Memories of Coorg

It was hot, with the sun on our face, when we started around 4 in the afternoon from Sarjapur Road. The traditional stop at Kamat Lokaruchi didn’t help much, as the standard of food there has really gone down. Don’t remember where we had our dinner or what we had. Must be the heat. Mrs. Mudayar of Alath Cad Estate called to check when we were arriving. As it turned out it was past midnight. The sleepy security man opened the gate and pointed out our rooms up the slope. The rooms were nice. We liked them at the first glance. With solid wooden columns and broad rafts on the ceiling. The doors were solid wood with not a crack for slipping in a sheet of paper, sleep came fast and heavy.

I woke up earlier than the others. Met the kids from Chennai family – Deepak, Bharadwaj, Manoj and Madhumita. Deepak and I played badminton for a while. He does a mean rendition of “Sahana Sarala” from SIVAJI. The family had been around for 4 days and had visited most places nearby. They were leaving that morning. Sati came and told us about the fare on offer for breakfast. And what could be offered for lunch. I stoked her vanity by asking her if she was Mrs. Mudayar. Breakfast of rava idli, bread, butter and jam with omelettes was okay. We started off towards Madikere and AbbeyFalls, but changed course towards Tippu falls, some 26kms away. Gonikoppal, Ponampet and Sreemangala was to be the itinerary. After almost reaching Ponampet we retreated to Gonikoppal for lunch at Jojo’s friend’s restaurant “Silver Sky”. The pork ginger, mutton fry, fish fry and the parathas and ghee rice were all terrific. This prompted us to cancel our dinner with Alathcad, which was to be charged at Rs.150/- a person. Reaching at the foot of the IripuFalls, a temple, Lakshmateertha, I think, took quite a bit of rough driving on bad roads with monotonous coffee plantations on either side. Gargi decided to sit this one out, while the rest of us trudged the distance, which was supposed to be 0.75km or 3 km depending on whom you chose to believe. There was a metallic hanging bridge to cross and a tree with humongous beehives – tens of them. The fall by itself was not particularly awe inspiring. But it was inviting enough. So Kaushik and I took our shirts off and walked towards the fall. The blast of cold shower shook us up and we enjoyed the walk back to be Qualis. We were planning to buy some pork snacks to go with our booze and then go out from Alathcad for dinner. But then there was the Nagarhole business first. The Safaries close at 5.30 but they allowed us to go in around 6. We saw hordes of deer but precious little of any other wildlife. But the real safari track was forbidden for us. It would have cost us 550 each, but the time was up. And no they could not be bribed. The effort didn’t even look worthwhile, as the best that one could expect, by the account of someone who had just returned from the safari was Malabar squirrels, Malabar monkeys and macaws (Coorgi and net Brazilian) (and yes, they just missed the tiger who had come to drink water). So we drove back along the same track and were rewarded with more deer.

The puncture along the way made the decision about dinner easy. It was getting late. And we were coming to recognize the challenge that these bad roads would pose if we were to venture out again from Alathcad for dinner. So we decided to give silver sky another try. Before that we stopped at a tea shop while the driver Krishna went looking around for a vulcanizing shop. We had such exotic snacks like biscuit bhaji, khajur bhaji and some kind of coconut-rice concoction to go with our tea. Just as we were about to leave, the owner-manager called me aside and asked me if we were planning to eat at Silver Sky. My affirmative answer turned his voice more conspiratorial. He spread out the day’s newspaper and wrote on the white space at the top: PIG. He followed this up with BRANDY & BISKY. Seeing that this had no impact on me, he added in his sibilant best “W have halal chicken. They don’t serve halal meat.” I didn’t stay to explain or to clear his misconception or to assert that PIG and BRANDY & BISKY is exactly what we were looking for. Silver Sky at night time looked a lot more desolate. To add to our unease, mutton fry or fish fry were not available. We thought of trying different things than what we had for lunch. But it was all a big disappointment. Maybe because I was eating in my wet underwear. The parathas were not the same. Pork curry looked very black and tasted so khatta. The saving grace was the Bacardi we had smuggled in to have with coke.

The drive back was even more wearisome. The town was shutting out fast though it was only around 9.30. I just about managed to buy a couple of small vodkas and a packet full of tetrapack fruit juices. The monotony of driving though coffee plantations where all roads looked the same became even more oppressive. At the end, we were relieved to have reached Alathcad on a spare tyre. Indian Idol was over. But we could catch a bit of Sa Re Ga Ma hosted by Aditya Narayan. Kaushik & Gargi joined us as I poured out the vodka and the fruit juice. It must have been 1 pm when we went to bed.

It was close to 8 am when we finished our tea and biscuits the next morning. We had already decided that we will not rush around any more and try to take in the leisurely charms of Alathcad. Cold water was poured on our dreaming as Mrs. Mudayar called me to inform that the check out time was 11 am, and yes all the three deluxe rooms under our name had been booked out for the day. And they were all expected to arrive at 11.30. So we had breakfast around 10 (Gargi skipped this) and we returned to our rooms to pack and relax. Ultimately it was around 12.30 that we drove towards Madikere. The eating places suggested were Coorgi Cuisine and Coorg International the first one came our way first. Turned out the owner lived upstairs and it was authentic, home-cooked Coorgi food that we could get to taste. The prices looked attractive, and we ordered a plat of everything – pork chops, pork curry, mutton fry, rice balls, plain rice (served with rasam). All the pork and mutton dishes looked black, but the taste wasn’t disappointing. We washed all this down with glasses of fresh lime soda and honey, which was very refreshing. We even ordered a plate of chicken curry with rice noodles, which Ipsa thought was the best thing in the fare. What a pity we couldn’t leave behind a generous tip, as the owner was the one serving us.

We started driving towards the Tibetian Monastay and the Golden temple at Kushalnagar, taking direction from Tibetian ladies on a bike, stopping on the way to get the puncture repaired. The entrance to the temple looked very impressive – in gold and bright blue and red. But first we had park the Qualis in the complex and do a bit of shopping. There were many interesting tidbits on offer. And we all bought a thing or two. A T-shirt for Jojo, and a red sleeveless top for Jayashree. A mask on a red silk thread and two dancing, clowning Chinese figures for Ipsa, and a bell and bamboo combo to meditate with for me. We walked into monastery and were impressed right away. The red coloured windows, the white canopy emblazoned with gold and finally the temple – oh it took our breath away. The three Buddhas (we didn’t know that they were the three Buddhas, the Buddha, The Amitabha and the Padma something is what they were, as we learnt later from one of the lamas.) The prayer carpet and the intricate decorative motifs in bright colour were truly uplifting. We sat in the compound for a while before taking a look around, where little lamas did their studying from a red book on the lawns and north Indian tourists asked the questions like “Aaplogonka khana yehrin pe banta hai?” We were told 5000 lamas lived there. We wondered about the source of finance and their living allowances. (We saw some the lamas buying dips and later momos and thupka. Maybe it was the Sunday, that gave then the free time and some kind of pocket allowances.)

As we drove through the Tibetian settlement looking for “Friends Corner” and “Olive”, the recommended joints for momos and thupka, we couldn’t help wondering how clean the settlement looked, how well-maintained! But the place we had to settle down for momos and thupka was in the first camp, a little ahead of this area. For the record, a plate of beef momos with eight pieces cost Rs.15/- so did the thupka. And a plate of fried rice that Jojo ordered cost Rs.25/-.

Coorg, Kushalnagar

With one positive high note in the trip that was the Tibetian experience, we could drive down to Bangalore with satisfied minds. I put on the collection of old romantic Hindi songs and they sounded really right on the Mysore-Bangalore expressway. We drove for quite a while before stopping for tea and toilet break at a seedy place that was apparently established in 1948. We drove on with more nostalgic songs playing on the tape and reached Akme Harmony 11.45. It was close to 12.15 when we reached Kavalbyrasandra. We disembarked quickly, knowing that the driver had another outstation trip lined up for the next day to Kodaikanal and Ooty, and he had to start at 5.30. We were all too tired even to check out the Tibetian goodies and hit our beds instantly.

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