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Want to see elephants and drink great coffee - Come ot Coorg

Recalling a journey I took in November 2011

Google area map of the places mentioned are shown in the first photo.

On the slopes of the Western Ghats in India, perched on a tiny slice of Karnataka in the southern part of India there is a paradise called 'Coorg' (Anglicized version of 'Kodagu', they were never good at vowels). This is the hub of the friendly and hospitable native ethnic group more popularly known as 'Kodavas'. Coorg is the major producer (there are really two) of 'Coffee' in India producing the exotic spices like pepper and cardamom besides a host of others. Madikeri is the principal city in Coorg.

Bylakuppe, on the way to Madikeri (Mercara is the Anglicized name)
Pictures are worth a thousand words. But Coorg is beautiful. As you travel from Bengaluru (which we did), bypass Mysore city; the fabled city of the Maharajahs and hit the State highway 88 you would be traveling south-west from where you started. The road is nice and even, with many excellent restaurants providing both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food and even one or two specializing in fish. After about 220 (about 137 miles) KMs from where you started you come to the little town of Bylakuppe which provided the home to Tibetans who fled Tibet after the Chinese Occupation of their home land and formed settlements in India.

Entrance to the temple complex
This settlement is in fact a home away from home for them. A  visitor such as myself is greeted by the distinct architectural style from Tibet; the robed monks with tonsured heads; the sounds of gongs and chanting; the beautiful manicured gardens; the neatly laid courtyards and well kept precinct transports you into quiet an alien world.

Entrance to one of the main temples with 3 huge Buddhas

A garden adjoining the temples

The great hall with the Buddhas and the cluster of smaller temples; depicting  Buddhistic lore as perceived by the Tibetans following the Mahayana branch of Buddhism should be extremely interesting to those interested in Buddhism.

Great hall of Buddha

The pictorial renderings, the Shishi lions and the demon like Dwara Palakas (door keepers in many Hindu temples as well as in Buddhist temples such as the one in Nara, Japan) reminded me of my days in Japan visiting many of the great centers of Buddhism.

There is an unmistakable link with Japanese Buddhism; the spectrum of colors in Tibet trumping over somber greys and shades of the same in Japan.

Dubare, heartland of Elephants in Kodagu

Turning into Highway 27 and after driving another 20 Kms south you come to the Dubare Elephant Camp; a tourist oriented camp among many others maintained by Jungle Lodges and Resorts Limited, an organ of Karnataka Government's Forest Department. This is the place where you want to go with your children and see Elephants in their natural habitat. After arriving in Dubare you cross the Cauvery River in a ferry and reach the camp grounds after a very short ride. The get-on, get-off approaches to the boats are not rough hewn and you would exercise caution.

Mid-way in the river Cauvery
Getting off at Elephants Observation area
If you arrive there around 4 P.M or so, to coincide with their feeding time you would see elephants driven by their Mahouts (the elephant driver) sometimes as young as 7 or 8. The tourists flock around the elephants and witness elephants fed with rice, jaggery and coconut wrapped in rice straw.

Feeding Elephants

Visitors communicate with elephants petting them, feeding them and have great fun.

Petting Elephants
There are also elephant rides if you are inclined to ride. At feed time you can meet more than 20 elephants from the very young to the very old and aging. The elephants are trained here to participate in the Dussehra and many other public / religious events and come back here when not participating. At the time of writing there were 60 employed to look after the elephants.

Besides knowing elephants you can also participate in other activities such as coracle riding (native circular boats made of bamboo and reeds) and river rafting.

Dubare to Omkareshwar Temple

Following State Highway 88 a few kilometers further south (see map) brings you to the neighborhood of the temple. Built in 1820 Omkareshwar temple is a significant reminder of our secularism and harmony. The temple is built with a fine blend of Indo-Islamic and Indo-Saracen architectural styles.

Entering the temple from the parking lot
The main gopuram (pyramidal structure common to many South Indian temples and the ancient Tamil dominated regions in Indonesia and Thailand) of the South Indian Temples give way to a Dome above the sanctum-sanctorum surrounded by minarets with the dome at the corners. Built to propitiate the crime of killing a Brahmin, the then ruling king Lingrajendra the Second built this temple dedicated to Omkareshwar, the main deity of the temple. Given the strong Muslim population in Coorg and the neighboring state of Kerala the influence is very easy to comprehend. After parking the car you enter from a side which opens to an open Prakara (walled enclosure) in the center of which you see a Kalyani (a pond).

You need to climb a flight of steps to enter the temple. There is a sacrificial altar at the very entrance and a few more steps bring you to the sanctum-sanctorum.

The main deity, Shiva is flanked by his warrior son Kartikeya and the all-knowing Ganesha.

The above picture taken by Aasif K Farooki for his article on the following site and is used with his permission. The picture is taken from the steps leading to the temple looking out.

From Omkareshwar to TigersCorner Homestay at Hakattur

We tried to catch a glimpse of the Abbey Falls at Abborkatte (about 8 Kms North-East of Madikeri) but it was visitor closing time. I believe it is very beautiful with a hanging bridge and a scenic spot with coffee plantations on either side. Water collected over a large area drops down here to feed the Cauvery (also written Kaveri sometimes) river. Our next move was to get to our lodgings for the night. Unfortunately the directions are not well marked and it helps to hire a local driver who can easily locate the place. The lack of proper guidance to visitor in the form of direction markers and sign posts would help the visitors immensely.
The air was getting colder and we drove towards our stay for the night at a Homestay in Hakattur, the Tiger Corner. Hakattur is only a few Kms directly south of Madikeri. Notwithstanding the name tigers are not seen here as this is not the tiger country (Go to Nagarhole National Park). It is owned by the plantation owner Mr. Prasad and maintained by his wife and other support staff.

 From Madikeri to the Tiger Corner the road is not paved except for a few patches here and there, but it is well worth the coming. It beats or matches in price the other Home-stays in and around Madikeri and the personal touch of Mr. Prasad enriched our stay. The rooms are clean with running hot & cold water; heat from the solar heater added to the machine produced heat.

There is both television and Internet although both were in the process of getting hooked up. We chatted with the owner over a bottle of scotch and nick-knacks to absorb the local news. My friend who was from Kodagu, who later married my sister had many things to discuss. The conversation was a mixture of Kodava, Kannada, English and hand gestures.
The dinner was tasty (you could get both vegetarian and non-vegetarian) with Chapattis; rice noodles, rice, sambars, palya (cooked vegetable with simple spices), curds (what is called Yoghurt in USA); a sweet and coffee. You could also get non-vegetarian food if you order beforehand. Coorgees (that’s how people of Coorg are called) are not strict vegetarians.

The night was cool but not cold and the night sounds were soothing. The day one came to an end hitting the sacks.

Learning about the estate produce

The Home-stay is in the middle of the coffee estate. Mr. Prasad took us out to show the coffee plants. He showed us the Robusta, Arabica and the Kaveri varieties of coffee. Explained how difficult it is to cultivate the coffee. He also explained the dynamics of coffee market and how a good crop in Brazil affects the value of local crop. But they were not doing too badly and the estate owners are known for their wealth.

The planted area (ground) is wet and slushy with the chances of picking up a leech or two is high. You should therefore wear knee-high boots if possible and in any case cover your feet completely. Slippers are no, no. The coffee beans are formed in clusters and I was told when in bloom the white flowers are very fragrant and beautiful.

Mr. Prasad also showed us the pepper corn vines growing on the Arecnut trees providing the overall shade for the coffee bushes underneath. We tasted the pepper-corn and true to its nature it was hot but exhilarating and killed the remnant cold in the chest.

Arecanut (aka betel nut) trees produce a kind of hard nut that is chewed together with beetle leaves and a dash of calcium hydroxide (known as chunnum in Tamil) mashed in the mouth producing a rich red to scarlet color and the juices produced are supposed to improve the digestion. This is a must in most Hindu and Indian weddings after the wedding banquet.

The black soil is also conducive to the growth of cardamom another exotic spice from India. The berries which contain the cardamom pods are at the very bottom of what looks like ginger plants. They look like nodules in-situ and it needs to be processed before it hits the market. Mr. Prasad picked up a few of the berries for us to taste crushed in his palm and the taste of cardamom was superb and nothing like the ones I was used to.

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More Stories By Jayaram Krishnaswamy

Jayaram Krishnaswamy is a technical writer, mostly writing articles that are related to the web and databases. He is the author of SQL Server Integration Services published by Packt Publishers in the UK. His book, 'Learn SQL Server Reporting Services 2008' was also published by Packt Publishers Inc, Birmingham. 3. "Microsoft SQL Azure Enterprise Application Development" (Dec 2010) was published by Packt Publishing Inc. 4. "Microsoft Visual Studio LightSwitch Business Application Development [Paperback] "(2011) was published by Packt Publishing Inc. 5. "Learning SQL Server Reporting Services 2012 [Paperback]" (June 2013) was Published by Packt Publishing Inc. Visit his blogs at: He writes articles on several topics to many sites.

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