The year 2011 was approaching a gradual end. Yet another year set to conclude, another about to be born. The cycle continues…
28.12.2011 - 02.01.2012 15 °C
"Hey, we are in the last week of 2011, don't you think we should go for a short year-end trip somewhere, to come back rejuvenated for a long year of work ahead?" I asked my wife Mitali over the dinner table, adding "I have a pending casual leave along with three official holidays to end the year."
"Yeah, I also think we should go out, since I too wish to utilize the three pending casual leaves that I have, which otherwise would get lapsed," she replied adding, "but why do we every-time decide to go on a holiday at such a short notice? Being the peak holiday season do you think we would get any accommodation and importantly, confirmed tickets and hotel bookings. It is understood that everywhere prices would be unnecessarily jacked up."
"That undoubtedly is true madam, but the important task would be to decide where to head for considering the season. And, I'm sure you would wish not to be in a place that is crowded with people. Also, it should not be that far that we keep travelling all four days but it should also not be too near that we would not feel that we have actually come on a holiday," I added.
Our discussion concluded with the agreement that I would, as usual, carry out some serious on-line research the next day and come up with a couple of choice along with the feasibility of securing tickets and accommodation.
Reaching office bit early and wrapping up the usual morning official chores of replying to mails, asking for project status, and the usual follow up with the agencies, I started hunting for some off-beat getaways. Sticking to our decided parameters that it should not be too far yet not too near, I finally zeroed down on a couple of destinations. The first choice was a secluded hill station Amboli, in Maharashtra, some 700 odd kms from Mumbai. Immediately, I checked by calling the few listed resorts/home-stays but only to be disappointed since all were booked to capacity.
Coffee Up Close
My second choice was a bit further away from Mumbai, a destination that we had always on our must visit list. The destination - Kodagu - more popularly known as Coorg, situated within the highlands of the India's Western Ghats in the state of Karnakata. Browsing through countless sites detailing information of Coorg, it made me keener than ever to go exploring. It was as if I could instantly smell the aroma of this coffee country.
My first challenge however was to zero down on a preferable choice of stay. Mostly, whenever we go visiting a new place we tend to seek our stay a bit away from the main hustle-and-bustle, ideally, a secluded hideaway, which is not the typical 'hotel-hotel' type. Home-stays are preferred but again how good or bad becomes difficult to gauge by merely looking at the pictures and the usual testimonials of the place listed in their respective websites.
Soon, I realized that there are countless listed home-stays in different price ranges all across Coorg, but one among them looked off-beat to me and it was as if 'love at first sight'. The name of the place too sounded uncommon - Jade Hills. Called them up and one Mr Prasanna received my call. On my enquiry he informed me that he would be able to offer us a cottage for Rs 4,000/- per day basis with complimentary breakfast. The actual rate that the website mentioned was Rs 3,000. I insisted that since we plan to stay 3 nights, whether he would be willing to offer us some discounts.
Jade Hills - Entry to Paradise
Mr Prasanna informed that since it is high-season the best he could offer was Rs 11,000/- for 3 nights stay. I too thought it is the best bargain we could have perhaps secured at this last minute. Importantly, considering the serene virtual ambiance that Jade Hills depicted, as I browsed through, I agreed. However, I informed him that I would confirm the next day provided I manage to secure confirmed tickets to Mangalore. From Mangalore, Medikeri, the district headquarters of Coorg is a 4 hours drive, situated at a height of 1525 meters.
My next task was to secure 2 confirmed tickets on the Mastyagandha Super Fast Express, the best train, timing-wise to us for the overnight journey. Mahendra, my dependable travel agent perhaps realized seeing my number flashing on his mobile screen that Sabya must have again decided to visit somewhere at the last minute, and, without me inquiring, he asked, "tickets to where, Sabya?" "Yeah you got it right. Pls arrange 2 tickets to Mangalore to and fro, the dates being 28th Dec and 1st Jan". "It will be done" was his confident reply and I knew from my earlier experiences that it will actually be done.
Reached office early on 28th December and after wrapping up as fast as I could, left for home by 1 pm, after sending a short mail to my boss that I'll be leaving office early. Gulping a quick lunch we took a taxi and made our way to the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus Station of Kurla. Placing our bags in our allotted berths of the 3 AC Coach, we anxiously waited for our journey to commence. After a delayed start of about 20 mins, we started chugging out at 3.40 pm towards Mangalore. Not much action happened in the journey and I kept glued to Ruskin Bond's The Kashmiri Storyteller.
Having an early dinner of some packed mutton biriyani and pickles, that we cooked at home the previous day, we called it a night. I woke up early the next morning excited. It was still dark. Dawn was yet to break in. Standing along the door holding the long steel railings, the cool air breezing past my face was very welcoming. Soon, from the chugging train, I could see the warm sun rising through some scattered clouds in the eastern horizon amidst a golden glow. The feeling was very fresh as I kept gazing the pretty landscapes we were passing by.
Finally, at 7.45 am the train chugged to a final halt in the Platform 4 of Mangalore Central station. Straightaway, we hired an auto and took off to the KRSTC (Karnataka State Roadways Transport Corporation) bus depot some 7 kms away. Lines of buses were parked inside the bus depot ready to depart to its respective destination. On inquiry, we discovered that a swanky Volvo is just about to depart to Mysore via our destination Medikari. We were lucky to get 2 tickets. We boarded and set off to Coorg at 8.15 am.
The drive initially was pretty decent but as the kilometers progressed, we realized that we are in for a real bumpy ride ahead. The road is being enlarged and work was going on full swing. Dumpers, rollers, burnt fume of tar accompanied us throughout the journey. I recall reading somewhere that this road a few months back was closed for traffic.
The road to Coorg truly was a back-breaker. Entering the somewhat hilly terrain we snaked through the lush tropical forest road. Certain sections saw huge plantation of betel nut and coconut grooves. The ambiance was rustic, the views, superb. We passed by the small townships of Puttur, Sulia and a few others till the bus, finally to our relief, reached Medikeri at about 1 pm.
Boarding down we hired a vehicle and made our way towards Jade Hills. Situated at a distance of about 8 kms, Jade Hills truly was a serene isolated property perched atop a lush hill. Set amidst a manicured garden we fell in love with Jade Hills the moment we approached the serpentine path meandering through the lush foliage from its very gate.
Colorful flowers greeted us all the way to the top through the curved pathway. Arun, the caretaker welcomed us with a refreshing cup of coffee as our bags were placed in our allotted cottage, set in seclusion.
Our Secluded Cottage
The main bungalow of Jade Hills has two rooms on the either side of a living-cum-dining room, with a cozy fire-place, extending all the way to a semi-open kitchen. Towards the right side of the bungalow a pathway makes to an exclusive cottage where we stayed and yet another pathway going downhill to one more cottage with two rooms. The fact that the owners of Jade Hills are architects become aptly visible by the way this property has been aesthetically done both externally as well as internally.
Pillars of Strength
The richly-carved wooden doors and windows, as we were informed, were salvaged ones from old Coorg homes, placed en-block. The exterior wall of burnt orange laterite blocks along with five stand alone pillars in the open portico provides an old charm yet contemporary feel to the bungalow. The well laid out interiors with antique furniture, four poster beds set amidst colorful upholstery gave it a very warm feel. The high ceilings laid over long wooden beams over which the Mangalori-style roof of clay tiles was as if the top-up icing.
The view from Jade Hill too was unobstructed and all around the horizon were the rolling blue hills of the Western Ghats. As a quick lunch was being prepared for us we made ourselves comfortable at the strategically located gazebo soaking in the panoramic view of the lush greenery all around. We thanked ourselves for our decision to choose Jade Hills as we look forward for a 3 nights stay.
Room with a View
Gazebo - views unlimited
Having a sumptuous hot lunch we rested till late afternoon. I had read that sunset of Coorg was a treat to the eyes and how true it turned. Sipping a hot cup of coffee, we witnessed an amazing sunset. But the best part was the wonderful array of colors spreading across the skyline that followed the sunset. The refraction of the last sun-rays over the few scattered clouds created a plethora of hues ranging from yellow to orange to red to golden. It gave a feeling as if a master painter was elegantly stroking across his brush through the wide canvas of a deep blue sky. It undoubtedly touched our very soul to its very core. A soothing calm was felt inside.
Sunset from our Cottage
Magical - Out of the World
Mesmerizing - Simply Speechless
Dusk Sets In
As dusk set in Arun came up and inquired what would we prefer for dinner. As they say the feel of a place is best understood by its local palate, and, we as good travelers always try tingling our taste buds by trying out local delicacies. I had read somewhere that Coorg is a pork-eater's capital in India and the authentic Pandhi Pork is a must try. Recalling this, I inquired to Arun if he would manage to treat us this unique Coorgi dish. He gave a slimy smile and nodded. From his mischievous smile I realized Arun's Pandhi Pork would be tasty.
By the Door
As expected, over the dinner table that late evening, we relished one of the tastiest pork dishes we ever had. It was a semi-dry-fried golden brown dish and the tasty pork pieces simply melted in our mouth. Arun prepared an elaborate six-course meal which concluded with some sweet semolina kheer. Each dish was tastefully laid out and we relished it thoroughly appreciating Arun's magical hand.
Next morning we woke up early and as decided upon the previous evening, Ganesh, the errand boy of Jade Hills, accompanied us on a wilderness trekking trail. The cool morning breeze brushing across our faces was welcoming. Initially, we walked a bit down-hill and soon we were literally walking through a lush forest path laden in mist.
We continued for about a kilometer when we entered a huge Coffee plantation wherein lines-upon-lines of coffee bushes with plentiful green and red coffee berries were literally hanging across each branch. This truly is Coffee Country. We took a closer look at the berries. Ganesh explained that each berry has two beans inside the outer covering, which, after it is dried, is roasted, curled and grounded to finally end up in the aromatic cup of coffee that we all relish.
Hike within a Coffee Estate
Along-side the coffee bushes, we witnessed many creeper type plants, with a heart-shaped leaves curling upwards in most of the adjourning shade trees growing in the estate. "This is pepper plant sir," Ganesh pointed out to our amazement and on a closer observation we saw countless green peeper pods hanging out from within each leaf. Biting a few raw peppers we felt its aromatic pungency hitting straight in our tongue. Thereafter, we reached a clearing wherein millions of coffee berries were being sun-dried in a paved ground and alongside stood a concrete structure where the earlier dried berries are stocked to be transported later to the factories.
In the Millions - Coffee Cherries - sundried
After our rendezvous amidst the Coffee estate, Ganesh suggested we take a down-hill trail. Ahead, we could hear a roaring sound as we carefully balanced our way down. The path was very steep and at some portions that we simply had to slide down in a controlled momentum aiming to grab a tree or a branch to stop us slip further.
We noticed many a fern sort of plants growing aplenty adjacent to our path. "These are cardamom plants," Ganesh informed us to our amazement as we wondered how rich this plantation was, assorted with coffee and pricey spices. Finally, we reached a small clearing and up ahead we saw a majestic waterfall in full gusto.
As we were at a much higher angle we could see how the whitish water was snaking down-hill through many a rocks and boulders. Ganesh informed that it is this falls that finally ends over a steep cliff for the world to know as the famous Abby Falls of Cororg.
Soaking A While
We sat there for some time soaking in the silence which was being broken by the gushing sound of the waters. Capturing a few pictures we started our way back to Jade Hills. We estimated we must have trekked about 4-5 kms on this wilderness trail.
To be continued...