On an unusually warm winter afternoon when the plains of Mysore were as hot as a summer day, a groaning bus carried me slowly up the winding roads from Kushalanagar to Madikeri. Through the huge windows, I watched the packed streets of the town make way to green and open spaces. Kaveri appeared and disappeared quickly under a bridge – now a gentle and happy flow, unlike the roaring river that it is in the monsoon months. The steady climb made the under-powered engine of the bus to struggle, but did good to let me sink into the views of the forest and watch the parakeets fly home after a good day of feeding. Evergreen stretch of forests, coffee estates and occasional clearing in the woods that opened into the view of the valley went past my window one after other. Earlier, in the afternoon sun, it seemed like a long and tiring journey from Bangalore but now I was energized and ready to see more of Coorg’s pretty countryside.
Hills of Coorg – View from the top
I was on a short trip to Coorg on invitation from HummingBird Holidays, visiting some of their properties and enjoying the fresh air of the western ghats after a long time. I was a once regular to Coorg, travelling here several times a year on short visits from Bangalore. But as work took me to faraway places and I got busy exploring corners of the country, I had less and less time for my regular visits to Coorg. The invitation was a good opportunity.
When I arrived in the evening just an hour before sunset, the air was crisp and there was a slight hint of the cold winter night about to arrive after dark. There was a lazy yet cheerful mood in our eighty-year old bungalow, where the evening’s golden sunlight bathed the walls and furnishings and made them glow. I was considering a sortie in town after a cup of coffee, but as one hot cup led to another and another, I found no mood to kick myself from my sit-out facing a valley and miss the continuous supply of world’s favourite brew. After all, Madikeri’s sparse spread of tiled-roof houses and greenery amidst them looked pretty from my chair overlooking the valley, and there was no real justification to set out and discover more.
If the coffee made me lazy, the night’s dinner spread and the next morning’s dosas made me become completely idle. The cook serving with a smile dished out such delicious food that it would take me some time to realize that I had already overeaten. So, a temptation a of beautiful drive through the hills to other side of Coorg did not excite me much.
But get out I did, and was glad to have made that decision. The less taken road from Madikeri to Gonikoppa through Chettalli took me through a route not popular with tourists. It winded through the vistas of beautiful valleys and coffee gardens before descending near Gonikoppa and passing through rice fields and small villages.
The drive took me through the some of the best hillsides of Coorg, allowing me to see the region from up-close. Later in the day, I was about to witness another perspective – the beauty of these hills from high-up like a bird’s eye view. That afternoon, I drove with Muthanna to an open field for an experience that was to blow me away and show me a completely new way to see the hills of Coorg. Muthanna is a trained flier of ultralight aircraft. After a month of flying practice in Thailand, Muthanna returned to Coorg and ordered a brand new ultralight aircraft for himself. He has explored much of Coorg with his flying toy and knows where exactly to find the best scenery in Coorg from a mile high. Muthanna is one of the few people, if not the only person in this part of the country, who takes people on cross country rides and shares the joy of flying with everyone.
That day, when Muthanna opened his small hangar – big enough to fit just about three cars – and revealed his flying baby, I heard my heart speaking out loud to me and urge me to get on it quickly. I was eager. The fifteen minutes that was required to pull out the aircraft, warm the engine and inspect the runway seemed too long and too unbearable. When we finally took off, it was short and quick ascent and we were at the cruising height in less than a minute. Strong headwinds perhaps helped gain altitude quickly, but they made the flying difficult. When I looked down and gazed at the green earth, it appeared like we were crawling slowly against a strong wind, but in fact we were cruising at hundred kph at an altitude of about a kilometer. Down below, I could see paddy fields, coffee plantations, small hills, lone houses amidst coffee plantations and forest lands appearing not very different from a google-map satellite image. But only now, I was seeing the real thing – the undulating landscapes of the western ghats unfolding under me and drifting away at 100kph. After about 15 minutes of flying, we flew across a pristine forest landscape where a river ran south in a deep valley. Further ahead and on our way back, we passed above the green hills of Tata Tea and several coffee plantations before making a quick but smooth landing. We were up in the air for fairly long time, but in the excitement of windswept heights and incredible vistas, it appeared as if barely a minute had passed. I wanted this flight to go on forever.
We ended the day with a visit to beautiful Irpu Falls, where River Lakshmana Teertha comes down through a series of steps to form a waterfall in the thick woods of Brahmagiri Ranges. Back in Madikeri that evening, at HummingBird’s Rio Restotel, I spent the night dreaming of flying over the undulating landscapes in which an end was never to be sighted.
The next morning, we drove from Gonikoppa to Dubare Elephant Camp, where Karnataka Forest Department rears a small herd of elephants on the bank of Kaveri. The elephants were being given a morning bath and the last few of them were herded out of water for their breakfast minutes after we arrived. In a small enclosure at the edge of the forest, where the camp is located, the elephants were lined up for their morning feed. The mahouts brought large, football sized spheres of a ragi and jaggery mix and pushed it though the mouth of the pachyderms. From their reaction, it was clear that the big fellows loved their meal and were eager for more. Some of the little ones were impatient and struggled anxiously as they waited their turn. And they demanded for more as soon as their share went into their gigantic tummies.
As the feeding hour was about to end, it was also time for us to head back to Kushalanagar and catch the next bus to Bangalore. It was a fruitful three days at Coorg. And this time I was returning home with higher probabilities of coming here again soon. Muthanna’s flight-magic, I know, will not let me stay away from here for long.
About HummingBird Holidays.
HummingBird Holidays has two properties in Coorg with a third one about to be commissioned. OldsVille in Madikeri is a small, cheerful and well-decorated 80 year old bungalow. Rio Restotel is a no-frills, well-maintained accommodation in Gonikoppa Town, which can server as a good base for visitors to explore Coorg and then find a convenient place to rest and sleep. The third property is a spacious bungalow in a large compound in Kushalanagar, right next to River Kaveri.