Thursday, October 8, 2009

Coorg and Chikmagalur - Coffee and Greenery at its best

We left Kolhapur in the morning and continued driving to Karnakaka. By 4.30 p.m we reached Bankapur and then took a right turn towards Shimoga leaving NH 4. The road conditions soon worsened. Still we enjoyed our ride thru Karnataka. It is surprisingly green, with really simple people and not so good economic condition.
As we started towards Shimoga, we moved through lush green fields, small villages with very different style of construction than what we had seen in Maharashtra. It was late in the night while we reached Chikmagalur via Shimoga, Bhadravati, Tarkere and Kemmangundi route. We checked in a budget hotel in the main market and slept.
on the way to Shimoga - Ultimate capacity utilization
Bright Colours on Auto rickshaw and homes
Style of Construction with flat stones and mud mortar - in villages

Time for Evening tea and snacks in the village
The next day morning we scanned entire area looking for homestays. Chikamagalur has some of the finest spots in the mountains as homestays and farm houses. Still they don’t get much business as this place is not really glamorized as Madikeri. If you really want to see nature at its best and wish to have peaceful holiday then Chikmagalur is the recommended place. It is also ideal place for writers, painters and honeny moon travelers.
There is a cave in the mountains near Chikmagalur where Baba Budan used to stay - The mountain is called as Budangiri. He was a muslim saint who went to Mecca for pilgrimage. There he first tasted Coffee and he brought some seeds for his own consumption while coming back. He used to grow coffee beans near his cave. Later British found him and sensed business opportunity. Thus, began commercial production of Coffee in India. Chikmagalur is hence credited as the first area where coffee was grown. In the higher altitudes the coffee quality comes much better and it is called “high grown coffee”. There is also a hindu temple on this hill and annual fair takes place with much fan fare. In case you visit Chikmagalur do not miss opportunity to trek this hill. This is the best view of surrounding area, that one can get.
The mountain and where Baba Budan used to stay in the cave.

View of surrounding area from the highest point in Chikmagalur at Baba Budan cave
As coffee plants need shade for better growth, in all the coffee estates there are trees. This has made around Chikmagalur is lush green. Thus you can generally have a small can trek in the coffee estate and enjoy clean air.
Another interesting aspect of this coffee economy is that it is not treated as agriculture but as industry. Thus land ceiling act does not apply coffee farming. The land holdings are hence big, ensuring enough greenery around a homestay. The farmers are also pretty rich and their homes have all the modern facilities. Many of the homestay owners have started this business to kill enjoy company of guests more than to make money and thus their service standards are very high.
Kemmangudi hill station and water falls are close by and spending a day over there can be fun.
Flowers of Coffee which smell like Jasmine
After staying at Chikmagalur for 2 days we moved to Madikeri, capital town of Coorg District. Official name of the district is Kodagu but nobody used that name. Coorg, is a well known and highly glamorized place. It is also very commercial, at least Madikeri town is.
Madikeri, is named after Third king of Haleri dynasty; Mudduraja; who established this town. It then came to be known as Mudduraja Keri. Which over time was called as Madikeri, later British pronounced it as Mercara. It is situated at an altitude of 1525 mtrs in the mountains of western ghat, this town is surrounded by lush green hills and Coffee Plantations. With its pleasant winter makes, it is one of the most preferred hill stations of southern India. Besides it is closer to Bangalore and Mysore and as such there is a lot of business here.
Most interesting aspect of Coorg, is its different culture. Unlike other south Indian cultures; their way of draping Saree is different. They like to eat pork and their way of cooking is also spicy. On the other hand they are Hindus; who otherwise do not eat pork in other parts of the country. Coorgs are fighters, with military tradition. They helped British in establishing rule over Sourthern India and since then serving in army became a profession. Even now they serve Indian Army in large numbers. India’s some of the most noted Army Generals hail from this area, starting from Field Marshal Cariappa. Since days of British they have been granted special privilege to own gun. It is the only community to have right to own and carry gun anywhere in India, they get gun license by virtue of being coorgs and no other permit is required. Hence in most of the families you would find a gun in the house. It is also a tradition to fire rounds on important family celebrations.
So if you plan to stay at Coorg, homestay is a better option to understand their culture and experience their cuisine. Find them on Unfortunately, no restaurants serve the original Coorg cuisine hence you would not be able experience the same in hotels.
While you make plans to travel to Coorg, first decide which route you would take to travel. It is big area and you can plan to stay as per your convenience at various places e.g. Ammathi, Kushalnagar, Siddapur etc.
The interesting places to see in Coorg are as follows:
Raja Seat:
Towards western end of the Madikeri town is Raja Seat (king’s seat). King used to spend evenings here, watching sunset and breath taking view of the valley below; hence named as Raja Seat. It has beautiful garden and fun-park.
Raja Seat - Madikeri
View of Coorg Valley from Raja Seat
Madikeri Fort:
This fort is in town of Madiekri on a hillock, with museum. Cars can go on top and altitude is not very high anyways. Visit the museum to see traditionally used artifacts and weapons. The fort also has two life size stone statues of elephants which belonged to kings. The story is that once in the feet of rage; the king killed these elephants and later as repentance created their statues. The rest of the fort has palace buildings, which now house government offices.
Omkareshwar Temple:
Haleri King Lingraja- II once killed a Brahmin. And in act of repentance built this beautiful temple with Shivaligam brought from Kashi. The Temple complex has pond inside.
All these destination are fairly close to each other and it is possible to see all of them in a day.
Abbi Falls:
Aapproximately 8 km from the Madikeri are Abbi falls; situated in lush green surrounding. The water falls from approx 70 ft height, and the whole place is scenic. However vehicles do not go up to top and you would have to take local rikshaw/jeep and then trek.
Dubbare Elephant Camp:
At a distance 15 km from Kushalnagar on Siddapur road, is Dubare forest with elephant training camp, situated on the banks of river Cauvery. This is training a camp where; rogue elephants are brought and trained. Plan visit to this place in early morning hours, to participate in elephant ride and bath. There is boating facility also available here.
Bylakuppe Tibetan Settlement and Golden Temple:
At bylakuppe, is the biggest settlement of Tibetan in exile in South India; with big Namdroling Monastery and Padmasambhava Budhha Golden Temple. The monastery houses thousands of monks who come to learn Buddhism and the temple has approx 55 ft Buddha Statue. It is a must see place, where you suddenly see change of culture from the rest of the Coorg. It is on Mysore Madikeri highway just 2 km before Kushalnagar.
Situated on the banks of Cauvery is Nisargadham complex. It is protected forest area where you can see deers, elephants, rabbits etc. It is a place worth visiting near Kushalnagar . In case you plan to visit this place, club it along with Dubare and Golden Temple as they are close to each other.

Talacauvery and Bhagamandala:
Talacauvery is the origin of river Cauvery and is considered to be one of holiest places in Karnataka. Situated in Brahmagiri Hills, with dense forest around, this is a great place to visit. River emerges from Kundike and flows towards Bhagmandala ; where it meets two other rivers Suyothi and Kannike to form Triveni Sangam. This is known as Dakshin Kashi, with temples Bhagamandeshwar, Vishu, Subramanya and Ganapathy. Plan a day’s visit here(it is 48 km from Madikeri) and return back to base camp by evening as there is no place to stay here.
Besides these there are other attractions like Malahalli Falls, Harangi Dam etc.
If you plan to visit Coorg just make sure that you take out enough time. This is not a place which you can enjoy while in hurry. Stay at Homestay and enjoy nature for at least 3 days. This is nice weekend gateway for people from Bengaluru and Mysore.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Panhala and Kolhapur

I reached Panhala pretty late in the night. I stayed in the homestay of Mr Kurade. He is lawyer by profession and was very nice person to talk to.

The next day morning I explored fort of Panhala. Luckily I got a very good guide through Mr Kurade; Sharif Hanif Nagarjee. Sharif belonged to family of Nagarjees; one’s who beat “Nagara” (traditional giant drums to announce opening, closing of the fort gates along with other important events). Their family was appointed by Shivaji during his rule. He is 8th descendent from this family; he knows history well and can also tell you some inside stories about the rule at that time.
Panhala is a huge fort on a hill. It is also a very old as it was first constructed in the 11th Century A. D. under rule of Shalivahans. The 15 km boundary wall constructed during that time is still visible with 135 bastions. The wall is made of Soil and at places supported with stone wall exterior, to absorb shock of cannon balls.

There is ample water and food storage on the and as such it was suitable to operate this fort as the capital. Shivaji operated from this fort through bulk of his rule.
The courtyard leading to Teen Darwaja
There are many interesting places to be seen on this fort. The most important of them are 1. Teen Darwaja 2. Sajja Kothi 3. Konkan Dawaja.

Teen Darawaja:
This is one of the main entrances to the fort. The huge entrance is said to constructed first by Hindu rulers and hence first part is in Hindu architecture. The second part was constructed by Muslim rulers and hence it is in shape and dome. The third part was constructed by British and hence it looks like gate of a church.

Teen Darwaja: See the difference between First Arch (Hindu Temple Architecture) and second arch (Islamic Shape)
Sajja Kothi:
This was the main building in the fort. Shivaji's son Sambhaji was kept here under house arrest due to misunderstanding during their family feud. You can brillinant view of the surroundings from here.

Interiors of Sajja Kothi
View of Sunset from Sajja Kothi

Konkan Darwaja:
This gate faces western side towards region of Konkan. Shivaji had visited this fort after his Konkan conquest and since then it is called as Konkan Darwaja.

Siege of the fort and escape of Shivaji:
Siddi Jauhar, a senior lieutenant of Mughals led a siege to the fort in 1660. It continued for quite some time. He also brought long range cannons from Portuguese and some signs of damage by them can be seen at Konkan Darawaja even now. Once it was clear that it was no longer possible to hold on to the fort; Shivaji escaped from the fort on 12th July.

The story of his escape is very interesting. Shiva Kashid from nearby village was trained to act as his dummy. Shiva Kashid escaped first only to be captured and Shivaji escaped later from the same route. Shivaji moved fast towards Vishalgarh(a fort 80 km away) and while on the way ; Siddi’s forces came very close; Baji Prabhu Deshpande adviced Shivaji to go ahead so that he would hold forces in Ghodkhind ( a small pass in the mountains). With a small platoon; Baji kept Siddi’s forces engaged till morning while Shivaji reached Vishalgarh safely. Baji attained martyrdom in the process and his story is one of the most important chapter of sacrifice and bravery in the history of Maratha Empire.

Besides history of Maratha's there are locations which are from time of Shalivahan Rulers and the most important of them are granaries. Three massive granaries were built by King Bhoja in approx 1000 A.D. . During the construction phase the wall of the granaries would keep collapsing after being raised to 6 ft or so. A priest was called and he suggested to make human sacrifice of either a pregnant lady or a lady who has just delivered a baby. Subsequently announcement was made and lady called Jakhubai who was daughter-in-law of Gangu teli(people who used to sell oil) became ready. She was sacrificed at this place and even now there is stone statue depicting the event. The three granaries are named after her daughters as Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. The fact that to build a wall even a king had to take help of a lady; gave rise to the saying 'Kahan Gangu Teli aur Kahan Raja Bhoja.' Over period of time this context changed and today it is said in exactly opposite manner and spirit.

Granaries - (Estimate height by comparing with standing at gate - constructed in 1000 A.D.)

Statue depicting Jakhubai's sacrifice at the place of sacrifice

Besides Historical Significance, famous temple of Jotiba (Shiva in the form of a warrior)is just 8 km away. Kolhapur is also just 20 km from Panhala. Kolhapur has famous Mahalaxmi temple and Palace of Bhosale’s with Museum.

Hence I would recommend this place to all those who travel to Bangalore by Car. It is a nice place to take night halt; it is almost midway to Bangalore and has nice weather and history both. Not to forget it is also famous for food with specialty in spicy non-veg. food. Stay at homestays and enjoy real history of Panhala and distinctive taste of Kolhapur cuisine(visit It is far better way to experience real India than Hotels and Resorts at better prices. See for largest collection of homestays in India.

I left from Panhala and went to Kolhapur. There I stayed at Homestay called Hirwai. It is a really nice place with small garden owned by Mr Chandrakant Patil . In his small garden he keeps water and food for birds and you can see them chirping in the morning. At least 7 to 8 varieties of birds can be seen there, he is also a photographer and you can see some nice photos with him. In the morning Naved reached from Nagpur and we then started our onward journey on NH 4 together

Coming up next Chikamagalur and Coorg …………in the amazingly green Karnataka……………

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani


This is second round of my journey from Mumbai to Mahabaleshwar and further ahead to Kolhapur, Panhala and then to Coorg and Kerala. We planned to cover entire distance by road in the car.

I started from Mumbai and after lunch at Pune with my good old school buddy Dinesh Apte, I moved on to Mahabaleshwar. By evening I was at Panchgani; which is just 18 km from Mahabaleshwar and is home to most famous public schools in Maharashtra.

The climate was pleasant and journey was great. The road to Pune was expressway and hence was very comfortable. The road after Pune to Wai was also very comfortable. Climate at Panchgani was exceptionally good with bit of chill in the evening.

I stopped for tea at stall of Parameshwar Gole; he was talkative and nice person. He showed me homestay of his cousin by name of Shubham Niwas.

I stayed there for the night. The next day I explored Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani. Like other hill stations around Mumbai; even Mahabaleshwar was popularized by British. They also made it summer capital of Bombay Presidency. Being at altitude of 1372 mts from mid sea level; it has very pleasant weather in the summer.

In the area around Mahabaleshwar, five rivers flow (Savitri, Gayatri, Krishna, Koyna and Venna) thus making it agriculturally advanced. The mountains around are covered with thick forests of Javali. This was one the areas where Marathas fought fierce battles with Mughals by taking benefit of the terrain.

Needle Hole Point captured from Highest Altitude spot of Mahabaleshwar - Triveni

Panchgani Table Land on right and Valley of Krishna river - from Triveni

While you go Mahabaleshwar keep in mind that Panchgani weather is as good and it is not crowded. So if you want peace, and privacy then better to stay here. Mahabaleshwar has shopping areas and lots of budget as well as premium hotels. Panchgani mostly has homestays; there are some with pretty nurseries around and some with strawberry farms. These can be ideal for few days of peaceful stay.

Sight Seeing:

There are many sight seeing points in Mahabaleshwar; but few of the very good ones are given below. In fact my advice is not to see every place; you would waste time and energy. Also as is the case with every hill station; many points are generally created to make the list longer; and one can do away with some.

Few of the best ones are as follows:

You would find them every where

Arthur Seat: This is probably the best of all points. It is approx 10 km away from new town, but it is worth visiting. Named after Mr Arthur Mallet, this point gives splendid view of the Savitri Valley right below you. You can also see Pratapgadh; from here on a clear sunny day. On the way you may also enjoy view from Marjorie Point and Tiger Springs (apparently tigers used to come here to drink water!!!).

Needle Point/Elephant Head Point: It is called as needle point, as a rock is standing maintaining some gap from cliff making to look like Needle hole. The shape of the rock is such that it also looks like elephant head and trunk, thus called elephant head point. One can get breathtaking view of the mountains around and Krishna River in the valley. While visiting this point you can also see Lodwick point on the way.

Kate’s Point and Echo point: Both these points are towards Panchgani; overlooking Krishna valley. As the name suggests you get clear echo from the valley here. If you are interested in echo then only visit this point.

Venna Lake: Just, as you enter Mahabaleshwar from Panchgani, you are welcomed by buzz around Venna Lake. You can enjoy boating, riding etc., along with eating as there are many stalls of all kinds of food stuff here. This is probably the most crowded point after Malcom Peth (i.e. main market of Mahabaleshwar)

Venna Lake

Temples: Mahabaleshwar Temple: Temple of Shiva referred to as Mahabali (all powerful) is the presiding deity of the town. This Shivalinga is considered to be swayambhu (lord has appeared himself) and fulfilling wishes of the pilgrims.

Panchaganga Temple: Dedicated to the sacred five rivers in the area around, which bless this area is Panchaganga temple. Springs coming out of Gomukh(cow’s mouth) is considered to be representing five rivers.

Pratapgadh: At 24 km from Mahabaleshwar stands this invincible fort built in 1656 by the Founder of Maratha Empire, Chhatrapati Shivaji. This is one of the toughest forts to conquer; as the approach consists of small winding roads with steep gradient. This made it virtually impossible to carry heavy artillery or even big battalions. This also made it the chosen spot by Shivaji, to meet his one of the biggest adversary Afzal Khan of Bijapur, who met his fateful end here. Make it a point to see the graves of Afzal Khan and his bodyguard Sayyad Banda (legendary fighter of that time) built and maintained with grants given by Shivaji. There is a tunnel on the fort which supposedly opens few kms away and was used as escape route in times of trouble.

Tapola lake: At approximately 30 km from Mahabaleshwar is Tapola situated on banks of Shivsagar lake (backwaters of Koyna dam – the biggest in Maharashtra). The journey is especially breathtaking with scenic beauty of valleys, river and mountains. As you suddenly drop altitude from Mahabaleshwar, the flora and fauna changesalong with weather; this can be of special interest to nature lovers. Tapola, has boating club where you can enjoy boat rides - right from small rides in a paddle boat to a long journey around Shivsagar lake in speed boats (total expanse of lake is 80 km). Adventure seekers can also plan, overnight tour to Vasota fort. However, it would need permission from Forest Department as it is a part of Koyna Nature Reserve. Please reach Tapola, early in the morning, carry enough consumables and learn topography well before you start; as there are no support systems around and the terrain around Vasota is confusing. There are tents where you can plan overnight stay as well.

On the way to Tapola

Shivsagar Lake (Backwaters of Koyana - on the way to Tapola)

Tapola Lake and Boat Club

Mahabaleshwar and Panchagani have lot of options for stay. Budget hotels are mostly in the town and near main market, they are easy to reach but do not give really a great experience. You can opt to stay in bunglows or in strawberry gardens; there are options of bed & breakfasts/homestays in both kind of stays and they are especially good if have few days to spare. Good quality hotels and resorts are also there but they are really expensive. Hence I advise to stay at homestays and also help common men earn their living; find them on

Mahabaleshwar now is a good place to visit even for people from Mumbai. Due to better connectivity of roads one can reach in 4 hrs and driving is pretty easy with 6 lane roads. In fact its is easier to visit Mahabaleshwar than Alibaug which 2.5 hrs by road but where driving can be real pain.

I decided to leave Mahabaleshwar, by the next day afternoon and reach Kolhapur by night. However I got late, also on the way I changed my plan decided to stay at Panhala Fort. Kolhapur is at higher altitude and Panhala fort is visited by most as the climate here is really nice.

Coming up next Panhala the mighty fort……………………….