Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A weekend trip to Coorg | Madikeri, Somwarpet, Kushalnagar, Bylakuppe, Tibetan colony and Golden Temple | Coorg travelogue

The Kodagu district in Karnataka, colloquially known as Coorg, has been on my bucketlist ever since I moved to Mangalore in 2014. Every time, for the following two years, I tried to plan a trip to the beautiful land of Coorg, it didn't work out. I planned another one during my convocation in 2017, didn't work out either! So well, now, when I had almost made my mind to go to Panchagani, I decided to call it off and finish this unfinished business from years ago! Hello Coorg!

How did I get there? Considering Coorg falls in the southernmost tip in Karnataka, in the thick forests of the Western Ghats, and driving or riding down is a convenient option, I took public transport. Yes, you can have a good laugh, but I'm someone who wouldn't demotivate myself from going to a place because I couldn't really drive or ride a motorcycle there from Goa. So I hopped on to a train from Goa to Mangalore, and then took a public bus from Mangalore KSRTC bus stand to Kushalnagar, where we had rented a bike to go around Coorg.

Thus began my three days in Coorg! We reached around lunch time and finding a nice place for lunch was quite a task. After a good hunt for local food, we were led to Marish Naty's Style by the locals. The entire menu was in the local language (though written in English) and I pretty much didn't understand much. But we asked for some local specialities (to the waiter who didn't know English or Hindi) and he got us a local style chicken thali. We also tried other regional and rural Karnataka delicacies like Kadubu chicken curry, ragi mudde (ragi ball) and akki roti (rice roti).

We then rode to our hostel around 25 kms away from Kushalnagar. That's when the sense of distance started soaking in! Every place was so far, you were spending over an hour in pure riding. Places were located some 30-40kms away from each other, or even further, and you were riding through hilly terrains. We were staying in a beautiful homestay (Firefly Homestay) converted into a hostel by Zostel - one of my favorite chain of hostels in India. And honestly, it was more because of Zostels tempting social media posts that I eventually landed in Coorg.

The property located in Siddapura - amid lush green forests and coffee plantations - was as beautiful as it could get! The lovely white house, with it's qurky walls, an arty attic, amazing common area and outdoor space, and above all, beautiful view, was breathtaking. Though quite a distance away from both - Madikeri and Kushalnagar, the ride is scenic, with coffee plantations, forests, fields, riverulets and waterfalls lining the road. They have an open kitchen and also an outdoor space where they serve food which includes basic Indian meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Our first day was spent exploring bits of Madikeri and also trying to get a hang of the routes and roads. It was a rainy day and we didn't do much, except wandering around on our rented scooter. We went towards Abbey Falls, which is the most conveniently located falls in Madikeri, just about 8kms away. It is quite touristy, but the fact that they aren't allowed to venture close to the falls makes sure you can see the falls in all it's glory. It eventually meets river Cauvery or Kaveri, which is a major river in the area. Since it was peak monsoons, the falls were cascading in all it's glory and looked beautiful! We also went to a view point - Raja's Seat, which was pretty foggy and we couldn't see much. But riding around Madikeri in the rains, we spotted some beautiful view of the valley and mistry peaks.

Hunting for some good food again led us to East End Hotel, one of the more popular restaurants in Madikeri. The ambiance at the restaurant was really great and it was one of those upmarket restaurants in the place. Though they served local cuisine, we were in for a dissappointment on realising they don't serve pork. We had already had our share of chicken for the day. But we settled in for Coorgi style chicken fry - delicious and extremely spicy, and Coorgi kheema ball curry (mutton meatball curry) with rice. The food was absolutely delicious, and I know why this place is hyped so much. The ride back was joyful, though it was quite cold in Madikeri. As we rode towards Siddapur, it started getting pleasant. The night was spent at the attic with fellow travellers in the hostel playing boardgames and sharing travel stories.

Day 2 started on an absolutely happy note because it was dedicated to visiting Kushalnagar, which has been on my bucketlist ever since I visited the Tibetan colony in Mundgod. I really loved the experience and when someone suggested I must visit the Tibetan colony in Bylakuppe in Kushalnagar, I instantly added it to my bucket list. It was only years later that I was actually going there! The rain gods were merciful and it was a bright day when the clouds dispersed. The bright day allowed for taking some photographs in the picturesque backdrops in forests and coffee estates, that lined the smooth yet zig-zag country roads.

We pulled over at a hanging bridge we spotted in Somwarpet, on our way to Kushalnagar and saw river Cauvery flowing in all it's glory. When we reached Kushalnagar another time (we were there the previous day too), the roads seemed familiar and we didn't have to use Google maps. With just a few steps to ask for directions, and trusting our instincts at most parts, we found ourselves in front of the magnificent gate of the Namdroling monastery.

I soaked it in for a moment and headed for an early lunch, knowing I wouldn't step out any time soon, and it indeed was a good choice. More about it later. So, we walked a little distance and found ourselves surrounded by a few restaurants serving Tibetan food. We entered the one that seemed frequented by monks. And it was a great choice. They served varied Tibetan delicacies, most of which I hadn't even heard before. So after constantly seeking help from the waiter and trying to read up stuff online, we placed our order.

We skipped eating steamed momo's, considering that's the only thing we are used to and we wanted to save space in our tummies for food we hadn't ever eaten. We relished a great meal of Mok Thuk (a very comforting Momo soup), Then Thuk dry (hand pulled noodles with veggies and meat served without the broth) and Shaap-tah (stir fried meat - more resembling beef chilli). We shopped for a few Tibetan artefacts and souvenirs and entered the Namdroling Monastery.

The Namdroling Monastey, popularly known as the Golden Temple, is a home to over 5000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns. The Tibetans in exile live and study here and there are institutes, colleges and hospitals in the settlement. There are tall statues of Buddha, sacred scriptures and horns. The marble floor is always covered in carpet and anybody is allowed to sit and meditate. The intricate designs on the interiors and the paintings depicting Buddha's life are something to look forward to. The entire complex is massive and tourists are allowed to visit. Some other structures in the vicinity does not allow tourists to visit. But the Golden Temple in itself is pretty massive and gives you an insight into the Tibetan way of life. You see cute monks going around in their robes. Just sitting there and watching them going about their daily chores is an experience in itself.

We spent a while chilling at Zostel, before heading out to Madikeri for the evening. We stopped by beautiful waterfalls and got some photos clicked before heading to the Madikeri Fort, which is located in the heart of Madikeri town.

The Madikeri Fort houses the palace, temple, church, museum and police station. The entire structure is a beautiful historic monument preserving the remnant of the bygone era and shows hints of the dominance of several rulers of the past. For example, there's the Angelican church that shows the dominance of the Britishers in Coorg. The church, constructed in gothic style, with beautiful stained windows still stands tall and houses a museum. The fort also offers a spectacular view of the surrounding areas covered in mist. I love heritage structures and this one was a wonderful experience. There's no entry fee and the atmosphere inside is really great!

Next, we headed to another architectural wonder - the popular Shri Omkareshwara Temple, an ancient shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva. It reflects a mix of gothic and muslim construction styles. Some parts of it resembles a Muslim dargah. It comrpises of a central dome with four minarets at four corners and a pond in the centre. The temple, of course, has religious significance and devotees do visit. But even if you aren't a Hindu and just want to check out the archerecture, it's a wonderful sight.

We rode around the market in Madikeri and also some hills, taking in the views. We stopped by at a wine shop selling local wine and were absolutely surprised by the number of local wines available in Madikeri. It includes Hibiscus, Chilli, Grape, Passion Fruit, Ginger and Beatleleaf Wine. The man was kind enough to give us a tasting and a brief description about each wine and the making of it! At the end of it, we picked up a few bottles to take home, with an intention of making out friends drink the pungent chilli wine. I also picked up a grape wine which tasted so good! We also picked up some local 'Coorgi kaapi' (coffee) and wild honey!

We were just in time for dinner when it started raining and we headed to Coorg Cuisine, a restaurant serving local food - with special emphasis on Coorgi pork. We tried some more Coorgi food, like the Pandi Curry (Coorgi pork curry), Pandi Beev Barthad (pork chops) and Boltha Kool (rice noodles). It was surprising how good everything taste and how inexpensive food was in Coorg. We were stuffed beyond proportion because the quantity of each meal is so large! The ride back was joyful, going through winding roads and misty hills. The evening was spent by the bonfire, sipping on coffee and exchanging travel stories.

Our last day in Madikeri was spent sipping on coffee, wrapping up some work and catching up with hostel buddies. I tried the food at Zostel during breakfast and they make quite some basic egg and bread stuff! I also happened to check their lunch and dinner menu and realised they have basic North-Indian style daily set menu, which changes every day of the week. I spent some time reading and just soaking in the vibe of the property!

We headed out for lunch towards Kushalnagar and found ourselves outside the Golden Temple yet again. We had lunch at Hot Momo's Tashi Delek Restaurant outside the monastery and tried some more Tibetan food. The chicken noodle soup was very comforting, while the chicken fried momos and chicken shabalek was simply delicious. And with that, we bid Coorg a good bye! We returned our rented bike and hoped on to a Volvo bus to Mangalore, from where we were heading home to Goa! What an end to a wonderful trip!

Do let me know what you think in the comments below.

No comments: