It's a mere 6 hours drive from Bangalore to Madikeri, formerly known as Mercara. At present, not the best of roads lead to this land of the Kodavas, perched not too high up in the Western Ghats at an altitude of 3000 and 4000 feet. The highest peak Thadiyandamol is at about 6000 feet. The British called it "the Scotland of India" and not just for the topography, but also because the Coorgs like the Scots, wear very distinct costumes, enjoy their drink, have rugged games and sports, and have never been totally subjugated by external military force through their history. What really strikes you is the magnificence of the place as you drive through the best coffee plantations in the country. It's but natural to let the eyes wander around and absorb the picturesque scenery that whizzes past. Yet, one must be careful as the roads are often narrow and with 2-way traffic.
Coorg is all about coffee. With a fair amount of cardamom and pepper thrown in. As you drive on those winding roads through the coffee plantations, you'll wonder at the marvels and mysteries of Mother Nature and her endless enthusiasm to create spectacular sights that is every where exemplified in Coorg.
If life in the densely populated, highly polluted cities gets beyond certain levels of sanity, then it's time to take a break. Just 260 kilometers away is Kodagu, as the locals prefer to call Coorg. A 2-3 days' stay will calm your nerves and restore that healthy balance you desperately need.
When you pack your suitcase, ensure you leave your troubles and tensions behind. Because, when you are in Coorg you'll have time for nothing else but to admire this grandeur created by Mother Nature.
A few kilometers before one reaches Madikeri - the district headquarters of Kodagu - you pass through a ghat section with coffee plantations on both sides. It's a small and sleepy town. One long, zigzag of a narrow road leads you to the main bus stand area, which is where all the action is. The shops, the lodges and hotels, the bakeries and eateries, littered with STD/ISD booths and what have you. Dotted on either side of this road are the Head Post-Office, the Town Hall, the Kodagu Samaja and the North Coorg Club.
Turn off this road near the Town Hall and a small distance away is Raja's Seat. Legend has it that the kings of Kodagu would come here to spend the evenings and watch the grand sight of the setting sun in the deep valley beyond. The view from here is indeed amazing - sunset or no sunset. If you are historical minded, a visit to the nearby Madikeri Fort could be considered. This is a 19th century fort - complete with temple, chapel, prison and a small museum - and is yet another place to have a fine view of the town.
Madikeri as such hasn't much to offer in terms of any sort of nightlife. It's a sleepy town, remember? If you were fortunate enough to be there as a guest of some rich coffee planter, for whom an evening out at the North Coorg Club would be a must, then you could have a good time. Otherwise, a nice walk or drive up the road would be the better alternative. Because, there is one point on this stretch that offers a lovely sight of Madikeri town fully lit. Remember to take your umbrella along, if you happen to be in Coorg during the monsoon season. Also recommended is light woolen clothing, just in case there is a nip in the air.
Hotels and Lodges are many and comfortable, though nothing luxurious. Most have food served in the rooms and that's perhaps the sensible thing to do. Late night driving is best avoided. In any case, if you adopt the motto of "early-to-bed, early-to-rise" you'll get to taking more of the breathtaking scenery the next day on your drive through the plantations.
Just 7 kilometers from Madikeri town is Abbi Falls. As remarkable and striking a sight you would see anywhere. The narrow road to Abbi Falls is a combination of steep ups and downs, twists and turns, wriggling through the green and dense foliage of surrounding coffee plantations. Situated on private property, a narrow pathway of broken twigs and decaying leaves leads you downward to where the waterfall can be seen.
As various streams congregate in the mountains above, they swell with the monsoon rains and force their way down the mountain slope. Splashing hard against the huge boulders of rock, unmindful of the crevices and hollows, the water drops at enormous speed accompanied by gushing sounds. This white wall of water creates a misty cloud with its moisture-like spray and descends into a flowing stream to perhaps, amalgamate with the River Cauvery somewhere in the vicinity.
Tourist brochures call this an ideal picnic spot. With protective railings installed at the edge of the falls and with hardly any place to sit around, it's not much of a place for picnics.
Considering you can get off to an early start and if the sky is beautiful with the clouds sailing on its bosom, take the road to Somwarpet. If this 42-kilometer, one-and-half hour drive doesn't perk you up, wonder what will. This is the coffee heartland of Coorg. You will pass through some of the finest coffee estates you will ever see. Magnificent trees reaching up to the skies, casting much wanted masses of shade to the coffee plants. It's one great spread of continuous foliage so gloriously prepared in an extraordinary operation by Nature.
Coffee plantations belonging to Consolidated Coffee, Kotharis are the bigger ones you will see. 8 kilometers from Somwarpet town, on the Shantahalli road are start-up plantations like Bloomfields coffee estate. Mingled with cardamom and pepper trees as well. Big, medium or small, they add great beauty to the fabulous landscape all around.
Besides being the hub of coffee activity, Somwarpet's other claim to fame is the Basappa Club. Like the cold, stone-walls of taverns where sailors and ship mates would gather to make merry, drink, talk and pick up some gossip, the Basappa Club is frequented by the medium and small gentlemen coffee planters, who meet here to unwind. Except that out here, there are no cold, stone walls. Instead, one can have a game of Table Tennis or Snooker in this small, but compact club. And plenty of gossip to be picked up, as well.
From Madikeri town, 46 kilometers west of Coorg in a Shola forest on the Brahmagiri range of the Western Ghats, is Talacauvery, the birthplace of this sacred and highly controversial river. Surrounded by mountains at a height of about 4000-ft above sea level and with a picturesque view, the source of the Cauvery is a tiny spring, perennially flowing with water. It disappears within a few yards of its birthplace and re-emerges at Nagatirtha near Bhagyamandala, just 9 kilometers away. Here, the Triveni Sangam takes place. Considered a sacred site, its here that the 3 rivers - Cauvery, Kannika and the mythical river, Sujyothi - meet to flow together as one big river, the Cauvery.
In the vicinity of the river source, is the Brahamagiri Hill. A steep climb of 300ft - that's 363 steps - brings you to the summit of the Brahmagiri Peak, where according to legend, the 7 great sages meditated.
Cauvery Sankaramana is an important festival for the Kodavas. It occurs around the 18th of October and on this auspicious occasion, thousands of pilgrims visit Talacauvery to witness the waters of the Cauvery gushing out from its source. It is believed that Goddess Cauvery appears in the form of a spring at Talacauvery, which is what causes the upsurge at the source. The river Cauvery is revered as one of the 7 holy rivers and considered to be the "Ganges of the South". A dip in the holy Sangam at Bhagyamandala completes the Hindu Shradha rites for the departed soul.
The Bhagyamandala temple is named after Bhagyananda Muni, who installed the Shivalinga at this site. This temple has exquisitely carved wooden ceilings and the pillars are painted with vegetable dyes, which depict stories from the Puranas. This temple has attracted the devotion of many royal dynasties of Karnataka who used to worship here.
River Cauvery. Bone of contention for 2 states of India. Over which an endless battle of supremacy is being fought. Hitler once said, "Power flows from the barrel of the gun." In this case, however, amidst all these ongoing controversies, the river Cauvery flows on, unmindful of the consequences.
|How to get there
From Bangalore, there are 2 ways to reach Coorg. Both routes are almost the same distance-wise, maybe around 250-260 kilometers.
The route via Mysore, is the oft-frequented route. But, this is entirely on State highways and after a place called Hunsur, there is a stretch of pretty bad road. Once you cross this stretch, the scenic view of the drive through the coffee plantations will absorb you more than the not-so-good condition of the road.
The other route is via Neelamangal, Kunigal, Chanrayapatna, which are all located on the National highway. This is a beauty of a road. However, after Chanrayanapatna, it's back to state highways but the roads aren't so bad.
Like all roads led to Rome, these two will take you to Coorg. And whichever route you take, as you come nearer to Coorg, the drive gets better and better.
The Coorgis or the Kodavas - whatever name you may wish to call them - have a distinct and fascinating culture. History has it that they could be descendants of Alexander the Great, when his troops invaded India somewhere around 327 BC. Perhaps, that should explain their unique physical features of the men being tall and well built. Coorgi women can be easily identified in the way they wrap around their saris. They pleat the sari at the back unlike other women who pleat the sari in the front.
The Kodavas - like any other Indian community - celebrate their festivals with pomp and joy. But most of all, it's their reverence for the River Cauvery whose origins are from their lands. Therefore, the Cauvery Sankaramana festival each year takes precedence and considered to being very sacrosanct. It's but natural that they call themselves the "children of Cauvery".