Tourists visiting south India have a new address – Coorg, or Kodagu, in the state of Karnataka, says Aftab H. Kola.
Beckoning the tourists are slender areca palms, tall silver oaks swathed in pepper creeper, and gurgling brooks; all amid an extremely serene climate. Perched at about 1,600 metres above sea level, the area is teeming with coffee and spice plantations, and a tour through one is one of the major highlights of a holiday in Coorg.
Mercara (locally called Madikeri), Coorg’s charming capital, is home to a great many sights. The must-sees include the picturesque Abbey Falls; the Rajah Gate, which offers a panoramic view of undulating paddy fields; the Omkareshwar Temple; Gaddige and the royal tombs; and the Madikere fort. The most ‘happening’ place near Mercara town is the area around Raja’s Seat, which has been developed into a public garden with a mini- train. To commune with nature, visit the fog-enveloped spectacular mountains around Mandalpatti, located 20km from Mercara.
Another must-see is the Cauvery Nisargadhama, a spectacular emerald green meandering riverine island that is carved by the River Cauvery, just as it reaches the plains. Bhagamandala, in the foothills of Talacauvery and 39km from Mercara, is known for its solitude. Keen anglers can head to the Valnur fishing camp near Kushalanagar on the banks of the Cauvery. For adventure seekers, Coorg offers plenty of options for trekking in spots such as Thadiyandamole, Pushpagiri, Brahmagiri and Nishanibetta.
It’s no wonder that Coorg, known as the ‘Scotland of India’, is heaven on earth.
My favourite place- Situated amid lush green forest and on the banks of the Cauvery, the Dubare Elephant Camp is home to 22 elephants. The camp can be found amid deciduous reserve forest and is set picturesquely just across a gurgling stream. It’s a place where tourists can enjoy elephant rides but if you don’t fancy doing so then you can opt to feed one instead, with coconuts and papayas. There are also plenty of photo opportunities to be had, such as watching an elephant being bathed. The camp is also home to a resort.
Highlights- Situated near the Kushalnagar in North Coorg, Harangi Reservoir is worth a visit for its surreal landscape. Six kilometres from Kushalnagar and 35km from Madikeri, you can visit the Namdroling Monastery. It’s the largest teaching centre of Nyingmapa and a bastion of Tibetan Buddhism that offers a slice of Tibetan culture. For wildlife adventure, The Rajiv Gandhi National Park (Nagarhole) is known for tiger watching. From the Park, don’t miss out on the nearby Iruppu Falls. But, of course, this is coffee country and the air wafts with the fragrance of coffee blossoms from the plantations. Most of the homestay options and a few of the resorts can be found on coffee estates. As you explore, the freshness in the crisp air will caress your face as the whiff of coffee beans and spices permeates the air around you.
Souvenirs- Of course, fresh coffee is available everywhere. Spice stores all around the region sell neatly-packaged locally-grown black pepper, white pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, mace, black stone flower, aromatic oils and home-made chocolates. Buying Coorg honey is highly recommended.
Getting there- Air India Express operates flights from Muscat to Mangalore. From Mangalore, it’s a three-hour journey by bus or taxi. Mercara is 260km from Bangalore.
Where to stay- There are hundreds of homestay options and great resorts to choose from. For a homestay, Honey Pot Homes cocooned in the sprawling Sandalkad Estates on Main Highway comes highly recommended. In the resorts category, the Evolve Back Resorts, formerly known as Orange Country Resorts, is heavenly.
1. Sip freshly-harvested Coorg coffee and snacks at Big Cup Café.
2. Contemplate nature atop a plantation tree house.
3. Pick up tasty food souvenirs from Mercara town.
4. Bask in nature’s bliss at picture-postcard Abbey Falls
5. Try out traditional Kodava recipes at homestays.