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Coorg: 50 gorgeous shades of green

September 06, 2016 12:51 IST

School Thota

Coffee is a very small part of the magic that envelopes this beautiful land, says A Ganesh Nadar.

The view from School Thota

IMAGE: The view from School Thota. Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar

The duration of the Air Pegasus flight from Madurai to Bengaluru is 70 minutes, so it is annoying when the flight is delayed by two hours.

Finally, we reach Bengaluru and hire an Innova for three days (cost: Rs 12,000). The drive to Coorg, under a cloud-covered sky, is beautiful.

Colourful dolls are sold at Chainapata.

IMAGE: Toys for sale at Chainapatna.

We whizz past Chainapatna, where stuffed dolls and colourful wooden toys are sold. No wonder it is known as the town of toys. Your bargaining skills will help as the vendors here usually quote ridiculously high prices. But they are willing to haggle.

We have lunch at a wayside inn where the food is served at a leisurely pace.

Later, we halt at the Golden Temple. Also known as the Namdroling monastery, the exterior and the idols here are gold plated, hence the name. This Tibetan monastery is the main tourist attraction in Bylakuppe.

The golden statues at Namdroling monastery.

IMAGE: The golden statues at Namdroling monastery.

Three beautiful golden statues -- of Padmasambhava, Buddha and Amitayus, varying between 58 and 60 feet in height -- gaze down benevolently at the visitors.

The main temple is closed for renovation so our visit is brief.

While the Tibetan students here are shy, the vendors are not. One sells momos; another tries to sell us mangoes that, he says, are prasad from the temple.

As we near Coorg, the landscape changes and becomes hilly; the tree cover is denser and most trees have creepers growing on them.

School Thota

IMAGE: School Thota.

Soon after we cross Sidhapur, find ourselves on a mud road and are soon at our destination, a home stay called School Thota (school estate).

Later, we find that the school -- which used to be run by German missionaries -- was actually some distance away, in Madikeri. But this coffee estate supported the school, hence it was called School Thota.

When the Germans left India over a century ago, they sold the estate to the family who still run it -- the Aiyappas. The school has been taken over by the government.

Saraswati Aiyappa runs the School Thota home stay.

IMAGE: Saraswati Aiyappa runs the School Thota home stay.

Today, the estate is run by an elegant lady, Saraswati Aiyappa. We are welcomed with excellent coffee, tea and home made snacks.

Our rooms have gorgeous wooden floors. The garden outside is filled with beautiful flowers. Even the leaves come in 50 shades of green. The gazebo is crowned with a weather cock that turns with the wind. Beyond the garden is a 300 acre coffee estate that resembles a dense wood.

By now, it is 5 pm and I am tired. I decide to take a nap; my younger friends wander off on a two hour walk and return seduced by the beauty of the place.

The meals here are simple; we opt for chicken, chappati, rice and jaggery flavoured dessert.

The gazebo

IMAGE: The gazebo.

That night, we sleep blissfully. The weather is so pleasant that we don't need to use the air-conditioner. Sadly, the fan belongs to a previous era; it is slow and noisy.

Next morning, we tuck into omelettes and piping hot sanaa (idli) before heading for Talacauvery.

That six-hour trip is one of the best road journeys of my life. We are surrounded by hills. The valley is deep and sparsely populated. It rains all the way. We wind down the car windows and enjoy the awesome weather.

We pass interesting looking bus stops on the way. With low roofs that require you to bend and enter, they can shelter only about four people. There is a barrier in the middle of the door to prevent animals from entering.

But where were the animals?

Despite the dense forest, we did not even see a monkey. We did, however, spot a few birds.

The origin of the Cauvery river

IMAGE: The origin of the Cauvery river.

As we near Talacauvery, the birthplace of the Cauvery river, the road becomes steeper but our Innova scales the incline effortlessly.

Talacauvery is very beautiful and offers a stunning view. There are tall mountains on all sides. This is where the Cauvery begins as a trickle from a small spring before becoming a mighty river. During the monsoons, the waterfalls on the Cauvery generate an impressive amount of electricity.

Talacauvery has a huge temple dedicated to the river. Notice boards warn you this is a holy place and not a picnic spot. My friend is chided for wearing cut-off jeans. "You cannot wear shorts here," she is told. She twists the black shawl she is carrying into a lungi and we are ready to move on.

We climb the steps leading to the temple. Priests distribute holy water and kumkum.

50 shades of green

IMAGE: 50 shades of green.

We watch the Cauvery flow out of the mountain as a small fountain; it is hard to believe that this tiny trickle would soon roar ahead as a majestic river that would see two states battling for its waters.

A little distance away is the Sangam, located in Srirangapatinam. This is where the Cauvery meets the Kabini and Hemavati rivers. This, my friend from Bihar reminds me, is also the birth place of Tipu Sultan.

We have lunch in a restaurant in Madikeri that boasts beautiful woodwork. The food is wholesome and the quantity, generous.

The drive back is pleasant. The sun is setting. We are so tired that we exchange our planned walk for an early dinner followed by bed.

We wake up the next morning with a heavy heart. It's time to return. Even the three Dobermans at the home stay are quiet. They down their breakfast -- it's jackfruit today -- knowing that we won't be there to play catch with them later.

Shopping at Chainapatna

IMAGE: Shopping at Chainapatna.

The journey is quicker, though we stop to shop at Chainapatna and have lunch at the crowded Kamat restaurant; the coffee is excellent. We pause at Siddhapur to buy coffee, local spices, chocolates and dry fruits.

Entering Bengaluru slows us down; the traffic and the pollution are a stark contrast to the purity of Coorg.

My return flight by Air Pegasus is cancelled. I am forced to buy another ticket on another airline at the last minute. It cost me Rs 2,000 more. It's upsetting, but Coorg is still working its magic on me as I return home.

School Thota can host 10 people at a time. It costs Rs 2,250 per person, per night.

A Ganesh Nadar /