We had high hopes for Coorg (now called Kodagu) after the mayhem of the last week in Bangalore and Mysore and couldn’t wait to get out into the countryside.
We’d read lots about the region before deciding to fit it into our trip. Kodagu used to be its own state before it was absorbed into Karnataka in the fifties and the Kodava people are apparently very different to other South Indians. They are famously known as experts in martial arts and are the only race in India who are exempt from the Arms act and able to carry weapons without license. It’s also known for its many coffee plantations and is marketed as the ‘Scotland of India’.
The drive up in to the mountains certainly didn’t disappoint and the forest grew thicker and thicker the higher we climbed. We also passed through Bylakuppe, nicknamed ‘Little Tibet’. Bylakuppe was the first ever Tibetan refugee camp and is still home to thousands of Tibetans today. Lots of colourful temples, prayer flags, restaurants selling momos and signs welcoming the Dalai Lama from his last visit.
Our bus dropped us in the market town of Madikeri, where we’d booked at the lovely OYO Vintage Villas and planned to stay for a couple of nights to sort out some trekking and a homestay.
Feeling excited at the prospect of peace, quiet and fresh air, we set off straight away to check out Raja’s Seat and the views over Coorg.
Sadly, the haze was in full force so we didn’t get the best of the sunset but we could tell it would have been beautiful nonetheless.
Next stop was into Madikeri itself to try and find a tourist office and get some info on trekking. As in Bangalore, it was maddeningly frustrating. Either the staff were away from the desk and so asked us to come back tomorrow (not ideal when you’re staying a 35 minute walk out of town), or they just wanted to book us on to a package tour without giving us any info. Without our own transport and with limited rental options in town, we were pretty stuck.
None the wiser, we tried to hunt out somewhere for dinner with equally limited success. The food was delicious – Coorg style pork masala and rice rotis, a local speciality, but it was an uncomfortable dinner during which the two chefs literally stood right over us and watched us eat, giggling at our attempts to eat curry without a fork.
We were the only tourists to be seen in Madikeri and so attracted a lot of unwanted attention and stares. Unlike the other places we’ve been, people weren’t quite as friendly and welcoming here and we found ourselves avoiding the town as much as possible.
We tried to get some more info on trekking by borrowing the hotel phone the next day but we were just told to walk into town again. Back into the mayhem for what we vowed was the last time and we finally made some progress and booked on to a trek up Kotebetta, the third highest peak in Coorg, and a homestay the next day.
Making the most of our last afternoon in Madikeri, we took a stroll around the underwhelming fort which didn’t improve our impressions of the town, so we decided to escape and check out the Abbi Falls.
Some more hectic bartering with a rickshaw driver and we agreed a one way fare to drop us out there. We’d looked at the map and figured it wasn’t too far to walk back, so ignored his insistence that we pay him for a return fare too, assuming it was another scam.
The falls themselves were pretty but not somewhere to linger too long as it’s all fenced off.
Back out on to the road and we realised that the route we had originally planned wasn’t possible and we were actually eight kilometres from home with no rickshaws to be seen. Feeling pretty stupid that we’d ignored the rickshaw driver’s offer to wait for us, we set off on our stroll grumbling about another silly mistake and trying to work out where we were going wrong!
We’re starting to realise why people say that travelling India is difficult. There’s no ‘hostel scene’ here outside of the main tourist hotspots and so you don’t really meet a lot of other travellers along the way, meaning you don’t pick up the kind of tips and advice that can make a big difference. Added to the fact that there are hundreds of different languages here, so lots of people in the rural areas often don’t speak Hindi, let alone English. Kodagu even has it’s own regional language, separate to the Karnataka state language. Very confusing!
Things perked up on the walk which, although long, was actually really beautiful and offered our first proper sight of Coorg countryside and a different side of Madikeri.
And these kids cheered us up even more with their outburst of laughter at Jamie’s sunglasses!
Back to Madikeri for a slightly more enjoyable dinner (despite the waiter adding Jamie on Whatsapp afterwards and hounding him for reviews). Coorg style peppery chicken and a coconutty veg curry.
Another early start the next morning and the lovely lady at the OYO woke up early to make us breakfast (finally – someone friendly!).
We set off into town to catch the bus to the village of Mukkodlu for our trek. Driving past flowing rivers, dense forest and lots of green rice paddies, we quickly realised from the scenery that we’d made a mistake by staying in Madikeri. The bus was also an adventure in itself and the driver seemed to have a hell of a lot of confidence in the rickety old vehicle’s braking power as he flew round hairpin bends at terrifying speed.
We were met off the bus by a guy who just grunted ‘homestay?’ at us and started walking off. Unsure whether or not he was actually related to our tour, we followed him anyway and he led us to the Silent Valley homestay where we met Manu, who we’d been told was our guide.
Turns out Manu wasn’t actually anything to do with the trek, and once we’d dumped our bags he pointed to another older guy with a machete and just said ‘Ok, he’ll take you now.’. Before we could introduce ourselves, The Silent Machete (as we’ve christened him) grunted and started walking off. We trailed behind him for a while in silence, making the odd awkwardly ignored comment, before being joined by another young guy who was equally awkward, silent and oblivious to our greetings (later to be christened Rando). A few minutes later, yet another guy appeared, also completely silent.
After the last two days of unfriendly and difficult experiences in Madikeri, we’d been really looking forward to chatting to a local and finding out more about Coorg and its history. The contrast with this situation was too much and we were both in silent fits of laughter as we walked along in silence behind Silent Machete, Rando and Unknown Man, none of whom acknowledged us or even spoke to each other.
Luckily we had Sergeant Woofer who seemed happy to see us at least.
Strange awkward silences aside, the trek itself was incredible, although more of a climb. Definitely worth the money we’d paid for Silent Machete to guide us as we’d never had found it ourselves.
Up through narrow jungle paths, dutifully following Silent Machete and Sergeant Woofer while Rando tagged along behind and took selfie after selfie of himself.
Over boulders and scrambling up the side of the mountain, before finally emerging out onto wide hilltops with long grass and stunning views across the valley.
A beautiful trek and lovely to be out in the peaceful countryside – the quiet at the top was almost deafening to our ears which have become accustomed to scooters and shouting. We finally started to see the Scotland reference too!
Eight kilometres later, we reached the temple at the top of Kotebetta.
More great views, and some more waiting around for Rando as he ran to each edge of the hilltop to take yet more selfies.
We settled down by a well for lunch – a plate of warm rice that Rando had somehow carted up the hill with him.
As we were enjoying our lunch, Silent Machete spoke almost his first words to us the entire time, offering Jamie some kind of strange chewing tobacco and informing us (by gestures mainly) that tigers sometimes come by at night to drink from the well. Eek!
Back down the mountain (tough on the knees!) and to the homestay, where Silent Machete bid us adieu with a grunt.
We were already pretty full from our rice snack by this point and not entirely overjoyed to find a huge meal of lukewarm watery thali waiting for us, although the views were lovely. After the last few days of masala dosas for breakfast and veg thalis for lunch, we were getting a little bit fed up of the same food everyday. Good thalis are delicious and quite varied, but we’ve been unlucky recently and had a lot of mediocre ones that are basically just watery dal, cold veg, cold rice and greasy chapatti. The food here is amazing most of the time, but when you’re out in the sticks and there aren’t many options it can be pretty limited.
We headed down to the nearby waterfalls for the rest of the afternoon, before heading back up to the homestay as it got dark. A funny evening where we had to force down the same reheated thali for dinner and were largely ignored again, despite our best efforts to be friendly.
A beautifully situated place, but after an ice cold night huddled under as many blankets as possible, we weren’t too sorry to say goodbye to the surly faces the next morning.
The next day was another adventure as we were packed into the back of one of the family’s pick up truck to head back up the mountain road to Madikeri. Absolutely freezing cold but hilarious being bounced around the bumpy dirt road and the morning scenery was incredible.
It’s been a funny few days in Coorg. Beautiful trekking and the region itself is gorgeous, but it’s just so difficult to do if you don’t have your own transport and there’s little to no info for tourists. Most of the other visitors there are weekenders on trips up from Bangalore or are doing it on a package round trip and it’s not really a place you can do on a budget. If we were to go again we would definitely splash out on a decent resort or homestay or go with the package option to save ourselves the headache and the time spent wandering around Madikeri.
Next stop – Ooty over in neighbouring Tamil Nadu.