Tuesday, February 6, 2007

COORG – a travel guide

When you actually get there, it's incredible that a place like Coorg, (or Kodagu, it's official but not frequently used name,) should be off beat.

It has all the ingredients but one for making it is as a major tourist destination. It is quite accessible from Bangalore (5 hrs) and Mangalore (3 hrs), both international airports. It has a Yorkshire dale like feel, with a gently undulating landscape and pastoral scenes. It has one or two nice hill treks which, while not Mount Everest exactly are tough enough to deflate a couch potato like yours truly. The people are cultured, friendly and polished. English is spoken almost everywhere.

What, then, is the missing ingredient, you must wonder. There are no pani puri stalls. No, I'm joking, of course. That too, I mean, but primarily, their economy is not tourist dependant. Which is why its marketing is so laid back.

Coorg is India's top coffee growing district. Pepper grows very well too. So does cardamom. So do oranges, guavas, avocado pears, passion fruit and I don’t know what else. The people here are serious farmers. When they meet in the market, its not "Did you hear? Suzy's leaving David!" but "Psst! Ramu's pepper vines have the wilt disease".

Times are changing, however. A few enterprising people have set up resorts which are doing fabulously well despite near zero advertising. But hang on. A travel guide is required by law to first give some history and background.

History and Background

Coorg is a bit like the indomitable Gaulish village of Asterix comics. The Coorgis (or Kodavas) have a strong martial tradition. Indeed, some of India's finest military commanders come from here.

It remained a small, independent kingdom for most of recorded history repelling all and sundry till Tipu Sultan got emotional and tried to wipe it out circa 1785. Then they shook hands with the British, who too wanted Tipu defeated and thus paved the way for an almost English life style that continues to this day.

They have impeccable table manners, speak flawless English and are extremely reserved with strangers. Not hostile or anything, but not chatty like your Bombay host who, after five minutes of conversation is willing to marry into your family. They can be charming hosts, though.

The people themselves have exotic theories about their origin. One is that they are descended from Alexander the Great’s Greek soldiers. Not much proof, alas, but interesting anyway. Their features, language and customs are distinctly different from other inhabitants of Karnataka. So there's an anthropological mystery waiting to be solved here.

Their language is different too, a mixture of half a dozen regional languages that outsiders find difficult to follow. But best of all is their culinary style which is distinctive in the method of preparation as well as uniqueness of ingredients. I suppose I had rather not write too much on this topic lest I drool into the keyboard and gum up the keys. Its happened before.....

Getting there

Way 1:-

Stand in your shower cubicle and say “Beam me up, Scotty”. If that doesn’t work, fly in to Bangalore. There are dozens of airlines from everyplace. You can also ask for my LearJet (they’ll be delivering it any century now). From here, the easy but expensive way, if you are travelling en familie, is to hire a cab to drive you to Coorg. It would make sense to retain the cab for the duration of your stay since there isn’t much public transport especially in the interior. A Toyota Innova is highly recommended because quite a few of the roads in ol’ Kodagu are the “rough” or “butt conditioner” variety. The Toyota Innova, in my humble opinion, is the easiest on the large muscle situated there. There is an inexpensive and characterful way too. Take a state transport bus to Mysore, and from there to Madikeri. Be prepared to share it with livestock, though. I traveled once this way for a lark and had to share my seat with a goat and a rooster. (When I told this to Sheela, all that she asked me was “Were they MBA’s too?” Talk about empathy!) From Madikeri, autorickshaws will take you pretty much anywhere in Coorg. This is classified as an adventure sport here, taking the place of white water rafting.

Way 2:-

Get to Chennai, using any of a dozen airlines or my LearJet (provided, of course, no one’s taken it to Bangalore). Take a Shatabdi train to Mysore which takes about 6 hours and is an experience in itself. The grub they serve is really tasty and the babel of languages can be truly unintelligible. Frons is prawns, for example. A broh is a bra. Not that either of these words can crop up in a decent conversation but my motto is “Be Prepared!”

Way 3:- (Most picturesque)

Get to Mangalore. This is user friendly only from Mumbai, unless of course my Learjet is available in Chennai. You can take a cab from there. Coorg is about 3 hours away through lush plantations and forests. You would be well advised to remember the caveat about the Toyota Innova on this route because it is even more of a butt conditioner. This one can condition your butt to the consistency of chocolate mousse (or strawberry mousse, depending on race). The road is really pretty though, winding and verdant

Where to stay

I wouldn’t really know, because I have always imposed on the princely generosity of Sundeep’s in-laws (Sundeep is Sheela’s brother. His wife hails from Coorg and her family have an incredibly beautiful coffee estate.) But the Orange County resort is highly spoken of. So also is the Club Mahindra resort. There are many bed and breakfast places around – they call them “home stay” here – and you can experience coffee estate life first hand. The food is sure to be great because almost all the ingredients would have been plucked out an hour or two before you eat them, including food items that were flying, crowing, grunting or bleating before you decided to meet them.

Where to eat

Hotel East End, Madikeri serves the best Coorg cuisine. Try their chilli chicken, its awesome. The food is spicy and goes beautifully well with Kingfisher beer. (But then, what doesn’t?) The real mccoy is the Chilli Pork (or Chilli Fork, as it is sometimes pronounced) but my dear wife, bless her heart, opines that, in my case, it would count as cannibalism.

What to do

Apart from eat, drink and sleep, you mean? Nothing much, really. There are a couple of hills you can climb up. They say there are great views there but for some reason, very possibly because the escalators weren’t working, I never made it that far.

There is also a great forest reserve nearby, the Nagarhole national park (which, along with many schools, colleges, hospitals, roads, townships, battleships and scholarships, is now named after Rajiv Gandhi). It used to be ruled by Veerappan, (poacher and sandalwood smuggler, the guy who forgot to shave, if you’ve seen his photographs) till he decided to stop a couple of police bullets with his chest. The happiest with this turn of events must be the tigers and the elephants. Chances of seeing the former have greatly improved though it still involves going around in circles for hours in a rickety forest department jeep. Its great fun, though and is a must do for everyone regardless of age or sex.

Conclusion

Its one of the most de-stressing of destinations I’ve been too. I’ve been to some fancy and pretentious ones in my time where you are inundated with luxuries proffered by oleaginous attendants with one eye firmly on the ten percent gratuity. Coorg is not like that. While the average Coorgi would be pleased to know that you were having a great time, he wouldn’t give a damn if you were displeased with the service or decided never to set foot here again. I think they feel that the stuff is all there, its up to you whether to like it or not.

I loved it!

2 comments:

Martin said...

The real estate is one sector that features as one of the most badly hit sectors following the global economic meltdown. Especially in developing countries like India, where real estate was going great guns, so to say, faced a steep downfall following the recession and inflation. Especially in the metros and the developing cities like Bangalore, real estate suffered dearly as the demand for the residential units, though increasing became a pent up demand. The badly hit economy particularly the IT sector that has a strong foothold in Bangalore, and the high rates of interest in home loans made the demand for residential units go down or at best become a pent up demand. It is believed that once the situation stabilizes the demands would start surfacing. Another very problematic issue that the real estate dealers are facing is that patrons of the currently booked flats are not willing to pay the original price that they had agreed on but the current price that is less than the original amount owing to the current economic condition. Not only the residential units but the commercial properties like the hotels in Bangalore have also naturally seen a drop in their occupancy. The ITC hotels in Bangalore that registered the highest occupancy, as high as 83%, have been forced to cut down on their tariffs by almost 20% as the occupancy has also gone down by 20%. On the contrary, the business hotels in Bangalore are surviving the tough times as the number of business travelers has not been affected as hard as the umber of leisure hotels. The budget hotels in Bangalore have seen a hike owing to the obvious reasons.

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Loving the COORG! :)