Cool Coorg

A light and intermittent rain started on the second day of our arrival. Even through rains, clear rays of peeping sun among flitting clouds created a mistily magical ambiance in this uncluttered hill station. We were in ‘Madikeri’, the district head quarter of Coorg or ‘Kodagu’. People often compare Coorg with Scottish highlands but to me Madikeri seemed to be more near to Wales, almost akin to its romantic hill town ‘Chepstow’. Refracted sun rays through colour stained glasses of Gothic windows of the Anglican Church, within the 19th century Madikeri Fort, reminded me of the unforgettable view of the slanting sun through the tracery of medieval Norman castle ‘Striguil’ in Chepstow. Of course there were dissimilarities too. Most glaring among them was the unavailability of crispy and tantalizingly tasteful ‘fish & chips’ in Madikeri which were omnipresent in any beer pub of Chepstow!

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Madikeri, at around 1500 meter altitude in Sahayadri or Western Ghats, was a picturesque hill town with a Palace inside the Madikeri Fort. The Fort has been converted into the Deputy Commissioners office and much of it being kept out of bound for tourists. Other places of interest were Omkareshvar temple, Raja’s tomb, Raja’s seat and Abbey falls. Omkareshvar temple was a ‘Shiva’ temple with an unusual mix of Islamic and Gothic styles of architecture. Raja’s seat was a view point from where mind blowing sunsets could be watched. The legend goes that Kodagu kings used to spend their evenings in this scenic spot. It was somewhat like ‘Tagore Hill’ in Ranchi but more spectacular and clean. The neatness all around was unlike any desi hill station. One more unique thing in Madikeri was kind of statues put on traffic islands. Instead of politicians there were warriors including a retired ‘Field Marshal’ of Indian army. What a welcome change in spectacle! Kodavas were believed (but also hotly debated) to be the descendants of the soldiers of Alexander the Great who invaded India in 327 B.C. The soldiers married into the local population and migrated along the coast. These fiercely independent clans maintained a separate identity, and were never fully conquered either by Tipu Sultan or by the British. All Kodavas retain the privilege of carrying firearms without a license. The traditional dress for Kodava men include the Peechekathi (a Khanjar type big knife) worn on top of kupya (wraparound robe) and hung around the chele (shawl) at the waist. Kodava men from Coorg have also richly contributed to the Indian Army notable among them being Field Marshal K.M.Cariappa and General K.S.Thimaya. Martial or non martial but they have succeeded to keep their habitats spotlessly clean and beautiful. Standing on the Stewart Hill and looking down the valley straggled with rain soaked roads of Madikeri one gets the feeling of looking at Jamini Roy’s paintings of beautiful ladies clothed on wet saris.

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On the morning of the third day we decided to move on further deep within the Coorg. There were many ‘Home stay’ arrangements available in the hills and plantations of Kodagu. We obtained some contacts and ultimately zeroed on a Cardamom, Pepper and Coffee plantation called “Honey valley.” It was a 42 Km drive from Madikeri and very close to the highest peak on the Western Ghat locally known as “Thadiyandamole”. The place was adjacent to the Kerala border and owned by Mr.Suresh Chengappa, an ex-tester and consultant for TATA’s coffee plantations in Coorg. The ‘Home Stay’ was jointly run by Suresh and his able wife Susheela. Suresh and I had a telephonic talk in the afternoon and he briefed the local driver of our rented car about the exact point in the hills where we would be disembarked. A decade back there was a skeletal cell phone service available even in metro cities in India; hence expecting the same in hills and jungles of Coorg was simply unimaginable. Therefore a lot depended on the understanding of the driver of our rented Ambassador! It was ultimately in the late evening that we could actually start for the Honey Valley. In no time we were out of the small town of Madikeri and surrounding us from all three sides was endless darkness The road along side hills and jungles in the front was only visible because of glowing headlamps of the car. Almost after half an hour we realized that ours was the only car traveling through the road as neither a single vehicle passed from the opposite nor any other followed us from behind! A short but sharp debate immediately ensued between my wife and me on my impulsive adventurism. But looking at such a pitched darkness, at the back of our speeding car, my little son, turned speechless. Even at that moment my wife did not fail to seize the opportunity for uttering the final word, as always! “Before setting off we should have at least informed our parents back home so that our bodies would have been found for a proper last rite”, was her valued comment! Meanwhile the car screeched to a halt and the driver announced that we have reached the destined point. Looking outside the car we could not make any sense of that announcement. In the headlight of the car we could see a deep gorge on our left and a steep hill covered with thick jungle on the right. The rest was under the blanket of all pervasive darkness. By what divine understanding he could make out this destination? Nobody dared venturing out of the car. The driver grew impatient and informed that on phone Mr. Suresh has told him to drop us exactly at this turn of the road and a jeep would be sent by him to pick us up from here. The jeep would flash its head lamps thrice from the hills on our right as soon as it reached. He wanted us to get down and pay him off as he was to go all the way back and was getting late. We simply refused to let him go. Finally it was decided that we would wait for another fifteen minutes and if there was no jeep in sight we would all go back to Madikeri! The time was ticking out and the silence was never so profound. All of a sudden, as if straight out of a bad horror movie, a pair of head lamps lit up the jungle on our right. Once, twice and thrice! Our driver immediately responded and in the glow of car head lamps we could spot a lean but steely and weather beaten man slowly crossing the road to reach us.

Neither could we understand the language of the steely man nor could he fathom our intentions by hearing us. Only one word “Chengappa” created the required bond and with the abundant use of sign language our luggage was loaded at the back of the jeep. The jeep started moving upwards as soon as we boarded. But where was the road? Among thick foliage the ‘road’ was strewn with pebbles and boulders of stone. Trying to drive through the precipitous cliff gave us a feeling of scaling a high wall on foot! The jeep was making boisterous noise and kept on skidding downwards almost on alternate attempts. Seated at the back of the jeep and clutching our luggage with both hands, I started mentally solving the sum of a climbing monkey on an oily bamboo pole, learnt in the primary school!

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To our utter amazement and delight we could spot beads and rays of light from some distance. The jeep finally stopped after reaching the source of the light and we were greeted on arrival by an amiable gentleman accompanied by a sonorous bark of a huge hound chained in a wooden cage. The gentleman was none other than Mr. Suresh Chengappa himself. Suresh was soon joined by his wife Susheela and daughter Savitha who took us inside the bungalow where the Chengappa family also live. A large room in the corner, just after entering the house and crossing its spacious front balcony, was kept ready for us. The arrangements were simple but perfect. We were told that this ground floor room was normally kept for an old Swiss lady who spends three months with the Chengappa family in every year. Arrangements for guests were also available on the upper floor of the house and in other cottages on various steps in the hill. The required electricity for the place was generated through a small wheel turbine donated by the Swiss lady.

After a while we were introduced to traditional coorgi cuisines during dinner cooked by Susheela herself. The dinner was novel, tasty and fulfilling. Suresh suggested spending some time on the front balcony before retiring for sleep. He already arranged to keep some chairs over there and stayed with us throughout. There was a light drizzle and a cool breeze carried invigorating scents which were very alien to urban sensory organs but truly helped us to unwind. Our views were however restricted to the immediate vicinity enlightened by a dimmed bulb and beyond that stood a huge monolith of darkness. As if the world ended there. The serene ambience prompted me to play a cassette of Bengali songs we were carrying. Soon the melodious and inimitable voice of Manna De resonated within the forest and hills of Kodagu. The time stood still.

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Next morning we discovered that the bungalow was actually on the top of a table-top mountain. Fresh sun light flooded the area. The huge dark monolith of last night has magically turned into a large mountain range cloaked under charming verdure with a beryl sky providing an excellent backdrop. I virtually ran down few steps from the balcony but could cover only a little ground as very soon I was standing on the edge of the table-top! A big chasm separated the table-top mountain from the huge monolithic range. In fact it was not a chasm but an abyss. So huge it was! On the edge of the table-top mountain a lone ‘Fish tail’ palm tree, of unusually large proportion, stood still. As if a lone sentry standing to guard against accidental falls from the table top. The entire panorama was mindboggling. I had to forcibly detach myself from the magnetic pull of the deep gorge and the majestic mountain range. But once I looked around the scenic beauty all over was equally amazing. Lush green valleys, blooming coffee plantations, wild black peppers and colourful flowers made me ponder whether this was the prototype for “Nandankanan”. Chirping birds all around added another dimension. Nature was at its best.

We met Sharath, the energetic son of Suresh on the breakfast table. He was excited about the family based Hockey tournament to begin on the day. He was also participating in the tournament and representing the ‘Chengappa’ surname. This ‘one of its kind’ hockey tournament was played among teams, members of whom must belong to a family having same surname. Every player, even women, must participate in full hockey attire. We were told that the tournament was very popular with hundreds of families participating and this has even featured in the Guinness Book of Records! It was no wonder that Coorg, the smallest district in Karnataka, has produced a number of hockey Olympians for India including names like M.P. Ganesh, B.P. Govinda, A.B. Subbaiah and M.M. Somaiya. Sharath handed over a few English magazines and a coffee table book to me from the mini library neatly kept in the living room. One of the magazines did have an article on the family based hockey tournament and the beautiful coffee table book, with a number of exquisite photographs, tried to forge a link between Coorgis and the Greeks. The mini library did have a good collection of reference books on nature and many issues of ‘National Geographic’ including the latest one! But the most satisfying was discovering an English translation of Tagore’s ‘Geetanjali’ and reading the same in that extraordinarily serene environment.

We had lunch together with the Chengappa family. It was like visiting old friends after a long time and having lunch while discussing respective lives lived apart. Susheela was particularly interested in Bengali customs and lifestyles. We also came to know a lot about life in Coorg. Kodavas have a unique culture and tradition unlike other communities in southern India. Though they are Hindus, but Kodavas do not have Brahmin priests in ceremonies like wedding. They also do not indulge in dowry system. The elders of the community help in organizing the ceremonies and invitations are made in their names. Apart from Kodavas, other communities in Coorg are Tulu, Gowdas and Moplahs.

Our trekking started in the shadows of silver oaks and amidst scarlet poinsettias with its small yellow flowers in full bloom. Misty hills laced with lush forest were too inviting to ignore. Acres and acres of coffee plantation set in verdant valleys were waiting to be traversed through. Suresh was accompanying us. We noticed a few impressive looking eagles were circling over the hills. Suresh informed that these were known as ‘Crested Hawk-eagle’. Assemblage of both herbivores and carnivores resulted in a high density of prey in this region and eagles were on their look out. Nature has its own ruthless way of maintaining balance!

We decided first to climb the nearest peak to peek into Kerala’s landscape on the other side! Thereafter we thought we would visit another hut within the dense forest which was also maintained by the “Honey valley” management. Suresh told us that very basic amenities only were available in that cottage with no electricity and boarding arrangements. An Anglo-German couple was living there for a considerable period of time and they visited “Honey valley” only when fresh quota of ration was to be collected. They cook their own food, pick up fruits from the forest and live in the nature. After a lot of forced and unforced breaks when we reached the peak of the mountain the sun was about to set. Suresh informed that we would have to abandon the plan for meeting the couple in the jungle and hurry back home before complete darkness sets in as he did not bring the torch and we were in the tiger territory. The last piece of information made us scamper back to the base! As luck would have it, when we reached the bungalow the couple was waiting for Suresh. They had come to collect their weekly ration. Seated in the balcony we all had Coorg coffee flavored with chicory. The German lady was a software programmer and a frequent traveler to India while the British lad from Brighton was a mason and it was his first visit to India. They met each other in Varanasi a month back. They left the bungalow for their cottage soon after.

The return journeys, as always, make the heart heavy. This time my heart did put on a lot of weight. We decided to leave for Bangalore via a detour of ‘Talacauvery’. So we started very early on the next morning. Talacauvery, the source of the river Cauvery in the south was draped in a mystical legend. Unlike other rivers, the Cauvery, as the legend goes, originated from a cloud burst over the hill of ‘Brahmagiri’ and the resultant rain drops collected in the pond over the hill known as ‘Kundike’ formed the source of the great river! After scaling almost 300 steps we reached the pond over the Brahmagiri hill. The view from the top of the hill was truly breathtaking. There was a ‘Shiva Linga’ said to have been installed by the great sage ‘Agasthaya’ during his legendary sojourn down south. When we reached the site of the pond we found it almost dry. A few drops of water were trickling down in a corner where a lot of pilgrims thronged. We were told by the local ‘Pujari’ that on an auspicious day in the month of October, every year, a sudden upsurge of water in the ‘Kundike’ appears and the pond starts getting overflowed. And perhaps the journey of Mother Cauvery resumes!

On our way back to Bangalore when hills and valleys of Coorg were getting frozen through the glass frame of the rear windscreen of our speeding car, I was busy in noting down the only sentence learnt in Coorgi language with great difficulty. The sentence, I was told, was in great praise for the amazing land called “Coorg”.

“Kodagu ogona raja setannu nodonna or korona…” With tears in my eyes, I did not look back.

40 Comments

  • Uday says:

    Awesome! This is vintage stuff, from your old travel diary! Keep opening up new leaves, dust them off and bring out more jewels!

    • Abhijit says:

      Thank you Uday. As you know it was a reconstruction of a nine year old unfinished Bengali manuscript . Homo sapiens normally take nine months to see the light, it took nine years !

  • Arun says:

    Nice story. Have been to Thadiyandamol a couple of times and have heard quite a bit about Honey Valley, but havent managed to go there yet.

    • Abhijit says:

      I visited the place only once, that also long back, but it left an indelible imprint on me………

  • Partha Pratim Chaudhury says:

    Fabulous. Did she de-valued her comments after a splendid handshake with nature. Keep on posting such things – even if after nine years. Better late than never.

  • RAJESH KAUL says:

    Excellent article and detailed description really makes you feel asif you are there !!!!

  • Manish Kumar says:

    ???? ????? ??? ???? ?? ?????? ?????…
    ???? ????? ??? ???? ?? ?????? ?????… ??? ?? ???? ???? ??? ?? ???? ????? , ????? ?? ?? ?????? ??? ? ??? ???? ?? ???? ??? ??? ???????? ????? ?????? ???

    • Abhijit says:

      Manish ji if it rekindled your old memories of Pokhra then that is my pleasure. We, ‘Ghumakkads’ are all bound by the same bond of simple but unforgettable pleasures of travel….

  • Dada you are on right path!

    I would like to see, you are writing a travel book on all places you have travelled as you are Ghummakad and this should be continued.

    with best wishes
    Birendra singh

    • Abhijit says:

      Thank you for your kind words. The desire to share was always there…may be the time has come now. You never know…

  • Ram says:

    Abhijit Da,

    Your beautifully descriptive post on Coorg sent me treading down the memory lane.

    I had learnt about Coorg from Sheila, a Coorgi girl, who got married to a Punjabi friend, Manmohan. As usual in those days, a South Indian girl adjusting in a Punju family was not a very easy proposition. Somehow, she felt at home in confiding with me and through little bit of counselling, I was of some assistance to the family. Days passed and the couple along with their two daughters migrated to Norway. Then our interaction was mainly restricted to once a while phone calls or their yearly visits. With the two girls growing and the cultural changes over the period, their visits to India were further reduced. Then one day, I bumped into Mohans younger brother, who told me about the demise of Sheila, which shattered Mohan and he too departed soon.

    Sheilas father was an IAS officer stationed at Coorg and she used to tell me some wonderful tales about the region, the coffee and tea plantations and the rare scenic beauty. I always wanted to visit Coorg, but somehow couldnt make it.

    Your post has created an urge to go there soonest.

    Needless to say that your next post will be eagerly awaited.

    p.s. If feasible, kindly enlarge the size of thumbnail pictures inserted in the write up.

    • Abhijit says:

      Dear Ram,

      Your account was very touching. Please fulfill the wish of visiting your friends land and pray for the departed souls in the divine serenity of Kodagu hills.

      With very best wishes,

      Abhijit.

      P.S. Perhaps Nandan Jha has tried to increase the size of photos but was not successful with some of them. Still I forward your request to Jha ji aur keya .

  • Patrick Jones says:

    The lengthy paragraphs did initially deter me from diving into the post but once I overcame that (probably due to my association with Wales but I didnt grow a fascination to fish&chips!), it was smooth sail.

    Coorg is a place Ive heard of since childhood. Your beautiful narration brought the hills and the dark forests alive.

    • Abhijit says:

      Thanks Patrick for your patience. I am a fish addict since childhood , incidentally the best Fish & chips, till date, I had in Scotland not in Wales!!

  • nandanjha says:

    You do it again. Though I have heard about Coorg many times, my images were mostly limited to a land with vast green stretches of coffee plantations. Coorg Tourism owes you a big one for writing such a wonderful account. Super.

    As for pics, if I make them big they pixel-ate (break, blown-out).

    Anyone from that side would want to translate “Kodagu ogona raja setannu nodonna or korona” ?

  • kumkum says:

    Dada, thank you, nice read. Must see the other photos.

    I agree with Patrick, the paragraphs are a little chunky. May be you should divide them and give small sub-heads. That’ll make it easier to read.

    KumKum

  • Mini Sarin says:

    Beautiful Pictures! I always wanted to visit Coorg when I was staying in Bangalore. In fact we had even won a stay at Mahindra Resort in Coorg but due to time constraints we could not visit.

    Mini.

    • Abhijit says:

      Unknown beauties are mysterious too. Let Coorg remain mysterious to you for some more time….!

  • Debjani says:

    Dada
    Marvellous article. After going through this descriptive story it seems we have been to “COORG”. Thanks for giving us an oppurtunity to enjoy the beauties of COORG without moving an inch .

  • Shoma Mittra says:

    Fantastic write Mukherjeeda……

    Brought back our own memories of Kabini, Coorg and Orange County. I really enjoy the history behind the places which you use so effectively in your travel writings.

  • Vinod Durga says:

    wonderful…I have been to Coorg couple of times and always had the urge to explore it a little more. This article has just added into it.

    Kodagu ogona raja setannu nodonna or korona stands for “we will go to coorg and we wil see Raja Seat or sit on that seat”. “Raja Seat” is small park with scenic views, with a toy train for kids.

    • Abhijit says:

      Thanks Durga for explaining the meaning …I kept the note all these years and really wanted to know what it stands for. Thanks again.

  • nandanjha says:

    Vinod Durga – Are you the same Vinod Durga who I know. If yes then I am mightily impressed by your knowledge of Kannada or is it Priti who did the translation ?

    • Vinod says:

      This sentence is in Tullu, the native language of Medikeri. Konkani and Kannada are second and third popular languages in Coorg. But one can survive very well with Hindi/English in the city; one might feel little less privileged when it comes to shopping in local market area though. Medikeri is famous for pepper, clove and Vanila plantation. Honey and home made wines are other options to shop. Wheat, paddy, mulberry, gooseberry, grape, pineapple strawberry, ginger, bettle leaf wines ( n lot more..) are available in Rs.180-220 a bottle and trust me, these wines are good! (all these are pure vegetarian (made out of vegetables only!) drinks :) )

      “Kannada gotilava” (don’t know Kannada) is what I know when it’s come to Kannada. :). Preethi helped us here. And yes, it’s me!!!

      • Neethu Bopanna says:

        Hi Vinod, your comment was good, one thing I want to clear is that, Tullu is not the native language of coorg, its coorgi language (which is different from tullu).

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Abhijitda,

    The beautiful account of your trip made my eye wet with joy. Its a classic description of the trip. I must confess that it is one of the best travelogue I have read in recent times.

    Your writing style / way of describing your visit has make me a big fan of yours. I am looking forward to read more and more from you. After http://www.ghumakkar.com/2009/03/31/sundarai-sekhawati/, this is another jewel from you. I am giving the link as well, as I am sure after reading it many will like to click here to read the other story of yours.

    I read Patrick’s comment and it reminded me of one of my friend telling the same to me that on blogs smaller paragraphs should be used. The same paragraphs that look perfect in a book, looks very big on the blogs. Though for me, the rhythm was formed right at the beginning para and it was a pleasure going through every part of it.

    Keep on writing Abhijitda …

    • Abhijit says:

      Manish,

      The emotional pleasure generated by this post is God’s gift. Truly. I’m just a medium. I’m happy that even after four months , discerning readers like you are finding time to delve into it.

      Mundane activities take so much of my life’s given duration that nowdays I can not even read “Ghumakkad” regularly,let alone writing for it. But yes I have plans to share many a thing.

      Best wishes for the way you are writing now a days…in fact today , I opened the site to find out whether any more post is there from you or not !

      Abhijit da.

  • kiran kumar says:

    hi sir… i have a doubt… wat do they say or hwo will they spell ” I LOVE YOU” in kodava langauge

  • Jatinder Sethi says:

    I Sincerely believe that it is a great idea for ghumakkar to revive the old posts,off & on for irregular readers like me to know the beauty of our country. These posts of ghumakkar never get “dated’, because they are beautifully written, And Abhijit is always fresh about his posts.It reminded me of our own trip to Coorg,in our Herald with two little kids,in 1975.I had a young friend,Cariappa,from there.who worked with me at OBM,Bombay. He now owns coffee plantation in Australia..I vaguely remember having visited the origin of River Kaveri(?) on that trip..
    Thanks ghumakkar

    • Abhijit Mukhopadhyay says:

      Thanks Jatinder ji…hope you continue to travel and enjoy the beauty of our Mother Earth.

  • Subhendu P. Chakravarti says:

    Just finished reading your travelogue. I am at a loss to classify it as a prose or a poetry. Its language is so sonorous, I prefer it to be classified as Poetry, somewhat resembling that of Wordsworth.

    I wish, more photographs and that too larger sized must have accompanied it. I also lament that I do not have much time and energy left to recreate the travel as within three days I shall be 73. Moreover, I am suffering from osteoporosis of one of my knees and so find it difficult to walk freely. I also lament why I did not read your poetry 8 years ago when you first posted it and at that time I was fit for this journey. Of course, during those days I traveled to Amarnath, Muktinath, Manimahesh etc.

    • Abhijit Mukhopadhyay says:

      Subhendu Da, I’m literally floored by your kind praise…hope I don’t get spoiled ! I also regularly write for an elite Bengali Magazine called ” HARKARA” which is published from Delhi. My Bengali travelogues are also published in “SANANDA” and “DESH” Patrika from Kolkata time to time. An article based on my travel in Argentina is going to be published in DESH next month. Hope you will equally enjoy it after reading the piece. These travelogues also contain a lot of photographs.

      • Nandan Jha says:

        Abhijit Sir, When your time allows, please write a couple of stories in Bangla at Ghumakkar too. We do not yet have anything beyond English and Hindi. To be an Indian site, its quite a shame actually.

  • What a delight in reading this post.. Like Sethiji , I too feel that the posts never get outdated. They, along with the memories of such wonderful trips, only add to the pleasure for us readers!

    Coorg is a place I have been to more than twice already! Yet, I love the place so much that I want to go there umpteen times.. It is like coffee, the more you think of it, the more you crave for it..

    Thank you Abhijit for this post. Truly refreshing!

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