A trip into the Coorg region of Karnataka; beyond the usual Madikeri; winding past the elephant country at Dubare, with a brief stop en-route at the largest Tibetan settlement at least in this part of the country ( Bylakuppe ); and from thereon towards the second highest peak in Karnataka, at Kakkabe … staying by at beautiful and warm home stays that the region is more famously famous for !
My free wandering spirit had been yearning for a sojourn in the hills this time, and a drive into the scenic environs of Coorg just made it for me ! I had been eyeing this article in my ‘drive holidays’ book for some time now; about a road-trip from Bangalore to Coorg, that was just so enticing ! I had been to quite a few photography trips lately, so this time I planned for just-another road trip with my friends, nothing more and nothing less !
Christmas holidays presented a good opportunity, for we had a 4 day break. 2 days were reserved for the to-and-fro drive; one-day for the Dubare elephant camp; covering nearby locations and driving down to Kakkabe by nightfall. One other day was reserved solely for a trek to Tadiyandamol, the 2nd highest peak in Karnataka. That was the plan to start with !
Only one of my college friends cared to join me on this one, but we were a team nevertheless; his passion for the new feeding my hunger for the same every now and then ! We started off on a warm Christmas morning ( yeah rite, warm it was !! ), taking the usual NICE road ( from Banerghatta road ) all the way to Mysore road. Just before entering Mysore, we took a right on to it’s outer ring road, and were headed on to Hunsur road after taking another right turn from it ( GPS is ure friend guys !! ). After crossing Hunsur, the route takes Mysore-Mangalore highway all the way till Bylakuppe, which was our first stop en-route to a home-stay near Dubare. This route is in a pretty good condition all the way from Bangalore, so no worries !
The Namdroling monastery at Bylakuppe is the prime attraction of this place, and can be reached after taking a short diversion ( to your left ) from the highway. Just ask people around or trust your GPS ! About Bylakuppe; it is supposed to be the largest Tibetan settlement in India, and it will look the same for sure once you are near the monastery. There are several beautiful temples inside the monastery, and I being ignorant of the Tibetan faith, could think about Lord Buddha alone. There’s a particular one which has 40 ft high statues of 3 of the Gods, and is subsequently photographed the most. We took our own sweet time to go around and click pictures, while at the same time observing the prayer rituals amid sounds of huge gongs ( or perhaps drums, I’m not sure ! ). Beautiful colorful paintings all around the temple walls enthralled our senses, even though the place was a bit crowded ( weekend holiday time ! ).
After shopping for some lucky charms inside the monastery, we were out. I had read about another of the monasteries ( Kagyudpa ) near there which was supposed to be at a higher ground and hence, in a scenic locale. After asking for directions at each turn ( further ahead from Namdroling, and at a distance of 4-5 kms from there), we did manage to find the place. We spent another half hr there taking in the scene and clicking our way through, and then headed the same way back to the highway. The entire monastery visit cost us 2-3 hours, and it was worth it all the while !
Back on the highway, our next task was already cut-out for us. We had to find our way to the home-stay that we had booked for the night. A few mobile calls and ‘road inquiries’ past, we were there. It was dark already, and a bit cold too. However, it was comforting to find our room decently spacious and comfortable. Built in the traditional Kodava style, it sported a slanting wooden roof and pillars; the colors white and brown pretty dominant in adding the old world ‘wooden’ charm ! We settled in for the night slowly, starting with some drinks; and then when delicious food was served later, we hogged on it ! Tired, we were all set for a good night’s sleep. The elephants at Dubare were beckoning us already 🙂 !
Details about the home-stay: http://coorgriverview.com/. Pretty decently priced. Food was great but service not as good. All in all, we paid INR 3500/- for our stay, including food. Prime attraction: River Cauvery flows by pretty close from this property, and it’s a bit secluded towards the river bank, so you can spend some quiet time with nature here; enjoy the sound of water flowing past, with nothing much else to hear !
Next day began pretty early for me, and I got up not long after the sunrise. Even as I came out of my room, there was a thin layer of mist around and in the forests yonder. Eager to practice some macro photography, I got my gear out and began clicking beautiful flowers around, and the distant scenery. The fresh mountain air was working wonders on my psyche, and I breathed in all I could ! It was not long before the sun came in view out of the clouds, it’s early morning glow adding to the magic and refreshing us all ! The mist had parted by the time my room-mate joined me for his photography.
After our brief stint outside, we went in and got ready for the day. Breakfast was served out in the open, and the sun was not hot yet ( Yes, afternoons do get hot here, as Coorg is not that high on the altitude front ! ). We were on the road yet again, and it took us another half hr to reach the Dubare elephant camp. The road is just ok once u turn inside from the main stretch, and it’s hardly a kilometer or two. The camp can actually be reached only after crossing the Cauvery river, and mind you the queue for the boat ride can get quite long as the day wears on. Parking space becomes a problem as well if you are driving, so it’s advisable to arrive early. We did ! It was easy to notice later on, that this camp is a prime attraction in this part of Kodagu (as Coorg is known in local parlance).
Once inside the camp, we had the opportunity to witness elephants up close, and partake in their day-to-day activities. There was quite some crowd at the camp, however, and we chose to watch ( and click ) the proceedings instead of taking part in them. People took their turns in scrubbing up those majestic beasts as they came in to the water one by one, and then feeding and finally riding on top of them for short rides. The elephants, I guess, were quite used to the scene and were more than eager to oblige ! It was a good one hour that we spent there. I was eager for a trek inside the jungles, but it was not to be for day visitors. Guests of Jungle Lodges ( a premium govt resort chain set up in different parts of Karnataka ), could, however, indulge themselves. Day ‘trippers’ could partake in some rafting, though, but it’s pretty smooth during this part of the year ( no rapids ).
Once back from the camp, we spent no time in getting out of the place ( it was pretty crowded by now ), and drove all the way to our next stop, the Nisargadhama ( half hr drive at most from the Dubare camp ). It’s a decked up garden-cum-small zoo in an island formed by the Cauvery river, although it’s not maintained that well. It’s more of a family place where children can have much better fun ! There’s a beautiful spot, though, where you can spend some time by the river and enjoy the ‘shady’ settings !
After having lunch outside Nisargadhama, we moved on to another location that I had heard about, the Harangi dam. We were in for a rude shock, however, when we were told that we could not go inside the dam premises coz of some legal matters. Nevertheless, we spent some time picturing in the scene near the dam; roaming around. It’s a magnificent structure for sure.
We drove our way back from the dam, and on to our home stay, from where we checked-out after some time and some rest. I was now looking forward to another short drive to a pre-booked home-stay at Kakkabe. It was a very good drive till a certain point ( what with the soft evening light ! ) , after which a turn towards Kakkabe took us on to the not-so-good part of it ! It was tolerable to quite a good extent, however, and due to the excellent mobile network in those seemingly remote parts, we were received at the home-stay well in time for dinner.
The Indraprastha home stay is a pretty nice option to stay put in Kakkabe ( a veritable country house in the middle of a coffee estate, with beautiful wooden interiors ). It’s quite a bit inside from the main road, however, and is best arrived at before sunset. This was not the case with us, but we did manage to catch up thanks to excellent directions from it’s owner. The roads inside from the highway are not good, and narrow as well, so you need to watch out for an oncoming vehicle most of the time. Thankfully for us, we did not encounter any such challenge while driving all the way till the home-stay deep inside the estate. It was dinner time already when we arrived ! https://www.facebook.com/homestay.indraprastha?fref=ts.
Sumptuous dinner over, we relaxed on our beds and went off to sleep, only to wake up next morning with beautiful views all around us. Imagine an early cold morning, mist all around you and a ‘very green’ rolling plantation below ! Even as we were enjoying the views, one among the estate owners came up to us, and spoke at length about the history of the place and it’s demographics now ( how they had become a minority etc ). A very affable fellow I must say ! After receiving a small lesson in coffee and pepper plantations, we went around for a small walk, tasted the very bitter pepper seed, did some photography, and got back to a breakfast of hot local fare ( I remember rice balls among them ! ).
We were now all set to indulge ourselves with views from the second highest peak in Karnataka, Tadiyandamol. Also the prime attraction in Kakkabe! We set of from Indraprastha towards the very famous ‘Honey Valley Estate’, which has a trekking route towards the peak. For future trekkers, here’s the info. Tadiyandamol has 2 routes all the way up. The longer but more picturesque route ( 3.5 hrs either way ) starts from Honey valley estate. This is a private route as well. The more common ( public ) shorter route ( 2 to 2.5 hrs either way ) starts from Palace estate. Stay at honey valley is much cheaper, however, and it provides you with a guide as well.
We chose honey valley ( for some reason I don’t remember now, but perhaps it was closer from Indraprastha ). What we didn’t know was that honey valley is located at quite an elevation, and you need to park your vehicle at the base, from where one of their mahindra 4-wheel drives will take you all the way up. We wanted to check their place out before booking, and we chose to walk ! It was a short but strenuous trek all the way ( approx. 2 kms from the base ), and I was pretty exhausted by the time we made it.
Bookings done, it was already around 10-11am, and we were told that Thadiyandamol could not be made that day. Disappointed just a bit, we picked up their trekking guide book, and start exploring one among the other shorter trekking routes. Soon it was a green blanket all around us, and even as we started closing in on the route that would lead us to the base of a waterfall, we realized that we were lost ! To make matters more exciting, I had dropped off the guide book on my way somewhere. We could see the waterfall though, and we kept moving in it’s direction anyway. Traversing one hill after another, desolate and with low vegetation mostly, we kept moving forward. I was a bit terrified of the whole prospect though; trying to make sure that we could trace our way back, and hoping that we don’t encounter any animals as such. We did not meet any, but soon, after getting down into thick vegetation and crossing a stream, we encountered quite a few leeches as is pretty common in these parts !
Afternoon was already passe, and we were now an hour and more into our trek. Without a guide book and a proper trekking route, and with the waterfall still looking an hour away at least, we decided to have enough of our solitary adventure for now, and started returning back. We could re-trace our path soon, and I even found out my guide book on our way ( what a relief it was ! ). We got back to the intersection of paths that we started from, and decided to try out another of those trek routes.
Once again, we could not find what we started looking for, but we somehow managed to complete a full circle to Honey valley’s base by the end of it. There is a nice private waterfall ( named Chingara ) at the base where we cooled our heels for a while, before getting back to the estate after a jeep ride and some walking again. It was near sunset by that time, and I settled down for some drinks and for some reading ( more drinks and some music to follow ! ). We ate to our hearts’ content later on, and it was time to enjoy a relaxed sleep after a hectic but very satisfying day. I was actually pretty relieved after being able to get back from our adventures that day !
We woke up pretty early next morning, and started exploring another trek route ( needless to say the rest, we could not find what we started for, and it was then that I started having doubts about the guide book itself. Was it meant for us to get lost 🙂 ? I would never know ! ). This time round, we came down to the main road after quite some walking, and really nice views. We said our good-byes to a local lad on his way to school, who we had chatted up during the last leg of our trek, and started walking back again. A few rides later, we were at the estate dining hall, bang on time for our breakfast.
After some freshening up, it was time for us to leave, and enjoy another drive back to Bangalore through the ( closer ) Virajpet-Hunsur-Mysore route. On our way, and pretty close from honey valley, we spent some time at the famous Chelavara falls. A beautiful and not-so-crowded place this, it’s a good half hr inside from the main highway, and the road is not good either. But then, it’s not that bad if you have some extra time to kill ! The whole de-tour will set you back by 2 hrs at the most I believe.
Once back on the highway, this route was a very nice experience all the way, except for a couple of kilometers through the Virajpet reserve forest, where the road was getting ready to get laid up.
An uneventful drive and a few mandatory stops later, we were back in Bangalore, ready to join in the daily grind but with memories of our trip that I still cherish !
Chau guys … I’ll be back, perhaps with an account of my Kathmandu visit which is on the anvil early next month !
and btw, we can’t have enough of Coorg’s ‘prettily palpable’ greenery, can we 🙂 ?