Whilst spending some downtime in Mysore I planned my next stop. So far I’ve only been planning my journeys 2-3 days in advance, or sometimes just the day before; it really depends on how accessible the next place is. Luckily, from Mysore the choices were endless; from here I could head south east into Tamil Nadu, west into Kerala, or back to Bangalore and further on towards the north east. I felt like I’d exhausted the midlands of Karnataka, so decided I’d head towards Kerala (as I’m still heading south) but, whilst consulting a map to determine the easiest route, I came across a place called Madikeri; a hill station situated in the Kodagu District (also known as Coorg). This district is the final outpost of Karnataka and creates a border with Kerala; it seemed like a good enough place to spend my last days in the state and a natural pathway into Kerala.
I’d learnt from my previous week’s outings not to expect anything (I was still recovering from my disappointment of Mysore) and to just head there and see how it goes. The bus journey to this remote little town was amusing to say the least; the hairpin bends and steep inclines slowed the bus down to a near stop; at one point I thought we’d have to get out and push but, after many grinding gear changes, we arrived without issue. Anyone who’s been to India will tell you how chaotic bus stations can be, even when arriving. You’re bombarded with rickshaw drivers, who are, of course ‘your friend’, asking where you’re going and offering a good price. I’d done my research beforehand (makes a change) and decided to walk.
After checking in etc. I decided, as usual, that I’d give the local area the once over. This time it was unusual in the fact that the town was small enough to pretty much cover in a good hour so, I found, to my surprise, that this little market town was very, very pleasant.
There were no tourists knocking about; in fact, during my 4 days here I only saw one other couple wandering around. No, there’s not much in Madikeri to see from a tourist point of view, but the place was so lively; it really was a busy market town nestled in the hilltops, surrounded by coffee plantations, forests, and elephant reserves. For the first time in India I could actually see healthy greenery, rivers, plants; if this place was on the border of Karnataka and Kerala, then how beautiful will Kerala be? I was happy; ecstatic in fact, that I’d finally reached the southern part of India (or the beginning of it should I say). So, after a few beers in another local prohibition style bar, I hit the sack ready for the next few days.
I’d read that there were some waterfalls nearby (Abbey Falls), though I couldn’t get a definite answer on direction or distance. I asked 5 people the way to these falls and it ranged from 5km, 8km, to over 15km. Now, not minding a fair walk and not really having anything to get back for, I decided I’d risk it and walk it; I’m so glad I did. I saw far more during my walk than I would’ve done in a rickshaw. What was also amusing was the amount of people who did a double take when riding past me on scooters, clearly thinking ‘what the hell is he doing walking in the middle of nowhere?’.
Though the heat was nearly unbearable (it’s been getting hotter the further south I go) it was well worth it; the views on the way were astonishing and, once I’d arrived at the falls, I just sat and took it all in. Not only was this place beautiful, but it was completely calm; the only noise I could hear was the waterfall and the occasional bird; it was bliss.
On the way back I did a bit of exploring and found an old café; abandoned probably due to a lack of custom. This place was settled just off a winding road in the hills about half way up. It looked like since it’d been abandoned, it’d been used as a shelter for lost wanderers, or maybe trekkers who needed a roof over their head on a wild night (there were traces of open fires). There are these little abandoned places, or ‘gems’ as I like to call them, littering the many snake passes in the Coorg hills; I think they show that times have changed and how people seemed to have moved from the wilds of the forests to the concrete streets of local towns; is this a good thing though? I’m not so sure.
After a long trek back (I think I clocked the round trip to around 9 miles) I was tired, aching, and felt like I’d lost half my bodyweight in sweat; so I needed to relax. What to do in Madikeri to relax? Have a beer of course. I chose the local bar again to have a couple of beers before heading back to the hostel for the night. This, I thought, would be the perfect way to end a very satisfying, if tiring, day. I was wrong. Halfway through my 2nd beer I heard a scuffle, then a crack…
Everyone in the bar turned around to see a guy waving a beer bottle around, aiming at another guy; the sound once he made contact with his head was a hollow thud, but the bottle didn’t break. Within seconds the barman was on top of him, dragging him over the table. Bottles smashed, crates went over, before I knew it there were several people involved and a couple of broken bottles being tossed about. Now, this sort of thing doesn’t really happen that often back home, so seeing it in a little town in India, several miles away from medical services was a little unnerving. I was told, after it’d calmed down and people thrown out etc. that it’s ‘quite common’ and happens ‘most days’. Either way, I quickly drank my beer and left. I was shocked, I didn’t know what to think; I had to sit down I was that anxious. This was probably the first time I’d actually felt uneasy in India and I didn’t expect it from this little town; however, my opinion of Madikeri has not changed whatsoever. Later, I bought a couple of bottles from a liquor store (100r) and collected myself back in the hostel…I slept like a baby.
The next day the peace resumed; I took a bus to Kushalnagar (33r), followed by a rickshaw to the Namdroling Monastery (80r). This monastery houses the Golden Temple and is a peaceful, Tibetan Buddhist settlement, with grounds that are home to over 3000 Monks (the Tibetans arrived here after they fled from the Chinese invasion in 1959) The monastery reminded me of Hampi in many ways, mainly due to its serenity; there was near silence there. It was the sort of place where, if you were that way inclined, you’d spend an hour or so meditating. I was very tempted but realised I wouldn’t really know what I was doing and would look like a fool. It’s something I may get into, I may not. India is definitely the country that tempts someone into these things; there is something about this place that is very spiritual, maybe even enlightening (there are yoga and meditation retreats scattered across the land, and for good reason).
Now, inside the town limits of Madikeri are a few things worth seeing. If you don’t mind a good uphill stroll there’s Raja’s Seat; situated on the edge of town, the gardens there overlook the vast landscape below, offering a very rare, unspoilt view of the region, especially at sunrise and sunset.
There’s also Raja’s Tomb and the local fort; these are both within walking distance of the town centre and are free to enter. However, if, like me, you’re also interested in local culture, head to the main road market. Here I found fresh fish, freshly butchered chickens (and live ones caged), not so fresh fruit, and many different types of local coffee. One thing that I wasn’t expecting here was the amount of locally made chocolate; dark, milk and white. Of course, being a diabetic, I only tried a couple of samples but I must admit they were all pretty damn good; chocolate was the last thing I expected to find in the hilltops of India. So, if you’re heading this way, try the chocolate!
As my time in Madikeri came to a close I couldn’t help but feel excited to be moving on. Not because I disliked the place (I loved it) but because I had an idea, without expectations, of how Kerala would be. I’d finally be hitting the true south of India and all that it brings.
The south feels so close now, and I feel I’ve made a breakthrough. It may sound cliché, but I feel a lot less conflicted now than I have done in years. There’s still so much more to see, to do, and to feel, that I really can’t wait…