Beyond Coffee – Coorg Macro 2018

Anvay, where would you like to go next? I asked this question myself after Goa. Agumbe was done in July 2017. Goa was done in October 2017. 2018 at least one outstation macro trip had to be done. Go to the same places or experience something new? I decided to choose the latter. Checked with Yuwaraj sir and Vihang about their offerings. I have done Agumbe and Goa before with them and was comfortable with their services. Coorg – Amphibian tour it was. Coordinated the registration and payment and I was set.

Before this, I visited Coorg way back in 2010. Not for photography purposes, but it was a family trip. We stayed at a nice homestay and enjoyed the food and the sightseeing. You generally cannot do macro when you are with the family. After a gap of 8 years, I was going to visit again.

The first task was the mode of transportation. The expedition was going to begin ex Mangalore, which meant I had to reach Mangalore on my own.

Pune to Mangalore train services is pathetic. First is the 11097 – Poorna Express which departs at 23:30 and arrives at Mangalore the next day 23.15. The train runs only on Saturday. The other is the 22150 Pune Ernakulam SF which departs 18:45 and arrives at Mangalore 13:50 the next day. This train runs Wednesday and Sunday. Train options from Mumbai are better. Note that generally, the tour begins on Thursday. This means barring flight options, you have to depart for Mangalore on Wednesday and be in Mangalore latest by 12 pm for the onward journey. Also to keep in mind is the Konkan Railway Monsoon schedule. Train timings are adjusted during the monsoon session, so be sure which you choose. The ideal options are, 12619 Matsyagandha which departs from LTT at 15:20 and reaches Mangalore next day at 10:25 am. 12133 Mangalore Express also works but you will have to stay a night as it reaches in the afternoon. You catch the 22106 Indrayani Exp at 18:35 and get down at Thane. From Thane, you can catch the 12133 which arrives at Thane 22:23 right time.

Next are flight options. Note the screenshots are from Pune to Mangalore.

Indigo Flight times are comfortable. I have done the Pune to Mangalore Flight Leg and can say the flights are punctual. Even if the flight is late by a few hours, you still have time in hand to join for the onward journey. Point to note is Mangalore airport is outside of city limits. It is not in the city or such. You need around 40mins to 1 hour to travel from the airport to the city. However, if you wish to direct to go Madikeri, there are taxis available from the airport concierge. I don’t know the rates of the taxis. I will rather prefer to come to the city, have delicious food and move ahead. With new rules for security clearing, ensure camera batteries, flash batteries are packed properly. You may have to remove these during security checks. Also, the Hyderabad to Mangalore is an ATR with limited seat legroom and bin space. Heavy duty bags may be a hindrance.

With train and flight options aside, the ideal mode of transportation is the intercity bus. As a frequent bus user for around 6 years, I am comfortable with long bus journeys and I like them. Playing Euro truck simulator for long also has its benefits. Love the Volvo and Scania sounds.

There are many options for bus travel between Pune and Mangalore. VRL, SRS, Canara Pinto, Anand Travels and KSRTC. I had a bad experience for VRL for this route. The bus was booked, but at the last moment, the bus was canceled. This was going on for some days and is frequent which I got to know later. I had done the KSRTC journey between Udupi and Pune when I did the Agumbe expedition. Mangalore was an extension and actually the starting point of the service. KSRTC was the obvious choice. Note there are two services to Mangalore. One is from Mumbai and one is from Pune. If you are traveling from Pune, choose the Pune one. You don’t achieve great feats by choosing the Mumbai bus if you traveling from Pune. I chose the Airavat Club Class which is their premium service. The service number is 1831PNAMNG which is an abbreviation for 18:31 departure time Poona – Mangalore. It departs from Swargate Bus Stand at 18:31 and arrives around the 07:45-08:10 belt at Mangalore. It’s beneficial to get down at the last stop at Bejai which is also their main bus stand. For the return journey, it starts at 15:58 and reaches Pune at around 05:45 to 06:00 belt. One way trip costs Rs. 1,233. Seats selected, the trip booked and I was set for the bus journey. Usual packing for the expedition, research on the net about the place I am visiting, expected subjects at the location, its research and finally the journey date came.

As always, it’s a known fact. When you travel, excitement knows no bounds. Finished my work, went home and picked my bags, booked an Uber, off to Swargate bus stand. I was running a little late and thought I can make time by taking an Uber instead of an auto. Instead my uber was one of those brand new driver. This meant at every small pothole, the driver decided to go one wheel at a time. It is during these times, you feel like to take over the control of the car and press down on the accelerator hard. Fortunately at around 18:20 I was at Swargate Bus Stand. Now, if you have ever visited the bus stand, its utter chaos. You have to make your way to search for your KSRTC bus. Didn’t find my Volvo. Asked one of the OTC guys if the KSRTC bus has come in. he nodded in negative and suggested to check with the driver. He gave a hint which I could not decode during that time as I was half tensed if the bus is standing someplace else. He said KSRTC buses generally DO NOT come inside the bus stand. Nice. Over the next 15 mins I was frantically calling the crew of the bus to know its location. The only message I was getting was, “the number you are trying to reach is busy at the moment”. At around 18:30 I got a call from the driver to know my location. When I told I was waiting inside the bus stand, he told me to come to Laxmi-narayan theatre. Hurriedly, I took an auto to reach the spot. To my surprise, the bus was standing just ahead of the Swargate bus stand. For the first time, I paid only Rs 18 to the driver. Lol. Loaded the bags in the boot, the other remaining passengers boarded the bus and we were off from Laxmi-narayan theatre.

The bus was approx. 60% full. The seat beside me was empty, so I could literally lie down and sleep in the bus. After touching the highway, the conductor turned on the TV and selected the movie “Aiyaary” starring Manoj Bajpai and Sidharth Malhotra. Good movie indeed. The highway 48 is majorly bump free and the ride was overall smooth. Coupled with the new coach of KSRTC, it was a smooth ride. Post Satara we stopped for dinner at a clean restaurant. Can’t remember the name right now. This gave me time to observe the new coach in detail.

Ours was a Volvo 9400 14.5M Euro 4 Multi-Axle Coach. Spick and span (KSRTC are known to keep their buses shiny and tidy). Quick observations showed the bus had not done a lot of kms yet which was evident. The one thing that excited me most was, the power sockets are now in the middle of the two seats and are female USB ports. Gone are the days when you have to trade off long wires and one socket for two people. Now both can charge their mobiles independently on their own dedicated USB ports. Indian Railways, are you listening? Post dinner, we resumed our journey. A funny thing happened as we resumed the journey. The conductor forgot to “pause” the movie. When he turned on the entertainment device, we had a repeat telecast of the 1st half of the movie. All the passengers then helped the conductor the precise time where we left off. All laughed on this and resumed the movie. The rest of the journey was comfortable. Smooth roads, the coach cruising at 80-100kmph and cushy seats. Morning loo and tea break were at Kundapura bus station. The bus halts here for around 15mins.

The journey then continues via the coastal road to Udupi and finally to Mangalore. We reached Mangalore bus stand (Bejai) at 7.33am which was a comfortable time to reach your destination. Now I had done some prior research. As I was the first one of my group to reach Mangalore, I decided to freshen up and have breakfast. My group was not going to meet me at least 12 pm. Now all around the bus stand, there are hotels and lodges where you can go and freshen up. I chose to freshen up in the KSRTC’s own “Yatri Niwas”. Note as I was traveling alone, adjustments were easy. If you are traveling as a couple/family ill suggest you check nearby hotels.

 

 

Yatri Niwas is a cheap lodge situated on the top floor of the bus stand. There are AC and non AC rooms and if you are on tight budget, bunk beds. I chose a non AC room. Rs 200 for 3 hours. Not bad as the only thing I wanted to do was freshen up/have a bath and stretch my body. You pay at the counter and the care-taker shows you your room. As I entered the room, the famous dialogue from channel V came to my mind. “Itna paisa me itnaich milega”.

 

But the room did the job. Odd thing was, there was no basin in my room/bathroom. After a bath and a quick power nap, the caretaker knocked on my door mentioning the time is up. Phase 2 of my research – Breakfast.

There are many famous breakfast places in Mangalore that you can try. As I was going to meet my fellow traveler Atul Deshpande at Mangalore Central, I chose to have breakfast near that area. I chose Ideal Café at Hampankatta which was close to the station. Booked an uber from the bus stand and in around 15mins I was at Ideal Café. Pretty fast I must say. The café was big and clean and also inviting. As you entered the café you could smell the aromas of upma/dosa idlis and of course coffee hitting your nostrils at full speed. The cashier looked at me and my bags and enquired where I was traveling to? I mentioned Coorg for photography and showed him some of my work. After a small chit chat, he advised me to keep my luggage in one corner nearby him and relax. I asked him options for breakfast, to which he instantly said to try out the “Mangaluru Special Combo” which consisted of 1 Neer Dosa, Pundi, Semige upma with Chutney Sambar and Tea/Coffee option. All this for Rs 60. The cashier’s point was, as I was traveling further till the evening, a light breakfast will help me keep my stomach in good shape. I went ahead with the choice. It was a typical morning scene at the café. Patrons were busy sipping coffee while reading a newspaper, checking their mobiles or chit-chatting with friends. Some were enjoying their dosas while others were making their idlis swim in a pool of sambar and chutney. After 15mins or so my food arrived and boy it was tasty.

 

Everything on the plate was on a melt in the mouth mode. The quantity was sufficient for one person and balances the taste buds properly. They bring the beverage after you finish the food. Coffee was how it should be. Proper filtered coffee. I still had time in hand, so I ordered one more coffee. Sipping away the freshly brewed coffee I was catching up on the daily news on my mobile. Soon it was time to depart. I took an auto to Mangalore central and again within 15mins I was at the station. Mangalore has two stations, Mangalore Central is a terminus and Mangalore Junction is a regular station. Railway facilities are better at the terminus than the junction. Atul’s train arrived on time. After a quick get to know you session, I enquired if he was hungry. With a positive response, we hopped into an auto and went back to Ideal Café. Atul ordered a dosa while I ordered a cheese toast. Coffee was obvious. We discussed many topics while munching on our food. Soon we received our group leader’s WhatsApp that they have landed and are departing from the airport shortly. They were 15kms away. I and Atul decided to go back to the station and stay put there till our tempo traveler arrived. We called for an auto and as we were alighting the auto, a car banged the auto from the side. As always a word battle began between the two drivers. We were like, shall we wait till the time they finish or board another auto? Chose the second option. The first auto took a short route and charged around Rs 30. This chap on seeing that we had luggage, took advantage and drove the auto via a longer route. When we demanded Rs 60 at the destination, I questioned why you took the long route? Accha ok baba…deal made in Rs 40. The auto walahs have their own mind. If they do not want to stand in the queue, they will drop you outside of the station. This is a problem if you have a lot of luggage. Fortunately, ours was all either hand or backpacks. Our tempo traveler to Coorg arrived in 15 mins and after a quick re-adjustment of the bags of all the participants, we were officially off for Coorg. The driver suggested we have lunch in the city itself which can prove advantageous. We could then go nonstop to Coorg and reach by evening. Where to eat? Mangalore aya aur fish nahi khaya? If you are a fish eater, what is veg food? The driver suggested a good veg-non veg place which was en-route.

Lunch was a big spread. Different types of fish, fried, curry, on the side. Fresh buttermilk, hot rotis, two types of rice – steamed and boiled. And to top all this off, rice pudding. Veg food was also good. Typical paneer and other veggies curry, dal and rotis. All were full to the brim. Time to resume the Coorg journey. But wait. Suddenly the driver changed. A new driver had replaced the one which drove the tempo from the airport to the resto. Maybe he was sleepy or not well. Who knows? Two three quick photos at the restaurant and we were off. Given the heavy load of food, everyone’s eyes and necks had given away to gravity. Eyes falling down shut and necks dancing sideways. Powernap mode for all. Luckily the driver was awake and was riding at a comfortable speed. Our estimated time to Honey Valley Resort was 6.30pm.

The road from Mangalore to Coorg is a decent climb. It’s not something as if you suddenly climb a ghat and you are in Coorg. The roads begin with coastal surroundings/houses set up and as you drive inwards, the rural landscape of Karnataka coastal region takes over. We followed the national highway 275. The roads start to wind and zig zag after an hour or so which gives you an indication that you are entering the Western Ghats. Post 3.30pm all had completed their power naps and we were again discussing various topics – photography and otherwise, all while the rural landscapes were zooming by our windows. The humid air had given away to a gentle cool breeze and the sun was playing hide and seek behind the clouds. Our discussion topics ranged from species wish list to gear discussions to politics to jokes etc.

Soon we were closing in on Coorg which was where our driver gave us a surprise. He didn’t exactly know where the Honey Valley Resort was. We knew the resort is after you cross Coorg but which way we were not sure. New objective to all. Find a spot where network was available and lock in on the resort location. The driver limited the tempo speed to 20kmph and all of us were searching for a network signal in the Ghats. Airtel as usual was nowhere to be seen. Vodafone was giving a hint here or there. Suddenly we found a signal at an odd turn. Only 2G. In the age of 4G we were opening Google maps on 2G. Fortunately one of the co-travelers had an offline map. Downloaded the missing part and we were off again with Google’s navigation. In cities Google navigation is almost correct in mentioning where to turn etc. But we could not rely on her in the Ghats. “Turn right” Ya right. You don’t see the gorge below. The landscape had changed completely as we were approaching Coorg. We were in the hills and the clouds were everywhere. Monsoon breeze and chilly atmosphere, typical monsoon scene.

We didn’t actually enter Coorg/Madikeri. At the border of Coorg there is a junction and we had to take the Virajpet-Talakaveri state highway 90. Rain had marked its presence by now making us remember that, “Boss, its monsoon. I am here”. Our destination was the resort’s parking lot. The parking lot is a small enclosed area with no boards outside as such. You can easily miss the parking which was what we first did. Luckily we didn’t go too far. But a new challenge. Reverse the tempo back to the parking area. On normal roads its ok. But in the Ghats? U-Turn was not possible as there was simply no room. Slowly we did though reverse our way back into the parking area. All got down, stretched themselves and we waited for our next mode of transport to the resort. – Jeeps.

A single jeep arrived first on the scene. We loaded our bags and a part of the group, boarded the Jeep. The rest of us stayed back till the second Jeep arrived. We went ahead to have the ever famous Madikeri filter coffee. One of the best I had till date. Whether it was the water, the atmosphere who knows? If you are a coffee fan, drinking coffee in this setup is a thing to do before you die types.

By the time we finished our coffee our Jeep had arrived. I was thinking all this time that the road to the resort will be slight on the gradient scale, but boy was I so wrong.The journey began on flat muddy roads. So far so good. The road then forks out for the resort and at this point there is a proper steep climb. I thought we are not going there are we? Ha-ha… Our guide stopped the jeep. Conked the differential and the gear into climb mode and turned left. Time for some off-road action. From that junction till almost 1km from the resort, it’s a constant climb. Combine this with constant rain and you are in for a treat. We began our climb at around 6.45pm. With the climb mode activated, it gave us enough time to absorb where we were and what nature is. The entire property is private from that turn. The fatigue from the travel goes away in an instant as you absorb the freshness. You wind through endless coffee plantations and forest as you move along. We also got the first glimpse of their own private waterfall. While climbing up I realized its best to leave your SUV even it’s a 4*4 down at the lot as these guys know the roads best. As we were moving along, we spotted two photographers, taking a photo of something hanging from a leaf. We stopped the Jeep and enquired what it was. Lo and behold. Cicada. Fresh out of its molt and with dazzling colors. Chalo…chalo…bhago bhago to resort was our reaction. Fortunately when Cicadas are molting and are at the adult completion stage, they don’t just fly away. They rest and dry their wings and let the oxygen flow through to complete the transformation. As it was raining, the wings were wet which meant the cicada was not going anywhere. But if it is too long out from the molt, the signature neon colors may fade away. So it was a race against time for us. Soon we reached the resort, our final destination and our home for the next 3 days. Our rooms were already allocated by the staff and the luggage was off-loaded. We split ourselves into groups as per room capacity and checked in our rooms. Two things awaited now. Hot Coffee and the lovely neon colors Cicada. The macro trip had just begun.

End of Part 1.

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