Home Stay experience at Heavenly Coorg
This was my 5th visit to Coorg and 2nd to Palace Estates in just 2 years !! I had now experienced “home stay” after my initial stay at Palace Estate in October 2010. Palace Estate is located at Kakkabe, a small town about 30 kms from the capital of Coorg (a.k.a. Kodogu) called Mercara (a.k.a. Madikeri ). The local people called Kodavas still prefer to use anglicized version of these names. The distance from Bangalore to Kakkabe is about 280kms via Mysore/Madikeri and the journey time is approximately 6 hours with a short tea break. It took us long since the road at some stretches from Madikeri to Kakkabe was in pitiable condition fit only for bullock carts or hardened trekkers. Finally we reached the place just in time to savour the sumptuous lunch provided by our host, Prasad Apparanda of Palace Estate Home Stay.
The advantages of staying at a home stay, which I realized, are many especially if you want to discover the lifestyle of the local people; their cuisine; culture etc. Before this visit, although I had stayed at Resorts or self styled star hotels in Coorg, I never discovered the local culture. The Kodavas worship nature and ancestors and are not strict followers of deities. The locals speak the native Kodava language which is similar to Tulu spoken in Mangalore. Like Tulu, this language too, does not have a script of its own. Ladies wear their sarees in a peculiar way, which is folded backwards. The men folk wear Coorgi jacket or coat accompanied by a neat turban and a dagger lodged near the waist. They take pride in being called warriors and take active part in sporting activities. No wonder we have seen many Coorgis occupy a place of pride in the Indian army and also in the sporting arena. The Coorgis were exempted by the British from the provisions of the Indian Arms Act and could keep weapons without a licence…..even till this day. The British occupied Coorg in the early 19th century aided by the locals fed up of misrule by self centred rajahs. The British liked this place so much so, that they equated this region with Scotland due to the excellent weather and rich landscape. They also introduced coffee plantation, which resulted in rich dividend to the local populace. Till this day the locals thank British for whatever good they have done to Coorg. Almost every household has a coffee plantation or estate and thus this region produces the highest coffee yield in India. The literacy rate is very high in Coorg. Almost everyone even in villages spoke fluent English.
Post Independence, the region has always been neglected by successive governments and hence there is a cry for an autonomous Kodavaland on the lines of Gorkhaland in West Bengal. The road quality is poor and there is no railway network here. Sometimes I feel the neglect has become a boon rather than a bane for Coorgis. With development comes destruction of the rich flora and fauna, which this region still boasts of. We have seen this happening in Goa which is nothing but a poor cousin of Bombay today, post the aggressive development including the railway network introduced in late eighties. Coorg is still untouched by pollution, where one can breathe pure oxygen and gaze at the galaxy of stars at night. The mining community have not yet encroached Coorg, which has left the mountains and vast green landscape untouched so far. I hope the future generation gets to see such a pure and virgin territory, providing immense solace to the heart, mind and eyes.
The local Kodava cuisine, I felt, was very similar to Mangalorean cuisine since both are coconut based. Breakfast comprises of Popoothu, Kadampoothu, Sanaas (all various types of rice pancakes). The locals relish Pandhi curry or Pork curry, which is prepared on special occasions. It is remarkable to see the locals, still maintaining their ancestral house and not being tempted to go for concrete structures. Such houses are called “Ain mane” in Coorg. One can see Cannon balls, which presumably date back to the Portuguese era adorning the frontyard of this 120-year old house. According to Prasad, the cannon balls that were discovered in their estate weigh 8 kilos each and they have iron content as evident in the rust. Prasad said the Portuguese, who were active in Kerala, might have dumped them there. The Coorgis celebrate “Huthri” festival at the time of harvesting paddy or rice. Rice is their staple diet and they worship this humble food grain during this festival. One can see paddy fields in abundance next only to coffee plantations. The unadulterated and pure Coorg honey is famous all over the world for its taste and purity. Keep this in your “must buy” list.
I had planned this trip to make it less touristy with abundant rest and lazing around. The Palace Estate is an ideal location for this activity. The name Palace came about due to the existence of a small Palace called Nalanad Palace a few yards away. The Nalanad Palace was built in the late 18th century by the local King to escape from Hyder Ali and the British, whenever they attacked. The Palace has a secret chamber where one can hide without leaving a trace. However the British managed to trace the King named Veerachikkaraja in hiding circa early 19th century offcourse with the help of locals, who were fed up of his oppressive rule. Lord William Bentick was one of the British officers given the charge of managing Coorg. If my history lesson serves me right, he abolished Sati in India at the time.
The home stay estate where we stayed is spread over 20 acres of lush green mountainous land covered by coffee plantation and large trees providing good amount of shade. It has a small waterfall, which was in full flow thanks to the abundant rainfall this season. Since the water supplied at the home stay comes from the brooks and rivulets nearby, bathing is not allowed near the waterfall although we were tempted to soak ourselves in the cool waters. The estate has 6 wooden cabins housed in a big cottage like structure surrounded by couple of “ain mane” occupied by the Apparanda family. We were the only Indians staying at the home stay. The rest had come from Germany, USA and other countries. The cabin has an attached bath and comes with bare basics viz. a bed, a table and couple of CFL lamps. No luxuries like Television set, microwave oven, refrigerator or an air conditioner are provided here. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner are served at pre determined timings which every guest has to abide. Tea, Coffee is available most of the times especially when the kitchen is relatively free. Also no mineral water or aerated drinks served here. Drinking water from the nearby mountain spring is made available to the guests after it is boiled just to ensure it is very safe. Fruits and vegetables served here were home grown and hence you can call it “organic”. Hot water for bathing is available at dawn and dusk only. Electric supply is not ensured throughout the day but the hosts have installed a generator to lessen the inconvenience especially at night. But since the weather is so cool, you do not need even a min-fan here. The day time is spent playing dart board games, cards or carom. The hosts have kept enough supply of books especially on tourism and Coorg in particular. However killing time was not tough here especially when you have nature for good company.
As per Prasad, the place is almost always occupied by foreign tourists, who come here only through word of mouth since the family does not believe in advertising. And this despite the bad infrastructure in Coorg, which speaks volumes of this place. They come here like migratory birds just to enjoy nature in full glory. Where else can you go back in time and enjoy unpolluted environment for as less as $100 (package rate for a couple staying here for 3 days including stay and food). I am glad the Apparanda family have started the home stay concept so that people like us can experience what our ancestors did. The feedback book lying at the estate was full of praise for this excellent concept. Atithee Devo Bhava (treat your Guests as God) is practiced in the true sense here. I am sure the foreign tourists get a culture shock once they land here for the first time but go back with very sweet memories and most of them are repeat visitors. I was amazed to see them relish the local Coorgi food, which is less spicy but certainly nowhere close to the taste they are used to. I could see them asking for recipes so that they can enjoy the same food when they go back to their country.
To keep my son occupied, we finally ventured out to Now or Never Land, which boasts of all types of jungle activities like jungle gym, rifle shooting or firing, paint ball, quad bike rides etc. This is about 12 kms from where we stayed, near the Chelavara falls. Since I had experienced quad bike ride at a desert safari in Dubai, I thought it must be child’s play this time. But I was wrong. The ride took us over a hillock and rough jungle patches but it was certainly adventurous and exhilarating for someone used to driving a car on smooth city roads. Then I tried to emulate Gagan Narang and Abhinav Bindra in the firing range. I managed to shoot the target just a few times and would have ranked last if put to test. My son enjoyed going for a kilometre long jungle gym over various obstacles. Such sporting activities are not available in cities and he made best use of this experience. It was really Now or Never for us.
Getting up from bed can be a heavenly experience here. This place is situated at a great height of about 3000 feet above sea level and one can see clouds floating over smaller mountains. It gives us a feeling as if we are floating in the clouds. You also do not need an alarm clock to wake up. The early morning cock a doodle doo does the job for you. Water for bathing is heated using firewood. When was the last time we experienced these things? An early morning walk to the waterfall can bring in the Wordsworth in you – such beautiful nature amidst all types of rare birds; butterflies and some leeches to suck your blood. Did he write his poems here, I wondered. If not, maybe a William Wordsworth or Thomas Hardy Junior will soon be born here. Some day I would love to write a novel far from the maddening crowd where one can get absolute peace of mind and concentrate fully on the subject. Maybe this could be the place I am seeking…….
Our stay was planned for 4 days but we wished we lived here for the rest of our lives. If wishes were horses…… We had to leave with a heavy heart but vowed to be back soon. On our way to Madikeri we took a short detour to Lord Iguthappa’s temple for his blessings. He is the local deity and no one goes hungry from his abode. Lunch is served to all visitors to the temple. The return journey was planned via Madikeri this time and as expected the road upto Madikeri was very rough and bumpy. But we did not complain this time. On the way, my wife who is a great lover of nature and plants, took some time to pluck shrubs of wild flowers in full bloom and in glorious colours. Surprisingly the road from Madikeri to Mysore was very smooth and we could not believe our eyes. Although this route is about 15 kms longer than the other route via Virajpet, I would recommend this one for the sheer joy of driving alongside green verdant land.
Tourism in India can be successful only through such well managed home stays, where one can experience our true Indian culture. The overcrowded and so called “tourist” places have become a bane for tourism bringing us a bad name. Home stay is what I would recommend if you want to see the real “INDIA”.
As I left I muttered to myself “Maybe the hosts have done some karma in their previous birth to experience something which money cannot buy – peace, tranquillity, zero pollution, midst of nature”
Mr Prasad Apparanda, our Host at Palace Estates for making our stay so memorable that we long to go back again very soon. For details please write to firstname.lastname@example.org