As the Western Ghats with legends of bravery and martyrdom descend from Gujarat to Tamil Nadu, it silently hang its boots and lay down for a while at Kodagu, Karnataka, a hill station populated by coffee plantations and new wedlock. Known popularly amongst tourists as Coorg, Kodagu has attracted valiant rulers over the centuries to claim their right over this land but none have ever bothered to devastate its landscapes, even by chance. Perhaps, this is the reason why the hills choose to put its feet up and play idly with buns of clouds, like an actor playing with a child after a recondite play.
As the bus past the hills from Mangalore, a 4 hour drive from Coorg, distant cake-crumbled voice of bus travellers swooped and surfaced in my ears like mountain streams, sometimes angular, sometimes blunt, at every turn. The green hills started losing its spiky stance and appeared like placid curves tranquillized by the serene climate. Flanked by picturesque scenes alongside, Coorg roads are narrow and its vast scenes pose a challenge to even the most diligent rider.
Madikeri, the capital of Coorg, welcomed me with a cloudy reception at 2 pm. Not a usual phenomena for someone who spends a quarter of every year roasting in the summers of Mumbai. On my way in the bus, I had eavesdropped about Coffee Estate and Home stay from the cosy whispers of honeymooners in the bus. So, on my pursuit for an authentic experience, which was devoid of any cosy partner, I recklessly surveyed the streets for a peculiar Home stay. Coffee Estate stay, which allows one to romance on an island of vast Coffee plantations, stood at a distant 40 kms away from the capital. After negotiating hard with every other Home stay agent, a bungalow near Raja’s Seat put my nonchalance to rest. Raja’s Seat, the Seat of Kings, is where Kings of Kodagu went to catch the sunrise and calmly plan their next big move with a cup of Coorg coffee, in the company of the vast floating mountains – mountains covered with an unending sheath of mist and clouds till its neck. Soaking that view, I realized that it was never the Kings who guarded the sanctity of this place, but the whisper of the overgrown hills that calmed every scurrying ruler of the land.
After filling my eyes with this pristine spectacle, I decided to put my tired back to rest for the coming days there. Sipping homemade (alcohol-free) beetle leaf wine while watching games of fireflies at night. After my first night, I decided to see the Goddess of Coorg – the Kaveri River. On my way to Talakaveri, the source of river Kaveri, lays a confluence of three rivers that runs across South and becomes a source of living for the states through which they pass. At this place, Kaveri is joined by two tributaries, the Kannike and the Sujyoti River. Called as Kudala and Triveni sangama, in Kannada and Sanskrit, the sangam is also punctuated by a temple of Lord Igguthapp.
It is here that I met Bala, a devout follower of river Kaveri. He has been performing annual satyanarayana pooja and serving food to visitors for 15 years. On his insistence, I agreed to take the prasadam which consisted of bisbelle rice, banana bhajis and a cup of coffee, quite distinct from what South Indian joints in Mumbai claim ‘Pure South Indian Coffee’ as. Bala annually spends 2 lakhs of his income as offering to the river that feeds him and his family with bounties of wealth. He offers food to needy and hungry tourists every year by organizing grand feast at the foot of the sangam. While at breakfast, he narrated about the preparations of his rich meal doused in home-made ghee, he smoothly compared his experience about South Indian food in Mumbai, his visit to the famous bungalows of actors and businessmen, and how a coffee maker coaxed him to pay Rs. 20/- for a tequila sized cup of coffee.
On my way to Talakaveri, Bala suggested me to visit the man-made pond that springs water continuously to form River Kaveri and to take blessings of it. I was flattered by his humble gesture when he invited me for lunch after my visit to the holy place. But I had decided to avoid the guilt-free meal and gorge on the staple cuisine of Coorg – Pandi Curry with otti – rice chapatis like bhakaris of Maharashtra, and kadumbuttu – bite-sized balls of rice soaked in a puddle of thin gravy. For the uninitiated, Pandi Curry is a preparation made from preserved pork pickled in a paste of home-grown spices, bamboo shoots and mushrooms. Enjoyed best without spoon, fork and etiquettes. Can there be any substitute for this outspread of traditional Kondava Food then?
After our rich breakfast, I reached to Talakaveri. Situated on a hill locked area, of Brahmagiri hill, the origin of Kaveri takes birth in a tank or kundike erected in a small temple. It is frequented by pilgrims in October, on the day of Tulasankramana, when devotees gather to witness the rise of fountainhead, where water gushes up from the spring at a predetermined moment. River Kaveri, if spotted on a map, flows generously from south to east, through Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and across the southern Deccan plateau through the south eastern lowlands, making the land fertile through every state she passes, and finally mystifying itself into countless ridges of rivers in the Bay of Bengal.
On my way back to Madikeri, my friend and I went berserk with our cameras capturing every pose that the farms and the forest struck. Dust-green rice fields. Manicured hills of coffee and pepper plantations. Bent palm trees swaying to welcome the tourist. The sun behind the white fins. Cows nit-picking from pasture land and distant old houses located on small cliffs with disbelieving view of green space from its back.
Our tired feet were accompanied by hungry stomachs. But we couldn’t find any restaurant nearby. Clueless about the road, a familiar face appeared in front of our eyes. We stopped at Baghmandala again, this time exactly when the lunch began. Though I had vouched my friend for a Coorg cuisine, we unanimously agreed to follow Bala’s benign request.
My other ventures at Coorg exploring the bounties of nature galore; a visit to Namdroling Monastery, Madikeri Fort, Omkareshwar Temple, Honey Bee Farm and Coffee Estates, but what the generous Kaveri gave me was an experience that will be remembered forever.
We didn’t stuff much after that rich Coorg veg meal that day. It saved our reserves and made us plan our backpack better to explore Coorg and Pandi Curry in its most virtuous form. Had River Kaveri sent a shepherd to feed us for that day or was it just thin luck that chose to dawn upon us? Our belief in the universal truth – Nature is God, reaffirmed.