Originally called Kodaimalenadu, Kodagu or Coorg is one of the smallest districts in the south-western part of Karnataka — covering an area of 4,104 sq km. Driving down from Bangalore to Coorg, all I could think was how the green on the land took on various shades once washed by rain. The land here is blessed with the bounty of water reserves, just as it is blessed with the beautiful landscapes and natural reserves. Kauvery has been really kind to the region.
Geographically speaking, almost the entire Kodagu district comes under the Western Ghats, which is supposed to be “one of the 34 environmentally undisturbed ecosystems of the world”, harbouring a rich biodiversity in its flora and fauna. The other way to get to this place is via Mangalore, up the Ghats. It is said to be a much shorter journey than an almost eight-hour drive that my tour planners had chosen for me. My only consolation was that the other is supposed to be a very treacherous route.
Scotland of India
The land is known for its monsoon-fed coffee estates, shade grown under “imported” silver oak trees, giant rosewood, wild fig and jackfruit trees. Paddy fields lie at the base of misty mountains that are also famed for spice cultivations. Coorg’s pepper is considered the best in the world. Referred to as “black treasure”, it is said the traders from all over the world would travel up the Malabar coast along the famed Spice Route to carry out trade with the locals.
The air was fragrant with wet mud and green paddy. I sniffed in hope to catch a whiff of an odd spice. But I gave up soon, well aware of my “nosing” limitations. My nose is not exactly that discerning to pick any aroma of green cardamom, pepper, cloves, kokum or any other spice that the area is so famous for growing. My eyes, however, sighted vanilla growing with abandon, the vines winding their way up the silver oak and other tall trees that are planted to give shade to the wildly growing coffee plantations. We stopped a number of times at the various coffee shops selling arabica and robusta varieties. “This is pure coffee. Unlike the ones sold by various multinational chains, all that is residue,” said the enterprising salesman at one of the coffee shops. His disdain for the city-bred lot quite obvious.
The plantation retreat
I woke up in the middle of the night to my room swaying to the winds and raging thunder. My room was actually a small all-wood cottage that stood on the stilts over dense coffee plantations. Outside, the rain was lashing against the French windows and I could not make out a thing in the pitch of the dark. The continuous chirp of crickets was the only indicator that it was really cold out there. Everything about the night dared me to open my window. Playing by instinct, I resisted. Spread over 170 acres on the eastern slopes of Kabbinakad, Tamara Coorg is an old family-owned plantation that has been recently converted into a luxury nature retreat. ‘Tamara’ stands for Lotus in three south Indian languages — Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu. “It also means spice in Sanskrit,” said Sarafaraz Soudagar, the marketing head of the estate and my guide for the trip. Very apt, I thought to myself. The luxury of space and the presence of natural resources like waterfalls and streams are highlighted by immense outdoor possibilities and breathtaking views of the plantations.
It rained incessantly that night and was still pouring when our little group gathered for the organised tour of the coffee plantation early next morning. “Don’t let that deter you,” said the plantation manager, who is also a naturalist, as he handed me a raincoat, a pair of gumboots and extra polythene bag that I might require to stash any valuables (like my cellphone) that I did not want to get wet. I was glad I had left my camera behind. There was no way I could have taken pictures in such a heavy downpour. As we trooped down the uneven pathway, our guide issued a casual warning: “Watch out for the leeches, by the way. This is their homing ground too.” Now that was something that had not struck me. For someone who is used to trekking in moisture-laden areas, I had been schooled to carry some salt. Here, I was left unprepared. The coffee berries were still green. We had to peer hard to be able to identify the other species of plants and spices as the rain challenged our vision. Less than 15 minutes down the line, our enthusiasm fizzled out. We headed back.
On a clearer day, this destination would have been perfect for bird watching. The area is considered the best place to spot several species of birds, including some that have Coorg as their origin — Malabar Trogons, Nilgiri Laughing-Thrushes, Great Black Woodpeckers and Malabar Whistling-Thrushes. Other varieties of birds include Yellow Browed Bulbuls, Pacific Swallows, Grasshopper Warblers, Orphean Warblers and Yellow Billed Babblers. Great Pied Hornbills, Nilgiri Wood Pigeons, Wynaad and Grey-Breasted Laughing Thrushes, Blue-Winged Parakeets, Grey-Headed Bulbuls, White-Bellied Treepies, the Nilgiri and White-Bellied Blue Flycatchers, Black Eagle and Ceylon Frogmouths comprise the rest of the species of birds that hail from the Kodagu district. Apart from normal birds, Coorg also has several species of Owls including Short Eared and Oriental Scops Owls which can often be seen after nightfall.
Did I know that coffee was good for my skin? I was asked. I shook my head in the negative, earning myself an invite for a coffee spa. At the Elevation Spa, guided by an Ayurveda expert, the therapist rubbed and scrubbed my body with ground pure coffee. Because of the caffeine, a coffee spa is said to be the best choice for improving blood circulation and reducing the appearance of cellulite and varicose veins. “Caffeine, being a natural anti-oxidant, prevents premature ageing and draws out toxins from the body. The aroma from the coffee also works as an anti-depressant and combats any feeling of nausea,” she said.
An hour later, I stepped out of the spa refreshed and smelling beautifully of the brew. I knew I was going to sleep well that night. And I did. Outside, the weather gods continues to play their music as nature swayed to their tunes. Would it have been better if there was no rain? A niggling voice quizzed inside my head. The answer came readily. Definitely different. In a month from now the berries would turn red and ripe to be picked.
Coorg is a destination one must visit in February when the air is laden with the heavy fragrance of snow white coffee blossoms. Ah! Now that would make for a pretty sight!
— This article was first published in Exotica magazine.