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Coorg: The coffee plantation haven

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One of the cottages in Tamara Coorg

There are wide vistas of hills and mountains, beautiful valleys, thick jungles, and coffee plantations laced with pepper and cardamom plants, writes Anita Rao Kashi

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Driving from Mysore towards Coorg, the landscape is largely flat but lush. Small towns, little villages and tiny hamlets are interspersed with massive patches of green fields, crops and trees. But soon there is a subtle change and the landscape begins to alter perceptibly. The plains give way to hilly areas and the straight road undulates and begins to curve inexorably. But it is what is visible outside the window that is riveting.


On either side, depending on how the vehicle swerves and curves around bends, there are wide vistas of hills and mountains, beautiful valleys, thick jungles, and coffee plantations laced with pepper and cardamom plants flash by. In between, there are little gurgling rivulets that are hidden around bends and beneath thick jungle growth. In between, it is also common to cross bridges or come across large waterfalls on tiny rivers or streams, all of which probably end up joining the famous river Cauvery, considered very sacred by the Kodavas.

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Coffee plantations in Coorg

Madikeri, the capital of Kodagu or Coorg district, is a popular destination but I decided to ignore it and head instead to Virajpet, 35 km to the South of Madikeri. Jungles and coffee plantations flanked the undulating road and then suddenly, round a bend over a hill, the top view of Virajpet town came into sight. It was a mesmerising spectacle, almost like a picture postcard. It was an intricate maze of houses liberally interspersed with greenery. Amidst this patchwork, the eye was drawn to the middle from where rose the spire of St Anne’s Church. Painted pale blue, and set against the backdrop of a green hill, it stood out against its surroundings and against the deep blue sky.

The church is believed to be over 200 years old and demonstrated a mix of Gothic and European styles of architecture. The tall tower, rising almost 180 feet contained two large bells, and was quite striking and visible from almost all over the whole of Virajpet. The church contained statues of Biblical characters and was serene and peaceful inside.

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Inside Namdroling Monastery

However, my destination was beyond Virajpet and as I left the town behind, the road once again became undulating and the surrounding areas were filled with coffee plantations. I followed a curving road that climbed up a rather steep hill filled with coffee plants. The road ended in the lovely resort of Tamara Coorg which stood on top of a hillock with fabulous views of the hills and valleys of the Brahmagiri range. The rooms stood on stilts and looked out into the surrounding vistas.

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Early next morning, the wakeup call came not from an alarm clock but from the collective chirping of a variety of birds. From the balcony, the whole vista looked ethereal and stunning. In the distance, puffy clouds hung suspended over the dark hills while the rising sun gently tinged everything in a golden orange glow. As the sun rose, everything became more and more clear and the scenery in front was nothing short of breathtaking. From the thick forests that lay below, an occasional jungle call could be heard, especially striking was the trumpeting of elephants.

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Coorg panoramic view of hills and valleys

As the sun came up and cleared the mist and dew, the coffee plantations beckoned and were ideal for long walks. On the way were other spices such as pepper and cardamom, interspersed with lovely flowering bushes, ferns and other bushes and trees. Birds could be heard chirping but it was the sight of a plethora of butterflies that made it is even more fascinating. The place was also the kind that encouraged one to just relax and absorb the incredible serenity all around.

Looking for a bit of activity and change of scene the next day, I headed to Bylakuppe near Kushalanagar, which was about an hour’s drive away. Perhaps the largest Tibetan settlement, it was fun to wander around the roads and visit stunning Buddhist monasteries where chants rang out and the streets were filled with monks in red robes. I wandered around the little shopping centre in the middle of the settlement which had interesting Tibetan handicrafts and a variety of knick knacks. Around lunch time, I feasted on such Tibetan staples as thukpa (soupy noodles) and momos (dumplings).

Next I made a quick stop at the Dubare elephant camp, a unique place where visitors can bathe, feed and ride on elephants across a river. The visit was indeed short and I was sad to leave the gentle pachyderms but the evening shadows were growing long and the ride back was looming. But I was glad to take back some lovely memories and a bit of the incredible tranquillity of the hills and forests.

Factfile

Virajpet is in Coorg district of Karnataka about 100 km from Mysore and 235 km from Bangalore.

How to reach: The nearest airport is at Bangalore while the nearest railhead is at Mysore. There are buses from Bangalore and Mysore to Virajpet, or you can hire a private car or taxi.

Where to stay: Opt for plantation stays or homestays for a true Coorg experience. Tamara Coorg (http://www.thetamara.com/) is located inside a sprawling coffee estate and also provide fabulous views of the Brahmagiri forest and hill range.