Hello, 4 am wake up call. The quietest and most deserted I have seen India yet is at 4:17 am on a Saturday morning, which is precisely when we left our hostel under the cover of darkness (dramatic, right?) and headed toward the bus station. Groggily, we asked around to find which bus was leaving for Madikeri (Coorg is a district within Karnataka. Madikeri is a town within that district), and stumbled aboard. The next three hours were spent in a kind of hazy state: not quite asleep, but nearly. I was too anxious to sleep because we didn’t really know for sure where we were getting off, even though it was a good three-hour ride.
We kept asking those around us when, precisely, we should get off, but no one seemed to be able to tell us exactly when we should disembark. “Your stop is like, the next next next one” said one woman as she hurried off, which was just as cryptic as it sounds. The bus would arbitrarily pull over and people would get on or off, but then it would stop at actual bus stations also. Anxiously peering out the window, I glimpsed a sign that said “Madikeri Town Center” with an arrow pointing straight ahead. “Here!” I cried, and we raced off the bus as it paused momentarily at a small shelter. Satisfied that we had made it to Madikeri, the only task now was to find our hostel.
This turned out to be harder than any of us would have imagined. We wandered up and down the streets, searching for any establishment that was open. Not many people spoke English either, so that was an added struggle. Finally, at another hostel, we found a woman who spoke enough English to point us in the way of a Tourist Help Center where she promised we could find advice. There was only one caveat: it didn’t open for another hour until 9:30 (which could mean as late as 10:30 here). Feeling only halfway accomplished, we decided to search for an open restaurant to wait it out. As we lugged our bags over the crest of a hill we caught a glimpse of the Tourist Help Center and saw, to our disbelief, a car parked outside and one of the doors open. Hesitantly we approached and walked inside to find a man sitting behind a desk.
We showed him the address and he paused. “I don’t know how to say this…” he began, and immediately my heart sunk. Had I accidentally advised us to get off at the wrong stop? “…you’re really not far at all, I just can’t describe how to get there. I’m headed in that direction anyways though, come with me.” He took us precisely to our hostel location, which I doubt we would have ever found on our own, as it was unlabeled and above a small store. He then disappeared off down the hill. We didn’t see his distinctive purple car, or him, again and trust me, it is a pretty small town, and that car was pretty distinctive. As of right now, I firmly believe he was like our guardian angel, showing up precisely at the right time to guide us “home.”
The room where we were staying was advertised as a “5-bed room,” and that’s precisely what it was. A large room, with 5 twin beds all pushed together, and that’s about all. I don’t know how many of you have read “The Napping House,” but that’s exactly what I thought of; the light blue walls even matched the book cover directly!
After freshening up in our napping room (and being brought complementary coffee by our hotel owner’s adorable son) we geared up for the hike to Abbi Falls. The signs claimed that it was about a 7 kilometer (4 miles) hike there, so food was necessary before walking too far. As we neared another hillcrest, a small board proclaimed “New Canteen!” Intrigued, we walked over and were ushered in by an older woman. We quickly realized that this was, in fact, her house, and also that she didn’t seem to speak any English or Hindi. Despite this, she served us the most delicious dosas I have ever eaten, and gave us tea and coffee as well for only Rs. 150 total (which is less than $3).
Bellies full, we marched onward. It was quite a hilly walk to the falls, but was so completely worth it. Coorg is called the “Scotland of India” and, while I have never been to Scotland, based on what I have seen on Google, this is pretty accurate. There are tons of tea and coffee plantations, along with so many varieties of trees; and the hillside was a mottled green, rising and falling out of the still-prevalent morning mist.
After an hour and then some of walking, we finally reached the falls! They were breathtaking (I realize I overuse that word). So much of what I see here is, while amazing, man-made, so it was nice to see more of a natural wonder.
I wouldn’t call the walk back easy, per say, but it wasn’t terrible. We had lucked out as it wasn’t that hot yet. Nor was it raining; during this time of year here, this is like hitting the weather jackpot.
Upon arriving back at our hostel after a quick bite to eat, we found ourselves with a slightly awkward amount of time. Not quite enough to walk to the Raj Seat (which we had been thinking was 7 km in the other direction) and not sure what else to do, we decided to head back to the center of town and see what we could find. On the way, we ran into a parade celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi, which is a festival honoring Lord Ganesh that lasts 3-11 days, depending on the traditions and customs of each family. There are statues of Ganesh everywhere, and then on odd-numbered days after the pooja (celebratory offering) the Ganesh idol is immersed in a body of water (which symbolizes Ganesh returning to his heavenly home). When I say “ran into the parade,” I mean it quite literally: we were surrounded by the parade in all directions. Managing to extract ourselves, we hurried up a side path to get out of the way, only to realize that it lead to the remains of a fort.
Madikeri Fort was built at the end of the 17th century, originally, but was rebuilt and updated in later years. It houses a former church, a former palace, a still functioning temple, and an odd building that looks like something straight out of a horror movie. Also present are gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside, and some life-size elephant statues.
While walking around it started to pour, but we plodded on (not that we really had any other choice). After imploring at several restaurants, we finally found one that was open and serving dinner “early” (it was 7 pm), and enjoyed cashew masala for the second day in a row! (#blessed). We were also able to catch more of the parade on the way home, which was so interesting to see.
The next morning we woke up early again, thanks to the call to prayer blasting from the mosque next door. Something that was so unique and special about this town was that I was able to look out my window and see a mosque, a church, and several Hindu temples, happily coexisting.
Our hostel owner, who was so sweet, had bestowed upon us several apples to enjoy for breakfast, which we munched on as we headed out to explore before taking the bus back to Mysore.
Our distance estimates had been a little off yesterday, and we were able to see both the Raj Seat and another temple before running out of time. With the Raj Seat, I use the term “see” really loosely. Legend has it that this is where the Raj, or ruler, of Madikeri used to sit and gaze over all his land and people.
Our view was a little less magnificent. The rainy weather had brought with it a wall of impenetrable fog. We could see absolutely nothing. It was kind of cool, mostly really creepy, and kind of disappointing. At one point, it started really monsooning, and for a few blissful minutes the fog cleared and we could catch a glimpse of the splendor below. I can only imagine how beautiful it would be at sunset.
The last place we stopped by in Madikeri was the Omkareswara Temple, which is a stunning whitewashed structure with red trim, surrounded by a reflecting pool. This temple is in honor of Lord Shiva, and was built in 1820. It is also a pilgrimage site.
Shortly after, we hustled back to our hostel, grabbed our bags, and caught the bus back to Mysore. In Mysore, we grabbed a quick dinner, visited what had become our favorite bakery over the weekend, and headed back towards the bus station for the trip back to Hyderabad.
On the way home we were shown a Telugu movie, called “Temper.” It was very interesting. The most poignant part in my opinion was when the main character shouted “MY EGO SURROUNDS ME LIKE WIFI! USERNAME: DAYA! PASSWORD: POLICE.” It was very intense. The link to the trailer is here if you’re curious.
The rest of the ride passed smoothly, and we arrived just in time for breakfast before Kuchipudi class on Monday morning.
It is so interesting to me to see how different each part of India is. Simply the differences between Hampi, Madikeri, and Mysore were astounding, and they are all in the same state (Karnataka)!