It is the time of the year when the mercury level goes up, and travelling to every possible destination is not easy. Hills stations and mountains are a way out where the weather remains pleasant and unaffected by the raising temperatures in the planes. In the days to come, 'India Explored' will help you find those places where you can escape the summers, starting with Coorg.
Overview. Coorg is the anglicized name for the district of Kodagu in southern part of Karnataka. It is a hilly region that falls in the Sahyadri ranges(Western Ghats) that stretches from Maharashtra to Kerala. Being at an altitude, weather remains cool to moderate through the year, making it possible to visit the region in summer as well as winters. It rains heavily during the monsoon months of June to September, a period when Coorg is best avoided. Of course, for those who love rains it is a good opportunity to beat the crowds of the peak season.
Orientation. Madikeri is a small town on the top of a hill that serves as district headquarters for Coorg. Some times Madikeri and Coorg are incorrectly used interchangeably. Virajpet, Gonikoppa and Kushalnagar are the other major towns in the district. Most places of sightseeing are far apart and may take up to an hour of drive from each other. Best way to travel within Coorg is with your own vehicle. If you have to depend on public transport, ensure that you have plenty of time. Coorg can be accessed from Mysore, Bangalore and Mangalore. Buses are available to travel within Coorg but some places are not connected at good frequency. Roads are hilly and curvy, and due to heavy rains during the monsoon every year, they are usually in a bad condition, and you may be forced to drive at average speeds no greater than 30-40km.
Kodavas, the local community have a distinguished culture of their own and speak their own language. Kodavas are known as valiant people and have a made a significant contribution to Indian Army; that includes first Field Marshal Kariappa.
Sightseeing and Activities.
Raja Seat. As the name says, it is place where the king used to sit and spend his time. It is a small garden in Madikeri town, and one end of it plunges into a valley, offering good views. You can see people whiling away their time in the evening here, but the best time to be here is in the morning when it is quiet and the views are at its best. It is generally foggy in the morning during the winter months, and sometimes even in the summer. It is close to Madikeri bus stand, ask anyone for directions once you are in Madikeri.
Abbi Falls. A short drive from Madikeri, this waterfall is in a private coffee estate but is open to all. There is usually water through the year, though may not be a lot of it in the summer months. You can drive here from Madikeri(20 minutes) or take a rickshaw. Public transport may not be available.
Kaveri Nisargadhama. This is a small island formed by River Kaveri, approached through a charming hanging footbridge, and is developed into a park by Karnataka's Department of Tourism. Families come here to spend time in a forest like ambience. There is a deer park and bamboo groves inside but the biggest attraction is the river itself. You can also go on short elephant rides. There are a few rooms to stay in the island, book ahead with the Tourism Department. Nisargadhama is on Mysore-Madikeri road is 15 minutes away from Kushalanagar town.
Dubare Forest Elephant Camp. This is a short drive from Kaveri Nisargadhama. Forest Department runs an elephant camp here on the bank of Kaveri. Jungle Lodges and Resorts, a Government of Karnataka initiative organizes day visits to the camp where one can take elephant rides and join hands with Mahouts to wash the elephants. It is a scenic place by the river and a good location to spend time.
Harangi Dam. A reservoir, also a short drive from Kushalanagar and Kaveri Nisargadhama. The lake formed by the dam is surrounded by thick forest.
Bylakuppe Tibetan Settlement. This is one of the largest Tibetan settlements anywhere in the world. See a little Tibet manifest itself in the village where you can see monks in prayer or Tibetan children playing. It is like stepping into a whole new world completely different from rest of the atmosphere. Visit Namdroling Monastery and the Golden Temple and get a feel of Tibet as authentic as Tibet itself.
Bhagamandala and Talakaveri. A confluence of rivers, Bhagamandala is a holy place. As it often seems to happen, it is said to be a meeting point of three rivers but you can see only two of them. Kannike, Sujyoti and Kaveri are the three rivers, Sujyoti being the mythical third one. Talakaveri is the place of origin of Kaveri, which is 10km from Bhagamandala and is on the top of a hill. Besides being a holy place, Talakaveri falls on the edge of Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary where you can see rolling hills of the Western Ghats(and a few defunct wind mills). Bhagamandala is an hour's drive from Madikeri and is also well connected by buses. There is no public transport to Talakaveri but an asphalted road connects it from Bhagamandala.
Nalknad Palace and Iguthappa temple. These two places, which are 5km apart are in a small village called Kakkabe and are identified with Kodava heritage. Nalknad palace is a small structure a few centuries old. Iguthappa temple is sacred to Kodavas. Kakkabe village is on the way from Madikeri to Virajpet, 40km away from Madikeri. Buses connect Kakkabe from both the towns.
Thadiyandamol. Thadiyandamol is the highest peak in Coorg, more than 1400m high from sea level. Reaching the top is a four-hour trek and one needs to be reasonably fit. Once on the top, you can see great views of hills spreading far away. It is said that you can see Arabian Sea from here on a clear day. The trek begins from Kakkabe village, and can be completed within a day.
Brahmagiri. Brahmagiri is another high peak and a popular trek in Coorg. This is generally done as a two-day trek. Since the peak falls within Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, those who want to trek must take permission from forest office in nearby Srimangala village and have to take a forest guard as escort.
Irpu Falls. This waterfall is at the beginning of the trek to Brahmagiri. You can see water here through the year, though it won't be much in the summers. Irpu is a deviation from other well-known places in Coorg. To get here from Madikeri, you may have to take a bus to Gonikoppa town first and then change to another bus that can take you to Irpu. However, the effort is worth it and the falls is in a beautiful location.
River rafting. Rafting trips are organized in peak monsoon seasons in Barapole River. See http://www.coorgrafting.com/ for more details.
Food and Accommodation.
Madikeri has a few options of hotels. Other towns - Virajpet and Kushalnagar may have some basic accommodation but nothing reliable. The best places to stay are the home-stay accommodations spread all over rural Coorg. Nearly every sightseeing location mentioned above would have a few home stays dotted in the villages around them. Most of these home-stays can be found online; search for them. The home stays are often within private coffee estates that give you an opportunity to wander in these estates or go for treks in the forests around them. Orange County is the most well known up market resort in the district. When you are staying in the home stays, ask for the Kodava specialty dishes of Pandi Curry and Kadambuttu.
How to reach Coorg. Coorg is connected by buses from Mysore(3 hours), Bangalore(6 hours) and Mangalore(3 hours). You can also drive from these places. Nearest major train stations are Mysore and Mangalore, and nearest airport is Mangalore.