I have just been handed an earthen cup filled with sweet smelling coffee. I gingerly take the first sip, eyeing my companion suspiciously. To my surprise, the coffee, though it has the hint of strong beans, taste like sherbet, warm and soothing against my throat. Refreshed, I thank my host, and look around. The hills on each side and the earthen cup in my hand probably share a triumphant smile on managing to convert yet another traveler.
We have driven for around 4.5 hours straight, not stopping for refreshments or to stretch our legs. All we wanted to do (well, other than escape the city traffic before it finally wakes up) was reach our destination fresh and in the best of spirits. This was an impromptu trip, having chosen Coorg on the spur of the moment and packed our bags after waking up the next morning. We had planned, upon moving to Bangalore, that we must visit Coonoor and Coorg soon. By a stroke of luck, our first trip took us to Bandipur, Ooty and Coonoor and we came back feeling refreshed, our bags heavy with tea leaves and chocolates and our memory cards running out of space. It took us just about two months to make the next road trip, this time to the hill station of Coorg.
The road to Coorg from Bangalore is mostly pleasant, with only few hilly patches taking a toll on the car. Unlike Ooty or Coonoor, the route to Coorg is mostly through highways and once in a while, a small town. However, for a district which prides itself for the hot beverages, we were left disappointed by the choice of road side tea stalls. Stick to your guts, have it when you smell it!
Now, most people opt for homestays in Coorg, which sounds fascinating. Except that a lot of the listed homestays are actually just smaller motels or hotels built inside the owner’s property. This can be good if the host is also open to sharing his dinner table, or maybe just a walk – so that you get a bit of the authentic Coorg culture, but in most cases, it is just affordable stay.
Our decision to stay in Vivanta by Taj had a lot to do with the property itself. Taj group is known to take care of its guests, going one step further than really required. And the Coorg property was nestled in between 180-acres of land owned by the Tatas. And to let it sink in, you do need that cup of jaggery-stirred coffee.
The lobby, with a small water body running on the edge, overlooks a good part of the property. As you walk in, minding the artistically decorated seating arrangements, you spot a few cottage roofs here and there. It is almost like a page from Johanna Spyri’s Heidi. You can spot a swimming pool a good kilometer away, with golf buggies trundling down the hilly route. We check in, hop into one such buggy and step into our room. The same majestic view is repeated here, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a wooden-flooring carpeted for comfort. The room is clean, as expected, and has the basic amenities all in place – television, a fruit basket, mini-bar, tea-kettle, toiletries, free Wifi etc.
The café will, once again, spoil you with the view. You know those idyllic situations, where you sit amidst nature and tuck into a plate of warm rice and meat? It was here! We had ordered Paputtu (broken rice cakes, cooked with coconut), a meat side dish and again lamb-rice cooked with tamarind. The accompanying papads and dips were scrumptious as well. But the reason everyone at the tables kept dilly-dallying was the mountains all around us, and the swimming pool below. We were halfway down and decided to walk down to the pool next. Which was a great idea, because the pool area was beautifully done up with swinging beds, a barbeque area, and an amphitheater next to it. The outdoor activity center was next door, with zip line, archery, paint ball, treks and mountain biking on the offing. We tried our hand at a few of these and returned to the hotel lobby in time for a dance performance by the locals (this happens every Saturday evening, so try to plan your trip likewise). With so much to do, day one slipped by without us realizing it.
The next morning was the day to explore a bit of the property through a run. It was only around 7 am that I finally managed to put on my shoes and get out of the door, only to return within two minutes to fetch a jacket. It had become misty outside overnight, and the chilly breeze coupled with the altitude could mean a challenging run for me. A short and silly video later, I started going uphill from the room, past the reception cottage and towards the main gate. It was only midway that I realized the definition of ‘rolling hills’ and what it can do to non-accustomed runners. I was panting within 15 minutes, having climbed up and down those slopes without realizing the distance was hardly any to speak of. Outside the gate, for the next kilometer stretched out the Madikeri Golf Course. A few golfers had gathered and were busy trying to nail their shots. The fog started lifting, and by 9 am it had become sunny once again.
Post a hearty breakfast (suggest you go well in time, because the dining area is quite small and you might have to wait for a table otherwise), we went down to the pool once again. The small conservatory at the base of the hill is a recommended stop for everyone who wants to know about the Coorg culture. The conservatory is managed by a retired general from the Indian Army – a stout and smiling man with mostly white hair. Over the next one hour, we discussed Kodugus (the people of Coorg), their staple of rice, their ways of marriage (for example, the fact that even today, one man from the groom’s family has to take a traditional sword and chop off several banana tree stems in a row, as a symbol of being strong and brave enough to ward off enemies and protect the new bride) their history and bravery etc. The conversation with a local, though removed from the traditional ways of life, is what makes any trip worth it. And for us too, this was a great way to understand what exactly makes Coorg so special and go beyond its coffee plantations. The jaggery coffee was surely blissful, but it is nature and how Kodugus respond to it, that makes Coorg such a sweet place after all.