If there is a paradise down south, it is in its own Golden Triangle in the hills. The regions of Coorg in Karnataka, the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu and Wayanad in Kerala form one contiguous landscape offering all that a traveller could ask for: Lush green forests, wildlife, great people, man-made attractions, breathtaking landscapes, tea and coffee estates and temperate climate all year round. You can seamlessly drive between these regions on beautiful mountain roads.
Join Elephants in their ‘Bathrooms’ in Dubare, Coorg So what if Dubare is like a pet elephant facility? The camp is home to elephants of all ages, from babies to granddaddies. At around 9, they come out of their quarters and head for the water pool for their daily bath.
Be careful when they come down: some amble, but some run. You don’t want to be in the way. You can watch them from the sides, and step into the water and give them a scrub yourself. Of course, elephants don’t know the difference between a bathtub and a toilet seat – they allow their poop to drop where they are. You can be sure you are stepping on some.
Dubare is a nice place to hang around all day long – lounge in the shade when done with elephants, take a boat ride, go bird spotting, read a book or just picnic with some music from your iPod. Life will look wonderful.
Reaching for the Clouds in Talacauvery, Coorg Located about 42 kms (26 miles) from Madikeri, Talacauvery is said to be the origin of the Cauvery river. Of course, you really don’t see any visible signs there: a spring feeding water into a holy tank in a temple complex there is said to be the origin.
The temple is dedicated to Goddess Caveriamma and Lord Agastheeswara. A dip in the tank, especially on holy days, is considered auspicious by Hindus. A 407-step steep climb from the temple takes you atop the hill where you are supposed to get views of the surrounding mountain ranges – I only got to see the anatomy of clouds. Yes, I was literally standing inside one or many – I could not tell where one ended and another started.
Chikmagalur, Karnataka – Coffee first grown here in India Raindrops are falling on my head…and I am having coffee on the road in Chikmagalur – where coffee was first grown in India.
About 350 years ago when a seer is believed to have smuggled a few seeds from Mecca in Arabia. At the twilight hour, surrounded by forests and coffee estates, in mountain country with its cool, crisp air – it is heaven on Earth. Depending upon when you go, you can enjoy the coffee blossoms – or the picking season. The whole countryside is one you would want to build a cottage and spend the rest of your life in.
A Thriving Tibetan Community in Bylakuppe in Coorg If you want a flavour of Tibet and Buddhism, drop by at Bylakuppe – supposedly the second largest Tibetan settlement outside of Tibet after Dharamsala up North. It is located about 6 kms from Kushalanagara in Coorg. Over 30,000 Tibetans and 7,000 monks have made it to their homes since 1961.
The stunning Namdroling Nyingmapa Monastery here is the largest teaching center of Nyingmapa – a lineage of Tibetan Buddhism – in the world. Check in to get a flavour of Tibetan shopping, food, lifestyle, dressing, culture, festivals and religion.
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway: A Toy Train you must Ride Wheeeee! I am on a toy train ride. Starting from Ooty or Ootacamund, now officially renamed Udagamandalam, going downhill all the way to Mettuppalayam in Tamil Nadu. And it figures in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The train passes through some picturesque tea estates, the Nilgiris mountains, villages and towns with some retaining their old world charm – and skies with changing colours. The train negotiates 208 curves, 13 tunnels and 250 bridges. A few years back, a diesel engine was introduced for the leg between Coonor and Ooty – it is a treat watching the process of changing to a steam locomotive at Coonor or vice versa. Book in advance to ensure a seat.
Walk Through the Tea Estates of the Nilgiris What is more refreshing than a cuppa of tea? A walk in the tea estates – especially those that cover the rolling hills of the Nilgiris.
Step out before the first light, and watch the colours of the ground and skies change around you. Birds chirp Good Morning to you and the cool air rejuvenates your skin and soul.
On the Trail of Tigers and Elephants in Bandipur, Karnataka The Bandipur National Park in Karnataka is one of the many reserves in this region. And home to tigers, elephants and many other animals and birds. In fact, the forests all merge into one another, and into human habitats and roads. You can commonly expect to see herds of elephants on the highways. Don’t miss out on safaris when in this part of the country.
A Temple Festival, Circus and Fair in Wayanad Everyone loves a festival in these parts. I attended one at the Valliyoorkavu temple on the outskirts of Mananthavady in Wayanad. Attended by tribal folk from surrounding areas, it was a long night of prayers, folk dances, processions, food, shopping, circus and fairground rides.
Roads leading to it are marked with processions from all directions – converging at the temple from early evening onwards. Processions comprise musicians, dancers including a few in masks, elephants, priests and devotees walking along, some with lit oil lamps. It is fun – and religious – for all in one big celebration.
Kuruva Island in Wayanad The evergreen forested Kuruva island (called Kuruvadweep locally) lying in one of the tributaries of Kabini river in Wayanad seems a popular picnic spot. Rightfully so. A cluster of islands that emerge or submerge with water levels, and home to a variety of birds, butterflies and orchids, you can choose to be with the crowds or find your own solitude.
We hiked in extreme humidity on a warm, sunny day through rice fields and forests to eventually reach the local tribal temple – very serene setting, and the simplicity of the temples is what attracts you. Despite new houses, many a lifestyle remains unchanged. Women were dressed as they always have been, water is drawn from wells and farming is the main occupation. The fields were planted with rice, and ginger harvested recently was being sorted manually.
Banasura Reservoir, Wayanad, Kerala – A sight to behold The Banasura Sagar dam in Wayanad is the largest earth dam in India. Without getting into technicalities or its environmental impact (if any), I would say it has resulted in creating some stunning features.
The resulting reservoir is a large water body whose water level rises dramatically during the monsoons. Sprouting throughout are islands created when the reservoir submerged surrounding areas. And coming through are trees shorn of any leaves; they paint a ghostly image when it is misty and around sunset. A good place to film a horror flick.