The journey to Chikkamagaluru was an exhilarating experience as we cruised past verdant coffee, pepper, cardamom, ginger and coffee plantations that dot its scenic landscape. Rows of coffee bushes covered with sparkling white blossoms greeted us and the whole area was heavenly with their exquisite fragrance. It was a heady experience walking through the coffee plantations at blossom time.
Chikkamagaluru means ‘the place of the younger daughter’. The district takes its name from the headquarters town of Chikkamagaluru, which is said to have been given as dowry to the younger daughter of Rukmangada, the legendary chief of Sakrepatna. Situated in a fertile valley south of the Baba Budan range, Chikkamagaluru became the focus of global media attention when then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on her historic 1977 election campaign entreated the voters of the little township, “Please treat me as you would your own little daughter; I am your Chikmagalu”. They gave her a thumping victory, and Chikkamagaluru has since attracted the attention of adventurous travellers and nature enthusiasts.
The Coffee Museum
No trip to Chikkamagaluru is complete without a visit to World of Coffee, a coffee experience café, where we saw the world’s first interactive Coffee Wall. Here we had a 4D experience of seeing, touching, smelling and tasting coffee. The Coffee Yatra Museum, an initiative of the Coffee Board of India, is equally interesting. The museum had a thematic display of coffee history and processing of coffee like picking, drying and grinding, providing an insight into the painstaking procedures.
As we left Chikkamagaluru town and began our ascent into higher climes, there were pleasant surprises at every hairpin bend – towering peaks, delightful dales, meandering rivers, sparkling streams, sprightly falls, verdant scenery and the invigorating mountain air. Set against a mountainous canvas, one can experience the best of Western Ghats in the picturesque Malnad district.
One can discover trekking trails in the Kudremukh range and pristine nature in the form of forests, wildlife, mountains and hill stations, picnic in the unpolluted countryside, and ramble in coffee plantations. Whether one would like to see culture in the form of temple architecture, history and myth, or coffee plantations and the delights of coffee processing, Chikkamagaluru offers it all within a radius of about 100 km.
Coffee berries and sparkling coffee blossoms
The district offers a fabulous mix of ancient temples and forts besides wildlife in the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary and Kudremukh National Park. The drive to Bhadra took us past coffee plantations, dense green bamboo thickets and the picturesque village of Muthodi. Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, 38 km north-west of Chikkamagaluru, takes its name from the eponymous river, its lifeline. Wildlife sighting is very rare due to the dense forest cover. But if luck is on your side, you might sight the ferocious tiger, observe the Indian bison, hear the strange calls of the striped hyena, and see the rare flying lizard glide amidst the huge trees, while driving through dense tropical forests interspersed with lush grassy slopes. The flora here is a taxonomist’s delight. This includes the Terminalia tomentosa or the Mathi tree which acts as a natural fire extinguisher and the 300-year-old teak tree which stands like a sentinel guarding the sanctity of the precious forest and its denizens.
Chikkamagaluru is also a convenient base to explore the hill station of Kemmanagundi, located 53 km away and surrounded by thick evergreen forests and coffee estates. It is known for its ornamental gardens and sylvan atmosphere. It is no wonder that the Mysore Maharaja Krishnarajendra Wodeyar IV chose this place as his summer camp.
The area is littered with waterfalls such as Hebbe, located just 8 km from Kemmanagundi amidst fascinating scenery. The other falls is Kalhatti, which has associations with the sage Agastya. There is a temple, supposedly built during Vijaya Nagara time, situated in a narrow gap between rocks. You can also trek to Z-Point, a splendid place to watch sunsets.
Mullayyanagiri, the highest peak in Karnataka
The next day, shivering in the biting cold, we set out at the crack of dawn. Heaving and panting, we clambered up to the top of Mullayyanagiri, the tallest peak in Karnataka (at 6,317 ft above sea level). We were treated to mesmerising views of majestic mountain passes. En route we stopped by Seethalayyangiri. A holy temple here adds to the spiritual ambience.
The temple at Seethalayyangiri
From here, you can look towards the Baba Budan hills, where Hazrat Dada Hayat Mir Khalander, a famous Muslim saint, first introduced coffee cultivation to these parts. In 1650 he smuggled a few berries of coffee from the famous port of Mocha, on his way back from Mecca. He planted them on the high ridges of the mountains that rise above Chikkamagaluru, giving India her first coffee plantations. Revered as Baba Budan for his healing powers, Mir Khalander made the mountain range his home and it came to be called after him. The Inam Dattatreya Peetha, which is venerated by Hindus and Muslims alike, is located in this range. A laterite cave is believed to have been sanctified by the residence of Dattatreya Swami as well as Mir Khalander. Both Muslims and Hindus celebrate the annual jatra or urus here with great aplomb.
The vanadevathe statue
On our last day at this charming getaway, we stopped by Siri Coffee, a coffee house at Siri Nature Roost, which stands to speak the proud history of the district. One cannot afford to miss the sculpture of a lady draped in greenery and decked with plants and flowers. The aesthetically carved statue of the vanadevathe is the most Instagrammed spot in Chikkamagaluru. She is Chikkamagaluru personified – she is nature, she gives all she has to you, all she asks in return is to keep her clean, green and ever flourishing.
Susheela Nair is an independent food, travel and lifestyle writer, and photographer based in Bangalore. She has contributed content, articles and images on food, travel, lifestyle, photography, environment and ecotourism to several reputed national publications. Her writings constitute a wide spectrum, including guide books, brochures and coffee table books.