By Aarti Kapur Singh
There comes a time in the life of any traveller when every destination seems to be teeming with tourists. And it is in times like these that we chose destinations that are comparatively less explored. Chikmagalur is one such places. One of the most under-rated places, Chikmagalur hardly crosses a hill- or mountain-lover’s mind when they are planning getaways. But there are more than one reasons to visit this quaint town that is literally producing all our coffee.
The healthy atmosphere with crisp mountain breezes and picturesque location amidst greenery make Chikmagalur a destination worth exploring in your own way. It really has something for all kinds of travellers – adventure, wildlife holiday, nature, spirituality and solitude. Here are four things to do in Chikmagalur.
Get An Adrenaline Rush
Chikmagalur and its famous hilly terrain offers many opportunities to trek. Mullayanagiriit is the highest mountain between the Himalayas and the Nilgiris at almost 2000 metres and has amazing trekking trails. Located 12 km from Chikmagalur, a temple of Lord Shiva keeps a watchful eye from the peak of this hill on the surrounding Western Ghats. Don’t let the steps daunt you (I stopped counting at 87!), because walking through the mist to reach the peak is indeed a surreal experience. The challenging routes to Kudremukh (9.5 km, base camp Mullodi) and Mullayanagiri (3km, base camp Sarpadhari) that wind through lush shola forests and grasslands before reaching the peak are picturesque enough to take the strain off walking.
Kemmanagundi, a beautiful hill station in the abundant forests of the Baba Budangiri hills is beautiful in the flowering season, which is at its peak from May through October. The Orchid collection at the Horticultural department is also a must-see. This area also has many scenic attractions – waterfalls, streams, dense and dense foliage. Hebbe Falls is the main trekking attraction of Kemmenagundi that can only be reached by a steep downward trek of about 10 km. Roughly 90 kms away from the main town of Chikmagalur are the towns of Kalasa and Horanadu, through which the Bhadra river flows. These are rafting hotspots and kayaking can also be done on the eight-km stretch on the Bhadra. Best time for rafting is during July and August.
Witness Wonderful Wildlife
Chikmagalur and its surrounding areas were the playing fields of famous hunter Kenneth Anderson. The entire region is thickly covered with dense forests and tea and coffee plantations. Along with tigers, there are several other wild animals such as leopards, bears and gaurs, Barking deer here, spotted deer and many more varieties of fauna are abundant. The park is also home to several species of birds as well. Budget accommodation is also available near the park as well.
Bhadra Tiger Reserve is also a haven for wildlife aficionados and also close to the spot (Lakkavalli Dam) where Kenneth Anderson killed a particularly notorious man-eating tiger. Tigers rule the roost still, albeit peacefully and there is a good chance you will spot some sign of the king of the jungle – either in person or through tell-tale pugmarks. Take a boat safari on the waters of the Lakkavalli Dam to spot kingfishers, cormorants and even jellyfish! The animals from the Bhadra Reserve such as like bisons, elephants, tigers, leopards, wild boars, and many others also drop by to take a sip of water sometimes. Once at Bhadra, do take about an hour’s detour to visit the Sakrebyle Elephant Camp about 14kms from Shimoga.
Elephants from the nearby forests take a bath, have snacks and play in the backwaters of the Tunga river (or play a game of football with the schoolchildren that come for picnics here) before they go back to the forest. It is not every day that you can interact with pachyderms and these “elephant interactions” are reason enough to see these gentle giants up close. An “elephant interaction” session can last up to two hours if you reach between 8am and 9.30 am when the tuskers are bathed, before being led to the feeding place. If the elephant is well-behaved (take the mahouts’ word), you can even scrub them while they sunbathe in the river.
Feeding them is also a charm – the kavadis (elephant attendants) lovingly prepare each morsel. A mixture of rice, dal and sprouts is wrapped in dried paddy stalks and the elephant will gladly extend his trunk to take it from your hands. Sometimes children are allowed to bring sugarcane and bananas too. The best time to explore the wild side of Chikamagalur is between October and May.
Live A Planter’s Life
Forget all your worldly worries and drown them in a cup of coffee – or a whole estate of it. The hilly wetlands of this Chikmagalur are ideal climes for a variety of crops such as coffee, areca and cocoa. The iron-rich soil, low temperature and high altitude are ideal for the coffee bean to mature slowly. The veridian-leaved coffee growing between silver oak, dense pepper and cardamom vines and fertile orange and trees was a welcome change from the concrete-and-iron city views.
I stayed at a home-stay in a 180-acre Kambihalli Estate. A merger of ‘Halli’, meaning village in Kannada and ‘berri’, a quirky twist on the coffee berry, Halli Berri is bliss in coffee-land. Kambihalli Estate has been growing coffee in the Bababudan mountains since 1948. The estate features a coffee plantation, Halli Berri Cottages and Coffee Barn Café. As a guest of the estate, the family was kind enough to take me along to see the estates of fellow agriculturists who grew cocoa, areca and even vanilla!
The whole charm of staying in a plantation is to be far away from the cacophony of a busy world. Silence, fresh mountain air and melodious birdsong are the mainstay of these estate dwellings. A great opportunity to savour nature and its tranquillity, while enjoying the luxury of putting your feet up on an antique planters’ chair and watching the world go by! If the inaction gets to you, learn more about planting a coffee sapling to harvesting the beans, sorting and roasting them – depending on which season you go in.
For those seeking divine intervention, Chikmagalur will spoil you for choice. Sringeri, the first math or monastery established by saint-philosopher Adi Shankaracharya, is also located 88kms from Chikmagalur on the banks of the river Tunga and is one of the important pilgrimage centers in South India.The Kodanda Ramaswamy temple, built in Hoysala architectural style, is another highlight of the district. Pilgrims visit the temple built in Hoysala architechure style in large numbers. The temple hosts an annual festival in the month of February known as “Jatra”. Baba Budangiri shrine is a place of pilgrimage for Hindus and Muslims.
The splendid Amriteshwara temple (67kms away from Chikmagalur), built in 1196 AD by Amriteshwara Dandanayaka, a general of the Hoysala ruler Ballala II, is a must-see. The entire temple is built using black soapstone quarried from a small hill called Annegudda, 20 km away. Belavadi, about 10 kms from Halebid, near Chikmagalur, also known as Ekachakranagara, is a village of rich historical references. The best from these is the Veeranarayana temple – a fine example of Hoysala architecture.
Devanur (35 km) is popular for the 17th century Sri Lakshmikantha temple and the 13th century Sri Siddeshwara temple which is visited by scores of pilgrims. Gangamoola (110 km) is located amidst thick forests, and is inaccessible during the monsoons. The three main rivers, the Tunga, Bhadra and Netravathi originate from here. The shrine of Goddess Bhagavathi with the 6ft. tall and 1.8 m tall Varaha image can be found here. Marle, 12kms away, is home for ancient temples. Most chief amongst them is the Chennakeshva temple dating back to 1150 AD.
While Chikmagalur brews most of India’s and a lot of the world’s coffee, there is more to it than the serene and absolutely picturesque coffee plantations. Do yourself a favour – just go find nirvana here!