“Could you please slow down, so that I can photograph the coffee seeds?” I asked my driver. “Sure, let me pluck a few for you”, he replied as he braked. He quickly plucked a few, opened one and put in my hand. “This is the coffee bean that we crush to make coffee powder, but it is not yet ripe”, he said as we drove down the dirt track past more coffee plantations. We were in Chikmagalur, often referred as the birth place of coffee in India.
When the sufi saint Baba Budan smuggled seven coffee seeds from Yemen to India and planted them across the hills of Bababudan giri in Chikmagalur, he must not have foreseen what that would lead to. From the tumbler filter coffee to the cappuccinos, all made their way from here. While coffee is now cultivated across Coorg, Kerala, Nilgiris and other parts of India, Chikmagalur is where coffee was first planted in India and is presently one of the major coffee hubs in the country. Chikmagalur is cosily nestled amidst the hills of Baba Budangiri with unending vistas of undulating hills and deep valleys. It is also known for its trekking routes such as Mullayanagiri and Kudremukh.
The 12th century Hoysala temples slowly gave way to beautiful landscapes as I rode into Chikamagalur late in the afternoon. When in coffee land, smell the coffee first. The aroma of coffee led me to Coffee Yatra, a museum dedicated in educating about the history, cultivation and types of coffee in India. A video takes you through the procedure of how a coffee bean ends up in a cup. I was also taken to their laboratory where they test and experiment coffee beans to learn more about this seed of gold.
Further away from the museum and a short ride from Chikmagalur led past areca nut plantations to Ayyanakere Lake. The serene lake surrounded by hills remains isolated and has a surreal setting. A lone fisherman went about his daily chores on the gleaming waters of the lake. There were hardly any visitors except for a few local boys and the lone security guard. However, the lack of visitors were compensated with numerous birds fluttering around, mostly river terns. I strolled around for a while, chatted up with the boys and waited for the sun to set to capture the frame. Ayyanakere lake looks absolutely gorgeous as the sun goes down the horizon. The placid waters, dusky sky and silhouettes of hills in the backdrop form a mesmerizing frame. As I got up and walked out after the sun set, the guard came up to inform that more facilities are lined up in the next few months. A resort along with a line of amenities is scheduled to come up shortly. Yes, Ayyanakere lake does lack facilities, but a host of activities might take off the sheen of this beautiful lake. It seems like the lake would put up a different frame when I go there next time.
Hirekolale is a nice lake, a short ride away from Chikmagalur town. Secluded and serene, Hirekolale lake is engulfed by nature and remains fairy unexplored. My visit early in the morning was ideal to spot numerous avian fauna. With the tall hills in the background, it looked quite similar to Ayyyanakere, albeit the charm.
It was a cold ride in the morning through the sprawling coffee plantations to Mullayanagiri, the highest peak in Karnataka. Apart from the estates, the meandering roads offered intermittent vistas of distant hills and deep valleys. Seethalayanagiri is a vantage enroute with lovely vistas apart from a small shrine. Despite the roads being almost a dirt track with a steep gradient for the last stretch of two kilometers, the mesmerizing panoramic vistas more than make up for it. Mullayanagiri stood intimidating and what caught my attention was the zig zag path that led up to its summit. Despite the sun blazing, it was cold and windy all the way, and the views got better with the elevation. Distant hills engulfed in mist and open lands intercepted by shola forests form the backdrop for the shrine atop. The red brown road that sneaks its way amidst the greenery stands out. Though the walk down was faster, the ride down past the treacherous road was precarious.
Intermittent viewpoints such as Kavikal gundi showed up between the coffee plantations as the road led from Mullayanagiri to Baba Budangiri. I rode beyond the few commercial establishments at Baba Budangiri to Manikyadhara waterfalls. The meandering road past the beautiful views led to the steps that took me down to the falls. Manikyadhara is probably at its best during the rains. However, the falls was true to its name as the drops glistened against the blazing sun. Gaalikere can be seen as you ride down from the falls to the dargah. The dargah of Baba Budangiri is an underground one and quite popular too. Dripping with water, I walked around the underground damp dargah where the saint and his disciples rest.
I was told about Jhari falls (also referred as Buttermilk falls) by my host at Henry Corner. At Attigundi between Mullayanagiri and Baba Budangiri, I hired a jeep to lead me down the dirt track and through coffee plantations to Jhari falls. Though I had initially contemplated about visiting this falls, the first glimpse of the same made me realize the decision was a good one. Cascading over rocks, the tall falls looked absolutely beautiful. Despite being done with the monsoons, the falls tumbled and flowed beautifully down the rocks. However, the only downside was the crowd.
The ride to Kemmanagundi through Bhadra wildlife sanctuary was probably the most exciting one. Laced with beautiful views, forest patches and streams, it would be modest to call the road a dirt track. Though I was warned by my host, I did take that adventurous ride through the forest stretch of Bhadra. While initially it was a winding one past coffee plantations, it turned into a treacherous mud track for the remaining part. The interesting ride ended at the check post near Kemmanagundi, from where I headed to Kalhatti falls. This short stretch on cemented roads lined with tall trees and coffee plantations is an absolute delight and haven for riders. A detour led to the popular Kalhatti falls, where water flows next to a shrine. Though not an impressive one, it is claimed that a trek behind the shrine leads to a much bigger falls. However, the trek through the coffee plantations was futile, as it led nowhere. Though numerous falls small popped up, the big one remained elusive.
Z point, a detour from Kemmanagundi is one of the prominent attractions here. Shanti waterfalls enroute is beautiful, despite being a small one. The trail to the Z point goes along the edge of the hills past the tall grass. It is a long trail and the views of the hills all along are gorgeous. As the sun set, the tall trees and coffee plantations made lovely frames. Shortly later, I rode back to Chikmagalur, a lonely cold ride in the dark through the winding ghat sections.
The best possible way to spend the evening in Chikmagalur is to walk through M.G.Road. Explored the streets of Chikmagalur, and though shopping was never on my cards, couldn’t resist buying a packet of coffee as I headed back to my room.
While taking the jeep to Jerry falls, negotiate hard.
Avoid taking the road from Baba Budangiri to Kemmanagundi, if you have a four wheel vehicle, it would be a tough one and time consuming.
Visit Mullayanagiri early in the morning to avoid the blazing sun.
There aren’t restaurants or stalls near places such as Mullayanagiri, Ayyanakere, Hirekolale and Z-point.
Namma Angadi is a good option to buy coffee and spices.
Chikmagalur is 243 Kms from Bangalore, 151 Kms from Mangalore and 61 Kms from Hassan. The closest major airport is at Bangalore (264 Kms). The nearest major railhead is at Hassan. There are frequent buses from Hassan and Mangalore to Chikmagalur.
Food and Accommodation:
There are numerous restaurants in Chikmagalur town. Soundarya restaurant is a good vegetarian restaurant. Chikmagalur has a wide range of stay options from budget hotels to luxury resorts. I stayed at Henry’s Corner, a wonderful mid range option which offers all the basic facilities and is recommended. Mr. Antony, the host is quite helpful and always welcoming.