A post on a long weekend trip to the land of Coffee. Located amidst lush green hills is the district of Chikmagalur (which literally translates to the younger daughter’s town) in Karnataka. We spent 3 wonderful days here in december of 2012.
We started from home around 6.15 AM and reached Tumkur road by 7 AM. The route that we took was Bangalore-Chennarayapatna-Hassan-Belur-Chikmagalur-Joldal-Jakkanahalli. The traffic was moderate and we decided to stop for breakfast near Adichunchanagiri. It was a foggy morning and we managed to reach Hotel Mayura for breakfast by 8 AM. After a sumptuous breakfast we were back on our way. We decided to visit the Hoysala temples at Halebidu and Doddagaddavalli. By the time we were done with going to these places it was 1 PM. We then started for Chikmagalur and reached our destination around 2.30 PM.
Halebidu was the capital city of the Hoysala dynasty that ruled the Malnad region during the 12th century. It was called Dwarasamudra in those days. Halebidu translates to the city of ruins and gets its name due to the destruction of this city by the Bahamani Kings who ruled North Karnataka. Halebidu is popular for the Hoysaleswara Temple which is a brilliant masterpiece of Hoysala architecture. The temple was built-in honour of the popular King Vishnuvardhana of Hoysala dynasty. Close to 200 years were spent in building this majestic temple and it was not completed despite this much time. The details carved in stone are mind-blowing to say the least. Hiring a guide here is an ABSOLUTE MUST!
The temple complex has two shrines. Hoysaleswara dedicated to the King and Shantaleswara dedicated to the Queen Shantala. The sculptures have amazingly been carved on the soapstone after placing it. The outer walls have eight levels of friezes. The lowest frieze has marching elephants which symbolize strength and act like a stable foundation. This is followed by Lions that stand for courage and bravery. Then come the ornamental flowering creepers, Horse riders depicting speed, another set of flowering creepers, figurines from the Hindu epics, the mythical beast Makara and Swans. The Makara is a mythical animal that possesses extraordinary characteristics of a set of animals. Trumpet of an Elephant, Feet of a Lion, Eyes of a Monkey, Ears of a Pig, Mouth of a Crocodile and the Tail of a Peacock.
There are two Nandi statues carved out of monolithic stones on one side of the temple complex. Observing the statue of a dancer lady we can come to know the dressing style of those days! Every detail has been depicted beautifully. The skilled artisans get full marks for their astonishing work. Sadly we can no longer claim that we are as talented though we have sophisticated technology at our disposal.
This is a small village off the Hassan–Belur highway. The twelfth century Lakshmi Devi temple which is an example of early Hoysala architecture is located here. A lake at the rear end of the temple adds to its beauty. It is quite different from the popular Hoysala temples like Belur and Halebidu. The temple was constructed by a merchant. There are small shrines at the corners of the temple complex. The temple was closed when we were here. We walked around the temple and bid adieu to this hidden gem of a place.
We had booked our stay at Woodway Homestay at Jakkanahalli which is a village beyond Chikmagalur town. The homestay belongs to a family of Planters and is located in a Coffee estate. The location is awesome with a beautiful view of the hills. The house was constructed by the British and now it has been renovated and additional rooms have been added to the original property. There are 6 rooms and each one of them have been furnished tastefully. Family photographs adorn the walls of the common area.
The owners live in another of their estates nearby. Our host Shreedev Hulikere made sure that we were comfortable staying there. He spent some time chatting with all guests and suggesting what places could be visited etc. The food was excellent too. Authentic Malnad cuisine! Piping hot Akki/Ragi rotti, Kori Rotti, Neer Dosa, a gravy of ground Colocasia leaves and Kadubu were some of the culinary delights that we munched on :) Not to forget the cups of heady Coffee that we savored multiple times a day. A bonfire would be lit every evening and we would sit around it savouring some hot Pakodas and Coffee.
We walked around the estate looking for birds. Sightings included Malabar Parakeet, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, White-cheeked Barbet, Scarlet Minivet, Common Tailorbird, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, White-browed Wagtail, Rufous Babbler and Blyth’s Reed Warbler. The prized sighting was of an Indian Pitta which was walking around the Coffee bushes early in the morning.
Coffee Estate Walk
No trip to Chikmagalur can be complete without a walk in a coffee estate! Shreedev took us on a walk around the estate and explained quite a bit about Coffee. Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia by a Shepherd who saw that his goats were getting high on the Coffee beans. He took the beans to a monastery. The monks there started brewing Coffee and consuming it as it would help them stay awake for longer. Coffee then gradually spread to the Arabs who wanted to monopolize the Coffee trade. A Sufi saint Baba Budan stole some coffee beans from the Arabs and smuggled it to India in the 17th century. He planted Coffee on a hill in Chikmagalur. The hill got its name as Baba Budangiri due to this. The Britishers realized that Coffee trade was quite lucrative and the climate in this region was conducive to the growth of Coffee. Coffee estates sprang up everywhere in this region. The local people got a chance to own some of these estates much later. Shreedev’s family has been into Coffee for four generations now.
The two main species of Coffee plants are Arabica and Robusta. The estate had Arabica species which needs a lot of care. The lifetime of a plant is typically 40 years if it is tended to properly. It was harvesting time when we were here. Most of the berries looked ripe. While plucking a berry the node that attached it to the main stem should not be cut lest it hamper next year’s crop. Due to the unduly terrain it is difficult to automate harvesting making it a tough job for the laborers who work here. We realized that running a Coffee estate is not as easy and romantic as it seems to be at first sight.
We visited the Chinnenahalli estate where Shreedev stays and got to know how the Coffee beans are processed and made into the powder we love. The making of coffee is a very difficult process. Of this process we witnessed the ripe beans (see below) being segregated by weight and size and then being dried in the premises. This drying process takes many days for each lot only after which they can be passed on to be roasted and powdered. Through this process spanning multiple days, there are multiple pitfalls and nuances to take care of! Not for those who want to be in this for the fun of it!!
Kavi Kallu Matha
We wanted to avoid crowds and therefore decided to skip a visit to Mullayanagiri which is the highest peak in Karnataka. Instead we visited the lesser known hill called Kavi Kallu Matha. We went on a jeep arranged by Shreedev. The views of the surrounding lush green carpeted hills from atop were lovely. We took a brief walk and saw plenty of birds.
We went on a jeep safari on one of the evenings to Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary from Muthodi which is an hour away from Woodway. I spotted a Malabar Grey Hornbill as we were waiting for our jeep before the safari. The forest was very dense and the foliage prevented us from getting any views beyond it. The sightings included Malabar Trogon, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Black Drongo, Mongoose, Sambar deer, Plum-headed Parakeet, Chital and Barking Deer. The safari itself is nothing much to write home about. Too many people and unorganized handling of the crowd given the very few vehicles available and the lack of naturalists. One would be better served going over to the other points in Bhadra WLS if safaris are to be done.
We went to Belavadi to visit the Veera Narayana temple built by the Hoysalas on our way back home. This temple was built by the Hoysala king Veera Ballala II. The temple has a hall with a hundred pillars. There are three shrines within the temple. The central shrine is dedicated to Veera Narayana. The second shrine is for Yoga Narasimha while the third is for Lord Venugopala whose idol is very ornate. This is considered to be the most beautiful idol of Lord Krishna. The temple is operational and the priest explained briefly about the architecture and history of the temple. This temple is a good example of Hoysala architecture.
We stopped by a lake near Belavadi to watch aquatic birds. A juvenile Brahminy Kite posed for us on a dead stump in the water. Other birds that we sighted included Painted Stork, Common Sandpiper and Purple Heron.