Saturday, November 19, 2011

Coorg Diary- Part I


My watch shows the time as 10.30 in the morning as our aircraft lands on Bengaluru's newest airport. Compared to the old HAL airport, this new airport is a real swanky and well organized place. The main obstacle faced by a passenger landing on this airport is however quite a different one. This airport is located at a distance of about 30 to 40 kilometers from the city. Firstly going to the city through crowded streets of Bengaluru, itself is a nightmare with impossible traffic jams and secondly, one has to spend a large sum for hiring a taxi, which can take you to the city. Any one can agree that paying only Rs. 2000 for the airfare and then shelling out Rs. 500 or 600 for traveling from the airport to the city is a very weird kind of situation. It is a puzzle to me that while planning for this airport, why no plans were ever made for a quick and effective local corridor, which can take you to the city at a low cost. Well aware of this problematic situation, we have made our own arrangements for a Toyota Innova taxi with a driver to meet us at the airport. This vehicle, along with the driver, would be fully in our attendance for next few days, till we return back to this very same airport, is a comforting thought for me in the chaotic traffic situation of this city. I have a feeling that this single factor is likely to ensure that our little escapade to Coorg, would be comfortable and enjoyable. 

Being the senior most member of our group, I am honoured with the front seat, next to the driver. I am happy about this seating because while traveling on Indian roads, usually front seats tend to be most comfortable.
The city of Bengaluru has developed very rapidly over last few decades mainly because of the Information Technology Industry. I see around very heavy road building activities. Obviously,I have no idea about the feelings of the local population about these developments in their city. Whether they like their city growing into a giant metropolis? Or they would have preferred the old beautiful Bengaluru town as it was 50 years back. I used to stay in this city once, in the 1960's decade. Compared to that time, I can see great changes in the city now. In those days, I do not recollect, city temperatures in the month of May ever crossing 31-32 degree Celsius. The temperatures now routinely cross 37-38 degree Celsius. The weather in Bengaluru appears to have changed for the worst with all these new developments.
There are new and wide roads everywhere with buses of modern design plying on these. There are two ring roads, external and internal, along the perimeter of the city. External ring road touches the airport. Starting from the airport, we take naturally the external ring road first and then join the internal ring road somewhere near Yelhanka vilage. I recollect that this village was no where near the city during 1960's. The ever growing city has made this village, once on the outskirt, a part of the city itself now. From this internal ring road, we are able to reach the road junction, where Bengaluru-Mysore highway starts, rather easily, without facing any major traffic pandemonium or jam. I had traveled by this Bengaluru-Mysore highway about fifty years ago. The small two lane road of those days, has now been converted into a 4 lane highway. Because of this, after we pass by Bengaluru suburbs like Ramnagar and Chennapatna, the traffic thins out and the road is wide open. The landscape around me also changes from the typical urban and semi urban looks to a typical countryside view as we are now into the real rural Karnataka. A splendid scene is slowly emerging in to my car windows. On both sides of this jet black metalled road, there are long stretches of ever green fields looking so fresh, almost to the end of my sight. Intermittently, groves of tall eucalyptus trees, break the green monotony. The soil, wherever I can see it, is terracotta red and on the horizon, distant mountains with their dark bluish hue, complete the picturesque post card scene. As I soak myself in this pristine beauty of nature, I fall asleep even without my knowledge.
Breaking for Lunch
I open my eyes and realize that we are in the vicinity of Srirangapattana town. I am feeling little hungry, so I propose that we halt for some lunch. Perhaps everyone else in the car has the same idea because my idea is immediately approved. The driver tells me about couple of good restaurants ahead. We decide to stop there. We do find few places along the road . MacDonald and Pizza Hut are all here, But we want to eat genuine south Indian food. We see a “ Kamat ” restaurant ahead. In Mumbai these “ Kamat ” chain of restaurants are very popular. I am not very sure whether this place here belongs to the Mumbai chain, but the food prepared with plentiful use of coconuts is very tasty and excellent. As we cross Shrirangapattana town after lunch, I see signboards indicating directions to historic as well as tourist interest places like Darya-i-Doulat, which was the palace of the famous eighteenth century Tipu Sultan from this place and also famed “Vrindavan Gardens”. Since we have a large distance to cover today, it is just not possible to stop here for a visit. We just keep going, except for a brief halt for a cup of coffee at a “Coffee Day” restaurant, till we reach a place called “Kushalnagar”.
It is almost 5 o' clock in the evening and the picturesque landscape that surrounded me so far has started changing as we start climbing on a mountain road or a “Ghat”. This road has a very gradual climb unlike some of the other roads in Western Ghat mountains, where the roads have steep climbs and zig-zag turns. On both sides of the road, I can see many trees now. It is obvious that we are slowly entering a forest area. As we go up the climb, the trees become rather dense. Most of the trees are silver oak or Teak wood trees with black pepper creepers or climbers hugging and climbing the tree trunks. This is certainly not a wild forest. These are plantations for which this area is famous, mostly growing coffee and black pepper. After negotiating the “Ghat” road for at least 45 minutes, we finally reach “Medikeri” town.
Roadside beauties
The first views of Medikeri from a distance are rather stunning. I see wooded green slopes on almost all sides with small village hut clusters with terracotta tiled roofs, breaking the green humdrum at few places. The landscape is certainly very rugged with steep slopes and climbs. This is not a surprise because this town is situated on the eastern slopes of the southernmost portion of the “Sahyadri” mountains. Yet the barren rocky landscapes of the northern “Sahyadri” mountains, near my home town Pune, are no where to be found here. On the road sides, there are countless numbers of shrubs and trees, completely wrapped by climber plants with a fabulous range of blooming wild flowers. The ever green plants and the yellows, reds, blues and purples blooming on them is something worth thousand visits. Medikeri is the main town of the Coorg district, which occupies the South-West portion of the Karnataka state. It is just next door to state of 'Kerala', famous for it's natural beauty. It is no wonder therefore, that Coorg district and Medikeri town are endowed with bounties of nature just like the neighbouring 'Kerala'.
The resort, where we had made reservations for stay is at least 5 kilometers away from here. Medikeri being a very popular place for tourists, has number of hotels and resorts in the vicinity that offer cheap holidays
. We have selected this particular resort as it is slightly away from the town itself. Medikeri town is located in a gorge or a trough with mountain slopes on all sides. Whenever one needs to cross the town, it is necessary first to go down the slope to the heart of the town and then climb up from other side. All streets that lead to the heart of the town are narrow and with tight hairpin bends and remind me of the famous Lombard or most crooked street of San Francisco. The roofs of the houses in the Medikeri town are invariably adorned with red coloured 'Manglore Terracotta tiles' and look very pretty and impressive from the mountain tops on sides, but the town with it's open gutters is smelly and quite shabby. I am happy that our decision to select a resort well away from the town is turning to be a right choice.
Another beauty on the curbside
As soon as we leave the town and climb up again, the surroundings become pristinely beautiful. We pass through a garden overlooking a green valley. The roses in the garden are blooming along with other flowers. The road is wooded and very quiet. Traveling few kilometers, we enter the gates of our resort. 
Reception porch
At first, I do not see any buildings at all, which are cleverly hidden behind trees. The car stops in a wooden porch. I get down and look around. The reception building, built on the lines of a typical Kerala courtyard dwelling has full wooden paneling and looks lovely. 
The Portico
The water tank in the reception room
There is a small water tank, open to sunlight, at the center of the building, surrounded by wooden handrails and balusters . Comfortable sofa sets, manufactured from reeds, are arranged on the sides for seating. We take seats and are offered passion fruit juice as welcome drink. I notice that on outer sides of this courtyard style building, there are no walls but similar wooden handrails supported by wooden balustrades again and just beyond the hand-railing, lush green shrubs almost touch us. 
The lounge
As I relax here, a feeling of freshness, slowly creeps inside me and all my tensions of the day's travel just melt away.
(To be continued)
18 November 2011

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