Day 1: Symphony of the nocturnal; Retro, cozy Home Away from Home!
…Only the busy beetle
Tap-tapping in the wall,
Only from the forest
The screech-owl's call,
Only the cricket whistling
While the dewdrops fall…
The night has an orchestra of its own. And though Walter de la Mare's Someone wasn’t exactly themed around that, the above excerpt was buzzing in my head ever since I landed there at Club Mahindra, Kodagu Valley. The last time I sat listening to something like this—awestruck at the symphony that the toads, crickets, owls and the tens of hundreds creatures of the night create—was during my Kaziranga trip. And that also had foxes and monkeys and an occasional growl (which we convinced ourselves to be the tiger’s) or two adding more punch to the sonata.
It was 4ish on one of my Wednesdays. FYI, mine is a Wed-Wed cycle and hence that’s the Mad Day at work. I suddenly realized – I had had it and for sanity’s sake needed a break and right away! D underestimated the gravity of the situation until I put it as: “I do not want to wake up in Hyderabad tomorrow and we must get away. NOW!” A vacation was long due and so was striking that work-life-balance. Within minutes Coorg was decided. With our shoestring budget, Club Mahindra was the only option and Coorg their nearest property from Hyderabad. My Manager was kind enough to approve my unscheduled leave and Pratap B proved a real sweetheart when he instantly agreed to baby sit Boom boy. Within half an hour the plants were watered, the luggage packed and by 5:30 PM I was at the bus stop.
Hyderabad – Mangalore was 15 hours and from there to Madikeri (Coorg’s main town) was about 5 hours. (The best route from Hyderabad to Coorg, however, is via Bangalore unless you’re flying to Coorg’s nearest airport, Mangalore).
Club Mahindra, Kodagu Valley (Coorg being its Anglicized name) is redolent of antiquated mansions tucked away from civilization, typical to plantations. Sloping, red tiled roofs, tall wooded ceilings, antique furniture, replete with an abundance of unkempt vegetation on all sides, as far as eyes can wander… Add to it the soggy weather, the light drizzle, twilight setting in and if not for Club Mahindra’s signature modernistic décor, lively ambience and impeccable hospitality, it was redolent of those bungalows in Ramsay Brother flicks. Not sure, if the epithet still holds true and if I should mention Ram Gopal Verma instead. Such close proximity to nature usually affects queer illusions in my city chafed head and I admit, my imagination was at its fertile best at that time.
The Club Mahindra Reception (above), clicked later in the daylight.
As we walked down to our block through the cobblestoned pathway, inhaling the moisture laden, mountain-fresh air—even searching for a chance waft of coffee beans—I knew I would love every bit of the stay. It smelt so much like Assam.
Loved the interior with its touch of retro!
Day 2: Winters, Eggs and Bacon, unravelling the charms of the green county
Our share of winters we miss out on in Hyderabad where that particular season is literally NON-EXISTENT!
Melt in the mouth bacon and refreshing water melon juice, besides other sumptuous delicacies for breakfast. Simply put, happiness on a platter.
For D, it was kiwi pancakes soaked in Maple syrup and eggs. Delicious, but a tad too sweet for me...
The Club Mahindra Coorg property is a riot of greens, rain drenched and at their aesthetic best. Boomer would have loved romping about. Dang we miss him so much!
Interesting filter kaapi maker at the resort’s Shop, but my fascination with this variety, I had a feeling, wouldn’t last beyond a few weeks after the trip. Hence, decided to go for the cheaper steel one.
The Kodavas have a thing for weapons and as legends have it, every family still possesses a double barrel gun.
A trek followed, but aborted midway due to the incessant downpour. Some of the flora that caught my attention… The staggering variety of Anthuriums went un-clicked as I have seen most of them already.
Day 3: Trek down to Madikeri town; No plastics; Coffee and Spices
Coorg's ubiquitous coffee beans (the ones in the pic are unroasted).
After coffee, Coorg is famous for its Cardamom, Pepper, Honey and Vanilla.
From the abundance of home-made flavored wine, we decided to play safe and pick the traditional grape variety. Raw bamboo shoot was among other things sold at every bend of the street. I regret not carrying few packets back home.
The use of plastic bags is banned in Coorg. That did not surprise me, what did was the fact that the law is followed and stringently. We realized how dependent we had become on something biodegradable and an absolute bane to the environment. [Added later: And I was surprised once again when in just about a week, we got used to paper and cloth bags. Happy to share that we have now completely switched to cloth bags. Had a few from Delhi. Not sure where you get them here in Hyderabad. Any leads?]
Both of us spent few minutes every day logging our share of the experience. Yeah, words erupted volcanically and we could not help but contain them somewhere. Which is also affirming, I had to get hundreds of miles away to finally find some inspiration and most importantly, peace of mind to be able to rise and walk out of my writer’s block. And those moments spent with the pen and paper was, in a word – therapeutic!
Day 4: Hallery Estate, Arabica secrets, touch-me-nots, orange-yellow birdies, ghila pitha and back to our cosy slice of heaven
The sun did show up – finally. But from its benign rays we could tell, it never scorches in this portion of the earth the way it does it our Hyderabads and Delhis. We decided to take a day off from the resort and try out the plantation home stays. The owner of the Coorg Provision Store (Madikeri) turned out to be pretty resourceful and he arranged for a night stay at Hallery estate. The next morning, the estate’s accountant, Pravin Chandra volunteered to give us a tour of their 285 acre plantation. The genesis of coffee, its life cycle before it matures its way to our mugs, was described and in the most dexterous manner. God bless the sweet fellow. I regret not recording it and hope D’s travelogue will capture the vivid details of our informative and interesting tour.
The Arabica beans (now green) ripen into a shape of deep red by Nov-Dec, their harvesting season. It is considered to produce better coffee than the other major commercially grown coffee species. Coorg’s neighbor Chikmagalur is also famous for its coffee plantations. [The pic above is from the web]
Black pepper vines. Pic 2: Pepper ‘under construction’
One year old Arabica saplings planted with some other tree for shade. In about five years they will be ready to yield coffee beans for the rest of their lives.
The other variety is the Robusta coffee that grows on short and stout trees, with leaves distinctively bigger than the Arabica’s. But they’re cheaper, yield smaller beans and are easy to maintain, which is why plantations at Coorg are increasingly switching to Robusta cultivation. The one on the right is about a hundred year old Robusta tree.
D staring up at what Pravin said was the coffee tree! Apparently, the one that grows our cappuccino variety! A trip to the plantation’s giant pond for irrigation and the coffee processing unit followed.
D checking out if that's lemon and if we can pluck a bagful. Needless to add – at my behest!
Other interesting inhabitants at the plantation! Pic 2 is after I touched it with a twig (the likes of me should be banned from such places, I agree)
Pic two is our share of the freshly harvested ginger. Few acres of Hallery have been cleared for ginger plantation.
Though there were buses every 20 min downhill from the estates to the main town, Madikeri, we decided to walk. I must add Coorg felt like a safe haven and there was traces of civilization every few miles. But 9 km was aiming for too high considering my sedentary lifestyle. Also, it got cloudy after a while and after about 4 km we decided to play safe and take the bus.
But that after we stopped by this quaint roadside “hotel” for a kaapi break and discovered the Coorgi version of our Assamese "ghila pitha". Same taste, same ingredients!!!
And Cloud 9 it was! Haven’t seen Scotland yet, hence do not want to comment on Coorg’s Scotland of India label. It was a sheer beauty and that I can vouch for.
Back at Club Mahindra…the recollection of Pravin's coffee lore added a dash of a newfound flavor as we sipped our favorite beverage...
It’s 6:55 pm and D is ready for this precious Planter’s Club (the bar) evening and in minutes he’ll bribe me with his sweet talk about how he wished I could join him there, never failing to conclude with a: “I understand you need some time to yourself and you’ll have it baby,”. Well, yes, yes, I understand too :) I feign my innocent agreeing smile and in no time he disappears.
Day 5: Cold, Coorgi cuisine
Flu follows me everywhere and invariably! Grrrr… As I wrote, I could feel the virus settling in…its colony swelling in my choked throat, slowly, but irrevocably.
Didn’t go exploring, instead spent the day at the fun zone…carom, chess, TT et al. Thankfully, both of us are the laidback type and our vacations are mostly about lazying around, talking through the nights. The freedom from the need to be doing “something”, going “somewhere” was just about it. And that made up the top and the bottom-line of the rest of the vacation.
The spicy—in the real sense of the term—Coorgi pork curry did magic to my cold. It was a seeming overdose of pepper and garlic, besides other spices and I bet the Kodavas invented it to make their wintery climate more bearable. Unlike our North East cuisine, the bamboo shoot isn’t cooked with pork here, but with black chana. And though I mostly end up loving all things exotic, this wasn’t really the flavor that tickled my taste buds. Pork curry and Coorgi’s ghee rice pretty much sufficed, while D gorged at the sumptuous lunch buffet spread. We had it at the resort, but I they talk of “East End” and the restaurants at the Mangalore circle for authentic local cuisine.
Day 6: Bangalore and back
I will abstain from describing what ensued. Few hours hence we were in the train trailing back to dear Hyderabad.
When I called D, last Wednesday, he also added, “Ready for some adventure?”. To which I excitedly quipped, “Hell yes!!!” And an adventure it was. Bitter, sweet, but all’s well that ends well. And I am glad I am hitting “Publish” in the next few minutes after almost a year of hibernation or god knows what!