Make a nest in Madikeri, Coorg…
Have you ever dodged heavy doses of strongly discouraging feedback about an oncoming trip? Just days short of your travel plans? When anticipation levels are headed north? Pay no heed, because you, dear traveler, have your own agenda of discovery. Follow the advise of the old Chinese proverb…“Don’t listen to what they say. Go see”. Better still, draw strength from our true story. We kept our spirits high, stuck to our plans, went to Coorg and returned celebrating the precision of our instincts.
From Bangalore, hit the curvy Hassan highway for a pleasant 6-hour drive through the countryside. A hazy mountain outline signals Kodagu territory. As you roll past Madikeri town, the line-up of homegrown coffee-chocolate-wine shops and Tibetan monks in deep red-garb announces that nap-time is officially over. Inspect the scatter of traditional Kodava houses while you can, because soon you’ll be remotely away from habitation. Ensconced in your new nest in nature…Taj Madikeri Resort & Spa, Coorg.
10 kilometres away from the property, turn off Google maps and follow the signboards along the narrow road through the thicket. Curving left and right, up and down. Along borders of endless green. On and on. Deeper and deeper into the woodland. 8 kilometres, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3. Endless neck cranes, constant peering. Are we there yet? Finally…rewards! A gated check post, a drive-in patio and a warm welcome at lobby. Impatient footsteps to the vast deck opposite. Jaw-drop. Wide-angle pan. And stunned silence. The limitless vastness of the rainforest infinity sprawling before you, broken only by a layered fringed of the undulating Sahyadris. Nothing between your hungry eyes and the magnanimous valley but a pebbled water-border. Luxe loungers, bolstered benches or chic day-beds…pick a favourite spot, sip some bella kaapi (black coffee with jaggery), and feast on the spectacle. Because this is just Act 1.
Dive into nature
Exit lobby, enter forest. The foliage thickens and so does the drama. Buggy drop along a hilly road to one of the many cottage villas sprinkled all over the 180 acres property. First key twist. Second jaw-drop moment. Generously-proportioned living quarters and ceiling-high glass windows on all three sides overlooking the lush valley. Faux Coorgi roof. Real fireplace with real logs. A dream worktable to banish every stubborn writer’s block. And a hip black granite tub with a view. #bathroomgoals. Give up city conveniences and live here forever? D-uh!
It gets better. Coorgi specialities like pandi (pork) curry, chilli fish steamed in cardamom leaves, mango curry, kadambuttu (steamed rice balls), akki (rice) roti at the open terrace restaurant. Heavenly spa with a pebbled stream. And a special Holi street-food dinner by a lighted blue pool. Fire pits, live food counters, hanging day-bed. And the pitch-darkness of the valley lit by a luminescent full moon. Star spangled skies. Nature’s background score…rustling wind, falling of a leaf. Are you in love or are you in love?
Wake up to the sweetest alarm in the world and race outside to look for the whistling malabar thrush. Embrace the colors of nature…red sunrise, pinkish-orange skies and purplish-blue mountains and happily convert into a morning person. Swoon over the sight of the frothy clouds filling the valley. Persevere with the theme…prowl around the herb garden, chase butterflies, pluck sweet mulberries, pick juicy strawberries, find cardamom trees, pepper creepers and vanilla pods. Break for a healthy organic lunch under the shadowy bamboo trees. You could get used to this…
Then embark on a 3-hour long rainforest walk with Nitin, the on-location naturalist and rediscover that you’re an insignificant speck in the vast scheme of planetary existence. From 40 species of frogs and work hierarchy of bees to termites as a survival food and 50 feet king cobras, to Rudraksh, strangler fig trees and healing properties of local plants…its a capsule course on the laws of the jungle, the circle of life and the survival of the fittest. Forget trivia of daily life, become part of the big picture.
Listen to stories
Soak up the culture with local activist Colonel Muthanna at the property’s ‘Conservatory’. For centuries, this mountainous and misty land, where streams flow in abandon, dense forests hide mysterious flora-fauna and abundant wildlife thrives, has been home to the ancient warlike Kodava tribe, supposed descendants of Alexander or a band of Iraqi Kurds. The most fascinating leftover from the tumultuous past? Hand-dug war trenches (kadangas), 1.5 to 7.5 meters high, 3 meters deep, 2-3 metres wide, snaking over 6 kilometres of countryside. A fascinating slice of heritage from 9th-10th centuries, proof of the many bloody battles fought here to keep invaders at bay. Rare but not impossible to sight, if you’re willing to poke under wild foliage. Go further, push the envelope…trace out a monolithic burial stone or dolmen dated 2500 or 3000 BC. Hundreds are said to be scattered around the region.
Intriguing age-old traditions continue to be preserved passionately. Every Kodava belongs to one of over 300 clans, and every clan has an ancestral house (Ainmane) with a small shrine to offer prayers to ancestors (rather than gods). Its a great idea to try and visit one. Unique marriage traditions live on, where elders guide the ceremony instead of priests. Brides wear typical jewellery items like kokkethathi, (crescent-shaped pendant with a serpent-like head, figure of Goddess Lakshmi and two birds) and the Kodavu style saree, with back-pleats and a shoulder knot. Men sport a traditional coat-sash garment. Watch a tribal song-and-dance performance, dedicated to nature and heroism. Simple rhythmic moves of the barefoot dancers, brandishing swords, canes and whisks…glide back to simple times.
Get a first-hand feel of the self-sustaining village life, where people grow their own vegetables, fruit, pepper, coffee, even betel nut. Be reminded of the medicinal properties of plants and herbs, as you savour the local vinegar (Kachampuli) in Coori pork dishes. Made of concentrated juice of a tropical fruit, Garcinia Cambogia, it is now accepted worldwide as a liver protector and weight reducer. And marvel at the eco-consciousness of the locals as you stumble upon protected forest patches, left untouched for centuries in the name of deities and legends. Part of an estimated 2500 acres of sacred groves called Devarakadu. Respect!
Smell the coffee
The coffeeholic mandate while in a region that produces 60 percent of the country’s coffee? A coffee plantation tour. Hours slip by easily as you wander along the coffee bushes, immaculately trimmed to appropriate heights for bean-picking convenience. Tall silver oaks and short orange trees provide protective shade…slow down and gaze around all you can.
Admire the unconventional beauty of the sweet-smelling white flowers and green-red cherry-like beans of the coffee plants. Learn to identify Robusta and Arabica plants by the differing sizes of their leaves, branches and cherries. Understand why the two are blended and why chicory is added in the ratio of 40, 40, 20. Ask questions about the harvesting-plucking and production process. See the beans drying in the sun, readying for the roaster. Get educated on instant-versus-filter coffee quality angle. Know how inferior seeds go into making instant coffee and the superior ones are kept aside for the filter version. Conclude with a coffee tasting session of freshly brewed coffee, straight from the plantation. Stock up on packets of filter coffee…add a percolator. Caffeine fix sorted.
Make precious memories
Stumble upon a secret spot for one of the most surreal scenes of your life. Through thick and thorny bushes, up a barely-there stony path, emerge into a secluded clearing to gasp at 360-degree views of layered blue mountains. Soundless, except for the wind. Have a solitude-soaked meditative moment, squatting on the grassy plateau, staring at the vermillion sunset, tracing the contours of the crimson ball as it dips into oblivion, leaving a softly fading splash on the endless canvas above. Could this be the purest form of reverence? Possibly, but the trance isn’t over yet…nature is presenting an unreal show on the open hotel terrace. Clouds descend upon you and the misty magic of the night envelops you in its magical fold. Close your eyes and sense the soft caress without a care in the world. Because some memories outlive photos a gazillion times over.
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