Visiting Kodagu, the coffee country

The picturesque Abbey Falls is 8km from Madikeri, the principal town of Kodagu. Picture: Courtesy of Aftab H Kola

Sunday, February 28, 2010

TO BORROW from Will Smith in "Hitch" — life is to be remembered by the moments that take your breath away. And such moments are in plenty if you are in Coorg or "Kodagu" (meaning peaks), known for coffee and spices.

Incredibly beautiful the place comes alive in a sweep of lush landscapes and postcard pretty scenery.

The first time I visited Kodagu (south India) when I was small I instantly fell in love with it. I can vouch any one would.

My second uncle and now second cousin's 400 acres of coffee and spice plantations beckon me every time I go to India for my annual vacation. Serene, cool and beautiful — with lovely walkways, whiff of fresh coffee, and old buildings Kodagu has an indescribable charm that holds people when they come in, and they find it difficult to leave.

I had to because my cousins were preparing to receive guests for the homestay package which they started two years ago.

Kodagu is blessed with a unique variety of plants and animals. Sobriqueted as "Scotland of India", the region is a veritable botanists' paradise with more than 1,300 species of plants spread over 700 genera and 160 families, of which majority have been used in the ayurveda and the siddha system of medicine.

Kodagu's capital Madikere, or Mercara, is the base to explore the hidden gem of south India. Perched on a series of ridges, the charming capital sits in the very heart of this coffee-growing district. As you approach Mercara driving from Mysore, 125km west of it, you can gaze around the expansive coffee plantations and tall silver oak trees meandering through the narrow road.

After sipping freshly brewed coffee and south-Indian tiffin (snacks) for breakfast we set to explore the Sandalkad estate, of which HoneyPot Homes have come up with tastefully done villas. Faisal and Shamveel, my second cousins, have inherited the legacy of their great-grandfather, horned us to come out and when we came out that early morning we felt out of this world. It was a splendid spectacle especially to people like us who dwelled in cities starved of green spaces. All I heard were the silver oaks and coffee branches creaking in the hill breeze and, the tweeting of the birds.

Kodagu is generally pleasant throughout the year. At an elevation of about 1,600 metre above sea level, the summer is cool, the monsoon rains are heavy (upwards of 100 inches rain annually), and the winter (November to January) gets quite chilly. After a few minutes drive we all agreed to amble around the estate. Tall silver oaks were swathed in the green pepper creeper and coffee bushes played at our ankles. The morning walk amidst the rich fragrance of coffee plants and a cool mist is enough to distress you.

For the first time in my life I saw and tasted vanilla and was also amused to see the cardamom plants. The HoneyPots arranges plantation tours not only for its inhouse guests but also for those tourists who are put up in different resorts and hotels in the district.

In the afternoon we set to the Dubare elephant camp set just across a gurgling stream. Either we can cross the stream by hopping on the series of rocks protruding out in the stream or take a boat. Here one can enjoy the elephant rides and if you are scared to board the heavy animal you can feed them with coconuts and papayas which are for sale. This picturesque place is home to resorts belonging to famous Jungle Lodges owned by the Government of Karnataka.

While in Mercara, few places should not be skipped — the picturesque Abbey Falls, 8kms from the Mercara town and the Rajah Gate, once a favourite spot of rajas, overlooking the expanse of the mist-enveloped blue hills and valleys with verdant fields. History tells us that the rajas savoured sitting here every evening relishing the sunset and beauty of Kodagu. The area around Raja's Seat has been developed into a public garden with a mini train.

Another must-see is the Cauvery Nisargadhama, a spectacular emerald green meandering riverine island, carved by the river Cauvery just as it reaches the plains. Distinctive features of the island are the shady meandering footpath all around, offering quiet solitary walks and a hanging bridge.

If you are historically inclined there is the Madikere fort which was initially built of mud, only to be replaced later by a stronger one in stone by the celebrated freedom fighter Tipu Sultan, who ruled for a brief period over this region in the later part of the 18th century.

Situated near the Kushalnagar in North Kodagu, Harangi Reservoir is worth a visit for its surreal landscape.

There are also religious places like the Omkareswar temple in Mercara and a grand Tibetan monastery at Kushalnagar. Also, it is important to take a stroll in downtown Mercara and buy some fresh coffee and spices.

And if you just want top skip the regular sights just relax with a book on the balcony or the porch of the villa or the tree house at Honeypot and contemplate nature. It is a heaven on earth.

The Brunei Times