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Coffee Calling In Coorg

Any better way to start the day? Two flats on a fiat (the newer version); an unfortunate egg smacked on the frying pan but diligently scraped out with charred underside; an overnighter stuffed with more than it could grab, the zipper giving way to breathe in, yes- the travel air. Everything appeared passé. Wait! There was more….. After the harried drive to the Mumbai airport with packed breakfast in throwaway foil, we were informed that the flight was actually `on schedule’. There was a heavy sigh of relief since we were informed that Mangalore was inundated with showers and flights would be flying awry. But for our luck, the flight `Kingfisher IT 141 from Mumbai to Mangalore…. Tie your seat belts…. Fly the good times’ landed full 26 hours behind schedule. On its first attempt it hovered over Mangalore- `runway invisible’ the captain barked over the in-flight speakers, hopped over to Bangalore and put us on the tarmac with some cheese sandwiches. Second attempt- tried to reach within 100 kms of our destination, changed directions due to the cloud cover and landed back in Mumbai. No cheese sandwiches on our way back `anything else?’ `No sir, stocks over’. Curse.

Touch down finally. It drizzled lazily as we stepped on the open tarmac next day ushered into the terminus by the young ladies wearing unfazed smiles. Although delayed monsoons is a common phenomenon charted in the annals of meteorological department, that year the Lord Almighty showered his blessings well in advance of the department’s miscalculations (they have answers ready - `Pre-monsoon showers’). He would have chuckled at reading the headlines next day `Mangalore Flooded…. ‘, `Monsoon Arrives’ boldly splashed across the national dailies and smaller prints reading `The southwest monsoon hits the coastal lines full ten days before the forecast’.

Mildly saturated we made our way out of Mangalore in the reliable Qualis and an ever-reliable driver- the jesty Vincent. He tested our patience for a hot cuppof chai and kept saying `No sir-no have here. I will get greeeat tee, wait’. `More wait, sir’. At last at Sullia, a rickety village we did get our grand tea- at Keti’s, a three-layered decoction of tea, milk and tea in that order, which bowled out the chill. Two more hours uphill, and some more rib tickling jokes in Vincent’s southernised Hinglish accent, we reached the land of the Kodavas- what the British call as `the Scotland of India’. And it’s not just the undulating hills in lush carpet of greens, it’s also the way the Coorgis or the Kodavas wear their distinct costumes and guzzle their swig.

Coorg is all about coffee in its many variations. At the coffee bar at Club Mahindra resort the menu listed Monsoon Malabar blend, Anytime, Kaveri, Kapi along with mochas and cappuccinos. After `nosing’ the coffees, we settled for Kapi for the rest of our stay (reminded me of the morning trains passing through south India, vendors howling `kaaapi?’ `chaaaai?’). It was for its aroma, but the way this filtered coffee was served with a rich head of foam after tossing it between two small steel tumblers, resembled the Delhi dhabas doing it to the lassi. Culinary ethics insist on coffee being served in wide ceramic, but this Kapi tastes divine in the scalding steel tumbler.

If the drive up from the plains of Mangalore whizzed past banana, areca nuts and cashew, then the vast landscapes of Coorg hills are carpeted with coffee, pepper and some cardamom. In the monsoons there is nothing much to do here except soak in the natural beauty and take little walks in the countryside (hint- carry your umbrellas to enjoy the strolls). The romance of the mist with the mountain slopes, the flutter of butterflies, the fall of dew from the leafy serrations and the earth smelling of wetness, drives out the urbanity. No sooner would the sun peep over the clouds, we would grab a lazy walk meddling through the greenery, and when it drizzled we would take refuge under giant palms, suspicious of the notorious leeches. The Malabar hornbill and the thrushes had a field day with the sun and rain playing hide and seek.

Down south, Coorg, or Madikeri is perhaps the best way of unwinding your senses. Ootys and Munnars are over-commercialized, passing on the touristy advantage to this coffee land. Barely 260 kms from Bangalore it lies about half way between Mysore and Mangalore. The Coorgis are fairskinned, tall and well built owning their ascendancy to the Great Alexander, whose troops invaded India around 327 BC. These men wear dapper knee-length coats called kupyas, bound at the waist with a cummerbund fitted with ivory handle daggers. Women wear their saris pleated at the back unlike most, which are front-pleated. These traditional costumes are donned for most of the ceremonies and festivals, celebrated in gay with well laid carnivorous diets, mainly pork.

The town itself doesn’t have much. Small winding lanes lead to the main bazaar bustling with spice and coffee trade and dotted with red-tiled buildings. The rich aroma of Robusta and Arabica coffees never fails to stimulate the tingling. A small distance from the bazaar to the west is the Raja’s seat. Legend mentions, the kings of yore came here to watch the sun setting over the distant valleys. In monsoons the mist takes over the hollows of the valley intermittently melting to open up the mountain expanse. Sunset or no sunset- the view is worth the visit. The Omkareshwar Shiva temple, built in 1820, features an unusual combination of red-tiled roofs, Keralan architecture and Islamic influenced domes. One of the little excursions out of Madikeri is to Abbey falls, where milky white water ragingly cascades down the rocks creating a hazy spray. The suspended bridge across the channel is an ideal place to depollute with mist settling wantonly on the sanity. It’s hardly a picnic spot as the brochures boast, but the walk along the narrow pathway striding over broken twigs with the ears droned to the deafening sound of the waters, is bliss to the auditory senses.

With the downpour unabated we missed our tour to Dubare wildlife reserve, where you can chance upon gamboling elephants, and Talacauvery, the venerated source of the River Cauvery. But 22 km from Madikeri, on the Mysore highway we reached Bylakuppe, one of the largest settlements of Tibetans outside their homeland. Monasteries and maroon robed monks stretched over the visible lands; stalls along the main road thick with monks in flip-flops savoring momos and thukpas. Nyingmapa monastery has peaceful grounds with colorful prayer hall housing three gilt Buddhas. Here little monks can be seen studying the Buddhist scriptures squatting on floor mats. The sonorous chanting of the scriptures interspersed with the puffy breathing into the long horn called `Dung Chen’ creates monastic music stilling the mind into tranquility. Another monastery worth a visit is the Namdroling, close to Nyingmapa, famous for its golden sheath.

The bus ride back to the resort was through the rain-drenched greenery, winding hills, puddles and rivulets. Famished, we hit the restaurant where a buffet fit for the kings awaited us, all topped with the generous Kapi sipped in with last temptations. The next morning our friend, the Malabar hornbill sang his morning ode as we bid farewell to Coorg until next time.