Chasing clouds at Coorg – the Monsoon in Western Ghats

You who know ­- why do you need this?
You who do not wish to know – why do you need this?
You who are incapable of knowing – why do you need this?
You who want to know – Do Read this.
~introduction to Pattole Palame,the collection of local Kodava folk songs in Kodagu(Coorg) district.

Mist in the valley,Madikeri 

The season mattered and so I waited for the monsoon to arrive in the old hills of Southern India.And then I waited for the heavy monsoon wind to leave behind scattered little clouds on the green slopes of Western Ghats.With white and grey clouds swirling over coffee and cardamom planted hills , Coorg or Kodagu in southern Karnataka wears a new attire altogether .It’s a serene green haven set amidst the cloud and fog with freshness of earth dripping from every green leaf  wet with the life nourishing rains of July.

Near Triveni Sangam,Bhagamandala

Late into July rains , I walked the drenched streets of Madikeri,the district headquarters of Coorg,smelling home made chocolates in the lanes of the upper town.What you see and what remains unseen at these moments is decided by the heavy bouts of mist that invade this place throughout the day.I remember walking hours on end,whole days in the isolated alleys of Coorg and when tired , settle down for a cup of local coffee by the shop,with the umbrella by your hand.It rains without any warning and after few days you actually begin to like it.
I had traveled away from the busyness at Mangalore in last few days,moving from the coastal town into the gentle slopes of Western Ghats – precisely in the rains , choosing the mood of the place very carefully.The mist saturated air at Kodagu can be quite a chill and the rains can be unrelenting,so people opting for sightseeing,monsoon is not the best time.Tourists were stranded for hours on the road,but for me there was nothing to complain of,I came here to be stranded for a while anyway.

Abbey Falls,Madikeri 

After laying low for a  couple of days when the fog gave way to proper daylight,we took the ride out of Madikeri , going up and down the slopes into Kodagu countryside where black serpentine roads cut through coffee plantations .Long trees stand on the plantation slopes with the vines of cardamom clutching the enormous barks with a symbiotic intimacy.We were making our way through such bliss to Bhagamandala,some fifty kilometers from Madikeri.

The old bridge near Abbey Falls 

And then the valley in Bhagamandala opened up in all it’s greenness and we climbed our way up the hill named Brahmagiri – to the famous shrine of Kaveri Amma,the place called Talacaveri,or Head of Kaveri river.Coorg and the river Kaveri are inseparable ,to an extent that Kodavas,the local folks call themselves – children of the river Kaveri.In the lush peaks of Brahmagiri hills,Kaveri originates as a small stream , disappears for some time underneath and then emerges at a point beyond the peaks.From the shrine at Talakaveri,one can walk 365 steps uphill to the peak of the hill and from that vantage point,they say that on a clear and sunny day – you can actually catch the last glitter of the Arabian Sea in Mangalore coast as the orange sun comes down.That would amount to some sight ,but that day I stood with an umbrella with the big rain drops making loud thudding noises on top and watching the peak drenched with incessant downpour.

Abbey Falls,outskirts of Madikeri 

Rain in the hills.The only land you see is the one you are perched on while the rest is shrouded in a deep misty veil.The current episodic rain crosses over and the shops by the road side comes to life – forest honey,locally brewed coffee , cardamom,black pepper and many more,arrayed to assail your olfactory systems.The true and old land of Indian spices is here down South. Descending  the spiraling road from Talakaveri,you watch the famous Brahma temple in Bhagamandala rise in spires out of mist,right on the shores of the Triveni sangam,the meeting of three streams coming down the mountains.

Sunset Point,Raja’s seat,Madikeri 

If you have time on your side and stray long enough in the rain drenched backwaters of Coorg’s countryside,you will hear the haunting melodies of ancient folksongs.Tunes that evoke nostalgia for lost times , an echo of a craving for going back to the old ways of life.Traditions ,customs and stories that stand diminished in front of that great adversary – Time.
The social traditions of local Kodavas are among the earliest recorded folklores of Indian sub – continent.Songs and stories embedded in the hills and the wilderness itself.The hum of these lost tales are audible to those who seek to detach from the noise of civilization and wander in wild thirst for lost things of old days.

Before I moved onto Mysore,there was a Sunday left to be spent at Madikeri which I almost spent strolling the rooftop of my homestay.
The small town and it’s people, appearing and disappearing from within the fog.The tiny droplets of mist settling on goose bumped hair on the arms due to the chilly weather.With the morning done with these kind of thoughts,I headed to the nearby Abbey Falls – in full flow of monsoon water,just five kilometers outside Madikeri.
The enticing and yet powerful sound of falling water lures you into a downward path amidst coffee plants and then suddenly the waterfall appears within the green foliage.The strong and beautiful act of water falling vertically from rocks has enthralled man since times immemorial.An old bridge stands abandoned near the falls,hanging precariously and forgotten by time.

Somewhere in Kodagu

I loiter again,the wet fog of the hills wiping away any sense of place or time.Perhaps time itself moves slowly in these thick climate of possibilities.I avoid looking at the watch and it must have been late afternoon when crowds gather near the gardens of Raja’s Seat,the hill top at the heart of Madikeri.The weekend rush from Bangalore was taking over the scene for watching the sunset ,something not visible at all in the dense mist.Anyway you can always feel sunsets by the changing colors of the sky.The green land stretching away to the horizon below,paddy fields under water,houses,tiny people scurrying through thin black winding roads ,buses like little matchboxes moving up and down the slopes – the whole scene fading away slowly by late evening and being replaced by twinkling lights in the valley.One dream being replaced by another,while it seems you are forever sleeping in the clouds.

Madikeri drunk with clouds 

On the way from Madikeri to Mysore,I come down from the hills and watch the plains richly planted with cornfields near the Tibetan settlement at Bylakuppe,the hills and grey clouds now in the horizon I leave behind.When you wake from a dream,what you remember is – the very necessary essence of the matter,minus the details.

Walking the green slopes,Madikeri 

So on the journey back,I reflect back on memories of Coorg,the earth singing a lullaby when rains splash the hill side.Green mountains half covered in low lying clouds with the summits always hidden from view.As if the hills are trying to peek beyond the clouds.The sight of wet and dripping coffee plants and a fragrance that only Coorg could offer to your senses.Lush and dark – green mountains contrasted against deep grey skies, pregnant with next spell of rains.
Will Coorg look different in a different season? I shall feel betrayed if I ever come back and find no clouds here …but one day I shall take a chance anyway.

And finally,the lighted up royalty-Mysore palace at evening 

Soumya D Jena
13th September,2016


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