You’d think a travel agent dreamed up Coorg. Also known as Kodagu, this district in the Western Ghats of southwestern Karnataka can be pictured thus: 1,593 square miles of undulating topography carpeted in green, often covered by thin white mist. Bamboo, sandalwood, rosewood forests. Streams and rivulets, children of the River Cauvery, wending their way through the land. Waterfalls, deep ravines, paddy fields, grassy downs. Coffee bushes with red berries. Pepper, cardamom, oranges, nutmeg, turmeric, lemon grass… a land fecund beyond belief. Denizens including elephants, the Malabar squirrel and tigers. The highlanders, a martial race of men and women who compel a second glance with their chiselled profiles, stately bearing and striking dress. And, oh yes, crisp air-conditioned weather.

MADIKERI

Madikeri, or Mercara, is the main town of Coorg. Its famous Madikeri Fort was originally a mud structure, which Tipu Sultan rebuilt with stone. Raja’s Seat, one kilometre from the bus station, was where the Kodagu kings would traditionally view sunrises and sunsets. Abbi Falls is a beautiful waterfall, 5km away. Omkareshwara Temple was built by the Kodagu king Lingaraja in 1820. The temple is remarkable for its mosque-like style, with an impressive central dome and four minarets.

Saibal Das
Emerald-green jungle around Abbi Falls after the monsoon
Emerald-green jungle around Abbi Falls after the monsoon

Adventure

Madikeri area is a trekker’s paradise – up and down hills, through coffee and pepper plantations, alongside the graceful Cauvery and myriad little streams. Whether it’s a leisurely ramble or a purposeful trek, it’s most satisfying!

The Coorg Wildlife Society (Tel: 08272-2235050; Cell: 09448588197), based in Madikeri, promotes wildlife and environmental conservation and also organises treks to Pushpagiri and Brahmagiri Sanctuary. The Society also organises lincenses (only 8 permitted) for angling for mahaseer in the Cauvery. The license fee for Indians is ₹1,000. Overnight stay near Valnoor, for Indians costs ₹750 (room only).

Tip Only advance bookings by email (cws.wildlife@gmail.com) are entertained

WHERE TO STAY and eat

Coorg International (Tel: 08272-228071-72, Cell: 09967531322; Tariff: ₹6,000–10,200), Karnataka Tourism’s Mayura Valley View (Tel: 228387; Tariff: ₹3,500–4,900) and Hill Town Hotel (Tel: 223801-03; Tariff: ₹1,030) are the best hotel options. Madikeri has many eco-farm and plantation stays. Shanti Estate Bungalow (Tel: 223690, Cell: 09845505200; Tariff: ₹500–750 per person) is 2.5km from Madikeri. Golden Mist Plantation & Resorts (Tel: 265629, Cell: 09448903670; Tariff: ₹5,000 with meals) and Rainforest Retreat (Tel: 265638, Cell: 08277690302; Tariff: Cottages ₹2,000-2,500, tents ₹2,000, with meals) are located in Galibeedu. Hillyside Estate (Tel: 08276-262666; Bengaluru reservations: 080-41237561; Tariff: ₹1,500) is a good choice.

An almost-too-good-to-be-true view in Kakkabe country
An almost-too-good-to-be-true view in Kakkabe country

The Coorgis have a way with pork (pandi curry), fowl (koli curry), mango and rice. Their akki rotis and kadumputtus are a treat. Raj Darshan is popular. Almost every roadside stall serves wonderful coffee. Chitra and Brahmagiri are the other affordable favourites.

DUBARE

Dubare Reserve Forest is famous for the Elephant Training Camp run by Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR). The camp, sandwiched between the south bank of the Cauvery and the forest, is a lovely place to watch elephants in different states of eating, bathing and being themselves, and to go on wildlife safaris. Dubare is also recommended for special glimpses of the Cauvery in its glorious beauty. Here the river is forced to disgorge its little known treasures – the glint of a mahseer’s scales, the splash of blue of a white-throated kingfisher, the childish gurgle of the water and the dull ‘dwoop’ of a wild mango falling into the river before being swept away.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

Jungle Lodges and Resorts’ Dubare Elephant Camp (Bengaluru Tel: 080-40554055, Cell: 09449597876; Tariff: ₹4,976–5,639 per person per night, with meals and activities) is easily the best place to stay. The Last Resort (Bengaluru Tel: 25485705, Cell: 09880742726; Tariff: ₹1,200 per person, meals included), in Hosapatna, is a swanky private cottage with two cosy rooms.

The Forest Department has a guest house (Tariff: ₹400–600) with two rooms at Nanjarayapatna Post near Valnoor.

Location 237km SW of Bengaluru, 50km E of Madikeri Air Bengaluru Rail Mysuru Junction

KAKKABE

Kakkabe lies at the base of the Western Ghats in southern Coorg. The rainforest cover means a bounty of rare orchids, plants and birds. Scenic treks take you to Mallamma Betta, Soma Male and Kabbe Pass, from where you can spy clouds caressing Kerala’s hills. The prize catch is Thadiyendamol, which at 5,730ft, is the highest peak in Coorg. It’s a 3.5hr climb through rainforest and scenic terrain.

A 1hr walk to Nilakandi Waterfall, 3km away, is one of the shorter treks. Apart from barking deer, pangolin and the flying squirrel, it’s a good place to spot the honey-loving south Indian marten. There are many other routes of varying difficulty (ask your hotel).

The important Igguthappa Temple (Igguthappa is the de facto rain god) is 2.5km from the jeep stand at Kakkabe.

Temple Timings 6.00am–2.00pm, 5.30–7.00pm

Puja Timings 7.00am–12.15pm

Built in 1792 by Doddaveeraraja, Nalknad Palace served as the royal hunting lodge and summer home of the Kodava kings. Located on the road to Virajpet, 3.5km from Kakkabe, the palace is quite neglected. Entry is free.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

Palace Estate (Tel: 08272-238874/ 75; Tariff: ₹3,600–4,300) is a lovely homestay. Honey Valley Estate (Tel: 238339; Tariff: ₹1,200–3,300) and Chingaara Estate Guest House (Tel: 238623; Cell: 09591821339; Tariff: ₹2,900–3,200 per person, with breakfast and dinner) are in the Chengappa Estate.

Another delightful homestay that you can choose in Kakkabe is Coffee Country (Cell: 09686401945, 09483388109; Tariff: ₹1,000 per person, with meals). Like it’s name suggests, Coffee Country it overlooks lush green coffee estates and promises some lovely views.

Location 264km southwest of Bengaluru, 29km south of Madikeri Air Bengaluru Rail Mysore

FAST FACTS

Location In the Western Ghats, in southwest Karnataka. All destinations are approx 220-250km from Bengaluru

When to go October–May is best

Tourist/ Information offices

Deputy Conservator of Forests, Aranya Bhavan, Madikeri, Tel: 08272-228305

STD codes Madikeri 08272 Dubare 08276 Kakkabe 08272

GETTING THERE

Air Nearest airport: Bengaluru (289 km/ 7–8 hrs). Taxis to Madikeri charge ₹8–20 per km depending on the vehicle

Rail Nearest railhead: Mysuru Junction (120km/ 3.5hrs). Taxi as above

Road From Bengaluru, follow SH17 to Srirangapatna via Maddur and take the bypass to Hunsur, then get onto SH88 to Madikeri via Kushalnagar Bus Between 6.00am–11.00pm, buses leave every hour from Bengaluru’s Satellite Bus Stand. Volvos are also available. Fares begin from ₹650. Rajhamsa buses (₹350) leave from the KSRTC Stand in Bejai, Mangaluru (Tel: 0824-2211243) every 30mins from 4.15am