Apart from rich coffee and spices, Coorg offers breathtaking sights and memorable experiences
Imagine reserved sightseeing points at hill stations for royalty! The kings of Kodagu (anglicised version of Coorg), from as early as the 17th century AD had earmarked a vantage point (Raja’s Seat) in Madikeri (Coorg’s capital) to watch the sun perform its daily ritual. A view of the picturesque and breathtaking sunsets with a silhouette backdrop of the Western Ghats was the reason why the kings sought to romance their queens under this twilight sky. Situated in South Western Karnataka bordering Kerala, Coorg (often referred to as the ‘coffee cup’ of India) is a major center for coffee and spice production. With Talacauvery, a revered Hindu pilgrimage at one end and Bylakuppe, an obscure Tibetan settlement on the other, it provides for the perfect diversity for the quintessential traveller. Let’s embark on a tour of the most prominent spots of the city:
Situated towards the south of the Madikeri Fort, the spectacular sunset view from Raja’s Seat seems magical as it illuminates the various layers of hills with distinct shades of grey and black drenched in a crimson hue. The contrast is remarkable. It’s a daily ritual of which we have no clue sitting in our enclosed offices and which invokes a hush among the onlookers enjoying nature’s elemental beauty. A small pavilion made up of brick and mortar and built on a higher ground supported by four pillars, Raja’s Seat is surrounded by a manicured garden with seasonal flowers and musical fountains. It is one of the most-visited places of Coorg and is replete with several street side shops selling souvenirs, trinkets, food items, pickles, toys, etc.
Cauvery river in South India is considered to be one of the most sacred water bodies in the country. Talacauvery, at 1276 m above the sea level, at the foot of Brahmagiri hills, is the origin of the river and thus is a revered place of pilgrimage. Though it’s like any other small temple pond typical to South Indian temple architecture, the religious sentiment attached to it is immense, which is evident from the lakhs of devotees who throng this place every year. A long stairway takes you to the summit of Brahmagiri hill which provides unhindered vista of the surrounding mountains and adjoining valleys. On the way back from Talacauvery, lies the Triveni Sangam. It is the confluence of three rivers – Cauvery, Kannike and the mythical river Sujyoti. In lieu of this holy spot, a temple was built in the early 11th century by the Cholas. Dedicated to Lord Shiva and his sons Subrahmanya and Ganesha along with Lord Narayana, the structure doesn’t look venerable. The copper tiled roofs, the decorated walls and ceilings with sculpted murals painted with vegetable dye and wooden idols, adorn this beautiful temple complex.
Located in Bylakuppe (30 kms from Coorg), this is one of the largest Tibetan settlements in South India. Also referred to as the Golden Temple due to its appearance, it was set up in 1963 by the Tibetan monk Pema Norbu Rinpoche. It is the largest teaching institute in the world for Nyingmapa – a lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Huge golden statues of Buddha in the prayer hall, unique Tibetan thangka paintings across the temple walls and a beautiful garden adorn the monastery complex. There is something endearing about the ubiquity of maroon robes with clean shaved heads everywhere in different shapes and sizes. The subtle giggles of cherubic young monks, the intermittent clinging of the prayer bells and monastic hymns emanating from the prayer hall conjures to offer the sweetest euphony on the planet. Close to 5,000 monks and nuns reside here. There is a market complex outside the monastery, mostly run by the Tibetans, selling locally made handicrafts, thangka paintings and variety of other souvenirs. Few restaurants in the complex offer typical South Indian cuisine. Monks can be seen enjoying the customary idli, dosa and sambhar portraying more than 50 years of cultural assimilation.
Built in 1820 by King Lingarajendra, it’s an ancient shrine of Lord Shiva situated in the heart of Madikeri. The quirky architecture of the temple makes it special. Despite being a Hindu temple, it has shades of Islamic architecture. A dome-shaped structure in the middle of the pond with four small Moorish type turrets on all sides, substantiates the view of Islamic influence. Legend has it that the king bought the Shiva Linga from Kashi and had it installed at this place. He then later built a temple complex around it.
An island located 30 kms from Madikeri on the Cauvery River, it is spread across 64 acres of bamboo groves, sandalwood and teak forests. A hanging bridge connects the island to the main land. The tourism department offers boating, tree houses, elephant rides, deer feeding and trekking here. With a few eateries inside, it is easy to spend a whole day exploring and enjoying the island. Connoisseur of coffee or not, a packet of roasted and grounded coffee powder from the shops here is a must. It provides a heavy flavour which is typical to the aroma of fine Arabicas and Robustas.
The Madikeri fort expresses solidarity with its counterparts when it comes to passing of the baton from one ruler to another in its history of existence. Built in 17th century by the Muddu Raja, it went on to be captured by Tipu Sultan and then reconquered by a Hindu king Lingarajendra Wodeyar II, before falling into the hands of the British Empire, which precisely explains the presence of a church (St. Marks Church) inside the fort complex. Though crumbled at most parts, the fort walls still stand tall and offer some vantage points to see the town of Madikeri.
Located 8 kms from Madikeri, it is one of the most visited places of Coorg. The narrow pathway to the fall is flanked by coffee, cardamom and pepper plantations. The renowned Coorg coffee is shade-grown under Wild Fig and Rosewood trees. During the harvest season, the fruit laden trees attract many visitors like the giant Malabar squirrel and the great Indian pied hornbill who eventually make it their home. Part of river Cauvery, Abbey is a small waterfall gushing from a height of around 60 feet. A hanging bridge built across the falls offers an unimpeded view to the visitors.
Text: Sugato Tripathy