Coorg, the land of the Kodavas, was eluding us for a really long time. So, this time we decided not to let it defy us for another time. That's how we planned to drive up to Coorg over a long weekend in January. Planning a trip to Coorg, in the days of information explosion is a no-brainer. There are a lot many links providing lot of information on Coorg, places to visit around coorg and places to stay. though many of them are not complete in themselves. But, planning a road trip wasn't easy. There was one web link giving some information on driving up to Coorg which was little useful. So, most of the time we had to adopt the do-it-yourself approach and make a road trip ourselves.
Driving to Coorg
Driving to Coorg is a refreshing at the same time challenging experience. Refreshing for the serene air and cool mountains roads in Coorg and challenging for the dangerous and careless drives and the winding and steep nature of the roads. You may have to get to an early start to escape the heavy traffic on Mysore road and thus tiring stretch of the section. Keep enough water and snacks with you since you may not find these things are required on he way and whichever eateries you find on the way may not be of many peoples like and satisfaction. All through the stretch, especially the Mysore Madikeri stretch you may find tender coconut vendors on the road side, where you can stop and enjoy the drink in the shade. tender coconuts cost from 6 to 8 rupees at different places. You can have just the water only type or the water+coconut type. All are priced same. All depends on your interest and like. When you return try for a late start or a really early start so that you don't end up driving on Mysore road in the hot sun. It's very very tiring and you'll know only once you drive. If your car doesn't have air conditioning then it can get worse. hire an a/c car and you can probably feel better. It's better you start from Madikeri around lunch time and enter Mysore road around 4 - 5 o' clock in the evening. The drive from Madikeri, though in the noon, will not affect you since most of the roads are canopied by tall trees and most of the time you'll driving through shades and the traffic is pretty low.
Bangalore (MG Road) to the junction after Srirangapatna is 125 kms which you can cover in 2.5 hrs. Right turn after the temple. go ahead till the rail way crossing. This road will take you to the Mysore Hunsur road. On this stretch you'll find Kaveri resort on the right side, soon after the railway crossing. You will find turns to the bird sanctuary and Srirangapatna on this stretch. Straight on this road will take you to Yelwal where you'll join Mysore-Hunsur road, SH88. Go ahead and take Hunsur bye pass road and you'll get Periyapatna. Kushalnagar Suntikoppa Madikeri In case of doubt do not hesitate to ask. If you do not know Kannada, just say the place name and put a question mark on your face. But, make sure, you cross check the directions with another person before proceeding a really long way. Because people tend to direct you to the directions you're already going. We've experienced this many a times. Road Conditions You need to drive through Mysore road for almost half of the trip (120 kms) and as most of the Bangaloreans know Mysore road is one of the best roads around and the most dangerous ones. Most of the Mysore road is pretty good except that you won't find medians like in the highways in other countries. The road from the turn from Mysore road to Madikeri up to the Railway crossing is really bad and like through hell. From the railway crossing to the Mysore -Hunsur road, it's occasionally good. There are many places you many not find any signs of road and there are many unmarked humps. Mysore Hunsur road is relatively good, except few stretches which are bumpy and needs repair. As you reach Kushalnagar the roads gets bad and Kushalnagar Madikeri road is 50 percent bad and many stretches are bumpy. Most of the drives from Madikeri are narrow with sharp turns and steep climbs and descends. Overall Mysore road is good and Mysore-Madikeri road is 40 to 50 percent good.
Watch out for
From the snailing traffic problems in Bangalore city people get the freedom feeling as they get on to Mysore road and everybody is tempted to step on the gas and the result is lot of careless and impulsive drivers on the road. There are instances when we had to stop or swerve off the road to escape from a head on crash to an overtaking bus or truck. It's very horrifying situation. State buses as well as the many private buses and mini buses are to be kept away. Especially the mini buses will have people hanging from the doors and drive very slow.
Watch out for the following
- overtaking trucks and buses driving carelessly on Mysore road
- sequence of bad humps on Mysore road, many of the unmarked
- steep humps on Mysore Madikeri road, when you don't expect them
- overtaking vehicles on the hilly regions and turns
- be extra cautious on your drive to Abbey falls, road is treacherous
- if you're driving in night, Mysore road is to be driven extremely careful hardly anybody lower the high beam and if you're driving a low-lying vehicle you're bound to take it badly
- in the night, you might end up meeting some wild friends in the stretch from Kushalnagar to Suntikoppa. wild elephants roam some time during night through these roads. but day time you won't find anything
- herds of cows and sheep, stray dogs and pigs on Mysore Madikeri stretch
Madikeri is a quaint little town where you'll find people who have lot of time and hardly rush through anything. As people from Bangalore and living a stressful dog-eat-dog life, we were amazed and at the same time amused by the life style and calmness among the people. A small town with steep roads with sharp turns, people appeared to have lot of patience. Nobody vehicle appeared to outdo another vehicle or overtake for the fun of it or in a hurry. But, everybody looks turns and waited patiently when some vehicle ahead of the steep climb had to slow down and down the gears or restart after a accidental stop. Could not hear much of honking or shouts. Small shops line the main road and lot of places to have snacks and full fledged meals. Couple of Udupi restaurants serve good vegetarian food and appeared to popular among the locals from the crowd they gathers. There are restaurants like Choice and East End hotel serving a variety of cuisines and food appeared to be not very expensive and overall of good quality from the few samples we've taken from various restaurants. If you're a Keralite you tend to feel at home in Madikeri. Many of the restaurants and shops are owned or run by Keralites and you can make out by the ever presents beards and outstanding mush. Only thing to be careful and I've a peeve is that the roads are pretty bad some times and few of them are one ways which might make to wander a little bit before reaching your destination. Madikeri is good town will couple of gas stations and service stations and lot of vehicles. You may find a large number of Maruti Omnis' compared to any other vehicle.
Bylakuppe is the earlier Tibetan camp, which now has become a full fledged settlement. There are 7 camp areas spread across vast fields. Bylakuppe is 6 kms off the Mysore-Kushalnagar route. Before Kushalnagar, you need to take a left turn at an arch indicating welcome to the settlement. If you miss this you can take a left turn at Koppa, before reaching Kushalnagar. if you're coming from Kushalnagar , this will be the right turn for you to reach Bylakuppe. Koppa is three kms from Kushalnagar and Kushalnagar is 32 kms from Madikeri. You can make out the surroundings changing with boards appearing in Tibetan scripts and the typical colorful long flags appearing all around. You can sample authentic Tibetan cuisine in many restaurants inside various camps. A major attraction is the Golden Temple at camp 4. It's part of the Nimdroling Monastery and there are deities of Buddha, Amartyusa and Sambhava. The huge deities and colorful paintings all around the temple are mesmerizing. Foot wears are not allowed inside the temple. Rest rooms are available behind the main (Golden) temple, though not very clean and tidy. Monastery has very nicely landscaped garden and well maintained lawns. If you're enchanted you can stand or sit outside the adjacent building where the nuns are being trained in various chants.
On the Madikeri Kushalnagar route, 4 kms before Kushalnagar is Nisargadhama, a serene island. The island is 100 mts off the road and you can park vehicles smaller than buses and mini buses in the parking areas here herd of monkeys will welcome you. Entry fee is 10 per adult, boating 10 per adult, elephant ride, if elephant are available, is 10 per adult. The hanging bridge which will take you to the island is over the watershed and id you look closer or throw some bread crumbs, you can see lot of fish, smaller variety of Mahseers in the water. There are two types of boats. The pedal boats can be rented and pedaled by yourself around the watershed for 25 minutes. There are markings in the watershed, with in which you should restrict your explorations. The row boat is manned and six people can go at a time. On the island there is a rabbit cage, children's play ground and a nursery for plans. The island is populated with bamboo thickets. Elephant ride and deer park is further inside and you can take a stroll through the heart of the island to reach these places. There are rest rooms in the island which are relatively neater and tidy. There is a primitive teashop selling ubiquitous tea and coffee and snacks and during lunch time, lunch.
Dhubare Elephant Training Camp
On the way to Madikeri from Kushalnagar, after a km from Nisargadhama, you get the junction, from where you'll have to take a left turn to Sidhapur road. 12 kms down the road you get the sign for Dhubare elephant training camp. Sidhapur road is in a bad shape, but road work was going on at many places. From he sign for the camp, you need to take a left and go ahead for 1.6 kms to reach the river bank, from where you need to take coracle ride or a speed boat ride to the camp. The road to Dhubare from Sidhapur road is very narrow and last 100 meters is not really road, in a sense. When we drove through these narrow roads, two elephants came in the opposite directions and we had tough time giving them the much required side to pass. If there are more than three people you get to go on the speed boat, else on the coracle. It's wonderful experience to cross the river on the coracle, just leaving everything in the hands of the person in charge. The ride across the rive costs 15 per head.
Once you're on the other side, you meet with the supervisor and he fixes up with various things you can do over there. if you're early in the days around 8.30 to 9.00 am, you can take a package program where you'll get to give a bath to the elephant, feed them, take a 25 minutes ride through the surrounding areas (no forest rides), and attend a lecture on African and Asian elephant. The package will cost you 300. if you're at different timing, there are elephant rides from 9 to 12 and 4 to 5. Ride charge is 150 per head and duration is 25 minutes. You get to sit on the frame on top of the elephant and climb up from an elevated platform. Four people can ride at a time on the frame. if you're very much excited about the elephant ride you can go for that, otherwise there is no much fun in the whole stuff. You need to tip the mahout (actually he will ask for that) and every employee with whom you interact, except the supervisor, expects tip from you. You can have look at the preparation of the elephant dinner. There are two baby elephant adding to the fun. Altogether there are 12 elephants. This time the mahout did not hurt the elephant, like when we did a ride in Chitwan national park in Nepal, where the mahout was beating the elephant really hard to chase a rhino which was running away from the elephant on top of which we were riding. Somehow I always find all mahouts look angry and upset about something, like a typical policeman you tend to see. All my life I'm yet to see a mahout looking pleasant and smiling. There are no rest rooms at this place and you're on your own.
Once you're done with your stuff, you need to call the coracle/boat guy and he'll give you a ride back. Coming back to the Sidhapur road you can take a left towards Sidhapur and after Valnoor, you get a bus top (that's the way people give directions here). From here take right and climb to a short cut, which will take you to the Sidhapur Madikeri road. The short cut road is really bad, but considering the time and distance you save, it's bearable. This way you tend to drive 27 kms to reach Madikeri compared to the 39 kms you'll have to drive if you get back to Kushalnagar Madikeri road and try to reach Madikeri. The Sidhapur Madikeri drive is one of the best which winding roads and sharp climbs and wonderful views. Roads are narrow many a times and you get very occasional traffic, but watch for that, because that would happen at the most unexpected turn. You need to be extremely careful, because most of the drive one side is to a fall some times hundreds of feet below.
Abbey Falls is 8 kms from Madikeri town and the drive is thrilling with steep climbs and descents and sharp curves. To add to this, many a times the road becomes very narrow. Need to watch out for the occasions tempo and big vehicles shuttling passengers and some careless drivers can cause lot of troubles. Abbey falls is located in a private property. From the parking area, you need to walk down around 500 meters through stone paved path some time stepped and some times sloped. The falls is pretty enchanting with its broad fall area and the natural sound it creates. The hanging bridge through which you can go to the other side of the stream, if you want to get down, is another interesting experience. There is a no proper path to get down to the water but there are steep descends made out of people continues usage. There will be two policemen on duty most of the time. it's a very refreshing experience. Make sure you visit this place when it's bright and sunny to appreciate the atmosphere. Climbing back to parking area can be tiring if you're not healthy and enthusiastic.
Rajah's seat is located near Madikeri town, or rather in Madikeri town, 1 km from the bus stand. This place used to be location where erstwhile rajah's sit and watch sunset. This is the place to watch sunset if you want to have a great view of the setting sun behind the folding misty hills. Be sure that you reach sufficient in time. You may not get parking nearby if you're late. There cement benches to sit and watch the valleys well below , the setting sun and once dark falls the faint lights of the vehicles come up through the winding roads from Virajpet. setting sun is a magnificent view from here. there is a small garden and you can find characters from cartoon movies holding trash bins. There is a small toy train near by raja's seat which will take you around for a nominal fees. This place can get quire crowded in the evenings, especially during weekends. This also is the place to watch people in Coorgi costumes coming out to take an evening stroll enjoying the setting sun and the gentle breeze. In winter months this place can get pretty chilly by sunset. You can buy some hot fried peanuts from the abundant vendors and sit around the cement benches and spend a great romantic evening here.
On the day of our return from Madikeri, we took a deviation 6 miles ahead of Kushalnagar, from Madikeri Kushalnagar route to visit Harangi dam. Take left from the road to Kushalnagar and drive for 6.5 miles and you'll reach the dam site. You can take entry tickets for each person and the vehicles and for the cameras you carry. If you're not visiting this place during mornings or evenings, be prepared for a very hot time in the open skies. After the parking the vehicles at the base of the dam, you'll have to climb a large flight of steps to reach the top. It's an impressive structure built basically for irrigation, but we didn't find much water in the dam. You can get into the catchment area from the top, if you really are fancied about water and have some uncontrollable interest in it. We couldn't find any rest rooms or places of shade to take rest around here.
Drive to Somwarpet
If you are passionate about driving and would like to get an experience of driving through the hills and the valleys and want to drive through some of the finest estates he area, take and early morning drive to Somwarpet. It's around 42 kms from Madikeri and the road is remarkably good most of the stretch. You can cover the distance in and hour and a half. You can stop on the way for admiring the plantations or the views of the folding hills. Some stretch of the road is canopied by tall trees maintained to provide the much needed shade for the coffee plants. Though you may not find much of orange plantations, you can find few of the trees if you keep a closer watch. Somwarpet is on the road to Hassan. Somwarpet town as such is not a big place and there nothing much to do, that we could dig out. You can grab something from a restaurant to eat and drive back to Madikeri. Many junctions from Madikeri do not have proper directions and if there are most probably they would be in Kannada. So, you may have to do lot of asking to gel you to where you really want to go. On the way back, without touching Madikeri town, you can take a deviation to the Abbey falls.
How to Get There
Madikeri is 235 kms from Bangalore. Nearest airport is Bangalore (235 kms) and Mangalore( kms). Nearest railhead is Mysore( kms). Best options is to drive down from Bangalore or from Mysore. Or you can hire a cab and enjoy the ride. The drive from Mangalore is said to be very exciting through forests and hills and valleys.
Where to Eat
Eating in Madikeri is easy. Most of the resort provide you with full board packages many of the hotels provide bed and breakfast packages. There are many popular vegetarian eateries and non-vegetarian continental and Coorgi style places to eat out. It will be a good idea to sample the place and try out something simple before venture into a full fledged eating exercise from any place, if you're not sure of it. When you drive to Madikeri from Bangalore a good place for your lunch is Kaveri resorts soon after the rails way crossing once you take the right turn from Mysore road to Srirangapatna. They have an open air tile roofed area where you can sit and lunch enjoying the breeze and the young garden they are nurturing. Food is of good quality and relatively not very expensive.
Where to Stay
There are a lot of places to stay in Coorg, depending on your budget. Orange county has become a synonym for Coorg and that is the place which come to anybody's mind when you thing about Coorg. It's a full ledged resort and need reservations well in advance. Good accommodations and activities are included in the package. Rainforest Retreat is another place to see and feel eco-friendly tourism, where the package includes a visit and tour of the owners estates and eco-friendly life style and few activities. There are many other estates providing home stays and packages. Coorg International is a three star facility located in Madikeri town. Located by the side of a hillock, it provides decent accommodation with breakfast. Swimming pool and indoor games are available.
What to Buy
If your trip leaves you in Madikeri on a Friday you can have fun at the 'sandy' market which happens on Fridays. You can sample various spices, like pepper, cardamom, coffee, and various fresh and dry fruits and vegetables, if you're keen on carrying some home. Other days, also, there are shops selling a genuine coffee and spices and memorabilia. Coorgi costumes and the weapons are another set of things you can carry home, though little on the expensive side. Oranges, though, not much of them are seen now a days, since the plague which has affected the orange plantations few years back, is good buy. The typical small and round Coorgi oranges are sweet and have the flavor of the oranges we use to savor when we all were young. There are oranges which come from Bangalore or other places which looks good and colorful and sell for higher price. Look specifically for Corgi oranges. They don't look very attractive or appealing, but they are tasty and less expensive.