I’ll never forget the first time when I visited Coorg. After lucking out with a cheap air ticket from Bombay to Bangalore, and then aboard a surprisingly comfortable sleeper bus, I took the overnight journey to Coorg to attend a wedding. Admittedly, I knew neither the bride nor the groom too well. It didn’t matter – my interest lay in the opportunity to visit beautiful Coorg (after hearing just so much) and witnessing a wedding conducted as per the authentic traditions of the land.
Coorg had me at hello. There was something just so majestic and yet quaint about the place – the picturesque views and spectacular landscapes had me on photo clicking overdrive! The bustling town of Madikeri, the capital of Coorg district (also known as Kodagu). It was an enchanting little town, with ordinary life playing out against an extraordinary background of beauty. We were lucky to find a ‘home’ in a Kodava house as we stayed at a charming bungalow homestay, owned by a smiling local couple who loved sharing stories of life in Madikeri.
Irrespective of whether you want to tirelessly explore the expansive region or just put your feet up and relax, you will love Coorg. We started our explorations at the famed Raja’s Seat – once frequented by Kodava kings, it gave us a bird’s-eye view of the spectacular landscape, especially at sunset. I was excited to visit a traditional coffee estate for a glimpse of the plantation life. Expert coffee pickers entertained us with anecdotes and stories as toured the sprawling estate. The winding paths and enchanting surroundings made for a lovely time, and a true glimpse into Coorg as a local.
As someone who loves nature, a trip to Coorg was the dream—from the scenic Irruppu Falls and the offbeat Abbey Falls to the fascinating Dubare Elephant Camp (where elephants are bred and nurtured). The Thadiyandamol Hills made for an excellent trek – and after struggling my way through the strenuous climb, I was rewarded with perhaps the loveliest view of Coorg.
A personal highlight was a side-trip to Bylakuppe, located 36kms away from Madikeri (if you’re driving to Coorg from Banaglore, stop by Bylakuppe on your way in). Bylakuppe is a Tibetan settlement (the second largest in India after Dharamshala) – and was a wildly fascinating experience.
The architecture was stunning and vibrant – I was so engrossed in the moment that I forgot to even take photographs. I was charmed to see a clutch of elderly monks chanting in a tiny shrine (they didn’t mind that I snuck in and quietly took a seat at the back) or a group of young monks huddled into a classroom, learning about life and the ‘truth.’ My visit Bylakuppe ended on a culinary high with a typical Tibetan meal of Thukpa (noodle soup) at a bustling eatery outside the monastery premises.
More than just a good-looking place…
There’s something very special about Coorg that transcends far beyond just its physical beauty. This lies in its culture, in the fact that the natives of Coorg (the Kodavas) are believed to have descended from migrating Persians, Kurds and Greeks left behind from Alexander the Great’s armies. Kodagu was a state in its own right until 1956, when it merged with Karnataka.
From their dressing to their traditions, rituals and food, the Kodavas celebrate a vibrant culture of their own. Their ceremonial attire is delightful – with the men donning wraparound black robes with a maroon and gold sash tied at the waist. A beautifully decorated silver dagger is tucked into the sash, reminiscent of their origin as a warrior tribe. The women drape their sarees differently, decorating them with glorious silver broaches. These days, it is only at ceremonial events and functions that the Kodavas don their complete ethnic attire – and when they do, it is indeed a sight to behold!
I noticed that all Kodavas, whether they lived in the region or had migrated outside, were fiercely protective of their cultural heritage and extremely proud of their roots. (I had a landlady of Kodava origin – you could just hear the pride in her voice when she spoke of her roots!) If you really want to know more about the culture, settle down for a long chat with some elderly Kodavas over steaming cups of coffee.
Of feasts and fruit wine
No trip to Coorg is complete without feasting on the food of the land. I remember eating like a glutton through my trip to Coorg, so much so that I actually fell sick thanks to the overeating (seriously). The bamboo shoot curry was my hands-down favourite, best prepared during the rainy season. Kadumbuttu (steamed rice dumplings) was another popular preparation that my friends insisted I try. The delicious and delicately pandi curry (pork curry) was served during special occasions with akki roti (rice roti). I ended most meals with a generous serving of yel neer payasam (tender coconut kheer).
While the best place to eat is at a Kodava home or homestay (or even better, get yourself invited to a Kodava wedding). For those who don’t know anyone in Coorg, the Raintree Restaurant in Madikeri is a great alternate option that locals absolutely recommend.
The highlight of Coorg as the delicious array of homemade fruit wines on offer. This is considered a true speciality of the region and the fruit wine is in exotic flavours from gooseberry to orange peel. Coorgis (both men and women) consume alcohol at all social occasions. I landed up lugging countless bottles of exotic fruit wines home, and so my Coorg induced hangover continued for quite some time after my visit there.
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