By: C.P. Belliappa
Those of us living in Coorg have taken the sheer beauty that nature has to offer for granted. The greenery, the pure air, and the relative cleanliness can be appreciated only when these are contrasted with the concrete jungles that our cities have been converted into, with polluted environment and noisy atmosphere. Many of my friends and friend’s friends who have visited Coorg always comment on the oxygen-rich air, and the beautifully pruned hedges along the coffee plantations. One of my friends, who visited us took his taxi and drove around the countryside with his family, for half day, just to enjoy the beauty of coffee estates. A techie couple that stayed the weekend at my cousin’s estate wanted to do nothing but sit on the verandah and enjoy the view of the paddy fields and the various hues of green.
Coorg has plenty to offer to those who love the great outdoors. Coorg is a haven for bird-watchers. There are about 300 species of birds. It can be a highly rewarding experience to spot the various species of birds armed with a pair of binoculars and a copy of the book – “Featured Jewels of Coorg” compiled by Dr. S.V. Narsimhan, and published by the Coorg Wildlife Society. A safari in Nagarhole Game Sanctuary organized by the Forest Department can bring the visitor close to elephants, spotted deer, wild boar, wild dogs, bison, peacocks, monkeys and a host of other species. If lucky, one could have a rare encounter with the majestic Tiger. Nagarhole Game Sanctuary is rated one of the best Tiger reserves in the country.
For those who like trekking there are many opportunities. There are three major peaks in Coorg viz., Tadiandamol, Pushpagiri, and Brahmagiri. There are a few organization that arrange treks to these peaks. One such organization is the Coorg Adventure Club (CAC). CAC organize not only treks but also Water sports including river rafting, Aero Sports, rock climbing, nature camps etc.
For a small place, Coorg has three active golf courses – ‘Coorg Golf Links’ in Bittangala, ‘Mercara Downs’ in Mercara, and the one owned by Tata Coffee in Pollibetta. Coorg Golf Links are putting up a swanky Resort in Bittangala, near Virajpet, and all those golf aficionados will be able to enjoy the ambience of the place and indulge in golf.
Many come to Coorg just to enjoy the monsoon. If one likes the rain, Coorg is the right place to visit. One can wear a good pair of waterproof footwear and go for a jaunt in the coffee estate. Getting oneself thoroughly drenched in the torrential rains is an experience by itself. This adventure in the rain can be followed sitting next to a fireplace and catching up on reading.
Illustrations by Nadikerianda Subbayya Ponnappa, one of India’s leading cartoonists.
There are quite a few places of tourist interest in Coorg. There is the Mercara Fort, Raja’s Seat, Gadige (royal tombs), Omkareshwara temple, Talacauvery, Nalknad Palace etc. Nature lovers will find the Nisargadama, near Kushalnagar, a wonderful place to visit. There is an elephant camp where visitors can feed the behemoths and interact with them. One of the unique places to visit is the Tibetan Colony in Bylekuppe near Kushalnagar. This is Little Tibet. There are Buddhist monasteries, temples and buildings built in typical Tibetan style. This entire area of about 1500 acres is home to the Tibetans displaced from their homeland during 1962. It is now the second largest Tibetan settlement outside of Tibet! Tibetans are enterprising and hardworking people who have turned this once barren area into highly productive agricultural land. This place is also known for many typically Tibetan handicrafts, especially their exquisite carpets.
The credit for starting eco-tourism in Coorg goes to the Rampuram family who started the Orange County Resorts in Siddapur. When this resort was opened a decade ago, most including myself were highly skeptical. There were doubts whether tourists would want to shell-out more than Rs.2000 a day (tariff those days) to spend time in the middle of a remote estate with no other attractions or entertainment.
Skeptics have been proved wrong. Orange County with its Tudor style cottages is one of the most sought after holiday getaways in India. Coorg offers just that – a getaway. People in the cities are willing to pay good money just to spend a couple of days in a quiet, clean and picturesque place away from the noise, pollution and rat race they face day in and day out in the metros. Another friend of mine commented that Coorg is like one big Nature Clinic. After spending a couple of days here, one gets rejuvenated. Coorg now has half a dozen Resorts, and hundreds of home-stays. Club Mahendra are the latest entrants with their 5 Star Resort near Mercara.
Home-stays in Coorg offer the tourist a unique experience of living with a Coorg family and tasting some of the typical local cuisine. We served ‘Akki Otti and Bamboo shoot curry’ to one of our guests and their comment was – “This is food for the Gods!” You could request your home-stay host for this combination. Even during off-season, most Coorg homes will have some Bamboo shoot pickled and squirreled away in the attic.
Another attraction in Coorg is to attend a Coorg wedding. Coorg weddings are totally different, and there are a number of quaint customs, which the first time visitor to Coorg will find quite unique.
Two of my friends visited us with their teenage children a few years ago. From both the families when the children got married they picked Coorg to spend their honeymoon! Every first-time visitor to Coorg would invariably want to come back again.