With the mercury soaring higher and higher in the summer months this year, people from every state of our tropical country are almost baking in an oven. All seeking a respite from heat waves tries various ways and implements different techniques. Thus an idea popped in my mind, why not get a short break from this sweltering heat by going to nearby Scotland – the Scotland of India, yes our very own Coorg.
It was the wrong choice of route through Bangalore, I may not call it a wrong choice rather a long choice of route. In this hot sunny day, the long road travel becomes really exhausting. But the ‘Kicchana Halli Mane’ on the way gave a welcome relief with delicious local food and a traditional ambience. Being a weekend it was buzzing with a crowd mostly locals who came to the famed restaurant to have their breakfast. A huge cut-out of the famous Kannada actor Sudeep stands outside the restaurant while the interior is decorated with his picture.
The rest of the road was even more appealing but the scorching heat did not allow us to take frequent stops to get down and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding. We were moving through broad roads within acres of sugarcane fields and coconut grooves. Sometimes turning, sometimes straight, sometimes bifurcating into two, passing by the famous Shravanabelagola, leaving behind the road to Hassan and Chikmagalur we were finally near Coorg. The change of landscape with the hill vegetation indicated that we were near our destination.
Coorg, also known as Kodagu, lies on the eastern slope of the Western Ghats in the state of Karnataka. It is a popular hill station known for its Coffee plantation. The green-clad mountain ranges and the valleys make it a scenic summer escapade giving it the nickname of Scotland of India. Even being a popular summer destination, Coorg has its own identity and comparatively less crowded than other popular hill stations of India (or supposedly it was because of the heat this year).
The known history of Kodagu dates back to 1398 AD when the southern part of India was ruled by the Vijayanagar dynasty. During this time the earliest mention of Kodagu was found in a piece by a Kannada poet named Mangaraja, where he described this independent state to be ruled by warrior clan who practised hunting as a game. His probable mention was to the Kodavas who are believed to be the earliest ethnic population residing in Kodagu, practising paddy cultivation and farming along with hunting and ferociously defending their boundaries from any external invasion.
Historical evidence suggests that the Haleri Dynasty ruled Kodagu from 1600-1834. In between, there were subsequent captures by Hyder Ali and followed by his son Tipu Sultan. Later it was recaptured by Dodda Vira Rajendra of Haleri and then finally after 1834, Kodagu came under the East India company as the territory of Coorg and it remained so till the Indian independence. Coorg remained a province till the year 1950 and after that, it was recognised as Coorg State of Republic of India which then merged into the Mysore state and finally forming a district in the present state of Karnataka.
The British introduced the modern way of tea and coffee plantation in Coorg and since then it is an important place known for Coffee cultivation. Much later the tourism came into the scenario. The place is picturesque with the vast green cover and a moderate to cool climate prevailing throughout the year making it a favourite weekend destination for the people of Karnataka and a summer holiday spot for others.
The district receives a significant amount of rainfall throughout the year, thus making it suitable for Coffee cultivation. While the valley floors are taken by the paddy fields the slopes are occupied by coffee and shade trees like silver oak and other trees (cultivated and wild). The coffee planters are highly dependent on the rainfall and they track and monitor the pattern since the beginning keeping written records. Since the last few years, there have been records of the erratic pattern of rainfall due to various reasons like El Nino. Overall the amount of precipitation has decreased by a considerable rate owing to global warming.
The showers that take place between February to April are said to be blossom showers that help the coffee flowers to blossom and is considered the vital stage in the cultivation. With low blossom showers in years like this, the cultivators have to depend upon the irrigation. In the traditional process of cultivation, the coffee plantation had a combination of mixed-cover trees, but with the increase in the erratic pattern of rainfall and dependency on irrigation the need for the native cover trees decreased and gradually they are being replaced by more favourable silver oaks and thus the forest cover is moderately declining.
The owners of the traditional coffee plantations do not have the ownership of the native cover trees, they belong to the government while the Silver Oak trees mostly in the newer plantation are planted and owned by them. They can cut and sell them when required and on the other hand, the straight trunk provides good support to the vines of black pepper. We have been to the Golden Mist Organic Plantation near our resort where the pretty young woman named Ana Theuerkauf, the owner of the farm took us around her plantation and gave us insights into the process.
She has 20 acres of land of which she has a good amount covered with coffee which is of both the varieties (arabica and robusta) while there is coffee beans drying area, and room and machinery for roasting and grinding. She has a small kitchen garden, a cow shed for milk and organic manure, a few spices like pepper, cardamom and vanilla, a huge area covered by native species of trees, the valley bed is used for paddy cultivation during the monsoon while on the other side of the valley there is a small tea plantation.
Ana guiding us through her large farm and sharing knowledge about the respective trees and climbers and the interconnection of everything here. It was like a complete ecosystem. This was the first time I saw the Vanilla climber which belongs to the family of the orchids growing on the bark of trees in the humid tropical forests. I had always seen the essence in bottles and sometimes even the dried pod for sale in the racks of the supermarkets. She explained how every vanilla flower which is bisexual (containing both stamen and pistil) and are manually pollinated as there is no vanilla pollinating insect in the area. Before the flower withers, the pollination has to be done to have the vanilla pods.
It was a recollection of plant reproduction lesson from the Botany classes. She was sharing her knowledge of farming and it was like the practical use of what we have learnt long back in textbooks. An interesting walk through the beautiful farm was enlightening enough. We also came to know a lot that was not known to us, she explained it with great care and patience. Again a thought lingered on my mind. How is life for Ana who along with her husband and six permanent labours (a few temporary joins during the time of harvest) maintains this whole farm take care of every plants and trees and cattle? How is life staying away from the city? How is life staying aloof within the forest (their farm is located on a deep forested slope)?
With all these thoughts afresh in mind, I had the assurance that when the young generation is coming ahead to such careers there is definitely a hope to save the world from the growing menace of deforestation. These days there is a general trend of people getting attracted towards the city and the cityscape with its concrete jungle all around engulfing and suffocating the greenery that once prevailed and the very little left.
Coorg having the Evergreen forest in its west and Deciduous (Dry and Moist) forest in the central and southern part is home to many wildlife species. The area has three wildlife sanctuaries – Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, Talakaveri Wildlife Sanctuary and Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary. Among the other wildlife found here, the Asiatic Elephants are found in huge numbers. And to see these Elephant grooming sessions we were in Dubare Elephant Camp.
Dubare is a forest camp located beside the river Kavery at a distance of 30 km from Madikeri the main city of Coorg. This is one of the bases of the forest department where the retired elephants of the departments are kept and taken care of. These elephants were employed by the forest department since ages for logging related works and with such work ceasing now they have retired to find a home here. It is also said that some of the rescued elephants (who have either been injured or got separated from the group) are also kept here.
Despite the blistering heat, the camp seems cool set in the beautiful forest backdrop with the river flowing by gave a cooling feel. The summer has resulted in less water and dry patches in the river exposing the rocks thus facilitating a walk across the river to reach the camp. During the monsoon, there are speed boats that ferry visitors to the camp. From a distance, we could see Elephants being bathed in a certain area of the river. Hopping on the rocks and balancing ourselves so as not to fall on the knee-deep water and get our shoes wet, we crossed the river to reach the ticket counter.
There are separate tickets for watching the elephants and bathing them. There were many gentle giants chained by their feet, some being bathed by the Mahouts and the enthusiastic public and some quietly watching the crowd and eating the bundle of straw which are fed to them by the visitors. There must be some reason to chain these gentle creatures but I was pained to see them like. Recently I have read a few articles regarding wildlife tourism and associated animal cruelty around the world. I became thoughtful if these Elephants are also the victim of such treatment.
There was no visible sign of cruelty but the sight of being chained and the ordeal of tolerating the huge number of tourists on a daily basis and acting as per the Mahout’s instruction who sometimes canes them hard when not followed was little unpleasant. When I came to know that the Jungle Lodge and Resort is also associated with the camp I was little assured that they would definitely not allow any animal cruelty. Here these retired and rescued elephants are trained for the Mysore Dussehra festival. There were many elephants all around and almost all were Tuskers with one tusk broken.
On one side the good-natured 30 years old Ajay was munching on the straw bundles. He had both his tusks. I came close to it and got introduced to the Naturalist of Jungle Lodge and Resort from Dubare Elephant Camp. He was a cordial man who was happily giving a talk on Elephants. Elephants have tusks which are elongated incisors not used for eating but for serving purposes like breathing, grasping objects, digging and also using it as a weapon. The elephants with one tusk-broken have done so by getting violent during the time of Musth. This is a periodic phase of bull elephants with an increased state of reproductive hormones like Testosterone in their body making them highly aggressive in the urge of finding a mate.
The temporal gland of the elephant gets enlarged and it rubs it on tree trunks around to release its fluid that has a distinct scent to attract the female. The normal lifespan of elephants in the wild is 60-70 years. The females live in a group and rear the young ones together as a family. Any lactating female elephant is often known to feed the other young calf of the group showing a strange motherly bonding. This aspect also reflects on the close family bonding. They are considered highly intelligent are their intelligence can be compared to that of primates and cetaceans.
“हाथी के दाँत खाने के और, दिखाने के और” (“Haathi ke daant khane ke aur, dikhane ke aur”) meaning the Elephant has different teeth to eat and to show. Then we saw the “खाने के” teeth (for eating). The naturalist instructed Ajay to open its mouth wide and we were able to see the teeth pattern inside its soft mouth. Ajay was such a gentle adorable guy that he followed all the instructions of the Mahout and the naturalist. I was so elated that I hugged this big guy and thanked the Naturalist for all the information and walked away saying goodbye.
Coorg is a beautiful place with a lot to explore but this uncomfortable hot summer did not allow us to be outdoors all the time. The famous and picturesque waterfalls were devoid of water, thanks to the scanty rainfall this year which has resulted in such heat and no water in the falls. We did visit the magnificent Golden temple or the Namdroling Monastery, Raja’s seat and the fort but could not experience the cool weather of Coorg. Although we could not see Coorg as the Scotland of India, our trip was insightful with this good amount of information on the coffee plantations, organic farm and of the gentle giants. I will always remember my big friend Ajay whenever I think of Coorg.