Places to see Coorg, Weekend in Coorg, Weekend Trips Kochi
Akki Roti (rice roti), Pandi Curry (pork black masala), Kadambattu (rice balls)
South India Road Trip Day 18-19: Chennai to Kochi and back via Pondy, Kumbakonam, Tanjavur, Karaikudi, Madurai, Periyar, Gavi, Vagamon, Kumarakom, Wayanad, Coorg, Mysore and Yelagiri.
Got up to the extraordinary view and then a repeat of the sunrise from the roof and the walk down into town for tea and then back for the surprising and tasty breakfast. We started at a relaxed 10:15 AM and headed off for Madikeri, the largest town with the highest altitude in Kodagu and so expected to be cool. It was the best drive in all our travels so far, thru coffee plantations and other farms, and forest till you hit a long stretch when you are driving within a National Forest Reserve, starting with the Begur Reserve Forest all the way to the gates of the Tholpetty Forest Reserve (on the outskirts of the Nagarhole National Park). It was great driving thru the Reserve Forest. Just after the Tholpetty Forest you enter Karnataka and Kodagu District. Similar to Wayanad, Kodagu is a district with no town of the same name. The capital town is Madikeri, which is at an altitude of 3,300 feet or 1,100 meters, significantly higher than about 700 meters for Kalpetta. However first you go down and it was a hot day’s drive for most of the way in the plains from the Tholpetty forest reserve till Virajpet (the second largest town in Kodagu) and a little beyond before you hit the hills again. We had lunch at 12:30 at the Tholpetty Forest Check post and there we were 88 Km from Madikeri. From then on it was Karnataka and we were taken in by the prosperity of Coorg. Huge coffee estates all the way, once we crossed the border. The road was extraordinary, maybe the best roads in all of India and here, even though it is hilly terrain and a single lane highway. The road was being maintained in one patch, and top notch all the way, much better than the Kerala roads we had been admiring all along, once we crossed over from Tamil Nadu and the sorrowful state of those roads. We will not discuss UP (Uttar Pradesh) roads which are worse than Tamil Nadu (we had driven from Delhi to Moradabad and the road was well and truly a mess and that also leading to and away from the National Capital).
The drive from the Wayanad border to Madikeri is all along coffee plantations, the coffee flowers were in full bloom and we had the jasmine smelling coffee flowers for many hours all along the journey, a true joy. A couple hours later we had a ‘coffee break’, the Karnataka coffee. An hour later about 3:30 PM we saw a sign for ‘Estate Stay’ and on a whim just turned off to check it out. We had driven past a few ‘Cottage Stay’ and numerous ‘Home Stays’ and had kept postponing the turn off. So we went up ‘Cool Cache – Estate Stay’ and drove thru a narrow gravel path with dense coffee plantation on either side for about 200 meters, actually driving past another ‘Cottage for Rent’ with an inviting open gate! We landed actually driving our car onto a driveway with coffee beans laid one inch thick below our wheels. The beans had been laid out on the paved courtyard for drying. We got this incredible room with balcony, on the first floor over a coffee godown (warehouse) below, surrounded by coffee plantation with coffee flowers in full bloom, and with coffee drying in the sun on a courtyard in front and to the side, and crushed under the wheels of our car. The smell of the drying beans on one side and the flowers on the other filled us with joy. We negotiated a price of Rs. 1,500/- a night with breakfast and took the place for 2 nights. Their usual price is Rs. 2,500/- for a couple with breakfast and dinner. We cancelled the dinner and got the discount instead, the benefits of off-season travel. Quickly settled in, we departed for Madikeri, 14 Km away, around 4:00 PM and were at the Kings Seat (Garden) in Madikeri around 4:30 PM, as we headed straight there. The garden has an excellent view of the valley and is a famous sunset point with the sun setting into the horizon over and past the valley. I had a coffee and wife had a ‘Kheera’ (cucumber) and then we entered the park. We enjoyed the views till well after sunset and left at 7 PM. At 7:30 we had dinner at ‘Coorg Cuisine’, a highly recommended place for local specialties. Order the ‘Akki Roti’ (roasted roti of rice batter), and ‘Pandi Curry’ (tender pork in Coorgi spicy black masala). We had two plates of each, a great meal. At 8:15 PM we drove back in pitch darkness, with no street lights, on the narrow highway on full beam with Anari (inexperienced) drivers not dipping their beams while passing head-on, blinding. Luckily the road itself is great, if narrow, and not much traffic was heading into town on this road. We made it back safely though slowly by about 8:45 or so and ‘Cool Cache’ signboard was large and clear coming from either direction. Then caught up on my diary and then crashed, in the midst of the coffee estate, the stars and moon bright overhead, no street lights, no lights at all except the stars and the moon, lovely. On the way just short of Virajpet, 35 Km away from Madikeri we visited the Ambatty Greens Resort, a beautiful resort overlooking the ‘Coorg Golf Links’ greens and with a superb infinity pool literally yards above the gold course greens, the course in front and then behind the resort. The rooms are huge and beautifully furnished with balconies facing the golf course and wow views. However the discounted price of Rs. 9,000/- was still above our budget. Usual tariff is 11,500/- and 13,500/- for two types of rooms. Who would have expected a resort in the midst of a golf course in Coorg countryside, but then the tea estate owners can enjoy a game of golf, especially as they are wealthy and many in the family have been generals in the Indian Army, General Kariappa among them.
Day 19: Coorg (Kodagu) at the Coffee Estate ‘Cool Cache’
Coffee Estate Stay
Places to see Coorg, Weekend in Coorg, Weekend Trips Kochi
Woke up late relaxed and got ready by 9 AM. Wife had a severe throat infection and a little fever and after breakfast needed to rest. I took photos and took a tour of the estate and then slept on the lounge chair on the balcony in the shade. It was hot in the sun and cool in the shade. The estate is beautiful at this time with flowering coffee plants and coffee seeds on the plants fully ripe. The harvest is drying on the driveway, sacksful of coffee being emptied and spread out to dry, then collected and filled into sacks and more taken out and dried and collected a few hours later and the previously filled sack emptied and so on repeatedly.
The estate also has spices such as pepper plants and many fruit trees growing between the coffee plants. The smell of the coffee beans drying on the driveway on the one hand and the perfume of the coffee flowers in full bloom on the other fills the air.
The landlady made ‘Kadala Curry’, curry of Kabuli Chana and Aloo (potato) in local spices, Akki Roti, which tastes like Makki Roti with the same sticky consistency, and Neer Dosa (rice batter dosa), all very good.
Wife took Panadol for fever at 12:00 Noon and then at 1:00 PM we left the estate for Madikeri for lunch to be followed by sightseeing. We went to the same ‘Coorg Cuisine’ restaurant and repeated the ‘Pandi Curry’ (dry pork in black masala) and the Akki Rotis. They no longer serve coffee even though it is on the menu because “people do not order it”. Coffee is popular during the monsoon season, rains in July and August, or for breakfast. However they do not make coffee anymore. After lunch we got wife some medicine (antibiotics) for sore throat at a chemist, one shop was open on Sunday afternoon and all others were closed. She took the first of 3 pills, one each day for 3 days, a very strong antibiotic.
Then we headed to the waterfalls which are 8.5 Km away. The Cauvery temple, the top attraction in a list of places to visit in Kodagu similar to the list in Wayanad, was 47 Km and deemed too far for us today so we abandoned that plan. We drove down to the falls, a nice shady place in the forest with the falls. Visitors are not allowed to go down and a bridge across the falls has fallen into misuse, disrepair and closed off. This is a similar story to the fountains at the Kings Seat in Madikeri, which have been ‘under repair’ for many months. The government is not interested in promoting tourism.
We spent a relaxed time at the ‘Abbey Falls’ and then returned to town once it was cool at about 4:30 PM to explore the town and get a ‘high tea’. We had a filter coffee at ‘Udupi the Veg’ restaurant and wife had a ‘Badam Milk’ (almond milk). There is a great coffee shop in the same complex as Udupi restaurant called ‘Coffee n Brews’. They have great smelling Arabica coffee beans and can grind and pack as well. Rs.200/- for 250 grams (or Rs.80/- for 100 grams). This was roughly double the cost of coffee elsewhere, but really worth it for good expresso roast coffee. I didn’t buy though it was the best smelling coffee anywhere in South India. We browsed 3 or 4 shops selling local spices and other produce including coffee and honey for an hour or so until 6:30 PM when it got dark. We had Dosa and Idlis at another Udupi restaurant next door and then headed back for the estate by 7:00 PM, reaching by 7:45 PM. A relaxed evening under the stars, and off to bed, an early night required for the patient.