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Published: February 16th 2008
The bus ride from Kannur into Coorg was unbelievable. Can a bus really traverse this road? You bet it can. And keep from overturning or breaking an axel? Yes, that too.
Amazingly, in India they will get you there no matter what it takes. So this road was, for the most part, dirt but not just rough and rocky dirt, there were moments of that too, but craters and bluffs, ledges and embankments, hairpin turns that would stick a bus like an unruly hair. T held his motion sickness at bay and I just laughed the whole way. I enjoy India for all its comical, zany, ridiculous yet matter of fact way of doing things. It just happens here and no one thinks much of it. What ever "it" is. INDIA!, fuck yeah!
We arrived in a small town called Gonicoppa and we were met by Nanda, the brother of our good friend Shyla who lives in Eureka. Shyla had arranged for us to have a tour of Coorg, a hill station in the state of Karnataka where the Coorg people live. Our tour started with a visit at her family's home in Kanoor on their coffee and paddy
Getting Henna'd up
estate. It is a mystery why some people, places or experiences touch your heart so deeply but that is what happened for us in the Kottangada home. How can it be that a hard working family can open up their home, their lives, and share it all with you in such a way that you feel you had always been there?
We stayed for two nights and Nanda took us to see everything in the nearby area. Irpu Falls, Nagarhole Wildlife Preserve and acres and acres of coffee estates where cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, jack fruit, chickoo and vanilla all grow in harmony. Nagarhole Wildlife Preserve has a two hour safari in the afternoons where you have a chance to see one of their 60 Royal Bengal Tigers or a pack of elephants or a tribe of Langur monkeys. We saw the Langur, deer, wild peacock, and some other exotic birds. It's rare to see elephants and tigers so we were not disappointed by missing them. It was special just to be in a place where you know they are there living their lives in freedom.
Back at the Kottangada home we were treated like long lost relatives finally
returned from an extended absence. Auntie (an affectionate, respectful nickname for elder women in this case Shyla's mother) made us wonderful meals in her rustic kitchen sometimes using an open fire. Vimila, her daughter, was always by her side or ours making sure we had everything we needed. Uncle (Shyla's father) was our sophisticated, dapper host, a firey light in a stately package. Elegant in his stature he is 87 years old and sparkles with charm and sweetness. And of course there was an angel by our side for the whole of the visit, our Wilma. Wilma is Nanda's 11 year old daughter and an absolute gem. Smart, generous, kind, lovely, a heart of gold, a spirit of the sun. We fell in love with her.
On the third day in Coorg we packed up to leave the family and found it quite an emotional experience. Uncle was disappointed that we were leaving so soon, Auntie was hoping to get a chance to dress me up in a saree wrapped in the unique Coorg way, Wilma wanted to come and play with us for another day. Nanda had made arrangements for us to stay at Dubare Elephant Camp and
we were on a schedule with his friends that were driving us there in an old Ambassador. Sadly, we parted hoping to one day return. I surprised myself with tears but truly the sweetness of these people was so touching. Uncle said he would never forget us. How could you not cry when someone says that from their heart?
We spent two nights at Dubare Inn located across the Cauvery river from the actual elephant camp where retired working elephants go to live out the rest of their days. There you can watch them being fed and bathed and you can even get involved. Every morning we would take the ferry boat across the river and help scrub the elephants who were laying blissfully in the shallows. Amazing to see an animal that big lie itself down and just as astounding to watch it get back up again. To be that close to a being that immense and gentle, powerful yet calm was humbling, real and an exquisite gift. Thank you Gopi!
Next was a four night retreat at a lovely island camp called Nisargadama. Quaint huts lined the quiet river banks on one side of this island
splashing and screaming like 11year old girls!
in the Cauvery. On the island there were also some elephants which people could ride, wild monkeys, a deer park and some rabbits for petting. There were a system of trails for relaxing walks around the island, peddle boats, and a hanging bridge from which to feed the hundreds of carp living in this slow section of river. We befriended the elephants here, too, and fed them some bananas and cucumbers putting our hands right up in their mouths, slimy tongues and all! Have you ever seen the size of an elephant tongue? Elephant teeth? And that trunk. They are stunning.
Nisargadama was close to Kushalnagar, another Coorg town and also to Bylacuppe the largest setllement of Tibetans in India. We took an auto rickshaw out to Bylacuppe a few times to see the Golden Temple, to shop in the artist stalls in Camp 1, to see the Serra Monastery. It is an amazing settlement and very prosperous. As you will see from the photos the Tibetans are building some ornate and fantastic temples. It seems a great deal of money flows in from the US and they generously direct it towards preserving the culture and art.
saw the monks everywhere around Kushalnagar, on the internet, on their cell phones, playing video games, eating in restaurants, piled into auto rickshaws. We caught a Tibetan ritual at the Serra Monestary one evening where the monks philosophize to each other emphasizing their thought with a smack of their hands toward the listener. There were hundreds of them doing this at once and the evening air was filled with the sounds of loud smacking noises. Afterward we had a delicious Tibetan meal at a tiny restaurant for about 25 cents.
Our next and final stop in Coorg was in the capitol city Madikieri. (Coorg is not a state but they would like it to be.) Tucked into the surrounding hills Madikieri was probably our most favorite of typical Indian towns. Still the same jumble but with some character because of the hills. We saw the local sights Abbi Falls, the fort, the Temple and our favorite spot for sunsets the Raja Seat, an overlook to the west over rolling hills and valleys.
We met a delightful character named Mr. Muktar (a very flamboyant Indian man, how rare!) who took us on a trek one day around the Madikieri
area. We left early in the morning while the air was still cool and fresh and meandered past creeks and coffee estates, small farms and country roads. We ended our journey at a family farm, friends of our guide, were he made us chai which we drank under the shade of a pommelo tree. I saw a great big snake there and gave a quick yoga lesson to Muktar, drank some tea and then we were off. I was as happy as a child strolling back to town chewing on a sugar cane stalk. A lovely day.
Coorg was the highlight of our trip thanks to the generousity our friend Shyla and her lovely family. We offer a special thanks to Nanda who took so much of his precious time to show us his countryside, and to the Kottangada family for their warm hospitality.
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