Tag Archives: Malnad

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.

Kumara Parvata or why I need to be fit

 

I’ve been lazy lately. A statement my near and dear ones would like to contest. On account of my being lazy forever that is. It is always the time that is debatable, not the fact. To get to the point, I used the weekend of 15th Dec (see, see, the lazy bum write NOW!) to finally get around to trekking the Pushpagiri. Which a lot of folks know as Kumara Parvata. Over the last 3 years, we’d made atleast 2 other plans that I know of to trek, which for the usual reasons (hey, I was not to blame, OK) fell through.

A view of the Kumara Parvata from about a 3rd of the way up.

As always, we suddenly decided that we had to trek Kumara Parvata and as it happened it was a Wednesday. We figured we will ask for permission to camp and asked at the Forest office in Malleshwaram. As it turned out that was entirely superfluous. More on that later. Because we decided late, no tickets were available to Subramanya, where the climb starts. Word of advice, be sure to get a booking in one of those Volvos. We booked our selves on the last seats on the last bus to Hell. The seats kept sliding and the driver was obviously someone who rode a moon buggy, for the crater sized pot holes on the ghats didn’t tempt him from stepping off the accelerator. The last part of the ride – post Doingal near Sakleshpur are, to put it mildly, torturous. We arrived a little worse for the wear at around 7 at Subramanya. For the finicky amongst us, the temple complex has facilities – quite decent I might add.

The route to the climb is to the right of the temple (if you are facing the temple). You will need to walk up a bit and there is a gap between the shops and pretty much follow the road. I’d heard from a lot of people that KP is quite tough and while I will not disagree, it is primarily due to the fact that it is quite long. The first 200 to 300 mts is densely forested and slightly damp so there are chances of leech bites even in winter. Once you come out in the open, it is quite sunny and if you choose the wrong season, it might be quite harsh even. A little after you cross the wooded area, you will chance upon Bhat’s house (Bhatre mane). He provides breakfast upto 9.30 I think and start lunch at 12.30. 30 INR for one lunch, didn’t ask about breakfast. So the point is, if you are going to get here between these times, it would make sense for you to go ahead and not stop. We spent about 2 hours idling about here.

And here is the other reason, why you should keep on going. There is a forest office (house? outpost?) just a couple of minutes up Bhat’s house. You’ll need to get permission from here to camp. As I mentioned earlier, this permission seems moot. There is a 70 INR charge to trek. You will have to haggle if you want to camp. You’ll be first told with a look of great regret that you cannot camp. Even after you clinch the deal there is a baleful look of having done you a great favour. You’ll thank your stars for this stroke of luck for about as long as it takes you to spot the other lucky ones ahead or behind you on the mountain

There is an old heritage structure up the face of the mountain called the Mantapa. You could camp here, but if you are a large group (anything over 4) it’s difficult. There is a water source near by, but not much of a level ground to pitch a tent. We moved further along and almost reached the top before night fell – and it fell fast. To give you an idea, I was the slowest one (which why the title) and climbing out of Bhat’s house at around 1.30 in the afternoon took us about 5.30 in the evening to be just short of the top (there is no peak as such here). We stopped liberally to soak in the views and to replenish our selves. Which is a word of advice. Since we pretty much caught the last bus out, we didn’t load up on water. Carry enough and more water and lime/moosambi. It was the moosambi pieces that did the trick for us. A quarter of a sweet lime every 45 minutes and you are good to go.

The Usual Suspect doing his thing at the Mantapa, on the way up.

Just short of the top, you will run into another wooded area. This is a typical Shola forest and you can find a place to camp here. There is a water source nearby, and a couple of clearings that you don’t need to work too much to pitch your tent. You can also go all the way to the top, because it really is a short climb – unless you are very tired or it’s too dark. There are some scary verticals that you need climb when it is nice and bright. Or bright enough to see where you will fall.

We started our climb and descent around 5 in the AM. Budgeting a half an hour break to admire the show that the sun and clouds had put up for our benefit, we were down the peak and about 15 kms from Somwarpet by 11.30. To get down to Coorg, the descent is in the same direction as you came – for a short while, and then take a right. There are no landmarks, nothing so you will have to spend some time hunting. The only idea that you can have is that the route to Coorg is to the far end towards the south-west. Now here is the kicker. You will find 0, zip, none, nothing to transport you once you get down. So unless you had your own transport – and asked the driver to stay at Somwarpet and come and pick you up near Bidalli you are screwed. Which is exactly what happened to us. Till a bloke took pity on us and piled us along with the fish that he was selling and dropped us off at Shantahalli. Which itself is about 8 kms from Bidalli where you will descend. The village of Bidalli is exactly 5 houses. Don’t count on getting anything beyond the rudimentary biscuits. Besides the shop is closed on Sunday. There is a bus at 9 AM from here but that might not run on Sunday either. The only way to get out of hiking another 10 kms from the junction where the road from Bidalli meets the road to Somwarpet is to have someone willing to pick you up at Bidalli. Alternatively you can climb from Coorg and get down at Subramanya. There are more options of transport from here on account of the temple.

One of the Usual Suspects enjoying the morning show at Kumara Parvata.

While we were done with our climb and descent by 11.30 in the morning, it was 4 in the afternoon before we got any transport and we reached Bangalore around midnight.

For those of you who have a GPS unit, these might help. Subrahmanya 12*40.000′ 75*35.600′ 123mts, Bhatara mane 12*40.156′ 75*39.144′ 836mts, Mantapa 12*39.815′ 75*40.133′ 1204mts, Campsite 12*39.889′ 75*40.803 1576mts, Peak 12*39.719′ 75*41.201′ 1712mts

But it is all worth it. After all it’s not every day you get a fitness check up like this.