Hey guys 🙂
Here’s the third part of my travelogue on my 12-day trip through the coffee land of Karnataka, India.
For first-time visitors to my blog, here are the links to the previous two parts:
Happy reading 🙂
December 18th, Madikeri/Chikmagalur
I wake at 7:30 am, a bit late as the final day is set aside exclusively for the journey to my next destination, Chikmagalur – the “coffee land” of Karnataka. After the usual breakfast of idli-vada and coffee, I go to the nearest ATM to withdraw money. On my return to the hotel, I check out the stuff displayed in the “showcase” in the reception. Local Coorg products like coffee, tea, honey, chocolates, souvenirs and… toiletries! And they also have different-size bottles of the Coorg honey that I purchased the previous day at the honey shop.
At 11:30 pm, I pay the hotel bill and ask for an auto rickshaw. The bus station is just opposite but I don’t fancy wheeling my bag along the road. The hotel attendant gets an auto rickshaw, deposits my bag in it and then I’m off to the bus station.
After waiting for fifteen minutes, my bus arrives and I get on board. The bus fare is 154 rupees for the 187 km journey. After six hours, the bus finally arrives in Chikmagalur. It’s 5:30 pm.
Located at an altitude of 1,090 metres, Chikmagalur is famous for coffee and surrounding hill stations. The evening scene is mostly of traffic and uniformed children heading home from school. A bustling town, though not large. The bus arrives at the station and I check my list of hotels in Chikmagalur. With its low tariff, Chikmagalur Golf Club looks like a good possibility. Before getting into a waiting autorickshaw, I ask for the fare. It’s 100 rupees! The other drivers hanging around tell me it’s the normal fare. The hotel is a bit far. I get into the autorickshaw. A few metres later, I ask the driver how far it is. “About three kilometres.” Oops! I tell him to stop the rickshaw. I had read good reviews on Planter’s Court, a popular hotel in the town. It’s said to be the best hotel in town, the other luxury hotels being quite far away. I assume it to be a bit expensive since its online tariff at a few travel websites was a bit high when I checked. More than 2500 rupees. “How far is Planter’s Court?” I ask the driver. “It’s very close by.” “How much will the fare be?” “25 rupees.” That’s good! I hope that I‘m able to get a room there. That’s because I had got a “rooms unavailable” status on entering my check-in date on the travel websites.
The hotel is located along the main road. At the reception desk, there’s a young girl. “We have rooms for today and tomorrow but after that the entire hotel is booked.” I take a look at the hotel tariff. Great! Room rates start from 990 to 4500 rupees. So the travel websites probably feature deluxe room rates. I ask for the economy rooms at 990 rupees plus taxes extra. A hotel attendant shows me one of the rooms. It looks good although it has two separate single beds instead of single double bed. The hotel accepts credit cards, so it’s alright. Since it’s a peak time for the hotel, I’m unable to get any discount but I make the hotel manager add a complimentary breakfast to the tariff. I ask him for hotel suggestions for the third night. He names two of them and calls up one to book a room for me. The hotel is ready to give me a 20% discount. That takes care of my third day’s stay! I book a tourist taxi for the next day to feast my eyes on the scenic beauty surrounding the town: lush green hills and valleys, waterfalls and coffee estates. All this is going to cost me 2500 rupees!
Back in my room, I discover that two of the room lights are not functioning. No problem, there are 3-4 other lights around. Bad luck, no English music channels! Worse, the flush isn’t working! I call up the reception and ask for another room. “A room with king-size bed will be okay?” Will be okay? It’s more than welcome! The next room is quite good and all the lights are working. If their economy rooms are so good, the standard and deluxe ones ought to be excellent!
At 6:30 pm, it’s dark and very cold. I ask the girl at the reception for sight-seeing recommendations. She tells me there’s a 1000 year old temple for which the autorickshaw ride will cost 50 rupees or so. She hands me a paper which has a brief road map of the town and the surrounding tourist destinations.
After waiting alongside the road for 5 minutes, I get an auto rickshaw. He says the fare is 80 rupees and I tell him 50 rupees. His last offer is 70 rupees. No way! A few minutes later, another auto rickshaw passes by. He quotes the same fare and then the same last offer. The third one that passes by starts off with 80 rupees and comes down to 60 rupees. I accept it. Like in Madikeri, in Chikmagalur too electricity is in short supply. Most areas in the small town are plunged in darkness. We leave the town limits and the road becomes desolate. Worse, there are no street lights. I change my mind about visiting the temple. I tell the driver to turn around. I check the town map. It has a M. G. Road! I tell the driver to take me there. It’s a fact that almost all the “M.G. Road” (Mahatma Gandhi Road) in Indian cities and towns are the main hubs for food, shopping and entertainment. That part of the town is experiencing a power failure too. Most of the small shops and commercial establishments are conducting their business in candlelight, others are equipped with generators. There’s not much to see as I stroll a short length of the road. I stop at a cybercafé before returning back to the hotel.
I have dinner at the hotel restaurant: sweet corn chicken soup, chicken noodles and vanilla ice-cream. At 11:00 pm, I’m off to sleep.
December 19th, Chikmagalur
The alarm rings at 6:00 am. It’s very cold. One of the windows just doesn’t shut tight. I turn on the TV. At 8:00 am, I go down to the breakfast room and have idli-vada and coffee. The tourist taxi arrives at 8:30 am. Madhu, the 20-something taxi driver, speaks no English, just a bit of broken Hindi. I sit in the front seat of the car and we start off for the first place to visit: Mullayangiri, the tallest peak of Karnataka. At 1,930 metres, it is the highest peak between the Himalayas and the Nilgiris. It’s 27 km away from Chikmagalur.
The mountain range is visible right before us on the approach road.
A drive up the hills offers a view of this scenic landscape…
The road leading up to Mullayangiri is extremely narrow at places with a couple of hairpin bends. On the way, there’s a small temple. We stop there for a while before continuing the journey to the mountain peak. To reach the highest point, you need to park your vehicle at a point and climb around 400 steps. It’s not long before we reach the car parking space. A Kannada film shooting is in progress atop the nearby hill.
Here’s a view of the 400-step staircase leading to the top of the mountain…
I start the climb, stopping in between to capture some beautiful photos of the surrounding landscape.
A bird’s eye view from halfway up the stairs:
The narrow ascent road leading to the summit…
The car parking space and the Kannada film shooting atop the hill…
There is a small temple on the top so visitors are required to leave their footwear outside before entering the place. The ground feels a bit cold but it’s fun to walk around barefoot. I enter the temple. There’s a couple inside. I sit for some time and then proceed for a stroll around. Near the temple, there’s a house (of the priest, I assume) and a government office. Walking away from it all, I’m greeted by fabulous panorama views on all sides. An indescribable experience! Lots of ravines and crevices, lush green hills… the entire place looks like a smooth green carpet! The landscape is enveloped in mist.
Watch this video: Video shot from Mullayyanagiri, the highest peak in Karnataka
Walking on the wet grass is a joyful experience and more so when you’re on top of the tallest mountain in Karnataka. I’m the only person around and the silence is enchanting. It’s just me climbing up and down on the mountain top, taking photos and resting on the ground.
After an hour or so, I climb down the steps and return to the car parking space. In the car, Madhu tells me that a Kannada actress is shooting a song sequence on the hill. I had guessed that on seeing the colourful costumes of a few girls from the film unit.
Our next stop is Dabdabe Falls. On the way, we pass many coffee estates. After twenty minutes or more we reach the Sagir Ahmed Estate. It’s a sprawling coffee estate housing the waterfall. Madhu guides me through the place. The youngster suggests a shortcut through the thick vegetation instead of the straight long path. It’s fine by me! It’s more fun walking up and down the estate than following the straight path. Along with coffee plants, there are silver oaks and other trees that I can’t recognise.
Coffee berries in full glory…
The ripe ones…
We make our way through the dense vegetation cover.
After fifteen minutes, I hear the sound of gushing water. A few minutes later, I see the lovely waterfall. A picturesque setting of a waterfall in a jungle ambience!
I’m tempted to take a shower under the waterfall. If I had known that it was possible to take a shower under this waterfall, I would have carried a towel and spare clothing. I get as close as I can to the waterfall without drenching myself completely. Blazing sun above and the water is so cold!
Watch this video: Dabdabe falls in Chikmagalur, Karnataka
I squeeze out as much water as possible from my partially soaked t-shirt. It’s so very hot that by the time we return to where the car is parked, the t-shirt dries off.
There is a small waterfall further ahead along the road but it’s nothing to talk about. We drive to Baba Budan Giri Datta Peeta which Madhu tells me is a sacred place for both Hindus and Muslims. They offer prayers in a cave-like structure on top of a mountain.
After a twenty minute drive, we are stopped by a man on the road. He tells Madhu that the road ahead is in a bad condition and undergoing repairs so we need to hire a jeep to reach the place. A few tourists seem to have done so. I see a few cars and a minibus parked alongside the road. A bad road and a 400-rupee jeep ride under the blazing sun…I’m not interested! I tell Madhu to turn back.
The next place to visit is Kemmanagundi, a hill station. It was the summer retreat of the erstwhile king of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV.
On the way, Madhu stops at a village for lunch. I tell him that I’ll have something later during the day. It’s a long road to Kemmanagundi . En route, we stop at the Kalhatti Falls. There is a small temple beyond the waterfall but to reach it you have to cross the waterfall. The place is crowded with temple devotees. I didn’t fancy getting drenched under the waterfall so I take a quick look around before returning to the car.
The road to Kemmanagundi passes through some eye-candy coffee estates, making the drive all the more enjoyable.
At around 3:00 pm, we reach the beautiful small hill station. The entire place is full of scenic views surrounded by lush green hills with spectacular views. Madhu tells me that the place attracts a large number of trekkers and wild life enthusiasts. There are plenty of trails in its mountains making it a trekker’s delight.
The place has a unique beauty and I can imagine how truly lovely it must be during the monsoons.
We drive past a government accommodation and Madhu points out a signboard showing the way to the restaurant. I tell him I’ll stop there later. We drive up the hill and reach the car parking space. The place looks quiet and lovely so I tell Madhu that I’ll return after an hour or so.
Just nearby, there’s a Rose Garden with different varieties of roses. I stroll around under the hot sun for some time before seeking refuge in a shaded pavilion. It’s quiet and peaceful with nobody in sight except for a couple of crows. I continue with my stroll. At one place, I get a particularly lovely view of the lush green hills and grasslands.
Suddenly, I feel hungry. I return to the car and find Madhu taking a nap in the car. I walk downhill to the restaurant. There are a few cottages but I don’t see anyone around. I follow the sign pointing the way to the restaurant but there’s no sign of any restaurant around. I pass a small shack. Thinking the restaurant must be somewhere ahead I keep walking. I hear footsteps and turn around to see a dog. “Stop following me!” I’m tired and very hungry. I know I shouldn’t have yelled at him like that. But he’s just a dumb dog. As if he understood what I said… that too in English! I look back to see his face. But he’s nowhere to be seen! I walk on and on hoping to find someone who can help me with the directions. I see a man and ask “Restaurant?” He says “Up” and points the way. But I have just come from there! I climb up the steps again. I don’t see any restaurant around. I ask a man standing outside the shack for the direction. He points to the shack. “Restaurant”. What the…! I passed that place three or four times! The man speaks neither English nor Hindi so he’s unable to understand what I’m saying. He calls out to another man who comes out of the shack. I want to know what’s there to eat. He speaks a bit of Hindi.” Rice with…, rice with…, bread omelette…” I order a bread omelette. I call up Madhu to tell him about my whereabouts and to get the car down the road.
There are three tables placed together with plastic chairs on one side and a concrete ledge on the other. I pull out a chair and sit. Next thing I know, the dog joins me at the table, making himself comfortable on the concrete ledge just opposite me… like we are a couple or something! Are you for real? I want to rub my eyes to check whether I’m dreaming but I’m wearing contacts. I’m sharing a table with a dog sitting on his hind legs and staring at me. Ummmm…nice eyes!
The bread omelette arrives. It looks unpalatable! The omelette is slightly burnt on one side and wrapped around two small slices of…fruit bread! I have no choice but to take a bite. It tastes pathetic! I think of leaving the place right away. I ask for the cost. “Forty rupees.” Whaaatt? Forty rupees for this thing? Might as well have another bite! I pay him and hope that he will just go away instead of lingering around while I eat. But he doesn’t. He starts questioning me in broken Hindi. “You’re travelling alone? You got a car? What car is it?” I look at the dog. He looks at me, then at the man and then back at me. I’m amazed! I mean, here’s a dog who’s sitting silently while I’m eating when it is usual for his kind to bark. And here’s a man who’s barking while I’m eating when it is usual for his kind to be silent. The man continues barking. I look at the dog. You’re welcome to the food because I’m leaving. I storm out of the place in anger and disgust. The dog isn’t interested in the food either. He follows me out of the place. But he doesn’t follow me down the steps to the road below. I guess he’s taken my angry words to heart. I reach the road and look around to find him there too. There’s no sign of Madhu or the car. I’m already fuming with anger and Madhu’s delay irritates me further. I call him again. “Where are you?” I snap at him. He’s waiting near the signboard while I’m standing ahead down the road. “Come here right away!” He does. I tell him about the man’s rude behaviour and the pathetic food. My fury makes him nervous and he forgets what little Hindi he knows. He starts babbling in his language! Great, that’s all I need!
The little of what I have eaten has left a bad taste in my mouth. I tell Madhu to stop at the nearest shop where I can have ice-cream or a cold drink. My mood changes a few minutes later when I see something in the forest along the road. “Monkey!” I squeal in delight. It’s a black monkey with white hair on his head, the sort one might find only in well-known zoos. (The next day, I googled about the monkey and discovered that it was a “lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus), or the wanderoo, an Old World monkey endemic to the Western Ghats of South India.)
After sighting the strange monkey, my mood gets back to normal. About half an hour later, we stop at a shop in a village where I have an orange drink and a banana. At 6:30 pm, we reach the hotel. The hotel manager enquires about my trip. “Excellent!” I tell him all about it, including the bad food and the rude fellow at Kemmanagundi. Madhu joins us. A little later, I retire to my room.
At 8:30 pm, I go down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. When I pass by the reception, the hotel manager asks me if I would like to continue staying for one more night in my room. I’m surprised. Isn’t the hotel fully booked for the next day? He tells me that he can arrange for my further stay. Thanks, that’s good! For dinner, I order a Manchow soup, chicken noodles and vanilla ice-cream. The soup is so very spicy that I can take only a spoonful of it. Tears start flowing down my cheeks and I guzzle down almost one litre of water. The bland noodles make me feel better.
December 20th, Chikmagalur
I wake at 6:30 am. The hot water supply usually starts at 6:30 am but the water’s still cold so I have no choice but to take a cold shower in the shivering cold weather. I enjoy it. I feel vapour rising from my head as the cold water hits my head. At 8:00 am, I have the usual breakfast. There’s plenty of noise in the hotel compound. I see a large group of about 50-60 guys dressed in a company t-shirt standing near two parked minibuses. No wonder the hotel is fully booked!
Today I’m going to visit the famous temple town of Sringeri, 79 km away. On my request, the hotel manager has enquired about the bus timings. There is a bus leaving every half an hour. Good! At 10:00 am, I take an auto rickshaw to the bus station. The bus to Sringeri is waiting at the gate. The bus fare for the two hour journey is 83 rupees. The road is very beautiful, shaded by trees on both sides.
The bus arrives in Sringeri at 1:30 pm. The temple is hardly one km from the bus station. I reach there at 1:45 pm.
Sringeri is the first matha or monastery established by the 8thcentury Hindu saint-philosopher Adi Shankaracharya. The sprawling temple complex has two prominent temples. The Sharada Temple, dedicated to the goddess of learning and wisdom, and the Vidyashankara Temple. The Vidyashankara Temple is closed when I arrive.
I visit the Sharada Temple. It is beautiful inside. The golden idol of Goddess Sharada is in the sitting posture with four hands. The upper right hand of the Goddess carries a parrot and japa mala (string of Hindu prayer beads). The upper left hand has the vessel carrying amrut(nectar). The lower left hand holds a book. The Goddess blesses the devotees with her lower right arm. The original sandalwood idol was installed by Adi Sankaracharya. It was replaced by the golden idol in the 14th century around the time of the construction of the Vidyashankara temple. The mandapa (hall) has a lot of sculptured pillars built in Tamil Nadu style of temple architecture. The temple closes shortly.
In between the Sharada temple and the Vidyashankara temple, there are lot of small temples which are closed at this hour. I’m eager to see the Vidyashankara temple so I decide to wait till it reopens at 4:30 pm.
Standing on a richly sculpted plinth, the imposing granite structure with its intricate carvings is shaped like a chariot with a majestic gold cupola soaring in the sky. This temple is an architectural marvel, an exhibition of the astronomical expertise of medieval south Indian temple builders. It has six doorways. The niches in the temple have a number of sculptures from Hindu, Buddhist and Jain mythologies.
The Tungabhadra River flows past the temple. It’s a long wait in the blistering heat. I buy the temple prasad of 50 rupees. It includes four small blocks of coconut sweets. I quickly finish off three of them. Not knowing what to do, I stroll outside the complex and find a cybercafé. I spend an hour there. It is 3:30 pm and blazing hot. Having eaten so much of sugary sweets, I feel the urge to eat something very spicy. I see a small restaurant and walk in. They are serving lunch dishes so I end up having two cold vadas and coke. I enter the temple complex again. At 4:00 pm the Sharada Temple reopens. I visit it once again. Finally, the Vidyashankara Temple reopens at 4:30 pm.
Inside the temple, on the floor, a circle is drawn with lines corresponding to the shadows cast by each pillar. The main shrine has a Shiva Linga over the Samadhi (resting place) of Sri Vidyashankara, the famous pontiff of this monastery. It is known as Vidya Shankara Linga. The other two shrines are of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Durga. The mandapa has twelve sculpted pillars, each representing a sign of the zodiac. They are constructed in such an ingenious way that the rays of the sun fall on each pillar in the chronological order of the twelve months of the Hindu calendar.
I sit on the cold floor (a respite from the heat outside!) for some time. At a little past five, I leave the temple complex for the bus station. I get the 5:30 pm bus to Chikmagalur which reaches the town at around 7:30 pm. Back at my hotel, I have a dinner of sweet corn chicken soup, chicken noodles and vanilla ice-cream. It’s my last night in Chikmagalur!
Coming up next: My Adventures in Coffee Land (Part IV): Chikmagalur to Udupi