Published in the Dec 1st edition of www.jlrexplore.com, a nature and wildlife-specific website
Nanjaraja, the king of Nanjarayapatna, had many enemies. In a dream, he was told that his troubles would vanish if he built a temple in a day. The task seemed impossible, but if anybody had a chance of doing it, it was the masterful Chola architects. They were pressed into service and set about achieving the deadline, working through the night. An errant rooster crowed earlier than usual, and the Chola builders left, assuming it was daybreak. A bridge - presumably across the river Cauvery - remained unfinished. Nobody knows if Nanjaraja’s fortunes reversed.
Fast forward five hundred years - Tipu Sultan’s pillaging army found neither gold nor gems in that temple, known as Veerabhadreshwara temple. Uninterested, they left it half-destroyed, saying “We’ll return another time to do this”, or, “We’ll come dubara”, giving Dubare forest its name.
|The ruins of Veerabhadreshwara temple on the road leading to Dubare|
A couple of centuries after Tipu Sultan, I packed my suitcase with equal disinterest; I threw in a few long-pending books, confident of finishing them that weekend. Being a seasoned, four-prior-holidays-in-Coorg veteran was reason enough for me to have my nose up in the air - I’d already had a ‘stay in a home-stay’ holiday; I was also done with my ‘pamper yourself in one of Coorg’s resorts’ holiday; I’d also had the rather rare ‘stay with your coffee plantation owner friend’ weekend. All the famous sights had already been seen – Bylakuppe, Abbey falls, Raja’s seat, Omkareshwara temple, elephant bathing at Dubare, Talacauvery. Why, I’d been on a trekking holiday to Thadiyandamol too. I sighed, kicking myself for not planning to go to a new destination.
Of course, lying around reading books with an endless supply of coffee can never be too bad, I consoled myself. My other-half (henceforth OH) had no such motivations for returning to Coorg; he staunchly refused to join me. I unabashedly lied to him, promising we’d spend all three days exploring facets of Coorg we’d never seen before. As we waited by the Cauvery on the bank opposite the Dubare Elephant Camp, for the Jungle Lodges’ boat to pick us up, I wondered how much time I had before my deception was exposed.
|The landing dock at JLR Dubare, by the Cauvery|
Three days later, OH gently steers our car over a bad stretch of road, to prevent the cheap liquor bottles filled to the brim with luscious Coorgi honey from clanging into each other and breaking. I glance at him for a ‘holiday indicator’ expression that is usually writ large at the end of each trip - a broad grin is plastered over his face.
Me: Enjoyed breakfast today, huh? You’re smiling.
OH: Yeah, the neer dosas were melt-in-your-mouth. And, I’m going to miss this coffee! (glaring at a honking car and frowning) Well, we better get used to our return to the urban jungle.
Me: So you’re glad you tagged along? You almost didn’t!
OH: I frankly didn’t expect the cottages at the JLR property to be set by a peaceful side of the river. I was half-expecting screaming crowds - bathing elephants or boating - right outside my room.
Me: I agree; this was a pleasant surprise. And who knew the forest began in their backyard! I was more thrilled with our morning walks than the jeep safaris, though. Once Putta Naik reassured me about being on foot in elephant territory, the plants, spiders, damselflies and other critters had my undivided attention. I’ve never spent ten minutes watching a spider spin its web!
|A nature walk in Dubare, with the river for company|
OH: (braking suddenly) We’re almost at the turnoff to Chiklihole…are you sure you don’t want to check if the view today is better?
Chiklihole, a reservoir, is one of Dubare’s little-known secrets. When we’d visited the day before, the weather had been moody. The water was a still, lacklustre sheet, with a mist-covered backdrop. The grey monotone of both the sky and the reservoir offset the vivid colours of the fishing coracles - not your quintessential picture-postcard vista, but, dramatic enough to command attention. The clouds, unfortunately, decided to deny us the spectacular sunset the locals had raved about. I could have spent many hours shooting the breeze, seated on the coarse stones of the humongous embankment, except, OH had dragged me away. For a good cause, though; I would have missed the fish auction if he hadn’t. Grown men running at break-neck speed, all for snapping up some fish, is not an everyday sight. At one point, two men almost got into blows over a beauty; egged on by their respective friends, they persisted for many minutes, until the fishermen intervened to seal the deal.
|Fishermen and their fishing coracles, at Chiklihole reservoir|
OH: (recollecting the fish-war) The locals sure seem to love their fish!
Me: Fish, and spices! Remember, Harsha showed us those deceptively small Gandhari chillies in his plantation? He was horrified when I said I wanted to taste one; he quietly steered me away from those bushes.
OH: (laughing) You would have been blinded like Gandhari, had you eaten one. I’m glad you forced me to visit a plantation – I feel like a pro, being able to tell the difference between Arabica and Robusta.
|Coffee beans, in various stages of drying|
Not only was OH happy, spurred by Harsha (our guide), he had even plucked fresh pepper, vowing to make some pickle once home. Harsha and his family invest a lot of time and energy looking after their coffee plantation, like many Kodavas do. It isn’t easy, despite having sprinklers for watering the plants. Keeping them pest-free and harvesting the beans when just right is hard work. Not all creatures are pests, though; their plantation is home to a host of critters which are welcome – we spotted giant wood-spiders and well-camouflaged toads too.
|Camouflaged toad in the coffee plantation|
Me: Until Harsha told me, I didn’t know that spiders were such an integral part of coffee plantations.
OH: For that matter, wildlife seems so inseparable from Coorg. Even if you are not looking for wildlife, it finds you. Like when you saw an Indrella ampulla on the compound wall of a devara kadu.
Me: Or when I narrowly missed stepping over the bracket fungi in the devara kadu at Chettalli. I’m so happy we could see a few of these sacred groves.
I hadn’t known about devara kadus until I read an article some months ago. These forest patches have survived the onslaught of development, as sacred groves. Some remain in their primal form under trees, while others are being ‘developed’, with small temple-like structures being built. This trip had allowed me to peek into this spiritual side of life in Coorg.
|Bracket fungi and a stream, in a devara kadu by the road, at Chettalli|
OH: The next time we visit, we must time it to witness ritual dances at these devara kadus. Or probably visit in March, when the grand puja is conducted at the Veerabhadreshwara temple - with priests coming from all over Karnataka, it promises to be festive.
Me: I wouldn’t mind another visit. I still need to experiment with photographing star trails. I am unhappy with the results this time, but we should get clear skies once this monsoon passes. You really missed experiencing midnight by the river!
I had spent many hours at night waiting by the river, hoping for the skies to clear. The riverside took on a different character, as the cobalt blue of dusk slowly turned inky. With people tucked away in their homes and hotels, a permeating silence descended on the Cauvery - one that allowed me to hear the gentle sloshing of the currents. Curious to see how the transformation progressed, I awoke at 2 am, only to find the landscape mist-covered and eerily beautiful, bathed in bluish-white moonlight. Though it felt too spooky for a walk, the cottage’s balcony had been perfect to lounge in, at that time.
|River-side cottages at JLR Dubare|
OH: (smiling) I may have had the energy to wake up in the middle of the night, if I hadn’t spent all evening chasing you around Madikeri’s buildings. You architects are magnetically attracted to buildings, aren’t you?
Me: (embarrassed and defensive) You enjoyed those monuments as much as I did! The Madikeri fort’s upkeep is a little disappointing, but walking on the moss-covered ramparts, taking in the town’s views, made up for it. Very few visitors seem to enjoy it, though.
OH: And even fewer visit Gaddige. The tombs may be decrepit, but their location is beautiful. So is some of the architectural detailing.
|Moss-covered Madikeri Fort|
|Kings’ tombs, called ‘Gaddige’, set on an elevated patch of land in the middle of bustling Madikeri|
Me: (laughing) Spoken like an architect’s husband! If only I were born a century ago, we could have lived in a gorgeous ‘Ain Mane’. We were lucky to even stumble upon one of these ancestral houses – most have been demolished to make way for newer homes.
|A typical Kodava ‘Ain Mane’|
Unlike Tipu’s demolishing soldiers who never returned, OH sheepishly agrees that Coorg definitely merits repeat visits. He still needs to ride down the Cauvery in a coracle. And, Putta Naik, our naturalist, has promised to show us many more critters and interesting insect-behaviour within the Jungle Lodges property.
|A leaf-hopper, seen during a nature walk|
I, however, had ended my holiday floating in a coracle amidst cheery, bright water lilies, past the resort’s gol-ghar, waving to OH, who had opted for a head start on breakfast. There, in that coracle, I reminded myself - even as a by-now-five-holiday veteran, I have more to seek out in Coorg, if I do come, ‘dubare’.
P.S: My books did not see the outside of my suitcase. Coorg had had the last laugh.
|Water lilies and a dragonfly|