“… A fun trek through a pristine jungle trail, amidst coffee estates & floral panoramas! Facing the speedy winds on the peak, with clouds swaying past our cheeks! A landscape that mesmerized in every step! Tadiyandamol – the second higest peak of Karnataka was beyond words!!! … “
Coorg has always been one of the first choices when it comes to planning a vacation or a short trip. The enchanting land of coffee and spices has its own unique charm that can rejuvenate a tired soul and also has a lot to offer an avid traveler. May it be the scintillating spices or be the captivating nature, the travel to Coorg is sure to have you longing for more visits. I happened to visit this pristine natural vista with few of my closest friends and this one trip is going to take a special place in my all time travel diary.
We landed at Kakkabe, a small Kodagu town known as the largest producer of Honey in South East Asia, during the early hours of Saturday. Our home stay was arranged in a nearby coffee estate and the care-taker lead us from front in his MM540 Classic Jeep. Jeeps are the most commonly used mode of transport for this terrain and you cannot miss a jeep in any plantation. We were driving through a lush plantation covered with dense coffee plants dotted with green and occasionally red coffee cherries. The climate was mildly cool and atmosphere seductively calm. Untouched by chaos of the city, far away from the bustling noises lay our home stay, a rustic bungalow that belonged to the estate owner. The view from our terrace in those early hours was magnificent. High hills, green paddy fields and chirpings of various birds. Wind never seemed to rest in this part of the world. It never got sunny and the entire valley looked to be in a deep slumber. It had rained considerably the previous night and the morning was misty with sparkling water droplets all around the plants.
Legends say, Kodavas are the descendants of Alexander’s Greek soldiers who stayed back during his invasion. This story supports well considering the warrior stature of the Kodavas. Even today, a gunshot is fired as soon as a male child is born as to mark the birth of another warrior. In Coorg it is said that they welcome a guest and send away a friend. We were being treated to a similar hospitality at our home stay. I have experienced the Kodava hospitality a number of times at my friends’ homes but listening about coffee farming over a cup of mellow coffee from someone I’ve just met was a new experience. As I took sips of the smoking, well-balanced coffee with a sweet-subtle biting sensation just past the tip of the tongue, he explained me about farming, the harvest time closing in and the turbulence coffee growers are facing. Arabica & Robusta are the two most commonly grown coffee varieties here. Arabica is supposedly the farmer’s friend as it offers quick returns compared to the latter. While higher elevations are suitable for the Arabica variety of coffee, the lower regions are suitable for the Robusta. It was a pleasant morning getting lessons from a seasoned coffee farmer.
One of my friends was a coorgy and now it was his turn to interact with our caretaker in the native Kodava takk, the primary language of Kodavas. It is a mixture of Malayalam – Tamil and Kannada and is usually written in Kannada script. Kodavas append the clan name to theirs, so one knows the lineage of the person you’re just meeting. The usual Kodava introduction begins with the very same Mane pedha meaning house/family name. It’s really a great feel to see two natives meet and exchange pleasantries in their original dialect. After a refreshing bath and packed up with all energy, my hunger was creeping up. Our breakfast was ready on the dining table. The thought of hot idlys and authentic coorgy style chicken curry was tantalizing my tongue. Coorgy cuisine is known to be one of the most ethereal, with abundant use of aromatic spices, curry leaves and magical blend of masala which are sure to tickle anybody’s taste buds.
First item on my to-do list for the day was to conquer the highest peak in Coorg, Thadiyandamol. The partially Malayalam, partially Kodava takk name roughly translated to ‘the top most point on the large mountain”. Thadiyandamol also happens to be the second highest peak in the state of Karnataka, standing tall at about 1800 mtrs above sea-level. We began our trek near the famous Nalkunaad Palace built by the king of Haleri Dynasty. Books say this one was a hunting lodge of the erstwhile king which is mistaken as a palace. The intricately carved and designed two storied structure resembles a coastal Indian house. The tiled roof and ethnic look of the Nalkunaad palace leaves too many unanswered questions. Though in a dilemma of its stature as a palace, history says this was the place where the last Kodava king was taken by the British army. Now there is a government school built adjacent to the palace and we could hear few children singing their nursery rhymes. I was wondering if they knew that the ground they play was once a royal ground of the Haleri Dynasty! It was from here we had our first sight of the hills that beckoned us, the misty Thadiyandamol. The sight of white clouds moving across the peak, clearing the view once in a while was a real inspiration.
This is one of the trails that needs no guide for any trekker. Asphalted road stretches between the forest for about 2kms from the Palace, with steep curves and few houses on both sides. Few more minutes and the asphalted road ends at a rocky jeep road. From here on it is occasional steeps with sprawling coffee estates on both sides. Small streams and dense trees provide a perfect setting for the trek. With the dense trees covering us from any sunlight outside, the trail is cool and refreshing. The scent of different forest flowers, decaying wood & leaves, melodies of various birds keeps the trekker engaged throughout the trail.
The view unfolds after few more steeps and the trail opens up into grassland. After crossing through the large, diverse and eye-catching forest road, now we move on a walk way sort of narrow trail. The Thadiyandamol beckons us with its magnificent view from this part of the trek.
There is huge rock which marks almost half way of the trek and the view around from this point ensures it as the right place for a break. The ridges, slopes and curves of nearby mountains can be seen from here. Thadiyandamol peak is right in front of us with clouds being swept across like a thin blanket. The grandeur of surrounding view is so much that you cannot resist to get to the peak. The last quarter of the trek is more steep compared to the first half but definitely not a difficult one. It looks like a naturally formed staircase with stones of different sizes & shapes all along the way to the peak. Every careful step takes you one feet higher and more closer to the peak. Once you have crossed the slopes, the trail leads directly around the peak to the summit.
As we inch closer, the gush of wind can be felt and that answers why the clouds were being swept away in seconds. The last stretch gets almost tricky because of the speedy breeze seeming to uproot you and the mist cover reducing the visibility to almost zero. Finally after 2.5 hrs of trek we had conquered the second highest peak in Karnataka. The feel that you get on the peak is inexplicable. It’s entirely a different atmosphere there compared to that at just 100feet below. The only probable sound you can hear on the peak is that of the gushing noise of the speedy wind. The pace is so much that we found it really difficult to stand there. It was hard to keep your foothold without a support. Clouds were playing with the mountains in this windy surrounding. In strips of thin white blankets, the clouds were being swept along the mountains from its base to the peak. The peak would get covered while the blanket moves across it and clears off in a while waiting for the next strip of cloud.
The panoramic view of the nearby mountains below with curvy ridges is enchanting. The windy peak offered an unobstructed view of hovering mountains covered under white clouds and the coffee bowl plantation below. It is an amazing feeling when we are amidst the white puffy clouds that pass by and that chilled, cozy feel persists on the skin. There happens to be one more interesting event when you are on the peak. Suddenly you get a sms from your service provider welcoming you to the state of Kerala. The peak lies very close to some of the villages in Kerala and there are even histories of people walking across these shola forests during the good old days. They say, on a clear day, the peak even offers a view of the far away coast and some villages in the valley.
While walking back, we also noticed the pepper plants in between the coffee estates. Pepper grows on a creeper and is touted as the king of spices. There have been rich history of India being one of the major producers of pepper and foreign traders thronging our country for this spice which they called as Black Gold. Even our slavery to British roughly begins from the pepper trade that portrayed India’s richness in Spices. There are records of Romans trading pepper as ransom during wars. Most of these spices came from this southern belt of Kodagu and parts of Kerala. With the Coorg coffee estates providing the apt climate and shade, the pepper vine thrives in a perfect home to this creeper. Pepper is also one of the most widely used spice and is sure to spice up your life as well!
We had ample time and stopped by a small flower nursery on the walk back. It looked vibrantly colorful with many beautiful flowers that were unusual to city dwellers. The climate in Coorg supports all kind of floral versatilities and the people here are ever ready when it comes to gardening. This small house had tiny beautiful flowers in all possible tangling colors that made the house more charming. It seems like when the Kodava men take pride in their coffee growing ability, the women boast about their collection of various hued flowers. Having known my aunt’s passion in gardening, who is put up in North Coorg, I was not surprised by the remarkable floral collection every coorgy house possessed. Kodavas are known to be people of immense love and care. Not only they are hospitable to the guests but also when it comes to farming they treat the plants alike their kids with utmost love, may it be coffee, ginger or flowers.
After 2 hours of descent, we were back at the Nalkunaad palace where we had begun the trek and our car waiting for us. We were served hot cuppa and bread-jam back at our home stay. There is nothing rejuvenating like a hot cuppa after a stupendous trek and it took us longer than usual to finish that scintillating cup of coffee! The home stay had all the amenities and we spent the evening playing all sorts of games from Cards, Carom, Checkers, Scrabble etc. The campfire, as the night came down, was another highlight of our evening. With my friends playing the coorgy dance trance called Vaalaga on their phone, we tapped our feet around the fire. My friend taught us few steps from the casual dance style of Kodavas which is performed by everyone in a Kodava gathering. We gave our best shot trying to learn few steps around the fire place. But the mist fall was so heavy that we had to struggle to keep the fire alive. The sound of crickets and frogs were heard from the paddy field below. Finally, we resided to the coziness of our rooms as it became more and more colder towards the night.
We were treated to the famous coorgy delicacy once again for our dinner. Kadambittu, dumplings or rice balls, is one of the coorgy specialty cuisine. Kadambittu with the impeccable & mouth watering pandhi curry (Pork servings) is a royal treat to your taste buds. Cooking seems to be an art in this wonderful land. I learnt that Kachampuli, a species of Garcinia, is one of those magic ingredients that makes the Kodava cuisine so wonderfully amazing. But whatsoever be the ingredient, the art of cooking needs an extra bit of skill to nourish the one who is tasting it and the Kodavas seem to be richly blessed with this skill. The women here surely know that the easiest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
Basking in the glory of scaling the highest peak in Kodagu, Walking around the sprawling coffee estates, savoring the cuppas, tapping feet to the Kodava beats around a cozy fire, feeding on the tantalizing delicacies from the land of spices, It was a day with an ethnic touch. An experience that can be savored for days to come. The Kodagu experience continues.