Madikere - Mysore - Ooty - Valparai
Madikeri, Mercara, etc), the place I have been wanting to visit for a long time. We had made numerous plans to visit this place, but we always ended up visiting another place due to the long travel required to reach Madikere.
I have heard and read a lot about Madikere, one of the unexplored & uncrowded hill stations. All these material increased my expectation of this little town in Coorg. When Suresh wanted to get away for the summer and he had no particular schedule in mind, I decided it was the time to get going to this hilly town. So we planned a trip to Madikere and Mysore and also visit Suresh's sister in Coimbatore.
Chennai - Bangalore - Madikere - Raja's Seat - Omkareshwara temple
We booked ourselves through KPN Travels from Chennai to Bangalore (our trip was made in a day's notice). We reached Bangalore a little past 7.30 and proceeded to the Majestic Bus Terminus where a bus to Madikere was already waiting. We were told the journey would take about 6 hours from Bangalore, but we did not expect it to be this uncomfortable. Without refreshing or having breakfast we boarded a very ordinary looking bus of KSRTC (not the luxury/deluxe bus). The bus was through Mysore and stopped at every little town on the way. One we passed Mysore, I kept looking out for some hills in the distance (just like you see the Nilgiris right from Coimbatore), but, much to my dissappointment, I couldn't spot any. It only indicated that we had a long way to go! All of a sudden the air started turning cooler and I could feel that we were travelling uphill, but still I could not see any hills! Even after a sleepless night in the bus and without any breakfast, we enjoyed the ride to Madikere (on a hilly road, without any hills around!) Greenery on either sides of the road were pleasing to the eye. We passed many little towns on the way, all part of Coorg or the Kodagu hills.
We finally reached Madikere around 1 pm. The bus stand was a decent one, located in the middle of the town. An auto from there to our hotel (Hotel Rajdarshan) cost us Rs. 10. We checked-in into our room and went the restaurant for a hearty meal of Rotis and malai Kofta. After a dizzy spell and some crocins, we were ready for a small walk to explore the little town. It was almost 5 by the time we left our hotel.
We were told that Raja's Seat one of the view points was close by. We walked down and spent a while looking at the setting sun and the bright coloured flowers in the manicured garden. We then decided to walk towards the town centre where there was the Omkareshwara temple. We would have enquired at least about 10 people before we were able to locate the temple. The architecture of the temple was very similar to that of a Mosque. Although we had walked around it many times while asking for directions, we had no clue that this was what we were looking for! It was dark by then and it wasn't easy for us to move around. After having a darshan of the lord, we went for dinner at a small Udipi restaurant nearby and started our walk back to the hotel. All of a sudden, all the lights went out and it was pitch dark. The moon wasn't visible, if at all it was out that evening and there were no lights absolutely anywhere. We stopped walking, hoping that people or vehicles coming in the opposite direction had better eyesight. We moved a few steps whenever we saw the road ahead from the headlights of a passing car. After about 10 minutes, the lights came on and we heaved a sigh of relief!
Bhagamandala - Talacauvery - Abbey Falls - Tibetian settlement - Nisarghadhama
We had organised with the hotel for a 1 day tour by taxi that would cover all the important spots nearby. Our first stop was the Omkareshwara temple, which looked a lot different than what we had seen the day before. There was a Coorg wedding in progress and we watched the bride and the groom for a while. We walked around the temple, marvelling at the architecture. After the temple, we were driven down to Bhagamandala, located at the confluence of the three rivers - Cauvery, Sujyothi and Kanniga. There was a temple here built in the Kerala style of architecture and housed the 3 main deities - Brahma, Vishnu & Siva. I later heard that this was the place where Cauvery started flowing out into the open after her underground journey from Tala Cauvery.
The drive to Talacauvery from Bhagamandala was very enchanting. Cool, crisp air with greenery all around was very soothing. Talacauvery is the source of river cauvery. Cauvery makes her appearance from a small tank of about 2 sq ft. There is a bathing tank next to this. Cauvery then disappears underground. I later heard that the point where Sage Agasthya released the river from him kamandalam was a short walk up a neighbouring hill. We did see a lot of people walking up, but never guessed the reason for it. Talacauvery was very serene and peaceful with not much tourists around. After spending a while we started our drive back.
We drove past Madikere to Abbey Falls which was about 9 kms from the town. Abbey Falls is a picturesque spot inside a private coffee garden. We walked down from the road through thick plantations of coffe to reach the falls. The falls were breathtakingly beautiful. There were some bathing in the shallow pool at the bottom of the falls. After spending a while here, we returned to the hotel for lunch. Once lunch wa over, we were driven down to Kushal Nagar. Some Tibetians, due to the unrest in Tibet, have set up an establishment here due to the climate being very similar to that of Tibet. There are some quarters and a buddhist temple and prayer hall among other things. We watched some Tibetian students chanting in the prayer hall before we returned to the taxi to continue our tour.
The next and last stop was Cavery Nisargadhama, an island formed in the middle of river cauvery. The island was pretty and calm, but for the tourists. There were babmoo trees and tree-top houses. There was also a point in the river that was very shallow and allowed us to cross the river. After relaxing here for a while, we started our ride back to Madikere and reached around 5 pm.
After refreshing, we took a walk into the little town in the evening and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere.
We woke up early to get our packing done. The sight outside our windows greeted as and pleaded with us not to leave this wonderful, calm and serene town. But since we had our return train tickets already booked, We checked-out of our hotel at 9 in the morning and proceeded to the bus stand for our journey to Mysore. This time, we ensured that we took the luxury bus which was very very comfortable. On reaching Mysore and after depositing our bags at the cloak room in the Railway station, we took a half-day sight seeing tour of Mysore. We went to the Chamundi Hills and the Mysore palace we before took the train to Bangalore. (These places have been oft written about, so I'm skipping these!) We had our dinner at Bangalore and boarded our train to Coimbatore (Later we were told that we would have reached Coimbatore in the same time from Mysore as from Mysore to Bangalore!).
We did not want to go out much after the tiring three days. We just hung around the house till the evening. Evening, we went to a circus (after a really long time).
Connoor - Ooty
We were all set to see the queen of hills - Ooty. We wanted to stay over at Ooty, but we were told that this being the peak season, it was an unwise decision. So we decided to return the same day. We left around 8 am and reached Connoor a little after 10. We went to the Sims Park, took some snaps and climbed up to Ooty through Wellingdon. The drive was enchanting with wonderful views of the Wellingdon town and the hills. We reached Ooty a little after 11. We went straight to Dodda Bedda, the highest peak in South India. Surprisingly there wasn't any mist and we could get a clear view of the valleys and hills in the distance. From Dodda Bedda we went on to the Rose Garden. This was our first trip here. We were overwhelmed by the beauty of the 1000s of roses there in all possible colours and sizes. We had a nice time looking at the names on the different varieties. In fact there was one called "Krithika" too! Actually, after a point, we started loosing interest in finding out the names, 'cos there were simply too many! From Rose Garden we drove around the lake. Since it was too crowded we decided against boating and proceeded towards Botanical Gardens. That too was crowded. We had to park the car about 1.5 kms away. The beauty of the gardens would never be lost, how much ever the crowd is. The beautifully manicured lawns, the huge trees, the glass house with its colourful flowers and above all the pots of blooming plants that were brought in for the flower show that was to be started soon. Took some snaps before it started getting dark. We then refreshed ourselves with some strong coffee before starting our descent. We had a thrilling ride down! There were strong winds and the branches of the trees were falling behind our car as we drove at break-neck speed. It was as if there was a monster sitting up in the hills and throwing down branches on our car. One small branch/twig succeeded in hitting our car's roof and two trees succeeded in blocking our path. We had to take a little diversion to avoid one and the courteous driver of a car coming in the opposite direction moved away the other for us. Initially there were some cars following us but for the last 15-10 kms there was no car behind or ahead of us till we reached Mettupalayam. Phew! What a chilling experience!
It was the day of visit to another hill station - Valparai. I have read quite a bit about this tea town, but have not seen any pictures. This time along with Rama and Sivakumar, the kids Veena and Vijay also joined us. The ride up the Aanamalai hills with the huge Aliyar Dam in view was amazing. There were about 40 hair pin bends. A few kilometers before we reached Valparai, the endless views of tea gardens started. Just about anywhere you see, you see tea gardens. We went to the Balaji temple that was inside one of the estates. The temple was very clean and well maintained along with a wonderful garden. After some idlis, we went on a tour of the town and of the different tea-estates by car. There was simply tea gardens everywhere, with an occasional house or a settlement of wooden houses. We learnt that the movie lesa-lesa (the wooden bridge scenes) were shot here. It was simply breath-taking. The bright green tea garden with the mist romancing the hill-tops, the views were really awesome. We rode to the Cholayar dam. The drive was really enchanting with high hills on either side with a deep river (the cholayar river) flowing between these huge hills. This was the water source to a few cities in Kerala and also was the source of the Chalakudy falls. We heard there were instances when elephants were washed away by the current of the river and their bodies were found in the reservoirs of Kerala. The ride back to valparai was all along on the banks of this river. It was really thrilling. Imagine falling into that!!! Once we returned to Coimbatore we made a visit to Marudhamalai before boarding the Cheran Express to reality - I mean - the furnace called Chennai!
We had covered about four hill stations in this trip and I would rate them as follows:
What really put us off at the queen of hills was the crowd and the high levels of emission from diesel vehicles. It was horrible to see the wonderful hill station being ruined. We could not feel the chillness at all. It was dry and pollution levels were high. Unless the authorities do something, we might end up taking the wonderful town away from the tourist map.
Coorg was simply wonderful. It lived upto the expectations I had built up based on the "research" I had done using the Internet. The town was simple, cool, clean and waiting to be explored. Above all, there was very little tourist crowd. Most of them were tourists who stopped for one night or tourists who were there to enjoy the nature. The hotel we stayed in (Hotel Rajdarshan) showed good hospitality.
Valparai, again was refreshing with just tea gardens all around you. But the roads were in pathetic condition. The ride (in a Toyota Qualis) was uncomfortable due to the condition of the roads. I heard there weren't much decent places to stay.
And now for the shopping details... Coffee, Pepper and honey are good buys in Coorg (there's a government supported store in the main road), sandal products in Mysore (from the Karnataka government emporium), those yellow long-lasting flowers and fresh carrots in ooty and leaf/dust tea in Valparai.
Some warnings... If at all you are required to travel by road from Bangalore to Madikere, avoid the regular KSRTC bus. Find yourself the deluxe bus or travel by road from Mysore (relatively shorter). In Mysore, you have touts offering you local sight-seeing at cheap rates. Do not trust them. It is better to approach a travel agent (there's one available at the railway station) and book a tour at nominal costs. Avoid Ooty in May. Visit in early (late March or early April) or late (June - July) summer. Also avoid the new year season. You just see people everywhere.
Some tips... Madikere is best explored on foot. It is not very populated and the winding roads are a pleasure. It is better to hire a cab for Tala cauvery and other places and not trust the bus. In Valparai, stop in a relatively deserted strech of road admist tea gardens and enjoy the silence, the greenery and the mist for a while!