Padmasambhava and Amitayush (each around 58 feet tall).
Walls of the temples and institutions are decorated with colourful murals depicting gods and demons from Tibetan Buddhist mythology.
Tibetan products are sold inside as well as outside the temple complex.
After looking around the place, I walk into a nearby restaurant for my favourite Tibetan food – momos! But it’s a vegetarian restaurant so I return to the car. It’s burning hot! Kumar drives around for a while in search of a restaurant serving Tibetan food and finds one. It’s a small, family-run place. My order of chicken momos arrives after a long wait of around forty minutes. The momos are simply delicious and worth the wait!
The next stop is Cauvery Nisargadama, a nature park. The Cauvery river flows through this park. There are several shops near the car parking space. I buy an ice-cream and a packet of tapioca chips. The park entrance fee is 10 rupees. The park is an island formed by the Cauvery and is accessed by a suspension bridge (a footbridge). A nice, peaceful place brimming with natural beauty and beautifully dotted with bamboo clusters. A perfect picnic spot!
There are several tree houses around. A great place to escape from the scorching sun!
The deer park…
Watch this video: Deer Park at Cauvery Nisargadhama
I relax on a nearby bench, munching on tapioca chips. After a while, I climb up a bamboo watch tower. A short distance away, there’s another great place to sit and relax, watching the river Cauvery flow by.
Standing on a large stone, I try to get a couple of photos of the scenic place. Unfortunately, some youngsters enter my camera frame. I wait for a few minutes thinking that they will move away but they don’t. As I turn back, my foot slips over a stone. I try to regain my balance and fail to see a tree with a thick low branch. I straighten myself and… thud! I hear a loud sound like that of a coconut hitting a hard surface. Two seconds later, I realize that it’s the right side of my head that’s been hit. I can’t fathom what’s hurting more – the side of my head or the loud sound echoing in my mind. I remind myself that since I haven’t lost consciousness it may not be a serious injury. I gently massage my head and spend the next few minutes testing my brain power. I try recollecting the day’s happenings, those of the previous day and the day before that… I remember it all! I recollect the food I have eaten during the day, the previous day and the day before that… I remember it all! I test my knowledge of all the foreign languages I can speak – Spanish, French, German and Italian… I’m doing good! I recollect my next day’s plans… perfect! So far, so good! Still, my head feels a bit weird.
I walk around a bit and pass some time at a rabbit farm before returning back to the car. When I tell Kumar about my little accident, he gets worried. He asks me whether I want to visit a hospital. I don’t think it’s necessary. My head has borne the brunt of many hits and falls over the years and has thankfully survived without any serious injuries. All I want to do is return to my hotel room and lie down in bed, listening to English songs playing on TV.
We drive back to Madikeri. Once we reach town, I tell him to stop at the honey shop, which is open today. I buy a small bottle not wanting to increase my luggage load. I’m back in my hotel room at around 4:30 pm.
At 5:30 pm, I step out for a walk to Raja’s Seat to watch the sunset. It’s a beautiful sight but I’m not in a mood to take any photos. I leave after enjoying the lovely views for an hour or so. I should have worn my cap because my baby-fine flyaway hair does nothing to protect my scalp from the cold weather. I feel a slight pain where I hit my head. I stop for dinner at the Coorg Cuisinette. Dinner is fresh lime soda, lamb meat and rice rotis. The place is crowded tonight.
It’s a beautiful full moon night and also my last night in Madikeri so I take a leisurely walk around the place.
Back in my room, I note down the day’s expenses. At 11 pm, I’m off to sleep…
Coming up next: My Adventures in Coffee Land (Part III): Madikeri to Chikmagalur