Coorg was lovely. Usually, I hate that word. It’s stiff-upper-lip, wishy-washy, mealy mouthed — all the things I dislike. But in this case, it’s apt because there is no other way to describe Coorg. It’s not exactly ‘beautiful’ (not as excessive as that); nor is it wild, intense or uplifting.
Miles and miles of coffee plantation — dark green bushes with the unique and eco-friendly quirk of needing shade. This necessitates tall trees on every plantation. Plantation owners usually grow a secondary crop: pepper. The pepper corn vine winds its way up the trees, giving the entire place a dense, lush look it otherwise would not have. At times, while you are passing by one of the lesser maintained estates, you may even be fooled into thinking that it is untamed land, forest. But it’s really man-made. Miles and miles of it.
The weather is pleasant. There is more green than the eyes can bear. The Cauvery flows through and peeks out every now and then. At these places, elephants cavort and bathe — and give you rides for a small sum of money.
We stayed in a homestay at Mickey Calappa’s estate. Our cottage was charming with a verandah outside, skylights and a fireplace inside, and a clean, well-appointed bathroom to boot. A stream flowed just outside and geese honked in the yard before jumping in for a swim every now and then. There were swings made of tyres and rope. There were hammocks. There was warm, pungent, homemade Coorg food. All in all…lovely.
Dubare Elephant Camp was worth a visit, but nothing spectacular. And this is from an animal lover. I mean, it was fun to see the elephants bathing but the cackle of enthusiastic parents eager to click photos of their children with the elephants detracted from the experience a little.
There was one particularly loquacious woman who wanted her twin sons Rohan and Aditya to pose with the elephants in every possible way. (Well, maybe not every possible way.) After a point, I was desperate to get just one measly photograph without Rohan and Aditya. As you can see, that was not to be.
The elephant ride is rather hyped. Don’t believe the websites. They do not take you into the jungle and to a watering hole. They merely take you around the camp building. The ride itself is like sitting on top of a large tree that is gently and rhythmically swaying in the wind. But even though the elephant is steady, you never forget that you have mounted a giant and you must treat her with respect.
Bylakuppe, the largest Tibetan settlement in India, gives you a glimpse into a different and fascinating world, in turns friendly and eerie. We took a long drive around the many camps that make up the settlement before going into the Namdroling Monastery or Golden Temple, which is the tourist highlight. It’s strange to come across a different people right here in good ol’ Karnataka. It almost felt like being in a foreign land — and in many ways, it is. The Tibetans have held on to their culture and language and barely understand Hindi or English. There are signs saying “Boycott Chinese Goods” on the walls of houses. And everywhere, there are monks.
The Golden Temple is impressive in its poise and peace. Three towering statues command attention as soon as you enter the monastery. The main statue of Buddha is 60 feet tall and the two flanking the Buddha are 58 feet each. The walls are covered with murals depicting the life of Buddha and his disciples. The monks here follow Tantric Buddhism so some of the murals depict the deities in wrathful form or male and female deities in union. I found these unexpected and a little frightening. And yet, there was a sense of peace in the temple. We sat down for a while and I felt a strange inertia, a reluctance to leave.
On our way out, we saw the monks at prayer. They were all sitting in a large circle in a dimly lit room. The chants were interspersed with the sound of a high trumpet-like instrument and the gong. It was quietening and strangely hypnotic.
Sunset at Harangini Dam was beautiful. We stopped to take some pictures and then made our way back past the quiet backwaters formed by the dam. We were full of thoughts that evening. We stopped the car and A. used his PDA to dig up Tennyson’s The Brook while I stared at water swirls. On the way back, I took some interesting pictures of trees in silhouette.