Travel Essay: Weekend Trip to Coorg from Bangalore
The road to Coorg is long – six hours from Bangalore on a good day. And most of those six hours are spent on the Bangalore-Mysore Highway.
The last time we drove on that highway was back in December when we went on a road trip to Wyanad in the northern tip of Kerala. Construction on that road was in full swing then – the road was bumpy and long stretches were blocked off, so traffic was going both ways on a narrow portion of the road.
The road conditions and the traffic were so bad, especially as we approached the towns, that all sorts of vehicles were on the highway pretty much going at the same speed. For quite a distance, it was the same set of vehicles sticking together because there was simply nowhere to go. There were buses, cars, lorries, vans, auto rickshaws (autos), and, for about 5 miles after Mandya, a motorized wheelchair.
I’m not kidding.
Although we failed to see the humor in the situation, three guys in an auto thought it was pretty funny. Autos are known (or are notorious) for their maneuverability. They stick their nose into the tiniest crack in the heaviest traffic. Because traffic was slow and because the auto could make headway even when the rest of the traffic was at a standstill, this one particular auto stayed with us for a good 20 minutes.
We would speed up in our car but would be forced to slow down, the auto would catch up and get ahead. We would speed up again when the traffic thinned a little bit but would have to slow down and the auto would catch up again, announcing its arrival with the high pitched drone of an engine pushed to its limit.
Think Rimsky-Korsakov. Think Flight of the Bumble Bee.
The first time it happened it was funny. We all looked at each other, looked at the guys in the auto and laughed. Ten minutes later, it was not so funny, watching the back of that darned auto disappearing into a sea of traffic. Apparently the driver of a bus that was with us during that stretch didn’t think it was funny either.
As the auto was getting ready to overtake the bus for the umpteenth time, he ran them off on to the median. We were right behind the auto and turned to make sure the guys in the auto were all right. They were fine, but had lost the grins. And we didn’t hear the drone anymore.
Eight months later, it’s a completely different story on the Bangalore-Mysore highway. The road is paved, long stretches of the road are now wide and uni-directional. There’s also a Coffee Day on the highway near Mandya with clean bathrooms. Perfect place for a break, especially if you’re traveling with young children.
Road trips are quite something else in India.
When emerald green rice paddies roll out in front of you as far as the eye can see, when you have to slow down to let a flock of sheep cross the road, when you overtake a bullock cart laden with hay or firewood or families returning home after a long day in the fields, when you pass by small tea shops on the roadside where men are hunched over their hot cups of tea that’s been boiled to a sticky sweetness in big brass decanters, when you pass by fields where children are spinning old tires and are running right alongside screaming at the tops of their voices, when you see farmers, both men and women in one long, single line, bent forwards at the waist, their ankles lost in the saplings sprouting on their fields, when you see farmers ploughing their fields not with tractors but with two bullocks pulling a yoke, when a toothless old man sitting outside his small, bright, colorful, unassuming home right there by the side of the road raises his hand and smiles to acknowledge your wave as you speed by in your car, you know you are in India.
Or perhaps in China, Mongolia, Indonesia…. I don’t know. But for right now, for me, this is India.
As we approached Coorg, the road every so slowly sloped upwards and rice paddies gave way to coffee plantations and orange orchards, and the highway gave way to bumpy, slushy side roads. We had left Bangalore close to nine in the morning and reached the Orange Country resort just as the resort’s dining hall was closing after lunch.
After a quick bite, which mainly consisted of scraping left-over from the bottom of the dishes, we were shown our cottages. The rain which had accompanied us for the last hour of the trip had washed everything down, from the cobbled stone paths to the leaves on the coffee plants to the roofs of our cottages. Everything looked fresh, green.
Our cottage itself was straight out of some postcard picture of the English country side.
It had a bedroom, a living room and a balcony out of which we had a view of the fields. Everywhere we turned we had views of coffee plants, peppercorn vines, rice paddies, bamboos, aracenut trees and Mexican crab grass laid out for lawns.
That night dinner was by candle light and by the light of kerosene lamps inside a tent. No, we did not decide to go camping and there was no power outage. We were at the Peppercorn, the only restaurant on the resort’s premises. For some reason the resort thinks that its clients, who have paid a whole lot of money and driven long distances for some R&R want to pretend they are out in the jungle, camping.
And they’re right. Although there’re plenty of room for improvement in the service department, the ambience was great, the food even better.
The next day, one of the guides at the resort took us on a tour of the resort’s plantation. There we saw…
cardomoms (I know, looks nothing like what we know to be cardomom)…
vanilla bean creepers…
and a jeweller’s inspiration, coffee bean clusters….
There are no museums to see, monuments to visit or malls to hang out in. This is the kind of place you go to because there is nothing to do.
Other than eating, that is. Or curling up in one of the chairs on the balcony with a good book, lifting your eyes off the page every so often to look out into the rain-drenched fields, to bathe your eyes in all the greenery, or curling up in bed to let the humming of incessant rain lull you to sleep.
Finally, I leave you with photographs of some buildings. Nothing special about them, no architectural marvels, these.
Just some buildings that evoke the sense of a time gone by.
All photos (c) Sujatha Bagal.