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Here’s the second part… happy reading 🙂
December 15th, Mangalore/ Madikeri
I wake up at 5:30 am and turn 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 the local language or maybe Kannada so I’m unable to understand a word of it. I make enquiries for the bus to Madikeri and find it waiting at the gate. I 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. Thankfully, the bus stops for a short break at a small roadside restaurant. I have a quick breakfast 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, also called as Kashmir of Karnataka. Coorg is a wonderful place with forests, coffee estates, hill stations, falls, 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 far away from the town centre. I’m looking for a budget accommodation. I check my list of hotels in Madikeri. I enquire about the location of a few hotels at a nearby shop and I’m told that they are a bit far. I zero upon one hotel and get into an auto rickshaw. A very short distance away, the driver points out to a hotel which he says is good. It features in my list and looks good. Besides, it’s conveniently located in the town centre. 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 good to me. “The room has just been checked out and needs to be cleaned,” the attendant tells me. “I’ll wait,” I tell him.
I soon discover that Hotel Cauvery is not only the best budget place to stay in but also great value for money. I get the room at Rs.700 including taxes after a whopping discount of 35%! The hotel doesn’t accept credit cards, only cash payment but there’s an ATM just opposite the road so it’s no 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.
My room is ready. I check it to see if everything’s fine – it is! I turn on the TV. After a bit of channel-surfing I’m happy to find both the English music channels – 9XO and Vh1. “Good,” I tell the waiting attendant. I soon discover that electricity is in short supply around here and you can never be sure when it will go off and when it will come back on again. But my hotel is equipped with a generator so within a few minutes, the power comes back.
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 with 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 into the place.
It’s a quick meal since the taxi is waiting and time is running short for the tour. 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. We leave the footwear inside the car and walk towards it. 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 we 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, the 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 beside. The water from the pond goes underground and comes out after about one kilometre down the hill.
Photography of the spring is not permitted. There are some small temples in the compound. We climb further up. Steps lead up to the top of the hill. Since footwear is not allowed inside the complex, we have left it inside the car. So it means climbing about 300 steps bare feet to the top. 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. The car stops for me to climb out and throw up. I feel better thereafter.
It’s 6:20 pm when we reach the place. It’s dark as we walk down the path inside the coffee plantation. I try hard to get a good photo but it’s too dark so I finally get one in night mode.
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 we 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 we 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 wake up to call the tourist taxi owner on his cell phone and tell him to postpone the day’s tour for the next day. I’m not ready for another day-long road journey. A bit worried, he inquires after my health. I tell him that I plan 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. It’s a friendly, relaxed little town with shops everywhere, most of them 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.
I pass by the bus station and see 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. There’s a girl inside. She greets me with a smile and then apologizes when I ask her about ATV rides. Bookings for it start from next week. Thanks, no problem! She helps me find a place where I can get pure Coorg honey. I reach the “Coorg Progressive Bee-keeper’s Co-operative Society, Ltd.” shop and find it 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 back 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!
Seeing my interest, the shopkeeper opens each and every jar of different 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 different locally grown herbs catches my fancy. The shopkeeper tells me that I’m supposed to pour hot coconut oil in it which is to be retained for 2 days and then drained into an empty bottle. It 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 thinning hair 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!
I have a pizza and a chocolate pastry at the neighbouring café before venturing out in the heat again. There’s a souvenir shop further ahead. I walk in. Thankfully, I see a few caps on display. I buy one of them along with two nice-looking bags. I look around for a cybercafé and spend some time there before returning to my hotel at around 2 pm.
At 5 pm I head out for Raja’s Seat to catch the sunset. On the way, I shop for green tea and spiced cashews at a shop. At Raja’s Seat, I see lots of people, both tourists and local, gathered around to view the sun descending to set far away beyond the hills. Most people have assembled at the crowded amphitheatre to take group photos. Others are waiting with cameras in hand ready to capture the spectacular sunset. I’m one of them!
The panoramic view of the green valleys below Madikeri and the far-stretching blue mountains are 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 scene…
There’s a lot of excitement on the Toy Train next to the garden. Compared to the previous night’s mild weather, it is very cold today. Back in my room, I tell the room boy to get me a sweet corn chicken soup from the restaurant.
December 17th, Madikeri
I wake up at 5:30 am to find the power off. I call out for attention but nobody is around. I go back to bed and wake up an hour later. Still 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 taxi which is expected to arrive at 8:30am. A guy hears me and I tell him the problem. The problem is fixed and the power is restored. As usual, I turn on the TV. One of my favourite latest English songs is playing. At 8:30 am, after having my “idli-vada and coffee” breakfast, I’m ready for the taxi. It comes 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 around the places. I sit in the front seat 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. During the drive, I tell Kumar about my desire 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 and riding an ATV seems like 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 me 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 tell 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 adrenalin 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. He sounds a bit like a middle-aged man gently scolding an errant child.
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.
Monks in their unmistakable maroon-yellow robes are seen 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. Buddha around 60 feet tall holds prominent place, flanked by Guru Padmasambhava and Amitayush (each around 58 feet tall).
The walls of the temples and the institutions are decorated with colourful paintings depicting gods and demons from Tibetan Buddhist mythology.
There are several stalls selling Tibetan items inside the temple complex as well as curio shops outside the monastery.
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 a bit till I see a small restaurant serving Tibetan food. I walk inside. It’s a small family-run place. It takes around forty minutes for my chicken momos to arrive. They are delicious! I return to the car and find Kumar having a siesta.
The next stop is Cauvery Nisargadama, a nature park through which flows the river Cauvery. There are several shops near the car parking space. I buy an ice-cream and a packet of tapioca chips. The entrance fee is Rs.10. I cross a suspension bridge (a footbridge) to enter the park. It’s an island formed by the river Cauvery. A nice peaceful place with natural beauty and beautifully dotted with clusters of bamboos. 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 few good shots of the scenic place. Unfortunately, a couple of youngsters enter my camera frame. I wait for a few minutes hoping they will move away but they don’t. I turn back and at that moment 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 mustn’t be a serious injury. I gently massage my head. I feel some pain but it is bearable compared to the mental pain of remembering the sound and wondering if my head has suffered any internal injury. I 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 see a rabbit farm before returning back to the car. 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, turn on the TV and lay on the bed, listening to English songs.
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. It’s around 4:30 pm when I walk into my room.
At 5:30 pm, I head out to watch the sunset at Raja’s Seat. It’s a beautiful scene but I’m not in a mood to take any photos. After spending more than an hour enjoying the lovely views, I set out to leave. I should have worn my cap. My baby-fine flyaway hair type does nothing to protect my scalp from the cold weather. I feel a bit of pain in the area where I hit my head. I stop for dinner at the Coorg Cuisinette. I have fresh lime soda, lamb meat and rice rotis. The place is crowded tonight.
It’s a lovely full moon night so I take a leisurely walk around the town. It’s also my last night in Madikeri!
Back in my room, I note down the day’s expenses. At 11 pm, I go off to sleep.
Coming up next: My Adventures in Coffee Land (Part III): Madikeri to Chikmagalur