Tag Archives: Coorg

10 magical drives from Bengaluru

Standard

From the Western Ghats to the Deccan Plateau and the Karavali Coast to Coromandel, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY hit the highways of South India to seek out ten scenic drives from Bangalore

Searching for some great drives around Bengaluru? Look no further than this handpicked list of destinations across regions, themes and geographic zones with everything you need to know – where to stay, what to eat, how to get there, distances, midway stops and what to see en route. Presented in increasing order of distance from Bangalore, take these scenic routes across Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa.

Baba Budan Giri_Landscape 2_opt

Sakleshpur
Swathed in plantations of coffee, cardamom, pepper and areca, Sakleshpur is the scenic gateway to the Western Ghats. Straddling the passes on the town’s outskirts is Tipu Sultan’s strategic fort Manjarabad. Shaped like an eight-cornered star radiating around a central hillock, the climb is difficult, but offers superb views all around. The 56.8 km Green Route from Sakleshpur to Kukke Subrahmanya, dotted by 58 tunnels, 109 bridges and 25 waterfalls used to be a stunning trek along an abandoned railway track until it was recently converted into broad gauge. Now you can hop on to a train to soak in the natural beauty of Bisle Ghat, home to India’s most spectacular rainforests. From the scenic Bisle viewpoint one can see the mountain ranges of three districts – Kumara Parvatha (1319 m) in Dakshina Kannada, Puspha Giri (1712 m) and Dodda Betta (1119 m) in Coorg and Patta Betta (1112 m) in Hassan district. For a misty drive, head north to Chikmagalur and the Baba Budan Giri hills to climb Karnataka’s highest peak Mullaiyanagiri.
Stay: The Radcliffe Bungalow at the 1000-acre Ossoor Estate 3 km before Sakleshpur off the highway is a charming colonial era plantation bungalow with 3 rooms, red oxide floors and open to sky bathrooms. Run by Plantation Escapes, they also have an 8-room property near Chikmagalur called Mist Valley. www.plantationescapes.com
Distance: 221 km (4 hrs)
Route: Take the Bengaluru-Mangaluru highway or NH-48 via Nelamangala, Kunigal, Hassan and Channarayapatna

Pitstop: Kamath Upchar after Channarayapatna
En route: Drowning church of Shettihalli, Gorur Dam, Hoysala temples at Mosale, Nuggehalli besides Belur-Halebid

Guided Jeep Drive Through Coffee Plantations

Pollibetta
As the winding road climbs the ghats of Coorg, the glossy green coffee bushes and pepper vines present a soothing sight. In monsoon, blankets of mist wrap the rainforest and waterfalls are at their torrential best – be it Abbi and Hattihole near Madikeri (Mercara), Chelavara near Kakkabe or Irpu near Srimangala. Go on a guided Bean to Cup plantation tour with Tata Coffee, enjoy a round of golf at the 9-hole course, grapple with rapids while whitewater rafting at Dubare and Upper Barapole rivers or hike to vantage points like Kotebetta, Mandalpatti and Kabbe Pass. Base yourself in any of the colonial-era bungalows around Pollibetta run by Tata Coffee’s Plantation Trails and feast on traditional Kodava cuisine like koli (chicken) and pandi (pork) curry and monsoon staples like kumme (mushrooms), bemble (bamboo shoots) and kemb (colocasia) curry.
Stay: Stay in premium heritage bungalows like the century old Cottabetta or Thaneerhulla, Woshully plantation bungalow or plantation cottages like Surgi, Thaneerhulla, Yemmengundi or Glenlorna, which offers the rare view of a tea estate in coffee county. They also run the Arabidacool heritage bungalow near Chikmagalur. www.plantationtrails.net
Distance: 230 km (5 hrs)
Route: SH-17 till Srirangapatna, turn right onto the Mercara highway and after Hunsur, take the left deviation towards Gonicoppa (look out for the Plantation Trails sign), drive on to Thithimathi and turn right at another sign to Pollibetta, 9 km away.
Pitstop: Maddur vada at Maddur Tiffany’s or puliyogare, pongal, Kanchipuram idlis and Brahmin Iyengar snacks at Kadambam, Channapatna
En route: Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, KRS Dam (Brindavan Gardens) and Namdroling Golden Temple at the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe near Kushalnagar.

Vythiri Resort rope bridge IMG_1686_Anurag Priya

Lakkidi
Perched at an altitude of 700 m atop Thamarassery Ghat, Lakkidi squats on the western border of Kerala’s hilliest district Wayanad. Located just 5 km from the tourist hub of Vythiri, it is one of the highest locations in the district. The winding Thamarassery–Lakkidi Ghat road, often shrouded in mist and fog, is called the Cherrapunjee of Kerala. Stop by at the freshwater Pookot Lake and the Chain Tree, which pays tribute to the spirit of a tribal chieftain who showed the secret way through the passes to a British officer but was treacherously killed. Head to the district headquarters Kalpetta for Wayanad Splash, a monsoon carnival with mud football, crab hunting, offroad drives and other rain soaked adventures. Hike to the heart-shaped lake at Chembra, Wayanad’s highest peak or take part in cross country cycling, treks and other adventure trails with Muddy Boots.
Stay: Laze in rustic themed tree houses or pool villas at Vythiri Resort, an eco friendly rainforest hideaway landscaped around a gurgling mountain stream. Pamper yourself with rejuvenative Ayurveda therapies, delicious Kerala cuisine and leisurely forest walks. www.vythiriresort.com
Distance: 290 km (7-8 hrs)
Route: SH-17 till Mysuru and NH-212 on the Kozhikode Road via Gundlupet, Muthanga, Sulthan Bathery and Kalpetta
Pitstop: Jowar roti, yenne badnekayi, neer dosa and North Karnataka delights at Kamat Madhuvan on the southern outskirts of Mysuru on the Kozhikode Road
En route: Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary and the Jain Temple at Sulthan Bathery that Tipu Sultan used an ammunition dump.

Coonoor offroad jeep ride to Pakkasurankote IMG_2450_Anurag Priya

Coonoor
Take a drive up the hairpin bends of the Nilgiris or Blue Mountains for a magical sight of tea plantations that stretch for miles. Escape the bustle of Ooty to quieter Coonoor for drives to stunning viewpoints like Dolphin’s Nose, Catherine Falls, Kodanad and Rangaswamy Pillar. For an offroad experience, drive to Red Hills and Avalanchi or take a 4-wheel jeep ride past Glendale and Nonsuch Estates to Pakkasuran Kote with ruins of Tipu Sultan’s fort. Stay in a plantation bungalow while trekking downhill past Toda hamlets and Hillgrove Railway station. For a lazy slideshow of the hills, hop on to the Nilgiri Mountain Railway that covers the 26km uphill climb from Mettupalayam to Ooty in just under 5 hrs, crossing 16 tunnels and 250 bridges.
Stay: Tea Nest Coonoor on Singara Estate Road is a quiet nook overlooking tea plantations with rooms named after tea varieties, a seven-course tea-themed menu and the odd gaur among the bushes. They also run a private 2-room planter bungalow called Tea Nest Annexe 1 km down the road, besides the ethnic Kurumba Village Resort in a spice plantation on the Connoor-Mettupalayam Ghat road www.natureresorts.in
Distance: 285 km (7-8 hrs)
Route: SH-17 till Mysuru, NH-212 till Gundlupet and NH-67 till Theppakadu. The route via Gudalur (right of the Y junction) is 30 km longer with less hairpin bends, though the left route via Masinagudi is more scenic with 36 hairpin bends
Pitstop: JLR’s Bandipur Safari Lodge has decent buffet lunches or try South Indian fare at Indian Coffee House Hotel on NH-67 at Gudalur
En route: Wildlife at Mudumalai National Park, Bandipur Tiger Reserve or Kabini

Agumbe British milestone DSC04266_Anurag Priya

Agumbe
One of the rainiest places in Karnataka, Agumbe is significant for many reasons. With a mean annual rainfall of 7,620 mm (300 inches), it is often described as the Cherrapunjee of the South. The sleepy rain-soaked hamlet served as Malgudi in Shankar Nag’s TV adaptation of RK Narayan’s nostalgic tale of Swami and his childhood. It is home to Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS) founded in 2005 by herpetologist Romulus Whitaker dedicated to the Indian Cobra. One could visit Agumbe just to see the ‘Top of the Ghaut’ milestone erected by the British to mark the distance from ‘Shemoga’. Or marvel at the sunset from the viewpoint. But one of the biggest incentives is Mr. Nayak, the vada seller at Agumbe Forest checkpost who dispenses vadas with wisdom, stocking books of literary interest, for which regular patrons drive for miles.
Stay: Not too far from Agumbe near Thirthahalli is the quaint Kolavara Heritage homestay, a Chowkimane (traditional home) in a working plantation where you can enjoy Malnad cuisine and nature hikes www.kolavaraheritage.com
Distance: 357 km (8-9 hrs)
Route: NH-4 till Tumkur, NH-206 via Tiptur, Kadur, Tarikere, Bhadravati bypass, Shivamogga bypass, Thirthahalli
Pitstop: Chattambade and vadas at Mr. Nayak’s roadside stall at Agumbe Check-post and meenina oota (fish meals) at Mandagadde, midway between Shivamogga and Thirthahalli
En route: Sringeri temple, Mandagadde Bird Sanctuary and Kannada poet laureate Kuvempu’s birthplace Kavishaila

Pichavaram drive Gingee Fort 622_Anurag Priya

Pichavaram
Spread over 2800 acres off Tamil Nadu’s Coromandel Coast; Pichavaram is one of the largest mangrove forests in the world. It first shot to fame with MGR’s 1975 film Idhaya Kanni and more recently served as a dramatic backdrop for Kamal Hassan’s Dashavataram. Navigable by boats that weave in and out of narrow canals lined by overgrown mangrove roots, it is a paradise for nature lovers. An early morning boat ride from the Arignar Anna Tourist Complex is ideal for birdwatching. And once you hit the ECR or East Coast Road, extend your itinerary by driving north to the erstwhile French enclave of Puducherry and the ancient maritime Pallava capital of Mamallapuram. Or head south to Tharamgambadi or Tranquebar, once a flourishing Danish outpost with stunning Scandinavian churches and a seaside fort.
Stay: Hotel Sardharam have a decent property in Chidambaram with great food and also run Pichavaram Eco Resort overlooking the boat jetty at Pichavaram backwaters, besides a Chola-themed heritage hotel Lakshmi Vilas near Veeranam Lake www.hotelsaradharam.co.in
Distance: 366 km (9-10 hrs)
Route: NH-7 via Electronic City, Hosur to Krishnagiri, NH-66 to Tiruvannamalai and onward to Cuddalore
Pitstop:
Adyar Ananda Bhavan at BP petrol pump in Chinnar, between Hosur and Krishnagiri
En route: Arunachaleshwara temple and Sri Ramana Maharishi Ashram at Tiruvannamalai, Gingee Fort, Nataraja temple at Chidambaram

Vivanta by Taj Bekal Exterior

Bekal
Remember ‘Tu Hi Re’ from Mani Ratnam’s Bombay and the rain drenched fort where it was shot? That’s Bekal, the largest and most well preserved fort in Kerala built by Shivappa Nayak in 1650. Kasaragod, Kerala’s northernmost district has the highest concentration of forts in the state, highlighting the importance of trade in the Malabar region. Follow the fort trail to Chandragiri and Hosadurg nearby, feast on local Moplah cuisine or take a houseboat ride in the Thejaswini river and the serene backwaters of Valiyaparamba.
Stay: BRDC (Bekal Resort Development Corporation) has facilitated a string of premium resorts like Nileshwaram Hermitage and The Lalit, though the pick of the lot is Vivanta by Taj Bekal. Spread over 26 acres near Kappil Beach, stay in laterite-lined villas inspired by kettuvallam (houseboat) motifs with private plunge pools, signature therapies at Jiva Grande Spa, besides honeymoon packages and vow renewal ceremonies. www.vivantabytaj.com
Distance: 368 km (9-10 hrs)
Route: SH-17 to Mysuru and the old Mysuru-Mangaluru highway or NH-275 via Madikeri, Sampaje, Sullia to Jaloor, and SH-55 via Adhur and Cherkala to Bekal
Pitstop: The renovated East End Hotel in Madikeri is a great place for keema parathas, meat ball curry, though for firewood roasted akki roti with pandi curry stop by at the dingy yet delicious West End Bar on the other end of town.
En route: Omkareshwar Temple, Raja’s Seat and Gaddige in Madikeri, Malik Dinar mosque at Kasaragod

Munnar monsoon IMG_8985_Anurag Priya

Munnar
With most beaches out of bounds during monsoon, the beauty of Kerala in the rains is best experienced in the hills. And what better haunt than Munnar, located at the scenic tri-junction of moon aaru or ‘three rivers’ – Mudrapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala? Watch the mist roll over the mountains from your perch as you sip a steaming cup of Kannan Devan Hills chai. Drop by at the tea factory to trace the journey from leaf to cup as you explore the colonial summer hideout of the British through excellent short drives. Go via Mattupety Dam and Echo Point to Top Station or via the scenic lake of Devikulam to Bison Valley. Visit Eravikulam National Park to spot the Nilgiri Tahr or head to Anamudi Peak, at 2695m the highest point south of the Himalayas.
Stay: Tiled roof stone cottages built using rocks from the property, Mountain Club is a picture-postcard resort at Chinnakanal 21 km from town adjacent to Club Mahindra. It has an excellent multi-cuisine restaurant, coffee shop and an infinity pool overlooking Anayirankal Dam. www.mountainclub.co.in
Distance: 478km (11-12 hrs)
Route: NH-7 via Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri to Salem, via Avinashi and Udumalpet onto Munnar Road
Pitstop: Besides Adyar Ananda Bhavan midway between Dharmapuri and Thoppur, there’s all day dining and a great value lunch buffet at GRT Grand Estancia at Salem, besides Hotel Chinnis at Perundurai
En route: Mettur Dam, Bhavani temple,
Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary

Kundapura DSC04826_Anurag Priya

Toodhalli
Ever heard that thing about not eating fish in months that don’t have an ‘r’? May, June, July and August is the monsoon period when fish usually spawn, hence the old adage. But if you were to drive up the Karavali Coast to Karwar, there are several places to drop anchor. Kundapura, a town known for its legendary cuisine, boasts iconic dishes like Kundapur Chicken, Chicken Ghee Roast, Chicken sukka and neer dosa, with enough variety to keep one docked for days. Drive up further to Sai Vishram Beach Resort in Baindoor, perhaps the only non-alcoholic pure vegetarian resort on the coast. But for the best culinary and wellness experience drop by at Wild Woods Spa, which offers rare delights like jackfruit idli and dosa, wild mushroom curry, bamboo shoot curry, pathrode, spinach dosa and the signature dasola yele (Hibiscus leaf) idli.
Stay: Besides Blue Waters at Kundapura and Sai Vishram at Baindoor, Wild Woods Spa & Resort at Toodhalli, 7km from Shiroor checkpost, is a great place to enjoy the rains. A mountain stream encircles the botanical retreat that offers wood and stone cottages, exotic cuisine and spa treatments. www.wildwoodsspa.com
Distance: 496 km (12 hrs)
Route: NH-48 to Mangaluru via Shiradi Ghat and head north on NH-17 to Kundapura, Bhatkal and beyond. If closed for renovation or road repair, take NH-4 via Tumkur, Chitradurga, Davangere to Harihar and turn left via Siddapur and Jog Falls to reach the coast at Bhatkal. Or take NH-48 to Hassan and NH-234 via Belur and Mudigere to Charmadi Ghat, Belthangady, Karkala and Udupi.
Pitstop: Shetty Lunch Home in Kundapura is legendary for its sukkas, ghee roast and the eponymous Kundapur Chicken. Stop at Kwality on NH-17 for Bhatkal biryani (they serve only chicken)
En route: Stunning coastal views, waterfalls like Jog, Arshinagundi and Apsarakonda, coastal pilgrim trail from Udupi, Kukke Subramanya, Kollur Mookambika, Murudeshwar, Idagunji to Gokarna and Jain circuit of Moodbidri, Karkala, Varanga and Bhatkal.

Turiya Spa Canacona Goa_Amit Bhandare

Palolem
Driving through Goa in the rains, especially the rich hinterland, is the perfect foil to the frenetic beach activity of the high season. Away from the secluded coast and the sore sight of fishing boats shrouded with palm fronds and blue tarpaulin, the green of the lush countryside is so bright it hurts your eyes! Explore the quiet south with trips to Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary on the Goa-Karnataka border, the stone cut temple of Tambdi Surla, a railway track hike or adventure bike ride to Doodhsagar waterfall or white water rafting on the Surla Mhadei river.
Stay: A tastefully renovated century old Portuguese villa in a quiet colony of Canacona, Turiya Villa & Spa is named after the fourth state of consciousness and is a great place to relax with lovely homestyle Konkani food and an in-house spa that offers Ayurveda, body and beauty treatments www.turiyahotels.com
Distance: 559 km (12-14 hrs)
Route: NH-4 via Tumkur, Chitradurga, Davangere to Haveri, via Yellapur to Karwar and up the coastal NH-17 to Canacona
Pitstop: Thatte idlis at Bidadi, Sri Kottureshwara or Old Sagar Hotel in Davangere for benne dosas and Amrut Restaurant and Shwetha Lunch Home in Karwar
En route: Chitradurga Fort, Yana Caves (Kumta-Sirsi route), Tagore Beach Karwar

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as a monsoon special on 15 July 2015 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/10-magical-monsoon-drives-bengaluru

Advertisements

Gushing about Waterfalls

Standard

ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go on a waterfall trail across India to chronicle the Legends of the Falls

Niriang waterfall Meghalaya DSC00927_Anurag Mallick

With the advent of the monsoon, India’s many waterfalls revive into gushing torrents. Many are named after the closest village – like Jog (Gersoppa) in Karnataka or Amboli and Vihigaon in Maharashtra. Some are named after their appearance – Dhuandhar in Madhya Pradesh or Hogenakkal after hogey nakkal (smoke stones) on account of the rising mist. There are still others that are labeled after the creatures that frequent them – Bear Shola Falls in Kodaikanal, Hirni (Doe Falls) in Jharkhand, Chitrakot in Chhattisgarh (after chital or spotted deer) or Puliaruvi (Tiger Falls) in Courtallam. However, in a country where mountains and rivers are steeped in fables, can waterfalls be far behind? Here, we showcase some unique falls whose waters hide legends of kings, sages, gods, mortals and maidens…

Dudhsagar Waterfall Goa DSC04291

Dudhsagar (Goa)
Legends recount the tale of the princess who used to bathe in a scenic nook of the Khandepar River, a tributary of the Mandovi. After her bath, she would sit with her attendants, and drink a tumbler of sweetened milk. Once, on hearing voices in the woods, a prince stumbled upon the waterfall. To protect her modesty, the princess upturned the tumbler of milk and the water became milky and fell down as Dudhsagar (Ocean of Milk). The waterfall – India’s fifth highest – plummets 310 m off a lofty ridge bisected by a railway track and a scenic bridge!

Access: Trek from Braganza Ghat near Castle Rock while staying at Off the Grid Camp at Poppalwadi or Dudhsagar Resort at Mollem, 14km away

Jet Airways flies to Dabolim

Nohkalikai falls at Cherrapunjee

Nohkalikai (Meghalaya)
One of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, Nohkalikai drops from misty cliffs into an aquamarine pool. However, its natural beauty hides a sinister tale. In the village of Rangjirteh, from where the stream passes, there once lived a poor lady called Ka Likai. When she gave birth to a child, her husband passed away. In due course, she got married again. However, her new husband did not love the child and often got angry with Ka Likai for not taking proper care of him. One day when she was away to carry iron ore, he killed the child, cut the body into pieces and prepared a curry. He tossed the head and bones away but forgot to dispose the fingers he had hidden in the betelnut basket. When the lady returned and enquired about the child, the man said he had gone out to play and excused himself. She relished the rice and curry, thinking it to be meat from a sacrifice in the village. However when she reached for some betelnut, she stumbled upon the fingers. Letting out a terrible shriek, she grabbed her dao (machete), ran out and threw herself off the precipice. From that time, the waterfall was known as Noh Ka Likai or the Fall of Ka Likai.

Access: At Cherrapunjee, 60 km from Shillong; track the monsoon while staying at Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati

Irpu Falls Coorg_Anurag Mallick

Irpu (Karnataka)
It is believed that in their conquest to Lanka, the brothers Rama and Lakshmana were crossing over the Brahmagiri Hills from Kodagu to Kerala. In a rare display of disobedience, Lakshmana felt a sudden surge of anger, returned his bow and arrows to his elder brother and stormed off. Oddly, the moment he stepped into Kodava land, his anger dissipated. Rama, walked up to Lakshmana, carrying a lump of earth from Kerala and explained that Kerala’s earth was Parashuram Kshetra, reclaimed by the sage after several bloody carnages against kshatriyas, and thus incited passions. Overcome by remorse, Lakshmana shot an arrow into the Brahmagiri mountain and threatened to fling himself into the flames that shot forth. Rama created the Lakshmana Teertha, extinguished the fire and blessed its waters with the power to absolve a person of his sins. Some believe it was Lakshmana’s tears of remorse that became the Lakshmana Teertha. Oddly, irpu in Sanskrit means ‘enemy’ – a place that made enemies even out of brothers. Even now, in Coorg when brothers fight, they ascribe it to this legend.

Access: A 5 min walk from the Irpu Rameshwara temple at the base of the Brahmagiri mountains in Coorg, stay at Ramcad Estate or other homestays

Jet Airways flies to Bangalore and Mangalore

Bheem Nadi Uttarakhand IMG_8566

Bheem nadi (Uttarakhand)
After the Mahabharata war, the Pandavas renounced their kingdom and headed to the Himalayas to atone for all the bloodshed. At Dharali, the Pandavas took a bath in the river to remove the sin of hatya (murder) and thus the stream was called Hatyaharini. While going to Manasarovar, Bhima’s horse allegedly left its hoofmarks on a rock, which can be seen even today at Mukhwa. Locals believe that Bhima created a waterfall (Bhim nadi or Bhim Ganga) by shooting an arrow into the mountain to quench the thirst of the Pandavas. The niche where he supposedly rested a knee to take aim, still exists besides the image of a sleeping horse. Even today, cows and mules step into the same hoof prints while walking up the mountain. Village boys from Mukhwa often lead you to the jharna, where quartz stones, called moti patthar by the villagers due to their pearl colour, can be found around the waterfall.

Access: Stay at Leisure Hotels’ Char Dham Camp at Dharali and cross the bridge on the Ganga to Mukhwa, from where the waterfall is a short hike away.

Jet Airways flies to Delhi and Dehradun

Courtallam Five Falls opt

Courtallam/Kutralam (Tamil Nadu)
It is believed that after separating from his wife Kaveri, Sage Agastya headed further south and climbed the loftiest mountain to meditate. Named Agasthiyar Malai, it is from the hill’s lofty heights that the Chittar River dashes down through roots and herbs as Kutralam Falls. Tagged as the Natural Spa of the South, (or Kuttralam Courtallam) Falls is the collective name for a diverse cluster of nine waterfalls. Peraruvi (Main Falls) plummets from a height of 120ft with people of all ages jostling for a good shower. In what appears like a mega community bathroom, fully clothed women cluster to the right, the elderly and children stay to the left and oiled men of all shapes and sizes brave the full force of the central torrent. The gentler Chittaruvi Falls is close by. Spreading like the hood of a five-headed serpent is Aintharuvi (Five Falls) 5km from the Main Falls with a shrine dedicated to Ayyanar Shastha. Around 6.5km from the Main Falls is Pazhaya Courtallam (Old Falls) with the ancient Thirukoortalanatheeshwara (Lord of the Peaks) shrine at the foothills. The conch-shaped temple has a stunning Chitra Sabha (one of the famous Pancha Sabhas) with beautiful mural paintings and wood carvings housing a Nataraja deity. A mile-long trek from Main Falls up the mountain leads to Shenbaga Devi Falls, after a temple nearby. Puckle’s Path, named after the District Collector who laid it in the 1860s, leads to Thenaruvi  (Honey Falls), alluding to the honeycombs garlanding the overhanging rocks. Puliaruvi (Tiger Falls), once the watering hole of the big cats, has bathing ghats for pilgrims visiting the Pashupathi Shashta Temple. Pazhathota Aruvi (Fruit Garden Falls) near the Govt Horticulture Park above Five Falls is off-limits to the public. An hour’s drive from Courtallam past Shenkottai, Palaruvi (Milk Falls) plunges from the forests of Ariyankavu and offers a panoramic valley view. The best season is June to September and between November and January during north-eastern monsoons.

Access: Located 5km from Tenkasi, it’s 167km south-west of Madurai via NH-208 on the Tenkasi–Shenkottai Road in Tirunelveli District.

Jet Airways flies to Madurai

Yapik Arunachal IMG_6567

Yapik (Arunachal)
As the high road plows deep into the folds of the mountain on the drive to Mechuka, a stunning waterfall makes every traveler stop and marvel. The wispy Yapik descends like a fairy. However, after a brief pit stop, our co-passengers urged us to hurry up. We wondered why. The oldest in the group explained, ‘Yapik is beautiful, but you must not overstay your welcome. After some time, red egg-shaped stones fall from above. And bad things happen!’ We did not stay long enough to find out…

Access: On the drive from Along to Mechuka while basing yourself at Nehnang Hotel (Private IB)

Jet Airways flies to Itanagar

Thoseghar waterfalls IMG_3848_Anurag Mallick

Thoseghar (Maharashtra)
During the course of their exile, Rama and Lakshmana are supposed to have drifted down from Nashik and Mumbai down the Sahyadris. As they came to Saputara or the region of seven hills, like Banganga, they shot an arrow and created a spring. The twin streams of the Thoseghar Falls are known as Ram and Lakshman, though locals also refer to them as Mota Dhabdaba (big fall), which plummets 250 m in wide tiers and Chhota Dhabdaba (small fall), the three-ribboned stream to the right. However, it is water collected from the surrounding range of mountains Mahabaleshwar, Yavateshwar, Kas and Panchgani that forms this cataract and the origin of the Tarlee River. Access to the waterfall in monsoons is tricky due to slippery rocks and force of the water. A board with a list of lives lost in drowning accidents serves as ample warning.

Access: Drive 26km from Satara on the Sajjangadh road; stay at Nivant Hill Resort, on Kas Plateau Road

Jet Airways flies to Mumbai and Pune

Bhagsu (Himachal)
As per local legend of the gaddis (shepherds), nearly 5000 years ago Vasuki, the King of Serpents, stole Lord Shiva’s miraculous bowl holding the water of immortality. Having incurred the Lord’s wrath, the snake god fled with the bowl, which turned upside down while escaping. Its contents were released and formed the waterfall while the spot itself was name after the serpent’s (nag) attempt to flee (bhaag) – as Bhagsunag. While the story may be more fable than fact, the naga connection is apparent. According to another lore, once the region of Alwar in Rajasthan was facing a severe drought. For the benefit of his people, the mystic king Bhagsu left his kingdom and wandered everywhere for a solution. On reaching the slopes of the Dhauladhar mountains, he chanced upon a magical spring owned by Nag devta. Seeing the serpent god away, the king stole a little water in his kamandala (water pot) and left. On returning to his abode, the Naga instantly sensed his water had been pilfered and knew who was the culprit. He chased the king and in the ensuing scuffle, the water spilled and created the waterfall. Bhagsu was shattered. On learning of his noble quest, the serpent blessed his kingdom with rain. He also decreed that the place would become a spot of pilgrimage and be named after the king…

Access: Just 2km from the Himalayan retreat of McLeodganj lies the temple of Bhagsu nag and a short 20 min walk leads to the scenic 30 ft cascade.

Jet Airways flies to Chandigarh and Amritsar

Athirapally waterfall 0036_opt

Athirapally (Kerala)
Perhaps no waterfall in India has been depicted in films as much as Athirapally. Kerala’s biggest fall has served as a backdrop for several songs in Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi cinema. A major portion of 1986 Tamil movie Punnagai Mannan, starring Kamal Hassan and Revathi was based and shot near the falls, leading to its popular nickname as Punnagai Mannan Falls. But the waterfall might as well have been named Mani Ratnam Falls, whose love for the location made him cast it not once, but again and again. It featured in his 1997 film Iruvar starring Mohanlal and Aishwarya Rai, the 1998 film Dil Se with Shahrukh Khan and Manisha Koirala, the 2007 Guru with Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai and then again in 2010 in Raavan (Raavanan in Tamil). Such is Athirapally’s popularity that nearly 7 million tourists visit the falls and nearby Vazhachal annually.

Access: 30 km from Chalakudi, 55km from Kochi Airport and 58km from Thrissur. Stay at Rainforest Athirapally with waterfall views from every room.

Jet Airways flies to Cochin, Kozhikode and Coimbatore

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article was the cover story for the July 2014 issue of JetWings International magazine.

Mass Effect: India’s great gatherings

Standard

In the world’s second most populous country, ANURAG MALLICK & PRIYA GANAPATHY showcase unusual gatherings besides the Maha Kumbh Mela – bizarre festivals, wildlife spectacles, wedding marts, sporting jamborees, tribal meets and more

Image

Kodava Family Hockey Festival
According to a local saying a Coorg boy is born with a gun in one hand and a hockey stick in the other. Like Punjab, this tiny region in Karnataka has given the country many brave generals and excellent hockey players. Little wonder that Coorg hosts the world’s largest hockey tournament. Recognized by the Limca Book of Records, the month-long ‘Family’ festival in April-May sees hundreds of far-flung Kodava families converging to represent their clan. Into its 17th edition, the annual festival is named after the maneypeda (clan name) of the organizing family, with cultural programs, feasting and matchmaking on the sidelines.
When: 14 April-12 May, 2013

Image

Kabini elephant congregation 
Come the hot summer days of May when the river Kabini shrinks down to a trickle, massive herds of elephants gather by the dry riverbank. Groups of up to 500 Asian elephants that would otherwise be scattered in the dense forests of Nagarahole, Wayanad, Bandipur and Mudumalai, congregate to graze and bathe here in their quest for water in the dry season. Visitors speak of walking in fields of elephant dung! Base yourself at Kabini’s excellent wildlife resorts to witness the summer spectacle.
When: May-June

Saurath Mela
Every year, the tiny village of Saurath in North Bihar’s Mithila region hosts a mass marriage mart. A unique congregation of Maithil Brahmans, Saurath Sabha Gachchhi is held in a 22-bigha orchard donated by the Darbhanga Maharaj. Participating villages are allotted a dera (sitting place) where fathers scout for suitable grooms for their daughters aided by ghataks (middlemen). Marriages are fixed in a transparent manner after matching horoscopes by panjikars (registrars), who issue a certificate of non-relationship based on panji, genealogical records dating back to 14th century. The only catch, no ladies here!
When: 20-29 June, 2013

Image

Shravan Mela 
In the month of shravan, lakhs of kanwariyas collect holy water from the Ganga at Sultanganj, carry it in pots on a kanwar (sling) and walk 105km across hills and rivers to offer libations on the jyotirlinga at Baidyanath Dham in Deoghar. Saffron-clothed devotees traverse the path from Bihar to Jharkhand, which becomes an unending sea of orange with chants of ‘Bol bam’ in the air. On Mondays, a day holy to Shiva, traffic rises up to 4 lakh pilgrims. Some do it on foot, some measure the length with their bodies, while another class of devotees called dak bams complete the spiritual marathon in 15-17 hours, without stopping for a single moment.
When: 21 July-21 August, 2013

Image

Snake boat races of Kerala
Though Kerala is famous for epic festivals like Thrissur Pooram where temple deities are paraded on caparisoned elephants and Bharani mahotsavam at Kodungallor where devotees hurl abuses to awaken the goddess, the snake boat races are something else. The chundan valloms are 100-foot long crafts with a prow like the raised hood of a snake and require synchronized paddling by hundreds of oarsmen, making it the largest team sport in the world. Champakulam, the oldest boat race, kickstarts the racing season followed by the prestigious Nehru Trophy, Payippad, Kumarakom and Aranmula races.
When: August-September

Image

Pushkar Camel Fair 
Bihar’s month-long Sonepur cattle fair and UP’s Bateshwar Mela are well known, but Rajasthan’s Pushkar Mela has evolved into a carnival. Rajasthani women in dazzling veils, men in fluorescent turbans, camel races, cultural programs, moustache competitions, tug-of-war between locals and visitors; there’s a lot going on. Besides trading in camels, horses and elephants, eye-catching stalls sell colourful stirrups to agricultural implements. Get a birds’ eye view from a giant wheel, explore the fair in a leisurely camel cart ride, try Israeli or Indian cuisine at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the lake or visit the only Brahma temple in India with active worship.
When: 9-17 November, 2013

Image

Hornbill Festival
Held at Naga Heritage Village in Kisama, a permanent site 12km from the capital Kohima, the Hornbill Festival is the best place to catch all of Nagaland’s 16 tribes in one place. Ringing the arena are morungs (communal huts) of each tribe, where young boys learnt stories on culture and folklore from elders of the host family who sat around a fireplace and sipped thutse (rice beer). On showcase are traditional song and dances, archery, Naga wrestling, indigenous games and local delicacies like smoked pork. Buy Konyak beads and necklaces, Wancho wood-carvings, Phom black pottery or vibrant warrior shawls of the Angami, Yimchunger and other tribes. Besides rock concerts, motor rallies and fashion shows, there are also competitions to eat the dreaded Raja chilli (also called Nagahari or Tezpur chilli)!
When: 1-7 December

Winter migratories
Every winter, migratory birds flock to India by the thousands at various lakes and wetlands across the country. From Nal Sarovar and Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat to India’s largest coastal lagoon Chilika Lake in Orissa, India becomes a large wintering ground for geese, pelicans, ducks, cranes and other aquatic avifauna. Spot painted storks at the tiny village of Kokarebellur near Mysore or flamingoes at Mumbai’s mudflats, Chennai’s Pallikaranai marsh and Sambhar, India’s largest inland saline lake. But the most amazing spectacle is the congregation of demoiselle cranes at Khichan, a tiny hamlet near Jodhpur. Being staunch vegetarians, the village community of Jain Marwaris idolizes the kurja (crane) for its vegetarian diet and monogamous nature. As part of a systematic feeding program, chugga ghars (feeding enclosures) on the village outskirts host these cranes with two feeding sessions daily (each 90 minutes) as the birds hop across from the dunes and the sky turns black with their wings!
When: Jan-February

Image

Joydeb Baul Mela, Kenduli 
If songs of love and freedom, poor sanitation and three days of camping defined Woodstock; the Joydeb Mela is rural India’s answer to it. Held around Sankranti on the last day of Poush to the second day of Magh to celebrate the birth anniversary of  poet saint Jaydev, the festival draws baul singers, kirtanias and wandering minstrels of Bengal. Hundreds of pandals or temporary shelters on the banks of the Ajoy River resonate with songs of the divine and philosophical musings of Vaishnava saints. Nightlong dramas and dance ballets bring stories of mythology alive as visitors ramble about the terracotta temple of Radhabinod checking out stalls selling household goods, toys, stoneware and crafts.
When: Mid-February

Image

Kila Raipur Sports Festival
What started off in the 1930s as a local village festival has transformed into an iconic event hailed as India’s Rural Olympics. The brainchild of Sardar Inder Singh Grewal, founder father of Grewal Sports Association, the bizarre sports meet at Kila Raipur near Ludhiana aimed to galvanize local youth of Punjab’s Doaba belt into sports. Expect tug-of-war, tent-pegging, freestyle kabaddi and races for camels, elephants, bullock-carts, khachhars (mules), tractors and even 80-year-olds! Locals showcase their unique talents – twirling gas cylinders, motorcycle daredevilry and towing vehicles with their teeth, hair, ear or beards. Adding colour to the proceedings, are Bhangra dancers, troupes of Malwai gidda, nihangs (blue-clad warrior Sikhs) performing stunts on horseback and running commentary by maraasis (traditional stand-up comedians).
When: First weekend of February

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 15 May 2013 in Conde Nast Traveller online.

Coorg: 10 Best Holiday Experiences

Standard

From windsurfing and white-water rafting to nature trails and elephant baths, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY uncover the best experiences that India’s Coffee County has to offer

Image

Holiday at a Coorg Homestay
The best way to enjoy Coorg and its legendary Kodava hospitality is to surrender to the charms of a homestay. In one of India’s fastest growing homestay regions, travelers are spoilt for choice. Opt for heritage homestays like Gowri Nivas, School Estate and Java Mane, wildlife lodges like Elephant Corridor and Kalmane, plantation retreats like Bamboo Loft, Alath Cad and Palace Estate, hilly escapes like Kabbe Holidays and Honey Valley or riverside getaways like Polaycad Bungalow, Silver Brook and Sand Banks. Staying with well-informed hosts is a great way to learn about the culture of this fascinating region. Kodavas trace their lineage through a maneypeda (clan name) and each clan has an ainmane (ancestral home). Built mostly out of wood, the richly carved doorframes, windows and ceiling panels are a visual treat. Check out the Nadikeriyanda ainmane while staying at Keemalekad Estate.

Image

Try Kodava cuisine & homemade wines
Savour Coorg’s signature dish pandi (pork) curry, usually paired with kadambuttu (steamed rice balls). Other unique combination dishes include noolputtu (string hoppers) with kozhi (chicken) curry, paputtu (steamed rice cakes) with yerachi (mutton) curry and mutton pulao with kaipuli pajji (bitter lime chutney) or vegetable pachadi (raita). Vegetarians needn’t fret as Coorg cuisine integrates local produce like bemble (bamboo shoot), bollari (gourd) and kumbla (pumpkin) curry, with akki otti, ghee and honey. Wash it down with the perfect cup of coffee and homemade wines that range from betel, rice, orange, coffee, tea, banana, sapota, star fruit and other exciting flavours!

Image

Visit the source of the Cauvery, South India’s holiest river
Pay your tribute at the unique Trimurti shrine at Bhagamandala, the sacred confluence of the Cauvery, Kannike and Sujyothi. Continue uphill to Talacauvery, where the Cauvery emerges from a spring. Collect some teertha (sacred water) from the tank and climb the Brahmagiri Hill for a stupendous view. According to legend, when the Goddess Cauvery took the form of a river to revive the drought-stricken land, people gathered at the base of the hill to receive her. The force of her currents was so swift that the pleats of the women’s saris turned backwards. To this day, Coorg women wear the sari in this manner. 

Image

Go on a coffee plantation tour
Despite being Karnataka’s tiniest district, Coorg is the largest coffee growing region in India. A guided plantation walk through a coffee estate while staying in a plantation bungalow is essential to trace the journey of the wonderful brew from berry to cup. See how cardamom is grown and cured and pepper is harvested to make green, black and white pepper. Make sure to buy Coorg coffee, honey and spices like cardamom and pepper from the nodal towns of Madikeri, Virajpet or Gonikoppal. Enjoy the life a colonial planter at Tata Coffee’s Plantation Trails bungalows like Thaneerhulla, Woshully, Yemmegoondi and even a tea estate stay in a land known for coffee!

Image

Bathe, feed and ride an elephant
Take part in the amazing Elephant Interaction program at Dubare Elephant Training Camp. An early morning visit allows you the chance to give the wonderful creature a bath in the Cauvery, feed it gigantic balls of ragi and jaggery followed by a ride in the adjoining jungle. Learn about pachyderms at the old forest rest house that serves as an interpretation centre. And if that’s not enough, head to Nagarahole, one of India’s best habitats of the Asian elephant. Go on a wildlife safari in the national park, though a drive along the highway is often more rewarding with frequent elephant crossings.

Image

Discover amazing Waterfalls
Being a mountainous region criss-crossed with rivers and streams, Coorg has some stunning waterfalls. Abbi Falls near Madikeri, where the famous croc scene of the Bollywood flick Khoon Bhari Maang was shot, is easily the most popular while Preity Zinta’s Liril ad was filmed at a cataract near Karike. Mukkodlu near Kotebetta, Mallali near Somwarpet, Irpu near Srimangala and Chelavara Falls near Cheyandane are also easily accessible. But deep within the forests near Birunani lies the magnificent Sarathabbi, which only the most adventurous can reach.

Image

Visit Namdroling Golden Temple at Bylakuppe
Marvel at the 30 ft high gilded statues of Buddha, Amitayus and Padmasambhava at the Namdroling Golden Temple in Bylakuppe, India’s largest Tibetan settlement. Spread across vast fields of corn and divided into ‘camps’, the area is dotted with stupas, prayer flags and monasteries of the Sakya, Sera, Kagyudpa and Nyingmapa orders. Try Tibetan fare like momo-thukpa and pick up knick-knacks like hand knotted carpets, prayer wheels, flags, vajras and incense.

Image

Get an adrenaline rush
For the adventurous there’s no dearth of activities in Coorg. Go trekking, rock climbing and windsurfing at Hyrige reservoir with Coorg Adventure Club. Try river crossing and rappelling near Keemalekad with Coorg Outdoors. Go on an off road ride, camping or a trek to Kerala with Crimson Eye. Do kayaking, canoeing and river crossing in the Kabbe river and camping around Kakkabe with Jungle Mount Adventure. For Quad Biking, zip-line and other adventures head to Now Or Never Land outdoor activity centre. In the monsoons, go river rafting at the KKR River with Barapole Rafting and Southern River Adventures.

Image

Play golf in scenic courses
Golfing in Coorg’s undulating greens is an invigorating exercise, made more interesting by an occasional gaur or wild deer ambling across the fairway. The challenging Mercara Downs at Madikeri, the popular Coorg Golf Links at Bittangala near Virajpet and old favourites Pollibetta Golf Club and Belur Club beckon golfers of all ages. Colonial era club houses with hunting trophies, vintage posters and indoor games add to the charm. Non-members can request the host/homestay to be introduced as a guest. Golf equipment and caddies are available for a token fee.

Image

Trek to Thadiyendamol, Coorg’s tallest peak
After Mullaiyangiri in the Baba Budan Giri range, the second highest peak in Karnataka happens to be in Coorg. Accessible from Kakkabe, the mighty Thadiyendamol lures trekkers to experience the unparalleled beauty unfolding at the peak. The lucky ones even recount seeing the Arabian Sea in the horizon on a clear day. Coorg has numerous moderate to tough treks. Popular trails include Thalathamane and Nishanimotte near Madikeri, Kotebetta near Madapur, Pushpagiri near Somwarpet and Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary near Irpu.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 4 April 2013 in Conde Nast Traveller online.

Coorg: The trickle-down effect

Standard

Rain-drenched Coorg is a magical paradise of waterfalls, adventure sports, homestays and delicious Kodava cuisine, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY 

Image

The frantic ascending notes of the cuckoo accelerated our last minute packing efforts. A quick gulp of steaming coffee and we were off at the crack of dawn to beat the chaotic traffic and urban mayhem in Bengaluru. Outside, it was still dim and like negatives developing in a dark room, images of Coorg (Kodagu), the misty mountain district and coffee county of Karnataka were already forming in our minds. Over the past few months Coorg would have seen monsoon clouds hanging dark as beehives from the skies, dripping and rejuvenating the earth with its honeyed rain.

The drive was practically a breeze as we sped down the expressway past flooded fields of blinding green paddy, shimmering lakes and swollen tributaries of the Cauvery. As the landscape segued from plains to gentle slopes of coffee plantations almost imperceptibly, we noticed how the oxy-rich air was crisp, tingling our senses. Neat hedges bordered each estate while tall shade trees wore long green skirts of pepper vines on their trunks.

Image

This tiny district garlanded by mountain ranges, velvety meadows and plunging valleys covered by a mosaic of rice paddies, held some pretty impressive records. Coorg is India’s highest coffee producer, Asia’s biggest honeypot, and was declared one of the 38 richest bio-diversity hotspots by UNESCO, possessing the world’s highest density of devarakadus (sacred groves) and several endemic species of flora and fauna at famous wildlife preserves like Nagarahole.

The fascinating people of the land – the closely-knit Kodavas or Coorgs form a community with a culture unlike any in the country; their origins remain an enigma till date. Researchers continue to ponder over this 2500 year old civilization – Could its roots lie in regions around Yemen and Oman or a faction of Alexander’s wandering Scythian Greek armies from Macedonia, are they an Indo-Aryan lot from Mohenjodaro or Georgian gypsies or Arabs?

Image

Or, are they simply, the children of the River Goddess Kavery? The abundance of nature, the aura of mystery around its martial hill tribe and their innate spirit of hospitality are deadly bait for any curious traveler to pass up. Today the steadily increasing caravan of visitors to this landlocked corner of South India, have transformed the once secret paradise to a much favoured tourist destination.

The road to Madikeri wrapped around the mountain like a giant serpent and the statue of the region’s illustrious warrior son, General KS Thimayya swung into our view. Charming houses with red gabled rooftops fronted by pretty gardens dotted the mountainscape. We turned off the crowded main road leading to the bus-station and headed to Gowri Nivas, a homestay run by Muthu and Bopanna (Bops).

The beautifully renovated family home has a room open for guests besides independent cottages in a backyard full of fruit trees. Despite being in the heart of town, the homestay was tucked in a quiet back lane, providing enough privacy for a pleasant holiday and easy access to the main sights of Madikeri. After devouring a sumptuous spread of Kodava cuisine we nodded off in the mild afternoon sun, taking a cue from the chameleons in the bushes.

Image

A short 8km drive from town led us to Madikeri’s most popular attraction Abbey Falls (a rather strange nomenclature as ‘Abbi’ means ‘falls’ in the local dialect). Post-monsoons, the brimming cascade thundered over a rocky precipice deep in a coffee and cardamom plantation with a roar that could be heard from the main road. It’s a 10-minute trudge to the metal bridge dangling over the stream where one can capture the waterfall’s fulsome beauty.

The spot was a well-known movie locale where the famous croc scene from Khoon Bhari Maang was shot! At the northern corner of town in Mahadevpet stands Gaddige, the royal tombs of the Kodagu kings, a unique blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture. Stray groups of children played cricket and cycled around the grassy compound as we marveled at the intricate trelliswork.

Image

With its narrow undulating lanes lined by colonial houses, Madikeri is a walker’s dream. The famous hexagonal fort dominates the hillock upon which it stands as it looms over the valley like a brooding patriarch. Originally built in mud by the Haleri king Mudduraja (who incidentally gave the town its earliest name – Mudduraja-keri (place), the fort underwent several renovations under subsequent rulers – Tipu Sultan, Veerarajendra I, his brother Lingaraja and later, the British.

The double-storeyed palace today houses government buildings and the old English Protestant chapel is now a Government museum displaying relics excavated from the region. It also holds a fine collection of memorabilia belonging to the land’s most honoured soldier, Field Marshall Cariappa. The fort complex has a number of edifices, secret passages, a prison, a large portico, a Veerabhadra temple and an ancient Ganesha shrine called Kote Ganapati. A simple memorial dedicated to the brave martyrs of Kodagu who fought the First World War stands outside the palace.

Image

The Omkareshwar Temple (6am-12noon, 5pm-8pm) built in 1820 by Lingarajendra Wadiyar looks almost Islamic in appearance – a square structure crowned by a massive dome and minarets in its four corners. The tell-tale sacred bulls in the corners reveal that the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva worshipped as a linga, specially brought from Kashi. A flight of stairs in front of the temple complex leads to the emerald green temple tank below where the grand Theppothsava or annual Boat festival takes place in Nov-Dec.

At dusk we walked to Raja’s Seat, the regal pavilion offering the best sunset view. Set in a manicured park lined with flower hedges and musical fountains, we watched the skies blaze with fiery reds and oranges before softening into peachy pink and lavender. In one part of the park was Gandhi Mantap, a memorial built at the site where the Father of the Nation addressed the people of Madikeri in 1934.

Image

Nearby, children squealed in excitement as Coorg’s only train, a toy train called Baba Saheb Express, chugged along the tracks. The air was rife with speculation about the introduction of a proper rail link from Mysore to Kushalnagar. During the famous Mercara Dasara in October, grand tableaux and processions line the streets. At nightfall, the stars and bulb-lit homes enveloped the town with the hushed fairytale prettiness of fireflies dancing in dark.

If Orange County had put Coorg on the tourist map, Club Mahindra had only reinforced that position, and with luxury resorts like Amanavana and the newly opened Vivanta by Taj, Coorg was upping its hospitality game. Golfing enthusiasts could try the 200-year-old Mercara Downs, an 18-hole natural course considered one of the toughest in the country or improve their handicap at the Bittangala Golf Course near Virajpet while staying at Ambatty Greens Resort or Neemrana’s boutique property Green Hills Estate.

Image

Or for a whiff of plantation life there were several Plantation Trails bungalows around Pollibetta run by Tata Coffee with quaint names like Thaneerhulla, Woshully and Glenlorna, the last being a tea estate bungalow in a land known for coffee. For the adventurous, there was no dearth of trekking trails around Madikeri, each trail having its own fascinating legend.

At the summit of Kottebetta was a temple built by the exiled Pandavas in the course of a single night; they had no time to make a door as the cock had crowed signalling the break of dawn. Nishanimotte was the peak where sentries raised an alarm (nishani) to alert about intruders. Mandalpatti and Mukkodlu waterfalls were located near Madapur while the twin-humped peak of Pushpagiri near Somwarpet was home to rare crystals shaped like six-headed miniature lingas representing Lord Subramanya.

Image

But we were headed for Bhagamandala (36km) and Talacauvery, the source of South India’s holiest river. At the sacred confluence of the Cauvery, Sujyoti and Kannike rivers in Bhagamandala, people pay tribute to their ancestors and offer prayers to departed souls. The stunning temple complex is dedicated to the holy trinity of Bhagandeshwara, Brahma and Vishnu. Exquisite architecture and delicately painted woodwork on the ceilings and mantapas divulge the artistic genius of yore.

A further 8km drive uphill past the 3,700ft high viewpoint and wayside stalls selling golden honey in assorted bottles and packets of spices, deposits you at Talacauvery. At the recently renovated temple complex, throngs of devotees gather at the large steps of the famed temple tank. After a holy dip, they perform pooja at a smaller tank, where the deity Goddess Cauvery is worshipped in her elemental form, a perennial spring.

Lakhs gather around mid-October to witness the mysterious bubbling of the spring on Cauvery or Tula Sankramana at a pre-ordained moment. It is believed that India’s most sacred River Ganga travels from the north to wash her sins in the south, in the purifying waters of the Cauvery, which is thus called Dakshin Gange. Shrines dedicated to Lord Ganesha and an ancient linga allegedly worshipped by Sage Agastya can be found in the upper level while a steep flight of steps lead to the Brahmagiri peak where the seven sages had performed a yagna eons ago. The hike presents a sublime 360 degree view of misty hills and valleys with stray windmills spinning in the distance. Being a wildlife zone covered by dense mist and thick forests, entry is restricted after 4pm.

Image

We continued towards Kakkabe (39km) and swung into Kabbe Holidays beyond Chelavara village near Cheyandane. This was the region of birdsong, bountiful honey and lofty heights like Thadiyendamol, the tallest mountain in Coorg. Soaring 5,730ft into the skies, it dwarfed other peaks like Chomakund, Hanging Rock and Kabbe Kund. For trekkers the daunting 6km trek to Thadiyendamol comes with the promise of splendid views and a statutory warning: leeches! Nearby, Chelavara Falls crashes in a sheet of white, more magnificent than Abbey. In the dry months, this sheer rockface turns into a rock-climbing haven as adventurers abseil down its craggy face.

Col NK Appaiah of Keemalekad (08274-269449) organizes jungle walks, obstacle courses and off-sites for corporate and student groups while Quad Biking, zip-line or quad biking are done at Now Or Never Land outdoor activity centre. Sagar Ganapathy of Jungle Adventures (08272-238341/98418 31675) conducts year-round adventure sports like rappelling, rock climbing, river crossing, kayaking and white-water rafting.

Image,

Kakkabe is also home to the ancient Padi Igguthappa temple dedicated to the patron god of rain and rice and the historic Nalaknad Palace, built in 1792 by King Doddaveeraraja as a hunting lodge and summer escape. A tiny sculpted pavilion crowned by a dome and four bulls facing the cardinal directions stands forlorn in an empty courtyard.

The palace itself wears a sloping roof pulled hat-like, low over a simple two-storeyed façade hides its regal trimmings. One notices its pillared verandah, the barely visible wall mural and delicate wooden friezes only after stepping inside. Interestingly, it was here that the king plotted his military moves in the war against Tipu Sultan at Bhagamandala.

The 250-year old Nadikeriyanda Ainmane at Karada with its pillared front and intricately carved doorway and windows is a finely preserved specimen of traditional architecture. Each Kodava family has an ainmane (ancestral home), which holds a mirror to the social structure, customs and traditions of the entire clan.

Image

The biggest gift the rains brought was the joys of white water rafting on the KKR or Upper Barapole river. Being the only river emptying west of the Western Ghats into the sea, it had a steep and terrifying descent. Organized by Southern River Adventures and Barapole Rafting from Ponya Estate near Srimangala, the river offers some good Grade 2 and Grade 3 rapids as raters and kayaks deftly maneuver the surging waters.

But nothing prepares you for the grandeur of Irpu Falls, believed to be an outpouring of Lakshmana’s remorseful tears after a rare fight with his brother Lord Rama on their way to Lanka. Another story alleges that when a repentant Lakshmana shot an arrow into the Brahmagiri hills and threatened to kill himself in the flames erupting from the earth, the all forgiving Rama pacified him and created the Lakshman Theertha at the summit to extinguish the fire and blessed its waters with purifying powers. Before proceeding to the falls, people visit the Irpu Rameshwara Temple, which enshrines a linga believed to have been fashioned by Lord Rama after his victorious return from Lanka.

Image

The 1 km stroll amidst iridescent rainforest takes you closer to the torrential cascade tumbling 51.8 m over slippery dark boulders. Everywhere, the clinging moss and lichens on branches and rocks exaggerate the emerald gleam of nature as rare orchids, mushrooms, medicinal herbs, exotic butterflies and endemic birds announced their presence alternately with colour, movement and distinct musical calls. Trekking further into the Brahmagiri Sanctuary requires prior permission from the Forest Department at Srimangala.

Near Dubare, we pitch ourselves at Bamboo Loft, a cosy homestay run by Savitha and Ashish (08276 267800 / 9845848224). The table heaved with an array of Kodava fare and Savitha’s divine culinary skills left us begging for more. Between mouthfuls of kadambuttu and dark spicy pandi curry, akki otti (rice rotis) and bemble (tender bamboo shoot) and yerchi (mutton) pulao, Ashish engaged us with historical nuggets about architectural ruins in the vicinity. We discovered that it made an ideal perch to savour the riverine pleasures of Dubare (25km from Madikeri).

Image

 

The unique Elephant Interaction Program (8.30am-12noon) run by the forest department offers a fabulous hands-on experience to understand elephants better. One can assist the mahouts in feeding or scrubbing the pachyderms as they lolled and splashed in their rippling plunge bath, the Cauvery. A short drive takes you to Cauvery Nisargadhama a captivating eco-island, the scenic picnic area of Harangi Dam near Kushalnagar and Karnataka’s very own Little Tibet, Bylakuppe and its stunning Golden Temple at Namdroling Monastery.

Yet there were so much in Coorg still waiting to be explored – the colourful terays (oracular festivals), estates plunged in a sea of white with coffee blossoms in March, plantations afire with countless fireflies in April, the frenetic picking season with berries drying in coffee yards, the month-long Family Hockey Festival and the traditional attire and zest for life, best seen at a Kodava wedding. As the rains abated and a landscape magically revived, we realized how easy it was surrender to the misty mountains of Coorg where each homestay was a destination by itself and no two visits were ever the same.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the January 2013 issue of Rail Bandhu, the Indian Railways magazine.

The Hills are Alive: Top 10 escapes of the Western Ghats

Standard

From waterfalls, peaks, wildlife parks to plantation escapes, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY choose their Top 10 spots in India’s Western Ghats across five states

Image

UNESCO recently recognized the Western Ghats as a World Heritage Site due to its great biological diversity and exceptional natural beauty. Running parallel to India’s western coast 30-50 km inland, the Ghats are spread over 1,40,000 sq km in a 1,600 km long chain of mountains interrupted only by the 30 km wide Palghat Gap. 39 sites across Kerala (20), Karnataka (10), Tamil Nadu (5) and Maharashtra (4) covering 7,953 sq km have been chosen in seven wildlife sub-clusters – Periyar, Anamalai, Agasthyamalai, Nilgiri, Talacauvery, Kudremukh and Sahyadri. Here’s a selection of waterfalls, wildlife parks and exotic hill escapes…

Image

Dudhsagar
The milky waters of the Khandepar River, a tributary of the Mandovi, plummet 310 m from a lofty ridge bisected by a railway track and a fairytale bridge. Straddling the Goa-Karnataka border deep within Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary (Mollem National Park), Dudhsagar (Ocean of Milk) is India’s fifth highest waterfall. The Vasco-Madgao-Londa railway line runs right near the falls, accessible from Castle Rock (near Tinai Ghat in Karnataka) or Collem (6 km off Mollem, 57 km from Panaji). The 12 km trek from Collem follows the railway track but the cross-country dirt track ride cuts across streams. Local bikes charge Rs.300/head for a return trip in monsoon (Jul-Sep), while jeeps ply in November. Stay at Dudhsagar Resort near Mollem checkpost.

Image

Amboli Ghat
In the dense mist, crystal water gurgles from Shiva’s ancient cave shrine of Hiranyakeshi, a source of the Krishna River. Perched at 690 m in the Sahyadris off the Konkan coast, this eco hotspot turns magical in the monsoon with seasonal waterfalls and incredibly high rainfall. Teeming with over 300 species of rare plants like basket karvi or aakara (Marathi for eleven) which flowers once in 11 years, Amboli became a British outpost on the road from Vengurla port to Belgaum for garrisons in Central and South India. It is believed that a dhangar (shepherd) who guided the British along the treacherous pass was killed after revealing his secret. Today, he is worshipped as the village guardian at a small shrine on Amboli Road near Sawantwadi (28 km). Stay at Whistling Woods Amboli with naturalist and reptile expert Hemant Ogale for a rewarding experience.

Image

Baba Budan Giri
The highest mountain range between Himalayas and Nilgiris, Baba Budan Giri is the birthplace of coffee in India. Worshipped by Hindus as Chandradrona Parvatha, where Dattatreya, Sage Atri and Anusuyya performed penance in a cave, it is also revered by Muslims as the grave of a mystic and his disciples. In 17 century Baba Budan went on a pilgrimage to Mecca and was captivated by the tantalizing aroma of coffee in Yemen. As the story goes, in 1670 he smuggled seven coffee seeds in his robes and planted them in this corner of Karnataka. From here the coffee plant, a closely guarded Arab secret, spread across India. Trace the journey from berry to cup at Chikmagalur’s Coffee Museum, climb Karnataka’s highest peak Mullayyanagiri (6,314 ft) or trek from Baba Budan Giri to Kemmannagundi via Galikere. Stay amidst nature at plantation estates like Nature Nirvana, Hunkal Woods and Villa Urvinkhan.

Image

Coorg
With one of the country’s best-maintained national parks at Nagarahole, the highest density of devarakadus (sacred groves) in the world and the source of South India’s holiest river Cauvery, Coorg is indeed special. It is the largest producer of coffee and honey in India, besides spices like cardamom and pepper. Scenic plantations, charming estate bungalows, and riverside resorts coupled with irresistible Kodava hospitality and cuisine make it a favoured holiday spot. Trek through wild tracts in Pushpagiri, Brahmagiri and Talacauvery wildlife sanctuaries, scale Coorg’s tallest peak Thadiyendamol, visit waterfalls like Irpu, Abbey, Chelavara and Mallali or go white water rafting with Southern River Adventures on the Upper Barapole River. For other adventure sports, contact Crimson Eye and Jungle Mount Adventures.

Image

Wayanad
Tilt the Rainmaker and its cascading seeds emit the sound of water. Swing the Binsi, a reed instrument for a whistling note. These astonishing bamboo products from Uravu near Kalpetta capture the tribal legacy of Wayanad. Trek past the Stone Age engravings of Edakkal Caves to the top of Ambukuthy Range, watch dholes chasing deer at Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary or search for the Wayanad Laughing Thrush at Muthanga. Scale Banasura Hill overlooking India’s largest earth dam from Banasura Island Retreat or Silver Woods. Spot gaur in the hikes around Fringe Ford, a wild 500-acre plantation at Makkimala or DTPC’s Tea County near Mananthavady. Climb Chembra Peak (2100m) and get pampered at Sunrise Valley and Meenmutty Heights while exploring waterfalls like Meenmutty and Soochipara.

Image

Nilgiris
Home of ancient hill tribes, the Nilgiris (Blue Mountains) transformed into the summer retreat of the British in South India by 1827. The 46 km ride from Mettupalayam to Ooty in the heritage Nilgiri Mountain Railway presents stunning views. Studded with churches, lakes, botanical gardens, tea estates and viewpoints, Ooty’s elite clubs laid down the rules of snooker. Climb Dodda Betta (8650 ft) or drive from Ooty to the stunning lakes of Emerald, Avalanche, Upper Bhavani, Parson’s Valley and Porthimund into Mukurthi National Park. Explore the joys of farm life at Destiny Farm and Acres Wild, an organic cheese-making farm. Wallwood Garden, Kluney Manor, Regency Villas and Savoy (Ooty), La Maison and Sunshine Bungalow (Kotagiri), boutique luxury stays at O’land Estate and De Rock (Coonoor) and bungalows run by Serendipity and Glendale are ideal colonial-style getaways. For wild honey, beeswax balms, Kurumba paintings, Toda shawls and agro products hop over to Green Shop (www.lastforest.in).

Image

Athirapally
Famous as the locale where Aishwarya Rai cavorted under a 42m high waterfall in Guru and Ravana, Athirapally’s adjoining Vazhachal Forest is the second most bio-diverse area in Kerala. As the only place in the Western Ghats where four endangered hornbill species can be seen, the International Bird Association declared it an Important Bird Area. The forest harbours the Lion-tailed macaque, Malabar squirrel, Malabar Giant turtle and Cochin Forest Cane turtle, among other endangered species while the Chalakudy River supports an enviable count of 104 species of fish. Besides Charpa (3 km) and Vazhachal Falls (5 km), drop by at the Forest Information Centre, museum and showcase of rare medicinal plants. Stay at Rainforest Athirapally where each room offers an undisputed view of the 220m wide cascade and visit a tribal settlement at Pokalappara for wildlife sighting and tapioca-fish meals smoked in bamboo.

Image

Silent Valley National Park
One of the best-preserved tropical evergreen rainforests in the world, the 90 sq km park forms the core of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Named after the absence of cicadas, Silent Valley’s geographic isolation allowed it to evolve into an ecological island. Topping the list of 960 flora is the giant tree fern Dinosaur pulpan dubbed as a ’50 million-year-old living fossil’. The park’s flagship species, the lion tailed macaque lives in the towering Culinea trees. After a long crusade against a hydroelectric project, the fragile zone was declared a National Park in 1985. Mukkali, the park’s entrance, is unique as all three species of Crow butterflies can be found here – common crow, double branded crow and brown king crow. A 23 km jeep ride takes visitors up to Sairandhri where a 30 m high tower offers panoramic views. A 1½ km walk leads to a rusty steel bridge on the Kuntipuzha River. Stay at the Mukkali Forest Rest House or thatched tribal huts at Malleeshwaram Jungle Lodge, named after the peak that dominates the park.

Image

Nelliyampathy
The majesty of Nelliyampathy Hills (3,500 ft) slowly unfolds along the mountain road from Nemmara, winding past 10 hairpin bends towards Kaikatty. It was the Maharaja of Cochin who leased vast tracts of dense jungle to the British for tea cultivation. Soon Nelliyampathy oranges were being exported to Buckingham Palace. Today, the derelict Victoria Church stands on a lonely cliff surrounded by forests and tea estates. A short walk from AV Thomas tea factory is Kesavanpara, a rocky escarpment overlooking Poothundy Dam. But the ultimate adventure is the 18 km jeep ride from Pulayampara to Manpara (Deer Rock). If you survive the bone-breaking drive over boulders, visit Suicide Point near Seethargundu, Katlapara Waterfalls, Karapara Dam and Karassuri viewpoint. Stay at Ciscilia Heritage and Whistling Thrush Bungalow while chasing butterflies and endemic birds like Nilgiri Flycatcher, Broad-tailed Grassbird and Nilgiri Pipit.

Image

Parambikulam
The 450-year-old Kannimara Teak, believed to be the largest in Asia, rises up 48.5 m. With a girth of 6.57 m, it takes five men to encircle the giant. Not all of the park’s treasures are easy to see – the tiny Parambikulam Frog, the endemic fish Garra surendranathanii to the saprophytic plant Haplothismia exanulata. Wrapped around three dams that create a 20.6 sq km reservoir with Karimala Peak (1439 m) as the park’s highest point, Parambikulam is a scenic park. Eco-tourism packages range from jeep safaris, bamboo rafting, birdwatching and guided walks to overnight camping inside the forest. Trekkers will enjoy the Kariyanshola Trail while the Cochin Forest Tramway Trek showcases relics of the British timber trade. Stay in treetop huts overlooking the reservoir, Swiss-style tents or a bamboo hut on Vettikunnu Island, accessible only by boat.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the August 2012 issue of JetWings magazine. 

Coorg: Coffee Blossoms in My Hair

Standard

PRIYA GANAPATHY shares her socio-geo-apolitical-eco-cultural Kodava guide, with a whiff of coffee-scented nostalgia

Image

It’s hard to remain unbiased while writing about something that defines your identity (a distinct one at that). Though Coorg forms part of Karnataka, its people have a culture that bears little resemblance to the surrounding areas. Tomes have been written on the origins of Coorgs. We can argue about whether we are natives of the land, children of Goddess Cauvery,descendents of Greeks or Aryans, an Indo-Scythian race, Arab traders who got acculturised or Georgian gypsies who danced right into India! We can draw connections based on sharp features, language, religious practices, costumes or accessories and piece jigsaws till we’re blue in the face. Befuddling as it may seem, there is nothing to confirm where exactly, this warrior community with a legacy of distinguished soldiers, came from.

Being a Coorg is a reality I’m reminded of with every sip of morning coffee. Going by the volume consumed, I should have caffeine in my veins and wear coffee blossoms in my hair! And coffee isn’t the only brew we enjoy. It’s no secret that the majority of Kodavas love to knock-back the ol’ firewater and have a voracious appetite for meat – especially the ones that oink. Be it birth, marriage or death – meat, alcohol and music are a must. Some swear that our wildlife got eliminated thanks to our forefathers’ love for game. So don’t be alarmed when men, women and twenty-somethings quaff together at ceremonial gatherings. In fact, elders mock at the recent trend of youngsters becoming teetotalling grass-eaters! However, there are other things synonymous with Coorgs – good looks, loyalty and an innate pride that forbids a Coorg to curry favour with anyone are characteristics that exude from the entire clan, so excuse us if we preen.

A love for creature comforts is another. No matter how much elbow grease goes into running an estate, visiting a planter’s home gives the impression of a life of luxury in a ruggedly romantic county. The omnipresent wicker-backed planter’s chair in the verandah is testimony to that. Though the style harks back to the British years, the props remind me of an Old Western flick – khaki-hued jungle hats and P-caps on horned hat-racks, knee-length boots stashed in a corner, hunting trophies adorning the walls – heads and skins of big cats killed by great-great grandfathers, beautifully varnished deer antlers, glinting criss-crossing swords, rifles, guns and daggers. Phew. You’d think some cool cowboy gunslinger would slam out that double-door and swing into action!

Image

Despite a flamboyant and broadminded façade, Coorgs are fiercely traditional. Discipline, respect for elders and adherence to customs is a given. Kodavas don’t hesitate to touch the feet of elders anytime, anywhere. They do it with alacrity… thrice. Another habit, supposedly like the Greeks, is to offer food and drink to ancestors before wetting your whistle. We don’t forget to dip a finger into our grog and tap out three drops for them. Also, the ritual of althith porrduva (sitting before leaving the house) is a pause that spells success in any venture. Ok, maybe we are superstitious.

Although most Coorgs migrated to prove their worth in all walks of life, the defense services, agriculture and sports remain pet choices. Hockey is to Coorg what cricket is to India, so the ubiquitous hockey stick exists in every home. Strangely, I’ve never seen an untidy Coorg dwelling. Even the most humble traditional cottage is clean and inviting. Lush lawns with colourful flowerbeds and pots brimming with fuschia, exotic anthuriums, poinsettia or bougainvillae greet you. Architecturally, homes blend Kerala and colonial styles with sloping red-roofed tiles and monkey tops. Often, gleaming thookbolchas (hanging lamps) dangle from wooden ceilings.

Image

Most Kodava names end predictably with ‘aiah’, ‘appa’, ‘anna’, ‘amma’ or ‘avva’. All Coorgs are identified by family names, so the first thing you ask another Coorg after preliminary introductions is “Daada?” or ‘which family?’ This instant password unlocks the matrix… Immediately thereafter, the person computes your identity and you realise how you’re closely related to a virtual stranger!

When Coorg women are on the phone, notice how often they use the word oui. It’s not French for ‘yes’. Here it’s an ever-changing exclamation form, which means different things as conversation progresses. The stress and duration of ouuiii determines whether it’s a question, shock, chuckle or cautionary cry. And another Kodava stereotype: a Coorg guy is usually a handsome hunk who rides a noisy Yezdi or drives a jeep. His fashion statement includes blue jeans, a thick moustache and RayBan sunglasses (he’s been the unofficial brand ambassador for decades).

On a nostalgic note, for urban gypsies like me, holidays in Coorg meant a return to innocence. We hunted for bulbul and weaverbird nests in thickets, and shinned up trees laden with juicy oranges, mangoes, jackfruit, papaya, mulberries and guavas waiting to be plucked. We helped to milk the cows each morning, led cattle to grazing fields, fed the chickens and pranced to nearby streams with baskets and thin towels to catch schools of tiny fish and crabs. We skipped into the woods to pop wild berries and went mushroom picking in meadows carpeted by fungi. We knew our aalandi, koday and nuchchi-kummh (edible mushrooms) from our puchchi-kummh (toxic variety causing hallucinations). Tribal labourers would bring wild honey, venison, vannak yerachi (smoked meat) and bemble (bamboo-shoot) and we’d watch them transform into lipsmacking delicacies.

Image

Our aunts served up dishes we’d only read about in Enid Blyton books: bakes and homemade preserves of raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. The pantry was a virtual lab with bottled jellies of guava and banana, jars of pickled mangoes, bitter lemon, dates, pork and fish. Perhaps, Coorg women believe anything can be pickled or fermented into wine! Check out the wine-list at any ethnic wedding. Grape is passé. For us, it has to be passion fruit, ginger, pineapple, mulberry, rice, jamun, orange, betel-leaf, flower extracts or coffee liqueurs. Meanwhile, our uncles created targets to hone our sharp-shooting skills and drummed out sounds of kodava-aat as we danced under starlight. Those wild days and bonfire nights seemed to go on forever.

Perhaps, things have changed, but traces of a life of Riley and a fancy for the finer things still remain. And every time I step on Coorg soil, rain-drenched and leech-ridden, I know this is the only place where I stop to smell the roses. My home, my land, my secret garden.

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This piece appeared in Impressions, a celebrity column in Bengaluru & Karnataka (2nd Edition) a guide book by Stark World Publishing, Bangalore