A lot of people know Coorg as a popular hill station on the Karnataka/Kerala border that is a perfect weekend getaway, but it is one such place that just can’t be covered in a single trip. I am finally writing this post after my third trip in the region with the hope that I now can say I’ve seen enough to truly describe the place and tell you what all can you plan for when you’re coming over to the Scotland of India.
Coorg as such is the name of the district where Kodagu people historically were concentrated (and still are to a great extent), and when you are going to Coorg, you’re essentially going to one of the many towns or landmarks that fall in this region. A lot of these popular spots are not closeby and hence my proposition that you just can’t cover the whole of Coorg in a weekend. Let me quickly tell you about the 3 weekend trips I had gone for –
- Trek to Thadiyandamol Peak + evening at Madikeri
- Hike to Nishani Motte
- Cycle ride to Irpu Falls
I would love to come back to Coorg whenever possible next as I can name a few more really famous spots that I couldn’t visit in my trips above. It was in Coorg that I re-connected with nature as a lot of my previous trips were focused on heritage, history and architecture which often, let’s just say, are not exactly located in nature’s lap. After climbing the peak of Thadiyandamol, I got interested in traveling not just for the destination but for adventure of the journey which then made me come back to Coorg for more!
Before I move on to the details of my trips, let me share the map that I think highlights most of the important sights in Coorg –
Madikeri is the capital city of the district and is where you’ll be dropped if you’re taking a bus to Coorg. When compared with the true destinations within Coorg, Madikeri doesn’t have a lot to offer except for a vantage point besides a fort that belonged to the kings that ruled the area previously, but then when you’re planning to go back, you’ll have to come back here for the bus that will take you home unless of course you’re traveling privately. Closeby attractions include an elephant camp and a Tibetan monastery. Of all the hobbyists, trekkers would love Coorg the most for it has some of the most famous peaks of Western Ghats. Interestingly the 4 most popular hikes are very evenly distributed in the 4 corners of the the district, thus asking for 4 separate visits just for these climbs. These 4 peaks include Pushpagiri towards the north end, Nishani Motte towards the west, Thadiyandamol towards the south and Brahmagiri at the eastern edge of the district. After the hike is done, I would recommend visiting one of the closely located waterfalls for they are present everywhere, but I wouldn’t rank the experience as exceptional; the most famous ones are Irpu falls, Abbi and Chelavara falls. I haven’t mentioned the temples, but there are some famous ones in the area but more from the perspective of religion rather than architecture or history, so depending on your interests and expectations, this experience may differ. If you didn’t find anything worthwhile above, here is something that might convince you.. the whole region is dotted with coffee plantations, thus the views from the road while traveling are always very pleasant! So, whether you’re pedaling your bike, riding on the motorbike or simply driving your car, you must visit the place once! Let me move over to the trips..
Thadiyandamol is the highest peak in Coorg at an elevation of 1750 meters. Reaching Thadiyandamol can be a little tricky if you’re not traveling with a group. I was accompanied by Disha for this trip as we had decided to explore Coorg over the Independence day weekend of 2014 after reading such good words about the place. We had booked our bus tickets to and from Madikeri and had planned to spend a day chilling at the capital city after the hike. To get to the base of the peak, we took a local bus headed towards the Kakkabe village. We had to wait a lot for our bus as not knowing the local language led to some confusion over the bus timings. Running late but nonetheless on the right way, we got down at the Yavakapady bus stop at around 11 AM and had to take the road that went left and spiralled upwards. This information is not clearly present on web but I found that this blog can be trusted for most the treks that are listed on it. Also, after a bit of google search, I found a trail map shared here which I found helpful especially when we needed to take the left turn from the main road. We were lucky that we found a jeep that was coming down that path after dropping someone at the base, as the driver agreed to drive back till the base taking us along for a nominal charge. Time was not on our side as we didn’t get the bus to Kakkabe on time from Madikeri, thus we chose this option, otherwise, you can easily walk up to the base which is around ~5 km away from the main road like these kids in the below pic.
There is a small retreat and parking area at the base of the peak and there is a clear path that leads to the peak. We didn’t spend any time at the base and started walking as soon as we got off the jeep. The path at the outset seemed like regular path just that the surface wasn’t tarmac anymore but soon it got narrower and the bushes around us made way for trees that were shadowing the path. At a point, the tree shade suddenly ended as we took a turn that brought us at the edge of the hill we were on. Below is the shot of the peaks that were now suddenly visible to us, leaving us guessing if the peak that we saw in front was Thadiyandamol or were we to go further ahead?!
August is a goo time to visit Coorg as the shade we had all along the way, the day being a cloudy one with occasional drizzle, helped to keep us hydrated. Otherwise with limited water resources, one needs to carry a lot for the return journey. I realized this problem at Nishani Motte because I had to cover a part of the descent without water in my bottle. Thadiyandamol is an easy trek even for beginners as we pretty much kept walking along the trails we could see and the weekend being a long one, we often passed people who were returning from the peak. After getting a little ahead of the mid way where one can pitch tents, we decided to take a break for pictures. At that moment, clouds were literally at same level as ours and we could see them getting cut across peaks and then flowing over them to join back as a bunch.
After this point, we couldn’t click a lot because there was very little visibility for the camera but the views right up till the peak were simply a delight for the eyes. I don’t think I can capture those moments of thrill when you step over a leg of the journey to reach the momentary peak only to find out that this isn’t the final peak and you have to keep going. For me, it kept happening as after each small hill i climbed, I could see another one in front where the trails continued! It was both exciting and fussy that everytime we thought we had accomplished the peak, we could see a new one in front.
Although Disha couldn’t have sketched while hiking but here is something she drew later..
Below is a shot f the peak, or atleast we thought so when I took the picture, it appears almost as if we’ve reached the peak but no! we still had more peaks to cover and the iteresting part was that we even had to pass through a dense jungle. These jungles can be very thick and can slow you down if, say, you encounter thorny bushes covering your path.
Disha’s version of the peak is definitely more artistic than a literal photograph..
After more than 4 hours of climbing up towards the peak, we finally reached a spot where going forward seemed more downhill than upwards and that’s how we knew that we had reached the peak finally! We met another group of trekkers who were resting at the peak. We shared our cookies with them in exchange of some water and the group soon opened up to us and invited us to join them while descending. It was a good decision to join the group as they had a jeep waiting for them, just above the base. It was already getting dark and we had lost time to go back to Madikeri on the same day. The driver of the jeep went by the name of Ajit and was very well accustomed to the road conditions thus we reached back to a closeby homestay in no time. While taking off the shoes at the homestay to check for leech bites, I clearly remember that I felt the trek had opened up a new channel and I knew that soon I’d go for more treks.
Next day was spent in reaching back Madikeri and then exploring the town. The second day of the trip wasn’t as exciting as the first and tired as we were, wanted to get back to Bangalore soon after we had started roaming the streets of Madikeri. The only point worth visiting was the Raja’s seat to get a birds’ eye view of the ridges and forest that envelope the town.
In hindsight, doing treks with a group is much more easy as the group always would have some experienced folks who would know the path well. You would appreciate this company a lot when you’re stuck in middle of no where and nobody to ask directions from , just left to take a call based on your maps and intuition. There are many groups in Bangalore that go for such treks, the 2 most popular groups are the Bangalore Mountaineering Club and the Bangalore Trekking Club.
Thus, the next time I was in Coorg, it was for a hike to Nishani Motte that BMC had planned in Jan’15. As their site describes it, Nishani motte is a relatively unknown peak in the talacauvery/ branhmagiri range. This stretch forms the border between Kannur / Kasargod districts in Kerala and Kodagu district in Karnataka. This time I was accompanied by an old friend, Samarth, who had registered for the trek as well. Nonetheless I have no issues with traveling along with a group of strangers as I’ve never had a bad experience with Bangalore folks.
The usual schedule for the 2-day group treks is to leave from Bangalore on friday night, reach the base on Saturday morning, go for the trek, reach back by the evening and then head back for Bangalore on Sunday after staying back on Saturday night at a pre-decided homestay. This plan was followed in our case as well and we infact had left for Bangalore much earlier, just after our dinner on Saturday night, thus allowing us to spend the Sunday evening in Bangalore at will.
Since we had already passed the monsoon season, the trek was rather uncomfortable as the weather wasn’t very welcoming. January is supposed to be winter time but we were sweating soon after we had started walking up from the base. Thus, I would recommend to always come in the monsoon season as you can atleast escape dehydration. But to our relief we soon encountered a waterfall which proved to be a welcoming relief and everyone agreed on taking a small break there before moving ahead.
The thing about treks with groups is that you need to match the speed with everyone. At times I was in front and had to wait for others to catchup and other times I had to hurry up when others were waiting for me ahead. But this trek, unlike Thadiyandamol, wasn’t a straight route that one can can navigate with intuition, thus, doing it without a group can be very difficult. I plan to buy a GPS device next so that I can mark the trail and publish it online with the blogposts, might help you if you ever decide to make a solo trip. I just got to know that there is an mobile app already that does this using the phone’s GPS.
Coming back to the forest we were in, the route this time had more shades of yellow instead of the overwhelming green one would notice in monsoon time. But still, the sights were definitely worth the effort and we kept crossing the ridges without breaks. The ranges that are visible in the background of the picture below is where we were headed. I was of the opinion those hills were our destination but then when we reached there, the BMC group leader told us that we had reached only halfway!
The one good thing about winter treks is that the visibility is much better and when we were at the top, we could see ranges as far as 50kms away from where we were. This luxury however came with the realization that there wouldn’t be clouds through the hills no matter if we stay here all night. Both the wet and dry trek experience are unique to themselves and without giving into which one I should be coming back for, I kept walking like everyone else.
After this point, the group somehow got segregated into smaller groups and our BMC guide went in a different direction assuring us that he’ll meet us at the next hill. There was another group along with us with a local guide who knew the ways better than all of us including the BMC guide. We reached the next hill and were waiting for our guide to return but he was nowhere to be found. It soon became an irritating situation as some of us wanted to continue with the other group hoping that our BMC guide would find us on the way while others wanted to wait for the BMC guide at the hill itself. I didn’t feel comfortable with staying at a hill top in middle of nowhere hoping the guide would return as he said instead of joining the group which knew the way forward. This was my first hike with BMC and it’s not correct to form impressions based on exceptional events but I felt that our guide acted irresponsibly by not communicating properly over the course of action and a lot of confusion ensued when the group was at a hill top not sure of whether to stay or move ahead without the guide. The view from the hilltop was of ridges cutting the subsequent range till as far as one could see but it didn’t do much to decrease the tension..
All this while, we were trying to reach our BMC guide but expecting the phone network to be as good as in the cities was a mistake on our part. After waiting for a while when there was no clear decision in the group, I decided to chase the other group while they were still in sight, some members of our group followed me while others decided to stay back and wait for the guide. After pacing for a while and hoping that there wasn’t a fork in the way ahead, I finally caught up and asked the group to stop for a while to let the folks who were behind me to reach us as well. By this time we had descended into a thick forest and after hours of sweating under direct sunlight, we were in shade of the trees for the first time in the day.
The BMC guide also reached where we were but then led us to a different path away from where the other group was headed. When I asked him why exactly had he abandoned us with no clear communication on how we should’ve hiked further ahead without him, he said that he was taking some measurements for a map that he is preparing for the region. There was no point arguing about what he should’ve done and we should’ve done, we simply hiked through the forest towards the peak and rejoined the folks who had decided to stay back for the guide. We soon reached the peak but we were really tired by this time as we had paced all throughout our way while crossing the forest to make up for the lost time. Thus, by the time we started our descent, we were out of water and were desperately waiting for the next source but we only found water when we had reached the very base of the hill. Thus, I would say that the confusion created by the guide’s disappearance and water getting over in mid of the descent made the second half of the trip a little challenging but not exactly for the right reasons. Also, I learnt that when traveling with strangers, convincing the group over a single decision can be a challenging task but still I wouldn’t recommend trekking alone until you have gained some experience and are confident of your navigation skills. Below is the last pic from the trek, clicked at the base just after we had found a house whose owner helped us by allowing us to fill water from his garden.
After a good dinner at the homestay where we BMC had arranged the accommodation, we left for Bangalore and I had now climbed 2 of the 4 famous peaks of Coorg. The remaining 2 peaks – Brahmagiri and Pushpagiri are to be conquered sometime in future. Brahmagiri peak lies in a wildlife sanctuary therefore one needs permissions of the local forest officials before trekking and I could never get these permissions on time. Pushpagiri peak also known as Kumar Parvatha is said to be the most challenging peak to conquer in Karnataka, thus I always wanted to go with a group instead of taking on this challenge alone but these plans never could materialize.
If you’re not a big fan of trekking then worry not! Coorg has more to offer! I had taken up cycling in mid of 2014 and have been commuting to/from office on cycle ever since. I loved it and began riding on weekends as well. This was followed by further longer rides that I went for with cycling groups in the city. Thus, by the time I saw this event notification I had now achieved the comfort level of cycling upto 50kms in a stretch. A cycling group in the city called CAM – cycling and more – was organizing a moonlight cycling event and it struck me as something new that I hadn’t done before!
A lot of other work related things were going on in the background but I decided to go ahead and register for the event for I needed to clear my head. It was also my overnight cycling ride, so I was excited about it and it turned out to be really good! Like all weekend rides, we left on Friday night but instead of sleeping till morning, we got down from the bus when we reached Gonikoppa at around 3 AM and started cycling towards our homestay at Nalkeri!
I did not bring along my DSLR for this trip, so my Lumia had got promoted from backup camera to the main one for this trip. However, this was one trip that was not meant for capturing photos, the main thrill of this trip was in feeling the wind on your face when you’d be cycling downhill or be able to see the horizon when you’ve overcome the uphill track. Thus, I didn’t stop at most of the places to click, I just wanted to keep cycling!
This also was a trip where I had finally had managed to find a strava client for windows phones, thus allowing me to track my rides and upload them on the website for embedding them on the blog! Below is the route we had followed from Gonikoppa, it ends at our homestay at Nalkeri. Our journey was to be made in 3 legs and this being the part which was done completely in moonlight, was the most exciting part!
Steaming idlis and rice was served for breakfast along with the special Coorgi coffee after we reached the homestay. I had enough to guarantee a nice nap till lunch. The lunch matched breakfast in terms of taste but I ate only a little as we had to start our ride soon after. We had planned to go towards a nearby river through the coffee and tea estates. The path a good mix of uphill and downhill patches and we were able to cover this distance earlier than our own expectations.
This leg of the journey was very picturesque as there were only fresh green leaves all round us. Just be able to breathe the fresh air was a refreshing feeling in itself. Not sure if somebody from the group was requesting for more or not, but as we were on our way back, it started pouring heavily and we were all soaking wet by the time we reached back the homestay. It was all fun, the only sad part being that there were no spare shoes, so I knew I’d have wet feet throughout the rest of the journey.
The dinner on the saturday night was followed by long conversations and everyone was sharing their travel stories. Peaceful sleep followed the heavy dinner and the sunday morning plan was to ride till Irpu falls and then return back for lunch. Irpu falls is right at the edge of the Brahmagiri wildlife sanctuary and we were really close to the Brahmagiri peak from here.
I wish I had the option of hiking upto the peak but it had to be done some other time. We reached back by lunch time and then it was time to head back to bangalore. Below is how we covered this last leg timewise. Hope these logs would be of some help when you’re here!
All said n done, I take back only fond memories from Coorg and would love to be back here for the remaining treks. Coorgi way of life is tempting and you would love to be with them, have their food and listen to their stories!