The whiff of coffee awakens me on a damp morning in Coorg. I lazily walk into my balcony, to witness silver butterflies dancing above the coffee plantations and the forest bathed in warm sunlight. I don’t know it then, but this is just the beginning of my love affair with Karnataka’s coffee country.
When our bus arrived at Hattihole the previous evening, a gentle mist had engulfed the rivers, rice paddies and sleepy hamlets. Watching the rains lash the forests through my glass windows, I tried my first ever Coffee Spa; scrubbed with grinded coffee beans and massaged with hot oils, ninety minutes of aromatic coffee bliss!
When the sun finally emerges, we walk along acres of coffee, cardamom and pepper plantations, down to a river with a hanging bridge built by the village folk. Walking on its delicate planks, our local Kodava (Coorgi) guide tells us about the indigenous traditions and culture of Coorg, the Kodava food and berry wines still made in village households. Only a single restaurant in Madikeri (called Coorg Cuisinette) and a handful of homestays now serve local delicacies like bamboo shoot, kidney beans and pork curries.
Eager for a taste of traditional life in the region, we move to a small family-run farm stay along rice paddies, in a typical Coorgi village. This is a local family’s endeavor to create an organic oasis; huts furnished with bamboo artefacts and earthen pots, lampshades carved out of pumpkins, rice paddies sustained without fertilizers or pesticides, an indigenous waste water recycling technology, and delicious food that is entirely organic, including the oil, rice, vegetables, and even fruits.
Sitting in the breezy lounge of the farm, Narendra, our host, talks about how much Coorg has changed since the British planted its first coffee plantations. Spending his childhood on these estates, he ultimately became a coffee trader and later a coffee broker, all the while, trying to perfect the art of making coffee from seed to cup. When we finally taste his organic in-house brew, we are reminded of the quaint cafes in small Italian towns!
We spend lazy afternoons on the farm, splashing in the rice paddies in gumboots and a traditional bamboo rain protector, and cycling in the surrounding villages, with maize fields swaying in the backdrop. On hearing about our love for the roads less travelled, Narendra drives us through his favourite coffee trails in Coorg, enchanting us with stories of the Kuruba jungle tribe, who tame wild elephants by feeding them weed! He introduces us to a hobbyist beekeeper who makes the tastiest honey I’ve ever tried, and gives us a glimpse into the lives of monks, at lesser known monasteries in the neighboring Tibetan camp of Bylakuppe.
Over our last cup of coffee in Coorg, Narendra asks us what we’ll miss most about his homeland. With a pause, I say, the coffee and conversations.
Have you been to Coorg? Share your stories from the coffee country!
We were hosted by Meriyanda Nature Lodge on the first leg of our Coorg trip. Meriyanda is a forest retreat with a nice coffee spa, but the lack of local food on their menu and staff disinterested in the local culture was disappointing.
During the second half of the Coorg adventure, we stayed at Narendra’s Organic Farm, a family run farm-stay near Kushalnagar, which I highly recommend for a true Coorgi experience.