February 5, 2018

A Chikmanglur Account

There are days when waking up in the morning is a complete pandemonium,
And then there are certain days you wish you woke up to everyday of your life!
Staring into digital screens for prolonged hours is strain to your eyes,
And then there are things that you can gaze all day through and it only refreshes your eye!

The luscious greens, the winding coffee estates, the captivating valleys, the occasional glimpse of a galloping deer and a mesmerizing weather - Chikmanglur has it all! A place you wish you woke up everyday of your life and a view that can never tire your eyes. Chikmanglur is a hill station, part of the Western Ghats nestled at the foothills of Mullayanagiri range. Visitors swarm in from across Karnataka for a real feel of nature - ideal place for trekking and nature lovers, also close to hill stations like Kemmanagundi, Kudremukh making it a popular haunt for youngsters and families alike.

Our Chikmanglur saga here does not endorse any place of visit - we only explore an ideal staycation amidst a coffee estate and our mesmerizing journey. A vacation with my family was something I had in mind for very long - but somehow our annual leave time never seemed conducive for that. This time around we decided to incorporate a trip also into our schedule with certain conditions -
Has to be within a maximum of 6 hours drive from Udupi ( that is where my family is)
Looking for a staycation than roam around.
Should include some in house activities
Food has to include non- vegetarian items.

After days of deliberation we chose Coffee Bean Homestay .Nischith the owner of the home stay, right from the very beginning was very helpful guiding us on the route we ought to take. We set out at 7 am on a pleasant Friday morning in early February with our first stop at Hotel Seethanadi  on the banks of River Seetha for our breakfast. Then we journeyed up the Agumbe Ghats - thankfully the roads have been widened and did not seem scary as it once used to be. Agumbe Ghats with its dangerous hairpin bends was a known accident zone and I almost always held my breath till we finished navigating the bends. Despite the ever guiding presence of google maps we managed to miss the way and ended up on a road that seemed to either have some repair going on or roads that desperately screamed for maintenance!

Food is an integral part for a foodie family!! So our next stop was at the Bhadra Coffee Shop,Balehonnur and for coffee addict like Soumya (my sis)  this was definitely a must stop place. Bhadra coffee shop is aptly burrowed in the Bhadra coffee plantation and is by the side of the main road in Balehonnur. There are signs all over the place and you are sure to never miss it.

The board says it all
After a cup of coffee and gobbling down two platefuls of paddu and a very delightful chutney we continued our adventure till our GPS lost signal along the way and we decided to ask for the route at Aldur. A passerby directed us to a mud road. The look of the road was not very promising but he assured us that the mud road was only for 4 kilometers and the rest of the road was good. The mud road narrowed as we moved along almost making it impossible for a vehicle to overtake or cross us. To worsen the matters at hand the road turned rocky and began an ascent into the mountains with sharp turns at almost every 100-200 meters. We waited with bated breath and our experienced chauffeur (Oh , that is my Dad I am talking about ) navigated each bend wondering what we would do if our car broke down amid this 'nowhere' place.  We let a long sigh of relief as this terrain ended way beyond the said 4 km with not a single soul in sight and with our car still in one piece.

Our treacherous journey brought us to our destination a little later than we had anticipated. Nevertheless, it was an abode that was awaiting us and every pain in the journey was just worth it. We stepped foot into the beautiful homestay amid a luscious coffee plantation to be welcomed with a glass of cold and refreshing buttermilk. We settled into our stone walled, clean and cosy rooms and Nischith took us through a tour around the hundred year old heritage home and through the work area where the harvested coffee beans were being processed.

The cosy homestay

The Heritage Home

Processing of the Coffee Bean

Just a handful of coffee beans from where they were left to dry

Drying of the Coffee Beans

This homestay is also home to quite a varied breed of dogs - if you are a dog lover you can't ask for more. If you do not like them - they will stay away from you as well:) Adorable and pampered chihuahua - Chilli and a Vodafone pug - Lucky ( vodafone made pugs popular right!!) are always at your beck and call. A majestic St Bernard, a German Shepherd and a Golden Retriever who loved to be petted and the detached dachshund (who also walks as if he owns the property) are also a part of this household.  A tour around the property was followed by lunch and then a  quick nap before our trip to the sunset point. Oh, let me not forget to mention the lovely biscuits that came along with the chai.
Artefacts at the heritage house

The sunset from the top of the hill was definitely commendable but what made it more memorable was our ride up the dusty hill in an open Mahindra Jeep. Shibin, Soumya and I managed to stand up almost the entire way up the hill and we got Pappa to stand up for a while too - his smile explained it all that it was an experience for him as well. The ride wasn't all that smooth - it was quite bumpy with occasional tree branches threatening you and quite a bit of dodging to ensure that your head travels along with your body on your jeep than being held in the branches. The destination was not a tourist spot - we were the only ones up the hill and it was arranged by the homestay. We spent close to an hour taking in the serenity of nature. Till were our sights would reach out were beautiful hills, all adorned in green, something that eludes our city life. Absolutely nothing that was man's creation was in sight- only the wondrous work of God. As sun began its descent, the sky changed to a beautiful orange glow making the atmosphere even more mesmerising. We sat back in oblivion and watched the splendor of nature unfold before our eyes as the sun set beyond the hills and an orange glow engulfed the sky.

The dusty road up the hill!

The beautiful view atop the hill

The sun bids Adieu

It was getting colder and we were relatively quiet on our way back down the hill. After a cleansing ritual (of all the dust accumulated), we made our way to the restaurant area where a camp fire was arranged for us. We were the only ones at the homestay that night - but they were sweet enough to have the fire place lit just for us.

The Campfire

We had our food around the fire, got a bit into the dancing groove, shared stories and spent countless minutes gazing at the star studded sky. Shibin keeps wondering why the night sky in Dubai has more planes lighting the sky than stars:P.  It was only when the fire finally died out and the temperatures dropped further that we dragged ourselves to our bedrooms and fell asleep.

Our second day began quite early as we had to make it in time for the wildlife safari at Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary which was around twenty minutes by road from the homestay. I really do not wish to detail more of this trip as this was the biggest disappointment we had!! We sacrificed our sleep to get an early morning glimpse of these animals, we paid 400 rupees per head for the safari and all we got to see were a few peacocks. I know you need to be lucky to spot animals yet it is hard to overcome the disappointment of not even getting to spot one wild animal. Shibin was all geared up with his camera to click away tigers and we did not even spot a bison!!

Stream amidst the Safari

The futile Safari Trail

They were plenty in number

Back at the homestay, there were no dearth of activities - a snake and ladder board engraved on a tree trunk that formed a coffee table took a bit of our time as snakes kept swallowing us after every ladder we climbed. Soumya had her first chance to play carrom since high school and well off course she lost. We tried our hands at badminton but the winds were too heavy for the shuttlecocks, Then finally we settled in with a game of family cricket that had the entire family running behind the ball at times to batting and bowling opportunity for everyone. Funny wicket keepers and beautifully attempted catches - we had it all in a day. The rest of the time, we had the dogs to entertain us. The coffee estate also had a small lake were we were taken fishing by one of the staff - Santosh. We had a bait hooked on to the fishing rods and waited silently for our prey. The fishes were quite smart - they got the bait 9 out of 10 times without letting themselves fall prey.( looks like they were trained - why not?, we let them go back into their dwelling place after we caught them. They would have been repeatedly doing this for quite sometime and were accustomed) We managed to strike off fishing from our checklist, we wanted to try our luck for a while more but it was getting dark and the fishes were moving away from the shores. This was followed by yet another night of feasting on the Malenadu cuisine - I particularly loved the nulluputtu soaked in sweet coconut milk. Camp Fire too was again part of night and few other guests had joined in as well. The pug and the chihuahua along with a cat too joined us around the campfire as we watched the flames and soaked ourselves into calmness of the night.

The last day began with our trek around the coffee plantation guided by Nischith who not only told us about the coffee plantation but also quite a lot of interesting stories of the past. I can still recount a few interesting things. Snakes apparently are a rarity now which couple of years back would be found under any and every stone you lifted. This can be owed to the increasing number of peacocks who feast on the snakes. (That makes me happy as I love peacocks and snakes scare the hell out of me. But leaves you thinking if it is good for the ecosystem.) Nischith narrated to us a tiger attack about 11 years back where the tiger beat the wits out of the dog and dragged a cow out of a window that was quite high! He also showed us a video he had taken of a tiger staring into the camera lens and luckily did not attack him or his friends . They later discovered that it was a man eater on prowl! He told us of how coffee plants are cultivated, harvested and how untimely weather can prove disastrous. Chikmanglur has hardly seen any industrialization and coffee estate is till the highest source of income.
Coffee Plantation amidst the areca nuts or may be the other way round

The coffee berries

Coffee Blooms

It took about an hour and after lots of stories, we headed back to the breakfast table for our final meal before departing from Chikmanglur. I am a coffee lover - but definitely not the instant coffee that is so readily available. I like the locally produced grainy ones that need to be sieved. It reminds me of home and makes me happy:) So we got our coffee powder stock for a year and we purchased our filter coffee machine too ( if that can be called a machine)! On the way back we chose a longer but better route. Finally our dream of a family vacation came true and we hope we are able to fit one such trip into our every India vacation itinerary!

If you are in Karnataka and have not been to Chikmanglur yet - You are definitely missing something. So pack your bags and head out there soon - plenty of homestays to unwind, lot of places to visit and makes a perfect getaway for city dwellers. While you are there, do not miss trying out the Malenadu cuisines and their coffee of course:)

Happy vacationing!!

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