Of Coog & Coffee
Legend has it that in 1670, Baba Budan, a Muslim pilgrim, carried seven coffee beans from Arabia (where the export of only processed beans was allowed) and planted them in the Chikmagalur region of Karnataka, thus introducing coffee to India. Today the state is the largest producer of coffee in the country, and a large chunk of it comes from a gorgeous area known as Kodagu, or, as the British called it, Coorg, an elevated region that lies 3 hours southwest of Mysore. With undulating hills, this is a superb trekking destination, and as yet still somewhat of a secret.
Five and a half hours from Bengaluru and 2 hours from Mysore, the capital of Coorg is Madikeri, an unexceptional town but a convenient base for treks in the area. If you don't intend to hike, however, you could opt for a quieter, more luxurious getaway in the midst of a coffee plantation at Orange County (run by the same company that operates Orange County Kabini), or an even more authentic stay in the rustic Rainforest Retreat (both reviewed). As is the case elsewhere, a number of homestay options have emerged in the last few years, but most don't meet our standards of hygiene and ambience. If you plan on staying within the town itself, then Gowri Nivas (New Extension, Madikeri; tel. 094481-93822; www.gowrinivas.com; doubles at Rs 3,500), is a sweet and clean place, run by the extremely chilled Bopanna and his wife, Muthu. They can also help you get to the top of Tadiyendamol, the highest peak in Coorg at 1,750m (5,740 ft). A little lower than Madikeri, a massive planter's bungalow, once the residence of the Diwan to Raja of Coorg, has been taken up by the expert Neemrana Hotels Group and opened to tourists. The Swiss-styled Green Hills Estate (www.neemranahotels.com; tel. 011/4666-1666; doubles from Rs 5,000), is surrounded by coffee plantations, and still very reminiscent of the days when the Chengappa family (now living a stone's throw away) lived in the grand style here. Wooden stairs lead to massive suites, antiques and period furniture are in every corner, with frayed tiger skins on the floors, and a slightly disconcerting dining area uses the once-majestic animals of surrounding forests as wall décor. It's all utterly charming when there are other guests staying there. If the culture of the area intrigues you, ask for Kartik, who has grown up in these environs, but of course the best way of getting acquainted with the Coorgi way of life is to attend a wedding -- nonstop fun, and full of interesting rites and ceremonies. Essentially agriculturists, the Coorgis, also known as the Kodavas, are a distinct community, with strict adherence to the code of merry-making, and occasions to celebrate are never wanting. Interestingly, they are said to be descendents of Alexander's army, something that could well be true given that they always carry some form of weapon -- thankfully, rarely ever used.