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Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 07/7/18 3:20 PM

Travel: Chikmagalur, Karnataka


Theres a lot more in coffee country than just coffee. We discovered it on a trip to Chikmagalur, Karnatakas coffee county.

It really is a lovely drive down to Chikamagalur from Bangalore, all 251 kms of it. The two main reasons for that is the  national highway being  a good road for the most part of the journey and the scenery on both sides of the road, a most pleasing one.

Green fields dotted with sturdy trees roll away to the horizon where hill ranges stand like some sort of impermeable hedge. This being the monsoon, these parts are getting good rains, and fat grey-tinged clouds have taken over the skies, ocassionally letting in intermittent sunshine.


Coffee and more

The tourist brochures all say that the best time to visit Chikmagalur is between September and March, which is when you get to walk in the clouds literally.

However, if you are an adventurous sort, up to navigating wet roads, slushy tracks, climbing hills in the rain, as well warding off leeches, I would recommend a monsoon visit. Because that has its own unique charm.

There`s no getting away from it: coffee still dominates the area and the agenda. Karnataka accounts for 71% of the coffee grown in India and much of it is grown here in Chikmagalur, as well as in Kodagu and Hassan.

One interesting fact is that coffee is something of a recent debutante here; it was brought in by the Sufi saint Baba Budan in the 16th century, replacing paddy, cardamom and areca plantations which were the main crops heretofore.

The coffee, mainly Arabica and Robusta, is grown at an altitude between 2,000 and 3,500 ft. Chikmagalur produces the hugely popular Mysore coffee with its appealing  mild and subtle flavour. Mysore coffee is drunk straight, blended with coffee from other regions, used as a topping, and so, has become a many-flavoured and very popular beverage.

A walk through a coffee plantation is de rigeur for the visitor and good fun besides. It`s fascinating, the sights and sounds of the shola (gallery forest) shrubbery; giant trees with a Rambutan-like bract growing red on its branches; hibiscus, yellow berries, russet tree orchids all around, and in season, the startlingly beautiful white coffee flowers in bloom.

Bird-watcher`s idyll

This is also a bird-watcher`s paradise and purple heron, wagtail, racket-tailed drongo, oriole, and the flameback woodpecker can be spotted by the vigilant observer.

Chikmagalur`s main attractions continue to be the Mullayangiri peak, Hebbe Falls, Baba Budangiri Hills, the Kudremukh National Park. However, some 40 kms away at Mudigere, you will find a fresh set of beautiful spots.


There are lovely streams   that flow swiftly at times, languorously at other times, most of them rushing to join the Hemavati river. There are small but vigorous waterfalls at the edge of the forest, the water jumping whitely over jagged black rock. Looming over us in a benign fashion is the magnificent Western Ghats.

There are meadows galore, with lavender, purple, pink and yellow wildflowers growing amidst the grass.  There are modest-sized hills wreathed in mist that make for an easy climb; only, you need to do it before the clouds and the rain descend.

Ancient shrines

There is the ancient Bettada Bhairaveshwara  temple that has a faintly sinister air to it, the ambience amplified by its isolation and abandoned appearance. Just one turn ahead of the temple stands the Pandava Hill, a steep hill which is worth the climb for the lovely views it affords of the deserted Bhairava temple below, as well as the hills and valleys that surround it.


Then there is the   900- year-old Kalabhairaveshwara shrine at Devaramane with its ancient temple tank. The tank is still occasionally visited  by wildlife in the form of elephants, sambar, wild dogs,  and the like. A hut by the side of the tank has one wall painted with a mural of a fierce goddess; an old tree bends protectively over it. Our guide said it was a shrine to a yaksha but sadly, was unable to supply more details.




Given that Karnataka is getting its regular quota of monsoon rains after ages, everything is glinting a brilliant green. The paddy gleams, with egrets landing and taking off every few minutes. Fat pepper vines wind themselves lovingly around trees, and the air is scented with the fragrance of cardamom.

Visiting the Bahubali

Anyone driving to Chikmagalur must make two stops. One at Shravanabelagola, 145 kms outside Bangalore, to climb the 650 steps   and  admire the world’s largest monolithic statue, that of Bahubali. The Mahamastakabhisheka, grand consecration, held every 12 years, had just got over a few months ago and Bahubali looked the epitome of calm grandeur, all 58 feet of him.  The pond which gives Shravanabelagola its name, the white pond of Shravana, was full to the brim.


Glorious ornamentation

The second stop is at the 12th century Chennakeshava temple in the old Hoysala capital of Belur in Hassan district. The temple is simply stunning, every available surface of its facade covered in intricate sculptures and friezes. Inside, an array of  carved  pillars further stun the visitor into a delighted silence.

And then it`s back to Bangalore, with memories of a great holiday inside your head and in your phone camera gallery.

This ran in THE HINDU SUNDAY MAGAZINE of 6 July 2018.

All photos by Sheila Kumar and subject to copyright.

Related travel stories of mine:

Travel: Ranganathittu, Karnataka

Travel: Hampi, Karnataka

Travel: Red Earth Kabini Resort, Karnataka

Travel: Kokrebellur, Karnataka

Travel: Srirangapatna, Karnataka

Travel: To Sakleshpur in a camper

Travel: SwaSwara in Gokarna

Travel: Bannerghatta National Park


Bettada Bhairaveshwara templeChikmagalurcoffee countryDevaramaneHoysala templeKalabhairaveshwara shrinekarnatakaPandava HillShravanabelagolatraveltravelogue

Sheila Kumar • July 7, 2018

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