Jun 6, 2010
COORG, the anglicized name for the official name Kodagu, which was originally known as Kodaimalenadu is the smallest district in the south-western end of the State of Karnataka, India and lies around 125 kms from Mangalore (about 252 kms from capital Bangalore) at the southern end of the Western Ghats. It has three taluks namely Madikeri, Somwarpet and Virajpet. Madikeri (anglicized name Mercara) is the district headquarters of Coorg which is 1525 metres above sea level.
Coorg is a rugged and hilly district, an agglomeration of small hamlets with few townships.
What strikes a first-time visitor to Coorg is probably its stunning beauty.
Madikeri has a very small city centre or shall I call it a town centre. We reached here at around 3.20 p.m. on the 29th of December after having a sumptuous lunch in Sullia (D.K.) which borders Coorg. We had booked a cottage and our hosts had come to pick us up in the town at the allotted point to lead us to our accommodation. Following them, driving in between rich and variegated vegetation, ginger crops and meadows, the distant hills looking like a necklace of emeralds, somewhere in the middle of a dense forest so to say, we finally reached our place of stay for the next three days. The setting of the place brought back memories of our cottage in the hill station of Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu where we had been in the late ninetees.
Apart from being a serene hill station, blessed with unbound natural beauty, Coorg has a lot to offer. Our itinerary being a bit tight, we zeroed down to the places we had to visit.
Translated from Kannada, it simply means ‘The Seat of the King.’ A historical monument of the 19th century, it is a square brick and mortar structure with four pillars bridged by arches towards the western end of Madikeri, with breathtaking views of the cliffs and valleys to its west. According to legend, the Kings of Coorg used to spend their evenings here with their consorts looking at the horizon and enjoying the golden light of the setting sun. The State Government has developed a garden around Raja’s seat where a sophisticated musical fountain operates to the backdrop of Kannada filmy songs. Though the fountain is very small as compared to the Brindavan Gardens at Mysore, nevertheless it was very charming with its water tuned to the multi-colour light splashing with some perfect choreography. Outside the park gate, we bought a memento for remembrance (a thing we always do when we visit a new place) to be placed in our showcase and also had the chance of savouring the spiciest of charmuris that brought back the bygone memories of bhelpuri-man Manguli at Bavuta Gudda (Light House Hill) near St. Aloysius College.
What the Kings of Coorg of yore watched, we can watch the same stunning sunset today.
Abbey Falls (also Abbi Falls):
Coorg has its own language known as “Kodavatak.” The language has no script just like our Tulu/Konkani/Beary bhasha. It is a combination of Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam with Kannada being the most influential of the three. I did not understand the logic why it was called ‘Abbey Falls’ when in Kodavatak the single word ‘Abbi’ itself means Waterfalls and not just mere ‘Water’ as it is made out to be.
The Waterfall is located between stocky coffee bushes and spice estates with trees entwined with pepper vines.
Abbey Falls is popular for their pristine waters and lush surroundings.
This scenic waterfall is located about 8 km from the town centre. The roar of the falls can be heard from the main road, from where a downward path goes through lovely coffee and cardamom plantations and leads right up to the Falls which is actually a private estate. The chirping of innumerable birds which are easier heard than seen, fill the air with sweet music. June, July and August are the months with heavy rainfall in Coorg with July being the rainiest and it is then the Abbey Falls would be roaring with all its might. But the Falls was still going great guns in December and we just imagined what it would look like in the monsoons. Though it does not have the height and splendour the Jog Falls has, it was nevertheless at its glory with the water coming down in quite a force from a precipice at a height of approx. 70 ft. During our trip to Queensland (Australia) in 2003 we had to walk downwards at least 6 kms to see the Curtis Falls in Mount Tamborine of what the guide introduced as ‘once in a life-time experience.’ Of course, it was indeed a lifetime experience to the Royal family members of Kuwait along with people of few other Gulf nations who were with us who were exclaiming and clicking right, left and centre. To our utter dismay, we could see some cluster of water flowing down without any force that we could find flowing with much vigour from the hills anywhere in India.
The Dubare forest, situated 34 kms south of the town centre on the bank of the river Cauvery along Kushalanagara- Siddapur road is an Elephant haven. Crossing the Cauvery river by a small boat to reach the camp on the other side is a thrilling experience by itself. I am from the land of the Arabian Sea, been to the Ganges, have sniffed the waters of the Pacific Ocean and now I could touch the waters of the river Cauvery!
We have to cross the Cauvery River in a small boat to reach the Dubare Elephant Camp.
The tamed elephants attend to various jobs during the day and in the evenings they come down to the river to bathe and to be scrubbed clean by their mahouts.
Dubare is an elephant-capturing and training camp of the Forest Department. Here one can simply spend hours just watching elephants. The largest land animal is captured here with the help of tamed elephants and local tribals - the Kurbas - and is held captive for upto 6 months in large teak wood cages. There are free elephant rides within the camp. As I stood there, I watched three children clustered tightly in one such ride, the mother standing near me had this to exclaim – “My children have had rides on donkeys, horses and camels. They were not fearful as they move fast and the concentration is in the front. These elephants hardly move and the childrens concentration gradually going downwards is perhaps why they look so dazed. It must be like a multi-storey building looking down, I guess.”
Bylakuppe Tibetian Settlement and Golden Temple:
Around 35 kms from the town centre, on the Mysore-Madikeri Road, near the small town of Kushalnagar there are several Tibetan settlements. The Bylakuppe area which borders Coorg and actually falls under Mysore District is home to thousands of Tibetans who escaped to India after the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959 and is apparently the second largest Tibetian settlement in India. As we entered the place, it seemed we were entering a different country altogether. One would notice one is approaching Bylakuppe when one sees the Tibetan prayer flags hanging from trees by the road. Through the huge main gate of the Namdroling Monastery, when we enter we come face to face with the living quarters of the monks. It resembled our Bishop’s House in Kodialbail architecturally, though this was far bigger and better looking in many ways.
The three statues each of 40 ft with gold cladding of Guru Padmasambhava, Buddha Shakyamuni and Amitayus look down at visitors above the Altar.
The Golden Temple is a beautiful piece of Tibetan Buddhist temple architecture and has a 62ft Buddha statue covered with gold plates. The walls are adorned with colourful paintings depicting Gods and demons from Tibetian Buddhist mythology. The Golden temple I observed, though smaller in size is as magnificent and meticulously designed when compared to the Golden temple in Bangkok, Thailand. This is the first time I interacted with the monks, though in Thailand I spotted many of them in saffron robes. The monks hardly spoke English, but were very fluent in Hindi. The Tibetian ladies were actively selling Tibetian handicrafts in the adjacent Shopping Centre. The only other time I had seen them was years ago selling printed shirts on the foot-paths of Hampankatta.
The Royal Tombs, or ‘Gaddige’ as they are also known, is just half a km north from the town centre on a hillock and thus provide a wonderful view of the whole town. Built in Indo-Sarcenic style, these monuments with domes in the centre and turrets at the angles, hold the mortal remains of the Kodava Royalty and Court Dignitaries. There are three monuments that houses tombs. The central tomb is of Doddaveerarajendra and his Queen. To the right is the tomb of Lingarajendra, built by his son Chikkaveerarajendra in 1820 AD. To the left is the tomb of the royal priests Rudrappa, build in 1834 A.D. Nearby are buried two royal officials, Biddanda Bopu who died fighting Tipu Sultan and his son Biddanda Somaiah. The Kings and the nobles of Kodagu were worshippers of Shiva. Hence the tombs are watched over by his vehicle, the Bull, Nandi. The bars of windows are made of brass have fine engravings.
This monument holds the tombs of Doddaveerarajendra and his Queen.
When we came here, the gates of the monuments were locked. Hearing the screams of the children, an elderly lady who resides in the tiled house just below, opposite to the monuments came out with the keys. She was Tulu speaking and one of the caretaker of the tombs. Behind the monuments, in the spacious area small children played cricket and as per their rules a straight hit hitting the domb was declared a ‘six.’
A Catholic Church stands right in the middle of the town centre on a hill which can be called as the ‘table top.’ Just opposite the Church, facing the valley is the Bethany Convent, founded by our own Msgr. Raymond F.C. Mascarenhas. I reckon the Bethany Convent stands on one of the most beautiful spots in Coorg with a beautiful view of the surrounding town and the valley below. My personal assessment is that in another 20-30 years if not earlier, when Coorg becomes a stronger tourist hub, the Bethany Convent would relocate inwards and a five star hotel may stand in its place.
The Madikeri Fort is just half a km from the town centre. Instead of us going to the Fort and seeing the beautiful view of Madikeri the Fort offers, we did just the opposite seeing the Fort from a distance below and enjoying its beauty. Looking very different from the Fort I had seen in Old Delhi, this was built by concrete stone. Gradually, I learnt initially this fort was built in mud and later on mud was replaced by concrete stone by Tipu Sultan. It houses a Ganesha Temple, a district prison, a small museum and some government offices.
The Omkareshwara Temple is just a km from the town centre and we had a look at its outside as we drove that way. This temple is dedicated to Lord Brahma and is one of only two temples dedicated to Brahma in India and Southeast Asia. It is built in both Islamic and Gothic style of architecture with a dome in the centre and four turrets at four corners.
That’s all we had the time for to catch up in Coorg though we had plans to visit a few more and wished to have had a couple of more days at our disposal. We had our engagements in Mangalore on New Year’s Eve and had to depart.
To describe in brief other places of interest in what I had read before going to Coorg includes Nagarahole National Park (also called as Rajiv Gandhi National Park) and Wildlife Resort which is about 96 kms from the town centre that provides the best natural habitat for different wildlife animals like tigers, bison, elephant, spotted deer, sambhar, wild boar, mongoose, panthers and many birds that I had seen only in Kannada movies during my younger days. A portion of this Park lies in Mysore District. Apart from the National Park there are three wildlife sanctuaries in the region including Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, Talakaveri Wildlife Sanctuary and Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary. Tala Cauvery is about 48 km from the town centre which is a place of natural beauty and also a pilgrimage centre. The temple here is dedicated to Lord Agastheeswara. Irpu Falls is about 85 kms from the town centre and is in the Brahmagiri hill range near Bhagamandala in Somwarpet Taluk and is located on the higway of Nagarahole National Park. Bhagamandala is on the banks of the confluence of three rivers - Cauvery, Kannike and the sub-terranian Sujyoti, popularly known as "Triveni Sangama." A short distance from the triveni sangama, there lies another temple Sri Bhagandeshwara temple, where Bhagandeshwara (Ishwara), Subramanya, Mahavishnu and Ganapati idols are installed. Cauvery Nisarghadama which is 28 km from the town centre and 3 kms from Kushalnager is an island formed by the river Cauvery and is known to spot deers, elephants and peacocks. At a distance of about 35 kms from Madikeri town, Mandalpatti Viewpoint provides breathtaking view of the nearby hills. Besides these, other attractions include Malahalli Falls, Harangi Dam, Honnamana Kere, Igguthappa Temple, Nalakunadu Palace, Dargah Sharief, Kotebetta, Chiklihole, Kakkabe, Chelvara Falls. Thadiyandamol - the Holy Tomb of Yemmemadu is one of the most sacred shrines for Muslims in Kodagu district. The list is not exhaustive.
Coorg has various options for adventure lovers too. Some of the attractions are white water rafting, trekking, biking, rock climbing, mountain hiking, golf, angling, boating, fishing, bird-watching. dirt track racing etc. Homemade wines are available in local shops across Coorg and toddy is available in the local plantations.
RESTAURANTS: There are innumerable home stays, well-furnished cottages, resorts, guest houses, lodges and hotels in Coorg that provide breakfast and dinner for a bit of an extra amount. Added to it, there are hundreds of illegal homestays as well. But if you decide to eat outside in the restaurants especially when you are travelling around, beware! Coorg has a very limited infrastructure. The restaurants are not very clean. The best ones are run by the Mangaloreans but they are a bit on the expensive side.
ROADS: Believe it or not, Coorg is not connected by either rail or air. The nearest airports are Mysore or Mangalore and the nearest Railway Station is the Mangalore to Hassan Railway line with Sakleshpur or Subramanya as the closest stations. The only train you will find here is the toy train erected near Raja’s seat built by the district administration for the enjoyment of the children. We, in Mangalore make it an issue when the Mangalore-Bangalore train extends to Cannanore (Kannur) and many a times not satisfied with the service provided by the Airport. When we compare with the less fortunate ones, we realize how blessed are we. The only way to access Coorg is by road. If Mangalore-Bangalore roads currently could be described as hell, this is definitely worse than hell. Driving on these roads and trying to avoid one pothole, you would invariably land into another which would be worse than the first with all probability. I had actually lost a count of how many times my head must have hit the roof of the Maruthi Omni. The first and foremost thing is the need to have a vehicle not only to reach Coorg but also to travel around as each and every place worth visiting is quite far off. No doubt, there are enough buses that connect Coorg, but forget about visiting around, most of the resorts are not even accessible to public transport. The vehicle you travel should have at least one spare tyre with proper tools. One of my friends who had been to Coorg from Bangalore a few months before we had been had a good opinion of the Mysore Road he had taken to reach Coorg.
CLIMATE: Coorg enjoys a moderate climate and is pleasant througout the year. The average temperature ranges from 13° C to 26° C and the coolest months are from December to February with a minimum temperature that may go below 10° C. Summers are slightly warm. If travelling in winter, it is better to carry warm clothes for it is said it gets cold during the nights in the mountains. Our experience was a bit different. Though winter, we felt it was quite warm. I am not very sure whether it was as a result of climate change for even Mangalore was boiling last December. The power went off in our cottage on our second night for a couple of hours and the fans stopped running and we felt quite hot. Of course, there was a generator that was not switched on. I am not very sure though whether it was an exception with my family or all the other families travelling with us experienced the same. The average temperature of Melbourne is much below that of Coorg and it freezes for the most part of the year. Last Thursday we got up to a chill of below 6 degrees, being winter in the opposite hemisphere. The best time to visit Coorg is from April to November.
LEECHES: If you are visiting Coorg during wet weather seasons, beware of leeches (keeping an eye on your small children) especially while walking through wet grass and in bathrooms/toilets. A couple of years ago my friend’s son who was just beginning to walk, entered the bathroom and ate a whole leech live before anyone could even take notice. If trekking when it rains, watch out for leeches as well.
The Coorg district comprises of different communities - Kodava, Tulu, Gowda, Moplah out of which the largest is the Kodava community, both economically and politically. As per the 1991 census (the ratio would not have altered much since then), Kannada is the mother tongue of 37% of the population, followed by Malayalam with 19%. The number of people who speak Coorg dialect, the language of the original inhabitants is only 16%. The number of Tulu-speaking people is 9%. Another important language spoken in the district is Tamil with 6%. Urdu, the language spoken by a section of the Muslims, is spoken by 3% of the population.
Coorg and Coorgis:
There are many things that I like about Coorg in general and Coorgis in particular which if I don’t mention here would not be doing justice to this piece of writing. It is said about the Coorgs (or Kodavas as they are locally known) are easier to love than to like. They are one of India’s finest races. The people are very warm-loving and I can vouch for it since I have known many of them since my College days. Though living in say a backward area development wise, they are cosmopolitan in their outlook and make friends easily being fun-loving and pure at heart.
Coorg is laid back with colourful scenery and is blessed with unbound natural beauty.
Coorg is still laid back and I love it. I hope it stays that way and does not lose its charm over the years. I have always loved Indian villages and the countryside here in Australia. Bit of tired with these big cities. I am a lover of coffee and a lover of nature as well. I like the Coorgy speciality of pork, spicy, cooked with vinegar that is made from wild berries. Whenever I come down to Mangalore, I often pay more visits to Vamanjoor (to savour the pork) where my wife’s maternal aunt currently resides after being in Coorg for over a quarter century.
I like the way the Coorg ladies drape their silk saree but would say it only softly for if my better-half starts wearing one in that style, I need to stand nearby assisting her catching all the the pullus until everything turns right which of course would take ‘some time.’
It is the only community to have right to own and carry gun anywhere in India, they get gun licence by virtue of being Coorgs and no other permit is required. It may come as a surprise to many that the Kodava (Coorg) language has no word for dowry and prostitution, both of which are absent among the Kodavas. Child marriages too are unheard of.
Coorgis look towards the Mangaloreans for many things. They like our cuisine. They find us very friendly (of which we are) and blending and as people they consider us many years forward to them developmentwise which they lack. It is something similar like the African nations and much of the third-world looking at India for guidance. A couple of friends of mine have married Mangalorean guys and till the last count the alliance was going great. If Mangalore in the lighter vein can be called ‘Land of the Gulfies’ for you find at least one member of a family employed in a corner of the Middle East, Coorg could be aptly called as the ‘Land of the Generals’. Almost every household has at least one person serving in the defence forces.
Looking at Coorg on a Misty Morning…
‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by American poet Robert Frost is one among my top five favourites of all times. The poem we had to memorize in our school days denotes a lot of emotion and pessimism, understandably so, with the untoward incidents that were regularly occuring in his life, on which he had no control. The inspiration I have had derived from this poem of Robert Frost, being a staunch optimist, motivated me to scribble a poem about Coorg - the optimistic way and connecting it to Mangalore. ‘As misty as a Coorg morning’ is a ‘simile’ spectacular. Mist is synonymous to Coorg like the humidity is to Mangalore.
Misty hills, lush forest …. much of the district is under cultivation: characteristically and historically, paddy fields are found on the valley floors.
It is fascinating to watch the road to Mangalore like a ‘curved ribbon’ lying in the valley.
The unbound charm of the gorgeous hillocks,
In-between, the dense lush green forests sprawl.
Of rosewood, sandalwood, teakwood and bamboos,
A habitat for creatures that fly, run, walk and crawl.
The never-ceasing plantations of coffee and tea,
And of cardamom crop that sets a world record.
Of soaring oak trees, enthralling orange groves,
Studded with paddy fields in a perfect accord.
Amidst the meandering valleys a road lies,
Like a curved ribbon to where our bond ties,
The road leads to Mangalore and that to me,
Stands tall above the stunning beauty of it all!
The misty hills are lovely, dark and deep,
Indeed! I have many promises to keep…
But in Coorg, I did not wish to sleep,
In Coorg, you can never fall asleep!
Known as the ‘Kashmir of Karnataka’ for its cool weather and natural beauty, it’s worth visiting the birthplace of the river Cauvery again and again, for I bet it would give one the same pleasure as it gives to a first time visitor.
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