Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bylakuppe-Dubare: A weekend of Coorg Magic

We left the city of Bangalore one Saturday morning in December by road, at 6 am on the dot. We carried with us breakfast and lunch, packed nicely, and lots of water. A reasonable drive and 6 hours later we reached our first halt: Bylakuppe where there are four Tibetan monasteries. It's really a wonder how a mini-Tibet exists,
monasteries, nunneries, red costumes, and ‘minimized’ noses all thrown in. It so
happens that Dalai Lama had inaugurated a 'Golden Temple' just a couple of
days earlier, so there was such a profusion of flowers all over the place,
there couldn't have been a timelier visit to this settlement. The locale is really picturesque, neat, and lots of sights to see if you have an eye for colourful paintings, Buddhist practices and temple construction details. We could visit the two main temples, then we were on our way to Abbi falls, which is a nice rocky region where the Cauvery falls from some 60 ft. We found it good enough for lunch halt. The rice, vegetables, Indian bread (rotis) and someone’s gifted pickles tasted wonderful, even my fussy son had a better than usual fill of all items.
We moved on to Talacauvery (origin of the River Cauvery: in India, all rivers are holy, and the origin is a pilgrimage site), which is at around 4000 ft above msl. A small shrine marks where the river spouts (you can actually see new water gushing out during a specific period in the month of October, we were told). 360 steps cut in the hill leads you to the top of Brahmagiri, which is a great vantage point to see hilltops to the North, Arabian Sea to the West and Nilgiris to the South. By the time we descended to Madikeri, which is the capital of Coorg district, it was well past sunset, so we missed visiting Raja's Seat and the fort, which used to be erstwhile kings' viewpoint for sunsets and sunrise. Madikeri is a small town, looks like Ooty, with all the roads sloping up and down, and the town becoming cluttered with over-crowding.
We found nice accommodation in a hotel, freshened up, and left to visit the Omkareshwara temple just a kilometre away - and then did a double take. This temple, at first looks, gives the appearance of a mosque, what with its white walls and minaret-like temple towers, and even a small structure at the centre of the temple pond. There again, we were lucky, for Providence seemed to make up to us for other
missed tourist spots - it happened to be the sixth day of the lunar fortnight, special in the Dec-Jan lunar month; the temple was all decked up with lights and flowers, the palanquin and a decorated carrier for the deity were ready to tour a small metallic idol of the main deity around the temple and in the pond, and there were cultural programs going on - We got to see and appreciate aesthetic Bharatanatyam (Indian classical dance) and a local orchestra which was being broadcast live on FM radio. Prasadam (offering to God) was rice and soup served on areca tree leaves.
Since we expected to start early the next day, we moved on to a place for dinner, and ended up having more bread and rice, but memorable ones, more because of the nice view we had from our table directly to the temple pond, where the festivities continued with a cracker show and the idol procession.
A restful night, hot water baths and a mini breakfast done, we checked out
and set off to Dubare Forest to visit an elephant camp. You have to cross
the river by boat to reach the Government Forest department-run camp which features an interactive session with the pachyderms: so intimate that your first task is
to give them a bath in the river! The mahouts and the tourists wait patiently when, like well-trained humans, the elephants empty their bowels at the river, and then sit down or lie in the water to submit to being bathed by Indian and foreign hands, adult and kids hands.
Most tourists have no problems moving into the water and scrubbing down a couple of elephants, some fussy ones may prefer to watch. My son would not get into the water where the elephants had just, well, relieved themselves. His dad kept clicking away, and I, well, after pulling up my jeans sufficiently and waiting for a baby elephant to be brought in, I too got into the act and scrubbed away. (Later on my son mellowed down enough to perch on his dad’s hands and then scrub an elephant) Oh aren't elephants lovable! At the next session the visitors are encouraged to feed the residents. At this time, the manager, a veteran vet specialized in pachyderms’ habits gives you the low-down of the history and geography of Indian and African elephants; with one docile 'demo' elephant helpfully following whispered instructions. By this time, huge ragi (Indian name for a nutritious cereal) balls are ready and the visitors take turns to pop one into the open mouths of the friendly giants. The session ends with a 15-minute ride on the back of the elephant, 4-5 people perched on a hoodah. When you get off the elephant’s back, you are bound to come away with renewed respect for all non-human creatures and Nature that always gives them their needs.
We went back to the mainland and moved to another exotically named Government-run resort called Cauvery Nisargadhama to watch more elephants, and visit some deer and rabbits in a park. The deer may have been bored with their usual menu; we watched them happily munch some peels that some local kids fed them through the fence. Then we were back on the road, looking for a place for lunch before starting homeward, with stops for tender coconut water, coffee and the famous wooden Channapatna toys on the way. My son slept thru most of the drive through both days. I get the impression he does not enjoy car rides and elephant rides as much as he does train journeys. At 8 pm it was home sweet home. What did we bring back apart from memorable moments and our garbage? - A healthy appetite to enjoy a hot dinner of soup, rice, salad and lentils.

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