Friday, May 11, 2007

My trip to Coorg

When me and my wife discussed going somewhere far from civilization, we did not expect that all our wishes will be answered this fast and this accurately.
The Coorg district of Karnataka is north-west of Mysore. We reached there by taking the train to Bangalore and then catching a bus from there to Madikeri (6 hours). The buses are easily available, even during peak season. Madikeri is the biggest town in Coorg and is also known by the English name - Mercara.
The district is in the middle of the Western Ghats; does not have any railway tracks in it; and is also known as Kodagu Nadu. The region has a rich history (of kings fighting other kings mostly) and is the first area in India where Coffee was planted. It still is known for its coffee estates.
General Cariappa was from Coorg - the region is known for its military service. The indigenuous people of Coorg are a minority now in their own district. At one point they had their own country, requiring a visa to get in from Karnataka, apparently. Then God punished them by making them a part of Karnataka.
Their way of life is fast disappearing.
Anyway, it is better to reserve a hotel before getting to Madikeri. Even in peak season (summer months) Madikeri is not very crowded - yet reserve your room just to be sure.

Where to Stay
There are a number of hotels -
Hotel Coorg International - rates vary from Rs.3000 to Rs.4500 per night. You do not need AC in Madikeri - it is cooool, even in summer.
Orange County Resorts - This is 5 star and somehow charge Rs.12000 per night! They are nuts.
I stayed at a resort recommended by one my friends - Capitol Village. The rates are Rs.1200 per night.

How long to stay
The one question you may have is how long to stay in Coorg. Now that depends on your goal in life. Let me explain:
Basically in life, there are two kinds of people - those who go to vacation areas and want to SEE everything. They get a kick out of dragging their spouses along and SEEING. They don't want to miss a single notable place. When they come back after vacation, they hate it when someone points out they have not visited the place where the King went to toilet. They are thorough - they get a guide book and tick off items with marker pens.
They also cannot stay at any place after they have SEEN everything.
For such people, the entire Coorg district can be covered in a couple of days. Start at breakfast and by 7PM you can come home deeply exhausted but satisfied that you did not miss the King's concubine's horse stable.
Now the other category involves people like me - I like to go on vacation and SLEEP. That is my idea of a good vacation - a nice bed. I would travel hundreds of miles and spend thousands reaching that bed; but that is what I look forward to - a bed.
Whatever unique places are near that bed (such as the Niagara Falls) are purely incidental. They just happened to be close to the bed and I may peek at them. But only if I had enough sleep.
So, I can stay at Madikeri for 4-5 days because it is the best place to sleep.

Our Adventures in Coorg
Capitol Village is 6 km from Madikeri. I was sure that the auto guy was going to kill us and take our belongings when he turned off the dark road into a darker non-road. But deep in that path lay the resort of Capitol Village.
Our room was facing a valley - we could barely see it in the night; but early morning, it was obvious - it was a deep valley, surrounded by hills. The hills had mist on them. Our room was in the middle of a jungle. The consequences of this unfolded later.

On the first day we went to Abbi Falls. On the way we were taken to the Raja's Tomb. This Tomb has a weird architecture. Actually, the Omkareshwar temple also is weird. Basically because the Coorg was ruled by Hindus, and these Hindus were heavily influenced by Muslim architecture, the temple and the tomb both have minarets - like a mosque. I thought this could be a great scene for some future Maniratnam movie, where everybody joins their hands together and proclaim love for India.
By the way, it seems the Raja fought Tipu Sultan. That is right - he is one of the bad guys in the television serial.

We also went to the Raja's Seat. I was puzzled by the name of this landmark. I expected that the Raja had some kind of huge chair and I did not want to waste time looking at furniture and the Royal bottom's impressions on said furniture. But, it turned out this is a scenic park which overlooks a beautiful valley encircled by the Ghats. We sat in a bench looking at the valley for a long time and left when I started expressing interest in sleeping in the Raja's Seat.
When we were in the park, we noticed some Tibetan monks around. They wore the distinctive red and orange robes. Then we went to a hotel to have lunch and the monks were there too, munching on Aloo Parotta. I was curious about this invasion of the Monks until I found that in KushalNagar (a town on the way to Madikeri), there is a Tibetan Golden Temple. We never saw it but have it marked for the next time.
Madikeri also has a Fort. We unforunately took the wrong way into the Fort and landed by the Central Jail of Madikeri. We were turning back and I saw a few very old iron vessels lying around and commented to my wife about the historically antique material in the fort. She pointed out they were rusted cement mixers and probably were only as "antique" as fifty years.
Abbi Falls did not have much water because of summer - but the pathway to reach it was beautiful. I wish they had provided an easy way to get down to the falls. You have to slide down a steep slope to reach it and by the time you are down there, you are forced to bath because you are all dirty.

The fauna of the Tropics
That night we lost electric power. The room was closed and hot and we came out and sat in the verandah overlooking the balcony. It was raining outside, with lightning and thunder. It was pitch dark and we heard sounds very similar to the ones you hear in Jurassic Park. I was convinced that a Ty Rex was heading our way.
We found that there were different insects and birds that like to scare the hell out of humans. One of them, for example, liked just knocking the tree branch next to us. He would knock all day and all night.
There was also the weird, guttural "Khooooo Khoooo" insect. This guy pretended he was looking for his mate, but it was obvious he was doing it just to keep us awake.
One of the insects sounded like my grandfather's snoring.
This is the extent of my naturalist knowledge.

So, I had always been excited to see the place, the very source from which the river Cauvery originates. The idea excited me a lot - and I had seen the river Thamiraparany's origin in Vaana Theertham (Tirunelveli).
We hired a taxi and went towards TalaCauvery.
We travelled along very quiet, narrow Ghat roads and reached, on the way to TalaCauvery, a town called Bhagamandala - the town that they said had a Thriveni Sangam (where three rivers meet). Now the term Thriveni Sangam is heavily abused because Hindus just flock to these places and start praying and pleasing their ancestors. The famous Thriveni Sangam is in Allahabad where the Ganga, the Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati meet and then flow forward as Ganga. Thriveni mania has gotten to such an extent that now if three small canals meet, people call it Thriveni Sangam.
Now, I hate to break it to the dear residents of Bhagamandala - but what you got is not a Thriveni Sangam. At best you got a TwoVeni Sangam (ha ha). Because there are three branches ONLY - that means two of them are combining into another and that is definitely TwoVeni.
The three "rivers" are:
Cauvery, Kannika and Sujyothi. Either Cauvery is formed by Kannika and Sujyothi (which means TalaCauvery is a scam) or Cauvery disappears into one of these rivers, in which case we got a major naming problem.
After successfully mathematically explaining this to my wife, I went to explain this to the brahmin priest who was handling the ancestors. My wife intervened and dragged me away.

Then we started climbing the road to TalaCauvery. TalaCauvery is 8 kms from Bhagamandala; and you can take a bus from Madikeri to Bhagamandala and then take a taxi from there. Hiring a taxi directly from Madikeri to TalaCauvery and back cost us Rs.1200.
As we climbed, at around 3000 feet, I saw this sign that showed a monkey and said "Do not tease the animals".
I was excited to know there were animals around and informed my wife.
Then at 3500 feet, there was a sign that had a bison in it and said, "Sanctuary".
I was still more excited, and I told my wife that Karnataka was very environment conscious.
Then at 4000 feet, one km from TalaCauvery, I saw a sign that showed a Tiger and said "Protect the Tiger" and I freaked out.
I was like, "Let us just turn back and leave. There are tigers around".
I mean, they should have put these signs in reverse. If I had seen the tiger sign in Bhagamandala, I would never have come up. These Kannadigas are crafty.
And then we saw the temple of Cauvery. It was beautifully situated and was white with marble. Unfortunately the Karnataka Tourism department has decided they want to "enhance" the tourism "potential" and so they are there with heavy earth equipment spoiling the whole area. The tank where Cauvery is born had very little dirty water and I thought that was construction water. The priest there said that was Cauvery.
Right behind the temple are a steep series of 400 steps going up to a peak. We climbed up there and found the climb enchanting. Mist and clouds were moving in and we were actually standing among clouds. The temple was far below and the whole basin of cauvery was beautiful.
On the way down the steep steps, we saw some dung. I cannot imagine that a cow climbed all the way up there -I think that was tiger dung and the tiger was probably coming back to cover it up.
You should definitely visit TalaCauvery.

The Decision
I was enjoying coorg immensely. I could write, read a lot (I finished a classy book called "The Remains of the Day" there). It was all good, and I planned to spend two more days there.
But then we were walking along this small lake in Capitol Village and enjoying the peace, the unification with the Soul of the World..when something broke next to us and THOUSANDS of little insects started swarming towards us. These were hatched by the rain the previous day.
We reacted as the Marines did in "Black Hawk Down" - I screamed "Go, Go, Go" and we ran like crazy with our eyes closed and hands slapping the insects crashing into us. My wife was trying to cover both her ears and at the same time slap the insects and run - it was hugely comical and any person from a distance (who could not see the insects) must have thought we were released from the local asylum.
We ran and then reached the door of our room, ready to burst in and stopped short: There was a HUGE BLACK SPIDER sitting on our door.
I screamed. My wife stepped up and aimed a wild kick at the spider and fell down. I caught her and by the time we recovered - the spider was gone. That is, it disappeared.
We had no idea where it went. It could have gone into our room, and even now could be plotting its way out from our bags in Chennai. Or, as we prefer to think, it got scared on seeing our lack of enough legs and went back to Mordor.
Anyway, the next day we were out of Coorg. We will go back there definitely, though.