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January 16, 2020
We chose to travel by car from Bangalore to Orange County Resort in Coorg. In retrospect, it was a long winded route to take; from Mangalore would have been a smarter idea, but with business in Bangalore, it seemed the best way to go. As it turned out, the drive was long, but for the scenic beauty it was worth every hour spent on the road. Coorg, or Kodagu, is home to the Kodavas, who were a warrior community. Kodagu was a separate state during British rule, but was merged into Karnataka after India’s independence. Not without reason, Kodagu is rated as one of the top hill station destinations in India.
Our first stop was Orange County, which turned out to be a haven of monsoon delight! The website of the hotel had used the words ‘bygone era of the Gentleman Planter’ and it could not have been more descriptive! Surrounded by coffee plantations, the resort was indeed a step back into another era. But the best part of the whole experience, was, of course, the rain! There’s something to be said for the lush, verdant greenery that only the monsoons bring to India.
Our Lily Pool Villa was wonderfully spacious, with a private plunge pool and a butler on call… truly the gentleman’s lifestyle! The cottage itself was charming – our haven to relax in. But it wasn’t all luxury and relaxation: A guided plantation walk turned out to be quite good exercise. Clad in knee high gumboots to ward off the mud and the monsoon bugs, we wandered the 300 acre coffee and spice plantation on foot… it was informative and interesting. We sniffed the fragrant raw pods of cardamom, leaned to identify the pepper plant and were told the difference between an Arabica and Robusta coffee. We learned that the Silver oaks were grown to provide shade, and to allow the pepper vines to climb on them, and how composting pits were used to make manure. Of course, with the rain and the damp clothing, the hot cups of coffee afterwards were very much appreciated.
The chef at the restaurant was thrilled that we loved his signature Pandi curry, and was quite happy to part with the recipe. This dish is quintessentially Coorgi, and is basically a spicy pork curry, served with rice or rice rotis. Upon reading the recipe, I began to search the local markets for Kachumpuli, a special local vinegar that is essential for this Kodava dish.
A few days after the complete chill out in Orange County, we dove to Madikeri, up to the Taj Vivanta. We stopped at the Omkareshwara Temple, whose colourful legend includes an errant king and a vengeful Brahmin tuned Brahmarakshas! The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Abby falls, also worth seeing, are located nearby. Flowing amidst coffee and spice plantations, the falls are on the early reaches of the Kaveri river.
Our visit to Bylakuppe was one of the highlights of the trip – the Namdroling monastery, with the beautiful Buddhist trinity of Gautama Buddha, Guru Padmasambhava and Buddha Amitayu gracing it, are definitely a jewel in the crown of Coorg. The three seated statues – 20- 30ft high – are burnished with copper and gold, and they really impart a feeling of utter peace. Bylakuppe is a Tibetan settlement and you can see the monks in their marron and gold robes here.
The Taj Vivanta was indeed impressive! Set in a vast rainforest, the entire area is delightfully green, with flora growing in wild abandon. The resort is constructed around the natural terrain, in Coorgi style. The main building features an infinity pool that, on a clear day, overlooks the entire verdant valet. Quite spectacular! Our cottage was accessed by buggy, but there was not much to be seen as we were literally inside the clouds. The Vivanta Conservatory is an interesting spot that preserves and narrates the history, culture and arts of Coorg. The three days were very pleasantly relaxed and chilled. Definitely recommending Coorg in the rains!