Tag Archives: Coffee Estates

Coffee & Conviviality

I’ve an excellent idea for the start of a vacation. Take the road. Better yet, take the road late so that you are in the Nelamangala sector by mid-morning. As is its wont, it’ll server a peach of a jam. In my opinion, nothing can be guaranteed to help you appreciate the fact that you’ll be away from all of this madness more. And in keeping with the spirit of getting away, I spent an excellent weekend in the hills. With an invitation to come back when coffee flowers, I might add. Our drive – I was with The Missus – took us to Coffee Valley, Sakleshpura. The drive after you take a left onto NH 47 is excellent, if a little narrow. To get to Sakleshpura, you drive past the right turn that welcomes you to Hassan and onwards to Belur and Halebidu. The road turned progressively worse as we took the by-pass. It was a portent of things to come, but that is jumping ahead of the story.

Hiking up Pandavagudda near Coffee Valley, Sakleshpura.

Once you get to Sakleshpura, you count down roughly 4 kms to a turn to the right that goes to Davalkere. As soon as you take this right, there is a fork on the road, the left leads to Mudigere and the left to Davalkere. Taking the road to Davalkere we reached Coffee Valley just after lunch – anything after 1 and before 5 is lunch – and were welcomed by Mr. Manjunath, the squire of all Coffee Valley.

Mr. Manjunath is a host who believes in the old adage that “Atithi Devo Bhava”. We’re not left alone a minute from the time we got in to the time we left. After a never-before-tasted lime juice (The Missus claiming that it had honey – we don’t know the secret ingredient though) was followed by excellent lunch of akki roti, a veg palya and chicken. Mrs. Manjunath, for she was the cook, over the next couple of meals, succeeded in demolishing all “diet”ary plans that The Missus had. As all my friends know, I don’t even attempt going on one when on a trip like this.

There is not much you are legally allowed to do after such a repast – going horizontal is mandatory I believe. I tried fighting it but eventually succumbed to Morpheus. The small rooms that they’ve built down the hillside from the drying yards is cool even though the sun outside attempted to huff and puff. True to his nature, Mr. Manjunath walked us to our rooms. Along the way, we stopped and gleaned some info about the various crops that he grows on his plantation, his routine and his estate. Considering that the walk is only about 5 mins, you can bet that there was a lot of stopping!

Winter evening in Malnad.

Post this, we were supposed to go some distance from the estate to catch a glimpse of the sunset. We met up with a couple of other folks staying there and we all piled in on the Hosamane (that’s the name of the estate) Gypsy. Considering that we’d made solid inroads into lunch and the beds really warm and inviting, we were a little late in getting to the location and missed the sunset. This was to be the leitmotif of this journey, but more on that later. We did manage to get the last farewell that the evening had put up for us however. The moon compensated – a golden disc rising in the east. We lingered as the both celestial bodies put up a show and silently took in the vista spread out before us. This seemed like a good place to camp, but I didn’t see any water body around. The moon rendered the torches that we’d got superfluous. Snacks and coffee awaited us. Camp-fire followed and we enjoyed excellent food and company around the warmth. Once dinner was done, we had to persuade Mr. Manjunath to rest for he was still hovering about like a mother hen. Our conversation followed around the camp-fire where everything from malls, childhood stories, Awesomely bad movies and college anecdotes were shared.

The next morning saw some of us (read yours truly) get up early to catch sunrise. A short walk outside the estate led to the discovery that Sakleshpura dogs do not like me. Since I’m such a wussy around them, I decided to curtail the walk to a short perambulation and made tracks back to the estate. I joined Mr. Manjunath on his morning inspection through the estate. Another mouth watering delight followed and we made tracks to Pandavagudda.

Mine host, Mr. Manjunath at Pandavagudda.

It’s a 20 minute ride from the estate to the base of the hill. A small temple to Ishwaran stands here and after the mandatory Patel shots, we moved towards the hill. It’s a pleasant walk up the hill and it gives you a panoramic view of Sakleshpura countryside. We reluctantly moved from there, only the visions of epicurean delight that awaited us at the base driving us down. While we would have liked to stay back and enjoy a siesta, the road beckoned all of us and we very reluctantly took leave. Our next destination was Udupi, but the good people at the PWD and NHAI connived to ensure that we only reached Mangalore. More about that in a bit.

Stopping Time

Ok, so it’s time for the quarterly “team” building activity to be completed. Considering that the last time it was the cool climes of March, we’d gone to Amgol. Much fun and beer was had by everyone. The rains, that usually bless Bangalore around April, playing hooky this year, we planned on come place cool. Factoring in pre-conditions like weekend travel, interstate taxes and the memory of sore butts traveling 12 hours to Amgol last time around, we settled on Chickmagalur district. Having talked to the experts and read up the other expert, we decided upon the Jainkhan estate. To clear up, this is not a combination like the Jain Chicken that you get in Gujarat. This is the real deal. The name is derived from the huge number of bee hives that the estate had earlier. So there. That is something that is cleared up. The estate itself is a little difficult to find. After you reach Chickmagalur town, drive towards Aldur. Take the road that leads to Koppa for about 7 km and then just before Herur, you’ll get a left turn to the closest town, Basarikatte. You’ll then need to ask someone for Jainkhan estate, which is another 4 km uphill from the town.

What I didn’t understand though are the clocks at this estate. All of them showed different times. Which didn’t change. Throughout the day. For some reason, all the clocks at the estate had stopped. Not that it mattered to inveterate slackers like us. We had an excellent time, pretty much doing nothing. The matter of most consequence achieved over the weekend was; nothing.

Mornining breaking over Jainkhan estate, Chikamagaluru.

Having started in the night from Bangalore, we reached the district by 5ish. However, finding the estate itself took a little longer and post an excellent breakfast people promptly parked themselves horizontally. I was out and about though, the sky being an excellent shade of blue with a lot of clouds and clear visibility of the rolling hills beyond. The estate bungalow is about 30 years old – though the style is very colonial – and is situated on a short piece of flat land framed by the Western Ghats on three sides. From the veranda – where white tailed swallows had made their nests – you can sit in an easy chair and doze off to the sounds of the birds twittering, the insects buzzing and the far away sounds of people working the estate.

The only fly in this Arcadia is the fact that the estate is at the back of beyond. Which is the whole idea some might say. But if you miss out something (read booze) it is a royal pain getting out. However, the excellent manager at the estate, Sadashiva was very helpful in procuring the said Ambrosia.

After a while, the smells of cooking roused the rest of the party and people started flocking towards the veranda. Everyone was in a pleasant torpor and a lazy game of carrom and even lazier conversation ensued. This was pretty much a place holder as people evidently were thinking about lunch. Now let me digress. Food here is absolutely, lip-smackingly wonderful. The entire menu is simple, homely and most important of all seemingly inexhaustible. The natural conclusion would’ve been a pleasant siesta. However, Sadashiva invited us to join him on the rounds of the estate.

The estate itself rolls over a 100 acres of hills. As we walked across part of it, we gleaned such bits of wisdom as identifying a Robusta plant versus an Arabica; what are the watering needs, what birds flock to the estate (we heard the peacocks, but didn’t see them) and what it takes to run a coffee estate. We then walked around the perimeter of the estate and a short hike later found ourselves on a small hill behind the estate. The entire length of the Chickmagalur district seemed to spread out under us in an emerald carpet. In fact, for the more active of our brethren, this hill affords a nice way to fill in a morning. The hike itself is not strenuous and there is shade for the most part.

The view from the hillock at Jain Khan Estate, Chikkamagaluru.

We walked back in the fading light to be treated to a spectacular sunset. The fading light also signalled the start of our Bacchanalia. In a manner of speaking. Most people hitting the “high” note pretty early. A fire was lit and then with warmth within and without, we held forth on heavy topics that ranged from why the Male of species always has to make the first move, to whether the country is going in the correct direction. Thereby proving that men indeed can’t focus on one thing completely. A few blokes did try to disprove that focusing entirely on the alcohol and eschewing all extraneous efforts. A quarter moon shone briefly before exiting the stage for the fireflies to complete a perfect evening.

The morning brought a wonderful skyscape again, with fingers of mist probing the ranges down the bungalow. It also brought another fabulous breakfast. People prolonged the inevitable and only the thought of the Avanthi Estate (also owned by the same owner) near Magundi and the river sped up matters a bit. However, the river itself was a little disappointing with the lack of water and the fact that there were folks washing clothes on either banks.

The river behind Avanthi Estate, Chikkamagaluru.

Jainkhan is also at the foothills of Merti Gudda, a 1695 meter hillock. There are drives that go all the way up, but you can trek it from the base too. You’ll need to enquire with the Forest Department before you go. You can do that at Chickamagalur or in Bangalore. Since there are no water sources, it might not be a good place to camp.

We then started off for Bangalore with most folks still being as active as a sloth bear in hibernation. The bus ride home was remarkable for the spectacular sunset that greeted us and the 7 times that “Mungaru Maley” soundtrack played. So the next time you are in the mood for lazing, head up to the hills – though the coffee perks you up, there are plenty of reminders around you that the clock is not ticking.

3 Guys, a drive & Coorg

Ah weekends! The time when you catch up with family, friends, your hobbies, the pile of clothes you haven’t washed for a month. All of these are perfectly legitimate uses of 48 hours. So also a 650 km drive to nowhere.

There once was a Chinese philosopher who said that the true traveller does not hurry to the destination as he realises that the journey itself is the destination. That is the kind of philosophy you need when you go to Coorg. Most people think Coorg is this one place where you do your regular tourist thing. You know, go to the Lovers Point, take a look at the Suicide Point, gawk at the Sunrise Point(c’mon how many of us can even begin to comprehend that there is a concept called sunrise; and that the sun does not immediately jump to overhead when we wake up). In theory, you could do all of this. But then, that is not the best way to enjoy Coorg. Besides there is just one point, Raja’s Seat, in Madikeri. And conveniently it’s a sunset point.

See, there are these two Coorgs. One is on every tourist’s map. Go to Madikeri, spend an hour at Raja’s Seat; go dip your feet in Abbey Falls & Irupu Falls; stop by at Bailkoppa and Nisarghdhama. Which is also good enough for the weekend. Then there is the trekker’s Coorg, Tadiyandamol, Brahmagiri et al. However, for someone with no fixed agenda, mixing both of these can be quite rewarding. Unfortunately, this means you require a means of transport. Car is good. I believe bikes would be better.

The road to nowhere. Or the long way home.

Here is what you do. You plan to start early on Saturday morning. Then you leave the waking up part to friends (The Usual Suspects); one of who is curled up with a John Grisham with about 100 pages to go late on Friday night and the other who sleeps like he is in the middle of a lecture. Then you thank your lucky stars that you live close to a temple that has a speaker that loudly invokes the Lord’s name at 6 every morning. You then go kick said friends’ butts to wake them up. Travel.

We took the Mysore Road. Now that the construction is almost over, this is an excellent piece of asphalt. The almost part is as there are still some un-nerving sections when you find out that suddenly all vehicles are coming in your lane. To get to Coorg via the scenic route, take the right turn to Ranganathittu just after Srirangapatna. Keep following the road through some excellent rural settings to hit Hunsur. Madikeri is 64 kms from Hunsur. The road after Hunsur gets bad, and in sections is just a figment of some greedy bureaucrat’s imagination. Apparently for the last 2 years, the PWD is labouring to construct a 4 lane road from Mysore to Madikeri.

A little over 16 kms out of Hunsur, there is a fork in the road. Both eventually get you to Madikeri. As the movie gag goes, “Yeha se jao, ya waha se jao, sab rasta God ko jaata hai.” In this case, the right will get you to God; or at least to one of his abodes. Around 20 kms from this fork you will hit Bylakuppe, which is home to the largest Tibetan settlement in India. This is also home to the Golden Temple (of the Buddhist variety). It is quite interesting to be seemingly thrust into Tibet, with red-robed monks and prayer flags, and hear Kannada all around you. The Golden Temple is a monastery, and is open to all to visit. While the monks break for lunch; between 12 and 1; you will not be allowed to roam in the main prayer hall. Once they are back, you can walk in and pretty much go anywhere in the hall. For all the foodies, avoid the BDA-like food court outside the temple complex. Instead a little further along the way back towards the highway, you will find a board advertising Olive, a restaurant. It looks like a house, and probably is, but its proprietor Tsering will serve you authentic Tibetan food. If you are lucky maybe you can bum a packet of cigarettes off him too!

Moon-rise over the Namdorling Monastery at Bylakuppe, Coorg.

The nearest place from here is Nisargdhama. This is a 2.5 km sq. island in the middle of the Cauvery. The forest department charges you 10 Rs. as entry fee, and there is a rudimentary deer park, a couple of over worked elephants that you can ride if you fork over 10 bucks. There is also boating if you fork over an extra 10 bucks. You will have to ask the dis-interested person manning the booth if the boating is on. You can stay here, there are cottages available, and the Forest Department charges you 650 for double occupancy. There is food available in the canteen a little away from the huts. Just so you know the folks there speak Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam. Hindi works fine too. The huts are your basic fare, but sit on some excellent piece of real estate, and would be well worth the stay, if you are looking for 2 days of peace and quite. Or whatever quite you can find in the midst of your regulation hordes of weekend picnickers. You can combine this with a visit to Harangi Dam or Dubare or both. The park itself is open between 9.30 AM and 5.30 PM. Harangi Dam is an excellent picnic spot.

We however, made tracks for Madikeri, another 30 kms away on agonisingly bad roads. Madikeri is a good place to stay if you want to explore the countryside around. In fact, for the budget traveller, the Cauvery hotel near the bus stand is an excellent place for budget acco – 300 to 400 Rs should get you a 3-bed room with hot water (very essential in these cold climes). This is central to the town, and if you are pressed for time, a 14 km hike to the Abbey Falls and back is an excellent way to enjoy the weekend. A little out of town, and you have the more “expensive” fare. We stayed at Crystal Hotel; it has a board as you enter Madikeri, follow the signs. They charged us 1190 for a 3-bed room. It’s a new hotel, so it is clean, and more importantly has hot showers. They have cottages being built in an estate opening soon. At 5000 bucks a weekend, only those who are loaded need apply.

The next day we set out from Madikeri. There are those who extol the beauty of the drive from Madikeri to Siddapur. It’s a 30 km drive to the south. However, if you go roughly the same distance to the South-west, you reach Talacauvery, the place where Cauvery springs over ground. A 300 step climb from the spring will get you to the top of the Bramhagiri which will give you extensive views of the surrounding countryside. This entire place is a temple complex – or at least it will be soon – so be careful that you do not disturb the sanctity of the place.

You can then drive down to Madikeri, and thence to Bangalore or as we did, take a random turn to the right towards Siddapur. We spent about 3 hours on the back-country roads of South-west Coorg district before we passed through Nagarhole, and got back on the main highway connecting Madikeri and Mysore. This drive passes through some amazing locations, and there are places you can take a break and have a light picnic. Be sure, however, that you clean up the mess after you. Most of these places are coffee estates, and you don’t want to test the adage that the Coorgi is born with a gun in one hand and a hockey stick in another! If you are close to the coffee estates of the venerable Tata group, you might not even need that. All those estates are ringed by electrified fencing. We did however stop to ponder how a coffee-running Mafia can siphon off the coffee by jumping over the fence. None of us actually wanted to put our theories to test. If someone is game enough to try them, please feel free to contact me. For the saner ones, if you ask around, Tata Coffee arranges for coffee estate tours. But remember to ask politely!

The random right turn presents itself around 10 -15 kms on the way down from Talacauvery. You take the road leading to Napoklu. Once you reach there, make tracks towards Murnad, and at Murnad ask anyone the road to Ammathi. There is a semblance of a road from here, that leads you on to Titimati. From Titimati you take the straight road, whence you will enter Rajiv Gandhi National Park, or as all of us know it, Nagarhole. Just as you exit the National Park, the road forks. Taking the left will take you back to Madikeri. There is some truth to the saying that the straight and narrow road will lead you to good things. In this case it will take you to the fork in the road near Hunsur I mentioned earlier. Bangalore is about 175 kms from here.

I am harping on the bad roads bit, however, the drive is still an extremely satisfying one despite that. The other thing is that the road is mostly lined with small dhabas, that might not serve you full scale lunch. You will however get your regular Coorgi fare. Comes highly recommended. If you plan on going exploring the country side in your vehicles, be sure to top up on fuel in Madikeri.

For those not feeling up to the drive can stop at Nisarghdhama or Madikeri and just relax. For the rest, there are still nowhere calling.