It took me a long time - almost the second or third day into my trip in Coorg - to realise that what one sees in the fancy doctored photographs on travel websites and Instagram is not always true. Rather, I learned that only the best seasons of the different places are actually projected to the world. We sometimes mistake those images to be the actual image of the place, and think that that would be how the place would greet us whenever we visit it.
So, the image of Coorg that I had always harboured in my mind, (the place being one of those in my bucket list), was of a land covered with lush verdant coffee plantations, sopping with rain, fragrant with spices, having cool and misty climes. I had pictured myself walking with my husband, wrapped in warm cosy shawls on cool evenings amidst the coffee plantations, and returning to our homestay to delicious aromatic mugs of coffees.
Road tripping from Thrissur in Kerala, to Madikeri in Coorg during the sweltering heat of May, we thought we were in for a great escape. The long and winding roads in Kozhikode and Kannur had drained us already by afternoon. But the image of the awaiting greenery kept us going.
Entering Coorg, the weather was not how I had nurtured in my imagination. It was still pretty hot being pre-Monsoon. We reached Madikeri town just in time for lunch, and filled our hungry selves with biryani at one of the restaurants that were teeming with tourists. Note, there aren't many options for an inexpensive meal in Madikeri town and the restaurants are absolutely basic. During peak hours, even the menu is limited and meals like biryani will be the best bet. Don't expect too much from the food or the eateries. Be prepared to give a toss to service, ambiance, and hygiene!
It was only when we neared our homestay that the place that I had imagined started taking shape. Dense emerald hills greeted us through narrow winding roads.
Following are the places we covered in our five days in Coorg:
A not so high waterfall that gushed with a healthy body of water, Abbi Falls was intensely crowded even during the off-season. It offers some good photography if one is able to get lucky enough to capture them without the crowds. Also, as the waterfall cascades in levels, it can be a bit tricky to get the entire waterfall in the frame – for this you will need to find a good high location on one of the rocks. An old metal bridge is another charm that attracts tourists and gives a good view of the falls.
A set of antiquated tombs of the royal dynasty, the burials reflect an Islamic style of architecture. The place is quiet and did not have any visitors apart from us when we visited it in the late evening. Located in the town, it is easily accessible and well-marked on Google maps. It is a small place and doesn't have much to see, therefore doesn't require much time to look around.
Tibetan settlement in Bylakuppe
At a distance of 37km from Madikeri, is a Tibetan settlement with some of the most beautiful monasteries. Home to one of the largest colonies of Tibetans outside Tibet, the encampment came into being in the early 1970s. Located in a secluded region, the place offers an immediate sense of calm. Namdroling Monastery (Golden Temple) and Tashi Lhunpo Monastery are the most well known.
Monks can be seen in and around the monasteries, going about their daily duties. Restaurants and shops are a major attraction where people throng for shopping.
Marvel at the riot of colours and gigantic statues of Buddha and other Buddhist gurus, and spend some time in quiet peace inside the prayer halls of the monasteries. If you get lucky, you can get hold of a monk who can oblige to tour you through the monasteries and explain the history of Tibet depicted through the remarkable art on the walls.
On our return from Bylakuppe, we visited Nisargadhama – an island rich with flora and fauna. At about 2kms from Kushalnagar, the place is a tourist attraction for families with children. A hanging bridge leads into the park, which is lush with bamboo and teak trees. Animals such as deer and rabbits can be found here, along with a variety of birds. The river Kaveri is a highlight at the place, where visitors can have boat rides. Tall termite hills are a curiosity at this place as well.
A beautiful remnant of Coorgi royal history, the Nalkanad Palace is a charming beauty. Dating to the 1790s, it was the abode of Prince Dodda Veerarajendra. The palace, being nestled in the middle of a thick forest, served as a hideaway for him during his battle with Tipu Sultan.
The palace is built in the traditional Kodagu style of houses, and is two-storeyed. It is has small rooms, with a long verandah. The walls that were once richly ornate with art are now a shadow of the past, as the artwork has almost faded and peeled off.
The views from the palace are alluring, with the Tadiandamol peak also visible from one side.
It is located in Kakkabe, about 38km from Madikeri.
Dubare Elephant Camp
A place for elephant lovers, the camp enables one to get up close and personal with the gentle giants. Located in Kushalnagar, one can spend a day in the life of the elephants by observing them and even participating in their daily routine. Visitors can watch the mahouts giving the pachyderms a bath in the Kaveri River, feeding them, and taking them for walks. Tourists are allowed to touch the animals and feed them the bundles of hay that the mahout makes.
Another one of the several waterfalls in Coorg, the Iruppu Falls is an exquisite cascade of water. It is located near the Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary and is the starting point for the Brahmagiri Peak trek. One can even bathe in its waters at certain locations. Its location is a pleasure for the sight and other senses, as it is teeming with lush vegetation replete with tall trees. The fascinating Malabar Blue Bandit butterfly is a common sight here. One can be easily enraptured by the sheer delicacy of nature and become oblivious to the passing hours!
The highest peak in Coorg, with an altitude of 5,740ft, the trekking trail to Tadiandamol is beautiful and rewarding for its scenic natural beauty. The trek passes through diverse landscapes that will leave you breathless...not from the fatigue but from its picturesque views.
It is an open trek which requires no permission or fees. It is a well-marked trek and chances of getting lost are close to nil. It is a moderate level day trek that takes about four to six hours in total to complete. It passes through vast open grasslands in the beginning, and then one enters the thick Shola forests, to finally ascend the steep climbs towards the end. It gets cool and misty at the heights of the hill.
The trek requires minimum level of physical fitness, with good sure-footedness towards the end for steep climbs on slippery rocks. Some light snacks or lunch with 2L water per person will be required for the trek.
Watch out for leeches as you enter the forest. There are camping spots in the first half of the trail in the open fields where there are big boulders and rocks for shelter. Camping on the peak is not advised as it gets extremely windy and foggy, with no source of water. It is also not advisable to trek during Monsoons when it gets slippery and foggy.