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Coorg and the bean talk ( Feb.)


Hindu, Delhi, Monday 17th February 2014

There’s more to Coorg than the coffee plantations, resorts and mountains shrouded in mist

There are no Café Coffee Days or Baristas here. Instead, vistas of stumped coffee plants growing in the shade of benevolent native trees stretch through silence broken by whistling wind and falling yet uplifting waterfalls. Wild elephants meander in the plantations in the day and fireflies take over the plantations at night. Coorg appears as if it’s been painted on a canvas and brought to life.

The bumpy, washed out road from Mangalore to Coorg changes its rough character drastically the moment it enters the Coorg district.

Perched on the Western Ghats of Karnataka, Coorg or Kodagu has gained its popularity in India in the recent years. She has claimed her place as a coffee plantation hill station, like her near and distant tea plantation cousins Kodaikanal, Ooty and Darjeeling. And with this claim numerous new resorts have burgeoned in the region, many of them located inside the coffee estates.

Kodavas are the main ethnic group of Coorg, carrying a rich farming and militia history. It is a culture that thrives on Nature, not industry. Paddy fields in the foothills and coffee plantations on the slopes, mainly around the district headquarter Madikeri, are the traditional and main sources of livelihood.

What is different about the coffee district is not just the coffee, but guns. The Kodavas, being warriors in ancient times, worship arms. Guns are an important part of the festivals of this region. “Most families carry two or three guns,” says Biju, the co-owner of a coffee plantation that spreads over 400 acres. He continues with a glint in his eyes, talking about his passion, i.e., guns. “And yet it is one of the safest places to live in. The crime against women is quite rare and they are the main decision makers in many families.” That is said to reflect in the sex ratio where the number of females exceeds the number of males.

There are other ethnic communities and forest-dwelling hunter and gatherer tribes as well. Water is aplenty and the main river of the region is Cauvery. Coffee makes Coorg one of the richest districts of India. When asked where we can find good coffee, Sunil, the co-owner of a coffee plantation and resort answers , “The coffee that you’re used to , is a mixture of different varieties of coffees. And each one has a secret formulation, which the company doesn’t disclose. They just buy the raw coffee variety from us like Robusta and Arabica and process and mix it themselves.”

Nonetheless, the Indian coffee is supposed to be one of the finest in the world, grown fully in the shade of eucalyptus, vanilla and native evergreen and leguminous trees. The shade-giving trees not only protect the coffee plants but also enrich the soil and prevent erosion. The exotic, full-bodied taste and aroma finds its way to your cup through intense labour and extraordinary care. The coffee plantations are as multicultural and inclusive as the medley that is India. Pepper, cardamom, vanilla, a local variety of orange and bananas share the same home, drawing their daily supply of nutrients from the shared pool of coffee plantations.

The homesick British, who once inhabited the cool climes of Coorg, named it the Scotland of India. British architecture still stands strong in Madikeri and many tourists visit the same. Around 5 km away from Madikeri is Abbey Falls, a sight to behold, provided it’s not a public holiday. There is Iruppu Falls too where you can actually go inside the water. An elephant camp of the forest department at Dubare is another tourist attraction and so is Nisargadhama, an island on the banks of the Cauvery. For the religious, there is Talacauvery, the origin of Cauvery, with a Lord Brahma temple on the bank. For the adventurous, there are the Nagarhole National Park, and Brahmagiri, Talacauvery and Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuaries. You can hope to catch a glimpse of a tiger, gaur, dhole (wild dog), leopard or elephant that magnanimously let you pass through the privacy of their living space.

Ever wondered what we would do if a tiger or a gaur or a dhole or a leopard enters the privacy of our home or our garden or our street or even our city? But the Kodavas and the other ethnic groups and tribals of Coorg don’t mind them coming in to their plantations and passing by their villages. They know better than us that the mountains and fields belong as much to a lonely elephant or a pack of dholes. If I were to settle in the coffee country, it won’t be only for the lush landscape or healthy sex ratio or rich culture; it will be for the forgotten pleasures of experiencing synergy with nature.