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Ever stayed on a coffee plantation?
Alokparna Das
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September 18, 2006

We continue our reader-driven getaway series.

Alokparna Das recommends Kirudale in Karnataka if you want to explore nature and stay at an eco adventure camp.

It took us some time to painstakingly squeeze our way out of the narrow roads of Bangalore. But once we were out of the din and bustle of the IT city, it was time to enjoy the green expanse of the countryside -- coconut trees lined up in rows, paddy fields separated by lotus ponds, quaint villages on the outskirts of small towns.

The green outside soothed the eyes. The tickling raindrops cooled. The amicable weather made the 300-kilometre journey to Kirudale in North Coorg a comfortable one.

Kirudale, as I later learned, literally means 'a tiny hamlet' and is indeed one of the smallest villages in Coorg (Kodagu).

Most tourists know of Madikeri and head there. Result: The district headquarters Kirudale is lesser known and lesser frequented. That, I thought, was a blessing. For, Madikeri is on its way to becoming another Ooty or Kodaikanal. In terms of hotel occupancy and revenue earned, that might be good news. But for travellers like me who want to explore in silence and solitude, the very thought of a favourite coffee plantation being a haunt for a great many people can act as a deterrent.

Our route from Mysore took us past the boulder-like hillocks of Ramnagaram. The town's claim to fame is that blockbuster Sholay was shot on these hills. Hillocks that may have been Gabbar and his men's den soon gave way to riverbanks and as we approached Coorg, the view outside was predominantly of rain-drenched bamboo trees.

We stopped over at Kushalnagar, primarily to buy gumboots. Gumboots are probably mandatory in Coorg's semi-tropical rainforests.

Kushalnagar was bustling with activity probably because India's second largest Tibetan settlement, Bylakuppe is next door. Buddhist monks of the Vajrayana sect could be spotted everywhere -- in the marketplace, on the way to monasteries or on bikes.

Shops and wayside cafes had pictures of His Holiness Dalai Lama in various sizes. One petrol pump even had a picture of Mahatma Gandhi placed along side that of the Dalai Lama.

Shopping done, we were ready for our journey uphill. It took one and a half hours up the winding hill roads to reach Kirudale. The roads seemed like the parting lines of the coffee plantations.

The temperature had fallen considerably. The evening mist, settled on the treetops, indicated that we had reached our destination. A mild drizzle welcomed us as we arrived at Rainbow House. Our host Alex Noronha greeted us and welcomed us to Planter's Camp.

The motorable road ended at the colonial Rainbow House. It was time to take a not so long walk through slopes, up natural stairs, across a ladder-like bridge, down narrow walkways and paths to our respective tents.

Planter's Camp is an eco adventure camp, located on 10 acres of unspoiled forest land surrounded by coffee, pepper and citric fruit plantations. The camp's Swiss tents, with attached bathrooms, are equipped to accommodate 15 guests at a time. Rainbow House serves as a dining hall as well as a meeting or workshop area.

The rustic beauty of the place charmed us immediately. No manicured gardens, no barbeque trolleys, no uniformed staff -- just untamed nature, a friendly host, his small but efficient team and yes, delicious home-cooked meals.

Alex had stories and interesting trivia on almost everything around. Post a sumptuous dinner it was time to listen to his escapades of encountering a wild boar. These tales were not told around a bonfire -- bonfires are a strict no-no here -- but by the light of the stars and the glow worms that lit up the darkness of the forest.

It was like a story-telling session in the middle of nowhere, with only an occasional mobile phone call breaching the stillness. Despite being far from the madding crowds, the camp had good mobile phone connectivity.

The next morning the whistling schoolboy calls acted as an alarm clock and we were all up unusually early. It was time to go for a walk through the forest to the waterfall.

With Alex as our guide, we set out for a nature trek. The early morning sun peeped through the gaps in the trees. Leaves fluttered in dance-like movements. Birds twittered. The cool breeze ruffled the tall teak trees guarding the mountains.

Tasting citric fruits, smelling pepper, getting tips on coffee plantations, spotting a chameleon here and a scorpion there, posing for photographs in front of a mountain spring and listening to the gurgling sound of water falling, were a thrill as we trekked comfortably to the waterfall. Paddy fields overlooked the waterfall. We rested near the fields watching the white foam ferociously tumble upon brown and black rocks.

It drizzled harder as we trekked back to Rainbow House where breakfast was waiting for us. The camp is somewhat strict about meal timings. The cook, who could put many a trained chef to shame, rustled up traditional Kodagu delicacies for us that had us showing up early for our meals.

Afternoon was not a time for slumber; instead we were off to the river in Alex's open jeep. A bumpy ride and rains lashing us all over made us scream and screech with both joy and fright. In contrast, the river was calm and flowing quietly, as if oblivious of its surroundings. The rain-washed evening sky made way for a bright canopy of stars.

It was time to get back to the grind of the city the next morning. I bid adieu to the sacred groves of Kirudale with a promise to myself of coming back for a longer stay. As our vehicles moved to the town downhill, Kirudale and Planter's Camp seemed to vanish away, melting in the mist.

I would like them to stay that way, not exposed, instead waiting to be explored by those who are not looking for a mere tourist destination but a place where they can touch, smell and feel raw nature, with of course, some basic home-like comforts but sans frills and embellishments.

Fact file

Coorg or Kodagu is the south-western district of Karnataka bordering Kerala. It is situated on the western mountainous region of South India and has an area of 4,102.3 square km.

Madikeri, the district headquarter, is around 25 km from Kirudale.

Distances

~ From Kirudale: Madikeri (25 km), Bangalore (265 km), Mysore (120 km), Mangalore (160 km)

Planter's Camp is in Kirudale in Madapur, Somwarpet (North Coorg).

Address
Planter's Camp
Kirudale
Madapur
Near Somwarpet
North Coorg
Karnataka

Phone: (0) 9845288890

e-mail: planterscamp@midoriindia.com

Tariff
~ Single occupancy: Rs 2,999 for one night, including lunch, tea, dinner, breakfast.
~ Double occupancy: Rs 3,999 for one night, including lunch, tea, dinner, breakfast.

Accommodation
~ Five Swiss tents with attached bathrooms

Speciality
~ Comfortable and spacious tents, ample space to hold literary camps, leadership training workshops, etc, excellent mobile network

Food
~ Traditional Coorg cuisine, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian

Facilities
~ Tourist guide and tourist vehicle

Do you love to travel? Do you have a favourite holiday destination/weekend getaway? Be it Goa or Mauritius, the backwaters or snow-clad mountains, adventure sports or treks -- tell us about your adventures in travelling. How you got there, where you stayed, how much you spent, what you saw and felt... We want to hear it all. If you have photographs, send those too! Don't forget to add your full name, age, location, profession and contact details.

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