Misty hills, amazing thrills

In the land of coffee, natural delights are interspersed with equally beautiful manmade attractions...

Mist-covered Mullayanagiri

Chikkamagaluru, Shangri La for trekkers and nature lovers, is wrapped in coffee estates and blanketed by snow-white coffee blossoms in season. Nestled in the foothills of the Baba Budangiri range of the Western Ghats, it derives its name from ‘chikka magala ooru’, meaning ‘younger daughter’s town’, as the region was given in gift to his younger daughter by Rukmangada, the palegar or local chieftain who held sway over the place and its surrounds.

A weekend getaway

The 250-km drive to Chikkamagaluru on NH 75 from Bengaluru is easily a weekend getaway that leaves you abundantly invigorated and offers one the much-needed respite from the thrum of urban living. As we navigate our way via Kunigal, Channarayapattana, Hassan and Belur, we enjoy scenic vistas of the route which is amply dotted with fragrant forests, mountains and fingers of waterfalls. Nature’s enchantment continues to hold our breath as we weave our way on the winding roads of the hill station. The bracing scent of jackfruit-laden trees and vanilla bushes, ramrod-straight silver oaks, and gnarled trees entwined with pepper vines exhilarate our senses.

About 4 km from Chikkamagaluru, we break the journey to visit the unique Kodandarama Temple at Hiremagalur, ‘the town of the elder sister’. The home of Parashurama, the sixth avatar of Vishnu, Hiremagalur is believed to have been sanctified by siddhas who performed penance near a pond here. Legends claim that it was here that Rama vanquished Parashurama’s ego and then gave him darshan in his wedding avatar. The temple, built in stages, was established by the Chola kings, and is a blend of Dravidian and Hoysala architectural styles.

Kalhatti Falls
Kalhatti Falls

After paying obeisance to the deities at Kodandarama Temple, we wend our way to Chikkamagaluru. The heady aroma of roasting coffee in the air creates close combat between our olfactory and gustatory senses. We sate them with a hot cuppa of Arabica coffee with farm-fresh milk at Coffee Barn Cafe, a quaint little coffee shop on the serpentine town road. The outlet at the entrance to a lush estate beckons us with its chic and aesthetic wall murals and wooden decor. The estate itself is laden with rows of Arabica cherry, one of the two varieties of coffee beans (the other being Robusta peaberry).

Here we learn tidbits on the history of coffee in India. Apparently, the seeds found their way here in 1670 CE from the Arab world, from Yemen, carried by a Sufi saint called Baba Budan. The seer, also known as Hazrat Shah Janab Allah Magatabi, journeyed with seven coffee seeds in his tunic while on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He is believed to have sowed them in his garden near a cave in the hills, now famed as Baba Budangiri.

Having refreshed ourselves with steaming cups, we set out towards Mullayanagiri, Karnataka’s highest peak in the Baba Budangiri ranges. The foliaceous sprawl flanking the winding road throbs with life and we are privy to nature’s symphony in the medley of avian sounds. Streaks of sunlight struggle their way through the gaps in the canopies, drawing curious patterns above us. Once at its foothills, we choose to trek up the hills rather than motor the way to the top.

On top of the world

After 3 km and 2 hours of steep climbs interjected with puffs and pants, and viola, we are atop Mullayanagiri. The jaw-dropping view from its crest adds to the thrill of the trek. The mountain, a monochrome in myriad hues of green, is picturesque as it rises majestically, 1,930 metres above sea level. It is believed to be the highest peak between the Nilgiris and the Himalayas, and is home to a small shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva. No sooner do we begin to enjoy this euphoric moment, walking in the clouds, a misty swirl envelops us in its cool embrace. The village and the valley below are cut off from our view for a brief spell.

We head towards the cave shrine, Dattatreya Peeth, of the Sufi mystic Baba Budan, stopping en route at Seethalayya Matha Shrine, a temple dedicated to Shiva. Coffee plantations skirt the vicinity of the cave temple of Baba Budan and it attracts devotees of all castes and creed. Manikyadhara Falls, a less than two km walk from the cave temple of Baba Budan, is a disappointment, with bare trickles. Nevertheless, we enjoy the scenic beauty of its surrounds.

Our next halt is Hebbe Falls. It is a visual treat as it plummets, a furious white froth, 250 ft down, spraying jets of water and drenching us in its wake. Cocooned in the midst of expansive nature, girdled by tall mountains, its foaming deluge is in stark contrast to its emerald environs. We revel in the mystical magic it creates as it hits against rocks in its cascading tumble and forms a pool below. Locals claim the water to have curative properties, especially for skin ailments, because of its rich mineral content.

The winding roads of Chikkamagaluru
The winding roads of Chikkamagaluru

Our appetite for water appears insatiable and we head towards Kalhatti Falls, also known as Kalahasthi Falls, about 50 km from Chikkamagaluru town. Legend has it that Sage Agasthya meditated here for a long period of time. While the falls is mediocre in size and flow, its charm lies in its enchanting setting. Bang in front of the falls is Veerabhadra Temple, an edifice built during the Vijayanagara times. Three sculpted elephants greet us at the entrance to the temple over which the waterfalls cascade down. Yet again, its waters are supposed to have healing properties. Devotees throng the falls and temple during an annual fair for Lord Veerabhadra which is held for three days during March-April.

We wind off our Chikkamagaluru trip with a visit to Honnarammadevi Temple and the adjoining waterfalls. As we leave the coffee estates and mountains behind, the aftertaste lingers tantalisingly in our memories. An imperturbable silence and state of calm engulf us. It’s sundown and faint snatches of twilight emphasise the approaching darkness as we near Bengaluru, certain to heed the irresistible call of Karnataka’s ‘land of coffee’ with its mountains and salubrious climes.

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Misty hills, amazing thrills

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