The scenic Kodagu (erstwhile Coorg) district is a tourist paradise for nature lovers. Kodagu is not the sort of place for the routine tourist, undertaking a ‘package tour’. It is for those who want to soak in nature.
Kodagu shares one of its boundaries with Kerala. The landlocked district is not connected by train or air. The only way to reach this nature’s resort is to take a bus ride from Mysore, Mangalore or Hassan cities. Madikeri (known earlier as Mercara), the district headquarters of Kodagu, is 120 km from Mysore and 260 km from Bangalore.
Though Kodagu is dotted with several towns like Virajpet, Kushalnagar, Somvarpet, Gonikoppal and Pollibetta, only Madikeri and Kushalanagar to some extent, have good tourist facilities. There are not many clean budget hotels in Kodagu. Most tourists prefer to stay at ‘home stays’ spread across Kodagu, including at Madikeri. The home stays are mostly located away from the towns and housed in the midst of coffee plantations.
Home stays are a big draw
Home stays involve either sharing homes with the resident family or staying in independent bungalows. They offer an opportunity to enjoy the legendary hospitality of the Kodavas, the predominant community of Kodagu. There are an estimated 1,000 home stays in Kodagu, catering to various categories of tourists.
The tariff could range from around Rs 800 a couple per day to Rs 3,000, depending upon the facilities and location. Kodagu’s roads are a driver’s nightmare. Though the region has emerged as a major tourist destination, not much it seems, has been done to improve road connectivity and tourist infrastructure.
Madikeri is dotted with red-tiled bungalows and has an old world charm about it. Madikeri has several interesting tourist spots. The Raja’s Seat in Madikeri offers a breathtaking view of the towering hills and green valleys studded with paddy fields, and could be considered one of the most scenic spots in South India. Raja’s Seat attracts a lot of tourists and morning walkers. For the nature lover, the ideal time to visit the spot is in the morning when the first rays of the sun pierces through the mist covered valley. Madikeri Palace of the erstwhile Kodagu Rajas located inside the Fort, now houses the offices of the Deputy Commissioner. The brick and mortar structure was built in 1814.
The Omkareshwara temple in Madikeri was built by Lingarajendra II in 1820 in the Mohammedan style of architecture with a dome at the centre and four turrets at the four corners. The temple is akin to a Muslim dargah with a Linga installed near the entrance door.
Gaddige, or the tombs of kings Veerarajendra and Lingarajendra at Madikeri, is one of the important monuments of Kodagu. The hillock where the tombs are located is to the north of Madikeri and provides a commanding view of the town. The tombs are in the style of Mohammedan edifices with domes in the centre and turrets at the corners. Abbey Falls is a picnic spot eight km from Madikeri town, where water from the Madikeri stream gushes down from a height of 70 feet. It is a treat to watch the torrent of water in the monsoon season between July-October.
Talacauvery, the birthplace of the sacred river Cauvery, is located on the slopes of Brahmagiri Hill. Besides being a pilgrimage centre, Talacauvery is known for its natural beauty. On Tula Sankaramana day in the middle of October, thousands of pilgrims flock to the birthplace of the river to witness a sudden upsurge of water in a small pond, at a predetermined auspicious time. This gushing of water from the small pond is considered a miracle.
Bhagamandala is at the foothills of the Talcauvery. It is eight km downstream from Talacauvery and 39 km from Madikeri. Bhagamandala is at the confluence of the sacred rivers Cauvery and Kanike and legend has it that a third river Sujyothi, a subterranean stream, joins the two rivers here.
The Rajiv Gandhi National Park (Nagarahole) is one of the best maintained game parks in India. The Nagarahole (meaning snake river in Kannada) sanctuary derives its name from the serpentine river which flows through the park.
Irupu Falls, located 48 km from Virajpet on the way to Kutta from Gonikopppal, is both a picnic spot and a pilgrimage centre. The Falls is located in Kurchi village, not far from the Rajiv Gandhi National Park. A stream flowing down the Brahmagiri hill range plunges down 170 feet in two stages with a resounding roar into a rocky valley surrounded by dense forest.
Bylekuppe near Kushalanagar is one of the largest Tibetan settlements in South India. The settlement, set up in 1960, is dotted with several monasteries. Prominent among these are the Great Gompa of Sera Je and Sera Mey and the Namdroling monastery. The gold-coated Buddhist statues in the monastery are imposing and unique, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of the Tibetans. Tourists can shop for handicrafts, carpets, incense, sweaters, dress material and other accessories.
Cauvery Nisargadhama is a breathtakingly beautiful island off the state highway, two km from Kushalanagar town and 28 km from Madikeri. The 64-acre island, surrounded by the Cauvery river, can be accessed by walking across a hanging bridge.
Established in 1989, the picturesque picnic spot with lush foliage of thick bamboo groves, sandalwood and teak trees has lovely river-side cottages. The Harangi dam, built across river Cauvery, is located eight km from Kushalanagar. Behind the dam is a vast reservoir. On the banks of the reservoir stands a temple of Basavanna. Dubare Elephant Training Camp, located 15 km from Kushalanagar, on the banks of the Cauvery river, is run by the Karnataka government-owned Jungle Lodges and Resorts Ltd. A visitor can spend hours simply watching and interacting with elephants, some of which have participated in the Mysore Dasara festivities.
Virajpet town, 32 km from Madikeri, is a taluk headquarters. The town, situated at the foot of a hill, is well connected by road to the coastal Kerala towns of Kannur and Tellicherry.
The Clock Tower is the most visible landmark in Virajpet, erected in 1914 to commemorate the Delhi Durbar of King George V. Another important landmark of Virajpet is St. Anne’s Church built in the Gothic style in 1868.
Tadiyandamol peak (1,745 meters) is the highest peak in Kodagu and poses an exciting challenge to seasoned trekkers. The peak is located in the south-eastern part of Kodagu and is 8 km from the town of Kakkabe which is 35 km from Madikeri. A steep serpentine path from the Nalaknad Palace, leads to the Tadiyandamol peak from where on a clear day, one can view the distant Arabian Sea.
Off the beaten track
But, if you are one of those who wants to take the path not trodden, then, you should probably be exploring Mandalpatti, Mallalli Falls or Honnamana Kere, for instance. The fog-covered awe-inspiring mountains around Mandalpatti, located 20 km from Madikeri, is perhaps the most unexplored region of Kodagu till recently. The presence of treacherous curves makes it risky to travel by road from Madikeri to Mandalpatti during the monsoon.
The forest department has constructed a watchtower atop the mountain which provides a magnificent view of the Pushpagiri mountain range.
The villagers assemble at the mand (village plains) during the annual Hutthari festival for staging sports events and other cultural activities. In recent years, Mandalpatti has emerged as a popular venue for film shooting because of the scenic location.
Mallalli Falls, located 25 km from Somvarpet, is one of the most beautiful water falls in Kodagu. The Kumaradhara river takes a plunge from over 200 feet, creating a spectacular sight. The Falls which lies in the foothills of the Pushpagiri hill ranges is situated in Bettadahalli Gram Panchayat in Somvarpet taluk.
The water falls into a gorge which is surrounded by steep lush green hillocks, making it an ideal place for trekking.
Honnamana Kere is perhaps the biggest lake in Kodagu, situated at Doddamalthe, six km from Somvarpet town, amidst beautiful hills and coffee plantations. During the Gowri festival, a special pooja is conducted and ‘Bagina’ is offered to goddess Honnamma. Newly wed couples visit the lake to make offerings. It is an ideal place for boating and fishing.