Coorg Travel Diaries – Memories of a holiday that made me fall in love with nature, again!
Coorg – The Scotland of India
Travel Diaries – Coorg (Part 1)
Every year, we decide to take a break and visit a place we both haven’t seen, in a quest to spend some time relaxing and in our case, this time, talking. Since Narayan has literally shifted his base to Bangalore since last couple of months, our conversations have been limited. So, this vacation, we decided that we will cut down on the sight seeing part a bit and just relax and catch up on a lot of things. So we chose Coorg as our first holiday destination and were absolutely in love with the weather and nature.
When we landed at Mangalore Airport (better option than Bangalore as you can cut down the road travel time to say 2.5 hours), and got into the car, little did we know what we had in store for us for the next 4 days of stay in Coorg. Coorg is around 4 to 5 hours drive (with stops for refreshments etc) from Mangalore Airport but trust me, the journey doesn’t tire you at all. Lush greenery all around, cool atmosphere and winding roads (yes all through the 4 hour journey) leads you to a scenic destination called Coorg which is adorned with coffee plantations and pepper creepers on the silver oak trees. The winding roads could be bothersome for people who suffer from motion sickness. For nature lovers, such as ourselves, we knew that very moment that we had made the right choice of choosing this destination for our vacation.
We have been members with Club Mahindra, which is a resort chain across India and abroad and usually stay with them, so the food and stay experience has always been great. This particular resort at Coorg (Virajpet, to be precise), is set inside a coffee plantation. They have used part of the land to build a resort and retained part of the coffee plantation to ensure the area is surrounded by lush greenery. A plantation tour is also organised by them which is quite good and informative. A separate post on the same would be part of the Series 2 of this post as Coffee, which is my poison, deserves a special mention.
On the day of arrival, we simply checked in, had some food including the aloo parathas that I had packed as part of our lunch (we don’t eat the in-flight meals as they really lack nutrition and not to forget, taste), chalked out our travel itinerary for the next 4 days and then slept like a log. Woke up the next morning to begin our Day 1 of the 4 day sightseeing plan.
Day 1 – woke up to a hearty breakfast (more like brunch). First pit stop was Chelavara Falls which took us an hour to reach from Virajpet. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to climb. Not an extremely steep climb but there are no steps available. Our only motivation was that we could hear the sounds of the water gushing and wanted to make it to the top to see the beautiful waterfall. We were told by our guide cum driver that this place is usually crowded during monsoons when the waterfall is at its peak but the route to the waterfall turns into a mucky and dangerous climb as there are no steps (no railings either) and the red mud turns very slippery. The path towards the falls is pretty beautiful, coffee trees on both sides, huge silver oak trees that support the pepper creepers. The path that usually takes 20 minutes, took us around 40 minutes or so as we were busy capturing nature’s bounty in lovely sunlight through our lens. The waterfall was a beautiful sight and makes you dive right into it, but the same is restricted. So, after loads of photography, huffing and puffing, we made our descent and moved to the next destination for the day, the Talacauvery Temple and the peak view.
Points to Remember
- Ensure you book a vehicle for all the 3 days of travel. It is convenient and the best way to experience Coorg.
- Visit the place (above) on the first half of your day. The weather is apt for the climb and the photography. During winters, it gets dark pretty soon so reaching there later than 4pm is not a good idea.
- Wear Sports shoes for outings in Coorg. Most of the places require you to climb and can put pressure on your knees and legs so its best to wear comfortable shoes with good grip. No heels absolutely.
- Carry a bottle of water and a cap, sunglasses etc.
- Wear light cotton clothes, so you perspire less.
- Parking facility is available.
Talacauvery Or Talakaveri Temple
Time to reach Talacauvery from Chelavara Falls is around and hour and a half. The drive never gets boring though. If you have lived in a metro city like Mumbai and are used to getting stuck in a traffic jam and waiting patiently for the vehicle to move, you would certainly find the long drives here a lovely experience.
Talacauvery or Talakaveri is the place where the River Kaveri or Cauvery as it is spelled these days, originated. The story goes that the river Kaveri was held by Sage Agastya in a kamandal (Container for holding sacred water). Lord Ganesha then took a form of a crow and perched on the kamandal when Sage Agastya was meditating. While shooing away the bird, the Kamandal was tipped by the crow and it fell leading to the release of river Kaveri.
You can see the origin of the river in the form of a small tank that the temple authorities have constructed from where water originates. Taking a dip is allowed there.
From the Talacauvery temple towards the right, an approx 250 step climb leads you to the Brahmagiri Peak and the lush greenery surrounding the hills. The entry to the hills is restricted after 5pm so ensure you reach early and enjoy the view and also indulge in some photography. Senior citizens or people with leg / knee issues can skip the view, if they like and just visit the temple.
After completing the much needed workout, we headed over to see the Triveni Sangam. Yes, we did stop for lunch on the way, but that is really not worth mentioning here. Hence the opening line, hearty brunch. There are not much hotels on the way, just a small state run Andhra mess and the food served is really not up to the mark. However, a pit stop is necessary in case of nature calls (pretty decent) etc and some light refreshments (read ice cream).
Points to Remember
- Visit the place during the first half of your day. The weather is apt for the climb and the photography. During winters, it gets dark pretty soon so reaching there later than 4 pm is not a good idea. Entry to the hills is restricted after 5 pm.
- Wear Sports shoes for outings in Coorg. Most of the places require you to climb and can put pressure on your knees and legs so it’s best to wear comfortable shoes with good grip. No heels absolutely.
- Carry a bottle of water, some snacks (not many hotels in the vicinity) and a cap, sunglasses etc.
- Wear light cotton clothes so you perspire less.
- Parking is available near the temple.
Bhagandeshwara Temple and Triveni Sangam
Post our lunch and refreshments break, we headed over to the Bhagandeshwara temple visit which is about 20 minutes from Talacauvery temple. The temple is situated near the confluence of the three rivers, namely Cauvery, Kanika and Sujyoti. The temples (both Talacauvery and Bhagandeshwara) have been well maintained. Facilities for pilgrims are provided and the queues are also managed well by the temple authorities.
Pic below is of the Triveni Sangam
Points to Remember
- Carry a pair of clothes in case you wish to take a dip in the river. Changing room facilities are not that great.
- You can visit the place during the 2nd half of the day. The rush is comparatively less and you can actually sit near the river for sometime to relax.
- Parking is available near the temple.
This was our last stop for the day before heading back to the hotel. When we heard the word Palace, we thought it would be something similar to Mysore Palace. Nalknad Palace is a palace (more like a hideout) located near a village named Yavakapadi and was built between the years 1792 and 1794 AD. This palace was the last refuge of the last of the Haleri Kings of Kodagu, Chikka Verrarajendra before he was deposed by the British. In order to prevent major losses, the king had to surrender and the British deposed him to Benares. With this, Kodagu came under the direct rule of the British and Chikka Veerarajendra the last king of Kodagu was sent into exile.
The palace is a protected monument under the aegis of the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Karnataka (source – wikipedia)
Honestly speaking, the place needs good maintenance by the authorities. You can give this place a skip, if you can as there is nothing much to see except the house he has built. Entry is restricted after 5 pm as King Cobras have been found in the vicinity.
Points to Remember
- During winters, it gets dark by say 5 pm in the evening. Also, the drive is around and hour and half (1.5). It is advised to carry a shawl or a jacket during winters as it gets really cold by evening.
- Parking is available outside the palace. Not many tourists visit the place so it is comparatively less crowded. Entry fee is minimum.
After a hearty dinner (remember we just had an ice cream for lunch), we just took our share of much needed rest as the next day was to begin quite early.
Day 2 –
We decided to just have some tea and light snacks before starting our journey to Dubare Elephant Camp. We had to leave by 7.30 am as the Elephant camp is open from 8 am to 1 pm but the days when its not crowded, it is closed by 11 am. The way to reach the elephant camp is through a boat, hence the said timings. We were there by 9 am and were welcomed by a humongous queue (it was a Sunday). Finally, we ended up on the boat and at the camp by 10.00 am.
Why is this place special and why was I so excited? Well, not just kids, but adults also would love to visit this place. Reason – you get to bathe and scrub the elephants who come to the river for a bath from the forest. You can also feed the elephants at the camp.
Reason I loved this place so much is that they don’t tie the elephants and treat them like circus animals and they are not kept in cages either. For safety reasons, a trainer is always around with the elephant, giving instructions to both the elephants and us, ensuring the safety of the animal and us at all times.
Entry fee is just 30 bucks per person in case you just need to visit. If you want to bathe and scrub the elephants, you need 100 bucks per person, which I think is totally worth it. Such a stress buster just looking at the lovely animal, trying to bathe people with its trunk full of water and the kids yelling and screaming their lungs out, not wanting to go back home, since they were having so much fun.
Narayan and me both took our turns to feed the mighty elephants and I was super excited to feed a 3 year old elephant, named Prithvi who looked super cute and made cute noises while munching on the snacks people were feeding him. PS – By snacks I mean, the ones that the camp provides and we are allowed to feed. No other food is allowed to be offered to the animals strictly.
We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and were glad we woke up early and drove all the way to spend our first half with these mighty creatures. They are so loving and gentle but can be extremely fierce and strong when you mess with them.
We then took the boat back to the starting point and treated ourselves to a refreshing coconut water and started towards our next pit stop, the Golden Temple.
Points to Remember
- Towards the Golden Temple and in fact, near the Temple, there are many restaurants that offer decent vegetarian fare. We, however, on our trips, choose to eat a hearty breakfast and skip lunch or just have some juice or coconut water and stay hydrated.
- Before you proceed to Golden Temple, you can stop at some wonderful shops selling Coorg Spices. I recommend purchasing from a shop called Coorg Greens that’s located in Madikeri and has a wide variety of spices. Since Coorg is a spice hub, the best things to purchase would be black pepper, green pepper pickles, cardamom, bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves. You can also purchase a bottle of Forest honey from them. The shop offers you an option to courier in case you end up buying a lot of things and are worried about the excess baggage problems with airlines.
- For coffee powder, I would suggest you to buy the same from Ganesh Coffee House which is located in Madikeri. Ensure you reach there before 7pm in the evening as the shop usually closes early.
The Golden Temple (Namdroling Monastry) is the second largest Tibetan Camp in India. Beautifully designed, we couldn’t however, visit the premises from inside as it was undergoing restoration work and was closed. There are accommodation facilities for the monks who are studying there and who happily also pose for pictures with you, if you want.
We then proceeded to our next stop, Abbi Falls which is an hour of drive from the temple. Around 100 steps to reach the falls but the same is manageable as they are the concrete laid steps that are fairly easy to walk on. Since the place is a major tourist attraction, it is extremely crowded and a huge hit amongst the selfie generation kids and teens.
Looking at the rush, we decided to skip the other attractions like Omkareshwara temple and Raja’s seat. Frankly, too much of rush and screaming by tourists can be a major put off.
Then we went on to do something we both ended up regretting. Our trip to Mandalpatti Hills. One of Narayan’s friends suggested we do this trip. We were actually pretty tired of all the climbing and the continuous travelling but since he was all praises, we decided to give it a shot! Boy, we were speechless (literally) at the end of the travel. We just wanted to reach back to our hotel and lie down.
Okay, so here goes our story – This place is some 30 minute drive from Abbi falls and you are supposed to reach on the top of the hill before sunset (We didn’t know that sunset was the only attraction here). The only way to reach to the top is on a 4 – wheel drive Jeep (yes not even a gypsy vehicle that is usually the mode of transport in safaris). The initial 10 minutes was all okay and we could experience the scenic beauty of the hills and the thick forest. Then came the real bummer, the absolute pathetic condition of the roads (boulders actually), we held on to whatever that was available to keep ourselves on our respective seats. It was as if someone had hung us upside down and every organ in our body had literally swapped places. I am really not boasting and no, this is really not the writer in me who is playing with words, this is the actual description of what we experienced. Finally, when the vehicle stopped, all we wanted to do was see the damn sunset and head back to the hotel (not to forget, we had to undergo the same trauma during the return journey).
Very few tourists actually come to this place and now we know why. It is highly recommended not to visit this place unless they do something about the damn roads. Senior Citizens, people with back / spine problems are strictly advised not to attempt the jeep ride (which is the only mode). However, if you are the dare devil kinds and don’t mind the bad roads, please note that the jeep ride costs Rs. 1500/- and the jeep is 8 seater.
Carry a shawl or jacket for the travel. It gets pretty cold during the descent as the hill is surrounded by dense forest.
Frankly, I prefer Sunsets in Lonavala which is closer and much convenient to travel thanks to Mumbai Pune Expressway.
With a literal shakedown, we headed our way back to the hotel which is around an hour or so. Dinner done and crashed within seconds of hitting the bed, we just hoped that the 3rd day won’t be as hectic.
Day 3 –
After a hearty breakfast, we started our journey to Irrupu Falls. An hour long drive, you witness endless coffee plantations, some owned by Tata Estates.
Narayan is a water baby and when he didn’t get an opportunity to dive into the water on the first 2 days, he was hell bent on experiencing the waterfall at Irrupu. He was somewhat convinced when our driver assured him that he could enjoy the water and boy, he did!
Since the waters at Iruppu falls are rainfed, it is advised to visit the falls from the rainy season right upto January / February thereafter which the waterfalls reduces to a stream. Best season to visit is the rainy season, for obvious reasons. The waters originate from the streams in the Brahamagiri range and join the Lakshman Teertha River. The area is home to the endangered Malabar Blue Bandit butterflies.
From the mythology point of view, legend has it that Lord Ram had stayed in these forests during the period of his banishment and It was when Lakshman, brother of Lord Ram had shot an arrow into the forest, the falls were born. Dedicated to this legend, a temple called Rameshwara Temple is located at the base of the hill which has a Shiv Linga which Lord Ram made himself.
The way to reach the waterfalls is around 100 odd steps, which is manageable with railings etc. Not much changing facility is available for ladies so mostly men enjoy the bliss of the gushing water. I, in turn, made the most of my time photographing the beautiful location, while Narayan enjoyed his time in the cold water.
Thanks to our amazing breakfast, we had the liberty to skip lunch yet again. Not many restaurants from Irrupu Falls to Nagarhole National Park (the driver had already informed us this the previous day), which was our next and last stop for the day. Distance between Irrupu falls and Nagarhole is around an hour.
For non-vegetarians, there is one hotel but it is the kind of food that even most non-vegetarians would avoid. Hygiene standards are low and therefore not recommended. Carry some dry snacks and stay hydrated would be my recommendation.
Nagarhole National Park – Honestly, when I was reviewing the place prior to planning our itenary, I found many negative feedbacks about this place. However, since we both are nature lovers and most importantly, jungle safari lovers, thanks to our trip to Corbett last year, we decided that we would attempt visiting the place, just for the experience.
Nagarhole National Park is also known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park. This park was declared the 37th Tiger reserve of India in 1999. It is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. The Western Ghats Nilgiri Sub-Cluster of 6,000 km2 (2,300 sq mi), including all of Nagarhole National Park, is under consideration by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for selection as a World Heritage Site.
The park has rich forest cover, small streams, hills, valleys and waterfalls. The park has a healthy predator-prey ratio, with many tigers, Indian Bison and Elephants.
Together with the adjoining Bandipur National Park, Mudumalai National Park and Wayanad Wildlife sanctuary, it forms the largest protected area in Southern India, totaling 2,183 km2(843 sq mi).
Nagarhole National Park provides an opportunity to see some of the southern population of gaur (jungle bison). Also, this park in Karnataka is a good place to see elephants in the luxuriant forests and bamboo thickets which they most enjoy.
We managed to spot deers, sambar deer, barking deer and langurs. Unfortunately, Bison and gaurs were both missing in action.
There are two ways to experience the Jungle. One is take a Jeep Safari which is more expensive than what we did at Corbett, which by the way was way more extensive (deep into the jungle). This safari costs Rs. 1500/- per person and it does the same route as the National Park bus. Since we did a 4 day Safari at Corbett, we didn’t really want to experience the one hour safari ride at this forest, hence we opted for the bus, which by the way, was not at all a bad experience either.
If you live in Mumbai and have ever been to Sanjay Gandhi National Park and been on the pathetic bus ride that shakes like the roof would split open and has tiny windows, you would be pleasantly surprised to see the National Park bus at Nagarhole. A well maintained, comfortable and neat 32 seater bus that has large windows so that the person on the next seat can equally look at the beautiful jungle while on the safari. Easier to click photographs too, thanks to the large windows.
The safari is conducted in two batches, two in the morning, as early as 6am and then the next two batches start at 3pm. In winters, spotting animals early morning is slightly difficult (our experience at Corbett tells us that), so we opted for the evening ride. We rode in the 4pm batch which was the 2nd of the evening batches, after which the entry to the National Park closes.
Even though reviews on the internet suggested the place is a waste of time, we loved seeing the jungles and the animals in their natural habitat. It is much better than visiting a zoo looking at caged animals that are either drugged or tied, much against their will.
The entry charges for 2 persons are around Rs. 350/- that includes the bus ride. In case you are carrying a DSLR camera, you need to pay some charges for the same. If you are planning a 4pm bus ride, you need to reach the place by atleast 2pm to book the tickets. Since it’s a 32 seater bus, it becomes slightly difficult on days when there is a lot of rush. Currently there are no facilities for toilets, the same is under construction.
Done and dusted, quite satisfied too, we returned back to the hotel as our 3 day fully packed sightseeing trip had finally come to an end and which also meant that we could wake up late the next day, have a lavish breakfast and relax.
Points to Remember
- For this stretch of the sightseeing, ensure you eat a hearty breakfast before heading out as there are not much options to eat out. There are bakeries that serve you good puffs (both vegetarian and non-vegetarian) but no fancy hotels.
- Carry change of clothes, in case, you wish to take a dip at the waterfalls.
- Wear Sports shoes if you can, to reach the waterfalls. It puts less pressure on your knees and legs.
- Carry a bottle of water and a cap, sunglasses etc.
- Wear light cotton clothes so you perspire less.
Food to explore in Coorg –
The local Kodava cuisine which comprises of the Pandi Curry (for the non-vegetarians), Koli curry etc. For vegetarians they have the Kootu curry, bamboo shoot curry served with flatbreads like the Akki roti (rice flatbread) or my personal favourite Kadambuttu (the rice dumplings that are steamed).
They have a variety of oranges that are grown locally, which is sweet and sour in taste, unlike our Nagpur Oranges. They usually consume the oranges sprinkled with red chilli powder and salt.
This is how our 3 day sightseeing tour was planned and executed. Some very good memories of the places that we visited including some, not so good ones (Mandalpatti) but overall a very good and memorable holiday.
Part 2 of the Travel Diaries – A visit to Coffee Plantation would be shared shortly.
Hope you enjoy reading and find the post helpful in planning your trip in future to Coorg. Do revert back in case you have any queries, would be glad to help.
Best Wishes and a Very Happy New Year to all the Readers and Friends.