Thursday, 19 February 2015

On A Shoestring To Coorg - Adventures In Goa & Beyond



As the bus began its ascent through the Western Ghats, the humidity which had lain heavily on our skin like a blanket since we boarded in Mangalore hours earlier vanished and the air felt cool and refreshing. If it wasn't for the monkeys squatting by the roadside & the heady aromas of coffee blossom and cardamom permeating the breeze, our surroundings were so green and lush that we could have been in rural Wales.

In the cardamom forest
This is Coorg, India's smallest state, a remote mountain paradise home to a warrior race widely believed to have descended from Alexander The Great and immortalised in Dervla Murphy's classic, On a Shoestring to Coorg. After reading the book over a decade ago, Murphy's tales of travelling through Southern India with her five year old daughter, staying at no-star hotels and in fisherman's huts, taking peasant buses and boats along the way captivated me, in particular her adventures amongst the coffee plantations of Coorg, where they stayed for months.


It was a bit of a risk, I suppose. A seven-hour journey on a packed passenger train followed by a bumpy four-hour bus ride five thousand feet above sea level just to visit somewhere I'd read about in a forty year-old book. Even the usually helpful Rough Guide only considered Coorg worthy of a single page. 

Wild orchids, coffee beans, pineapples....a tropical paradise
Still, the worst case scenario was a night in a grotty hotel and the next bus out of there.

Raja's Seat - the place to be at sunset.
We needn't have worried. Whilst Coorg isn't on the radar of many Westerners, its a favourite destination for Indian honeymooners who stay in swanky home stays on coffee plantations and in boutique hotels, attracted by the slogan, The Scotland of India. After picking up a map from the tourist information kiosk at the bus station we jumped in an auto rickshaw and, after visiting numerous establishments, finally secured a room in a 1930s hotel in the centre of Madikeri.

Our £5 a night hotel 

For a state capital, Madikeri is tiny and transport is super cheap. We hopped in and out of auto rickshaws all day long and visited most of the highlights on the city map.


The Rough Guide are clearly mad, there's so much to see in Coorg we could easily have spent a fortnight doing something different every day.


We loved exploring the splendidly imposing tombs of the Rajas, built in 1815.


This is Vira Rajendra Wodeyar and his wife who escaped imprisonment in 1788, joining forces with the British and successfully managing to drive out the tyrannical conqueror, Tipu Sultan, from Coorg.


Their daughter, Victoria, was sent to England for an education. She became Queen Victoria's god-daughter, married a British officer and was buried in London after her death at the tender age of 23.


Other than an Indian pop group taking promo shots in gangsta-style poses, we had the grounds to ourselves, there wasn't an admission fee or even a lock on the main entrance.


Just look at the gold-domed roof and the intricate carvings.




After a chance meeting in a bar with a couple of British eco-volunteers, we wangled ourselves lunch and a guided tour around an organic coffee plantation.


Pomelos, cinnamon bark, vanilla pods and a goose employed as a security guard to stop any prospective vanilla thieves!

We trekked through a cardamom forest.


I knew it was a good idea to travel with a pair of boots.


We visited the Omkareshwara Temple, built by in the Indo-Saracenic style by Lingararejendra II in 1820. Legend has it that the king put to death a Brahmin in order to fulfil his political ambitions. After being haunted by guilt he built the temple to appease the gods.


We drank plenty of the local brew, Coorg coffee.


Saw some beautiful people.


And found interesting things on every corner.


This posh planters' club is still going strong but sadly was strictly members only.


We were rendered speechless by the sunset.


We caught the late night showing of the latest Tamil blockbuster "i" (no subtitles!) at the tiny cinema next door to our hotel. We took rum and coke in with us and there was even an interval halfway through the three and a quarter hour show.



And possibly my most favourite thing. Every night, just after sunset, for a mere 5 rupees (5p) the public are treated to a fantastically kitsch water and light show set to Bollywood music.



Coorg was everything we wanted and more, fascinating, diverse and incredibly beautiful but, on a shoestring? Most definitely. We averaged a total spend of £20 a day which included all transport, accommodation in a city centre hotel, admission & entry fees, cinema tickets, breakfast, lunches, coffee stops, beers and dinner in some seriously fancy restaurants.


All too soon it was again time to pack and make the epic 13.5 hour journey to Goa for the final instalment of our month away.

See you soon!

PS For the full set of photos click right HERE.



56 comments:

  1. Cant wait for the next instalment. You should write your own traveling around India book you descriptions and attention to detail is amazing and I so enjoy reading about it and actually don't want to come to the end of the post. Simply stunning and you both clearly have India running in your veins. dee xx

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  2. That looks amazing! Such a beautiful town. Everyone says my granddad's home town in Burma isn't really worth spending time in, but I had an ace time there. Sometimes the quiet places are best, travel shouldn't be all about ticking off one giant monument and rushing off to the next one.

    It's interesting to see Tipu Sultan seen within India in a negative way; often it's shown as a straight British/Indian fight. (My Eurasian relatives were on the British side, and I feel quite guilty about that!)

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  3. Such a stunning trip, I love your pics!! ou both look so happy!

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  4. mountains!!!!
    wow. india never disappoints, or? if i ever go there again i will follow your path - you check out the most wonderful destinations!
    and look how happy and beautiful sunkissed you and jon look!!!!!
    xxxxxx

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  5. Oh Vix, what a wonderful post! I'm so pleased that you finally went to Coorg, and that it lived up to your dreams. Beautiful photos, love seeing you and Jon so clearly relaxed and happy, and as always your eye for details and beauty, and the passion and love in your writing is wonderful.
    The Rajas tombs are amazing, and wow, what a sunset.
    Right - get an email fired off the Rough Guide editorial team, with a link to this post, and say you'll write a better entry for Coorg for their next edition! For the small fee of a return trip, of course...
    Love you! xxx

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  6. Lovely photos and it could be mistaken as you say for Wales. We have similar photos of Snowdonia at sunset.

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  7. I almost feel guilty for having enjoyed this travelogue without paying an admittance fee!

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  8. What an interesting place, I love a good Bollywood, lucky you getting nearly three hours at one sitting! can you imagine bringing rum and coke into Cineworld here?! Would love to see inside some of the accommodation you bagged - I imagine it was comfortable, clean and very individual. Betty

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  9. There have been moments in the last couple of posts I've just read, where I've been reminded of PNG. The houses on the hillside on the way to Coorg, and the people selling vegies sitting on the ground...although we didn't have baskets, more likely on a banana leaf or in a bilum.
    So happy that your special places panned out.
    You sure are troupers with your long journeys!
    Loving all the colour and old buildings xo Jazzy Jack

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  10. Just the thing to read when it's cold and peeing down with rain outside!

    It is almost too beautiful.

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  11. Coorg is gorgeous! I'm going to look for a copy of that book.

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  12. what an utterly amazingly beautiful adventure, you write it up so well that I feel I was right there with you,

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  13. Its so so beatiful ...... you should write the ultimate Indian travel guide !
    xxx

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  14. These posts are so needed by me right now - we may be breaking an all-time cold weather record tonight. I am warming up by reading and viewing your photos, and the history has me enthralled.
    x

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  15. You have the heart of a 20 year old adventurous explorer. I envy that. I adore seeing these photos and hearing about your willingness to put yourself out there.

    I especially loved seeing the vanilla beans on the tree.

    After years of travelling like this I no longer have the stamina or will power to put my body through it anymore. I'm so happy I can live vicariously through you : )

    bisous
    Suzanne
    http://www.suzannecarillo.com

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  16. Now that's an adventure worth every rupee, thanks for sharing lovely Vix & Jon:-)

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  17. What an amazing place … can't wait for the next instalment :0)
    xx

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  18. Thanks for posting all the building details and signage -- those are the things that always give a sense of a place but so many people usually just focus on sunsets and tourist attractions and ignore the "mundane". Thanks also for the vicarious sunshine while it's tipping down outside right now.

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  19. I always love hearing about your trips to India, but this year's installments are just the best ever. You really were intrepid, going all over. I agree with what a few people said, it's one thing having the thirst for travelling, but actually being on the road and going from place to place takes stamina. You two just seem to take it in your stride, with big happy smiles. It's life-affirming to see. More, more, more please. Xxxxxxx

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  20. Another wonderful post about your fascinating trip! I've just recently began using cardamom in some baking. It's such a uniquely flavoured spice. It's so neat that you got to see it being grown.

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  21. Fabulous.....never been but now I want to...just what I needed on this dismel day!!x

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  22. Great post, fab photos. You are such a warming tonic on a cold and soggy day.
    Twiggy

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  23. You guys are such great ambassadors for India - the pictures are lovely and it shows that you have a true love of the country. I think my favorite picture of the day is of those three women, so beautiful!

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  24. Just what I need to see on a cold wet manky day in the fens......lol

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  25. Jon and Vix....India's newest tour guides?

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  26. Aaahhh...you are so close!!

    Looks like you guys had a great time exploring Coorg! :)

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  27. OMG - what wonderful photos! Can see exactly why you love this country so much and keep returning. Absolutely brilliant! Thanks for sharing.

    Darlene from New Zealand

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  28. Just beautiful. What a wonderful trip and what the feck is Rough Guide on about? How stunning and interesting is Coorg? Tell 'em to sort it out!
    God, that sunset.
    Loves ya.
    xxxxx

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  29. It's easy to see how much fun you were having! I think you should write you're own tour book! :)

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  30. A risk well worth taken! It's fascinating seeing the beauty of India through your eyes Vix {and Jon too}

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  31. What a spectacular place. It's probably a good thing that the Rough Guide didn't have this place written up in more detail because it would be overrun with tourists in no time. Locals always know best and if it's a honeymoon destination, what better recommendation could that be? Glad you had such a great time. The photos show it so well.

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  32. Oh Vix, I am loving these photos so much! It sounds such a beautiful place and I love the fact you stick 2 fingers up to the guides and do it! We've discovered a few lovely places similarly! The photos give off SUCH a sense of place and I love being there with you,even if just in spirit!x

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  33. What a breathtaking photo at the top of this post Vix. So glad that Coorg lived up to your expectations, what a beautiful and fascinating place. I love the portraits of the Wodeyar family and the detailed carvings at the Rajas tombs. On a Shoestring to Coorg is a book I need to read.
    xx

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  34. I agree with Delia... you should really write your own travel guide to India! You do things so well, yet on such a budget :-) Loving all the details of your posts!

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  35. Another super interesting post. I love that you were inspired by an old book. Speaking of, the publishing a book idea rocks. With all your tips and stories, not to mention sumptuous photos, you'd have a real gem. Xo

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  36. Oh this is so great. Kingfisher beer after a long hot journey. Ahhhhhh...doesn't that sound good?!

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  37. I am so enjoying your holiday. I love your trips to India and that you are showing a completely different side to it. You and Jon look so content on holiday, no wonder you take an entire month to really get into the culture and the beauty. Hope there are more stories from this holiday to still be told Vix.

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  38. You are a true adventuress! It is totally inspiring it is so cool to read your travelogue.

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  39. Your Indian travelogues always excite me. Loved all the details.My favorite photo is the one where you're looking at the sunset with kingfisher in the foreground:D You do seem rendered speechless looking at the beautiful sunset.

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  40. Wow, what a view from that balcony! I always love these travel photos of yours.

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  41. Wow,. this is an amazing post Vix, you have really captured my imagination with your lovely photos and great descriptions.

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  42. It is a beautiful place. Thanks for sharing yoru travels.

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  43. My, that hotel looks lovely and everything looks so beautiful.

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  44. It looks beyond beautiful and wonderful to explore! You did very well to follow your instincts. I love all the fantastic photos and commentary, I do feel part of the journey too lol! xxx

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  45. Ooh, so many beautiful places and a fascinating history too. I absolutely adore all your images, especially those with the sunset, and that hazy skyline... Gorgeous! xx

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  46. As I slurp my organic coffee, I'm hoping it came from Coorg, along with the cardamon and vanilla in my spice cache. Jon glows with serenity seated on the ledge, and you're radiant in the cardamon forest, Vix: is the fountain of youth to be found at the end of a 13.5 hour journey from Goa?

    Water shows remind me of childhood excursions to a big city park. That Bollywood show would be out of place in my rural back lot; however, I can almost envision it chez G & Helga, can't you?

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  47. You have such an adventurous spirit! How wonderful that you were able to visit a place that you fell in love with through a book so long ago, and even better that it wasn't a disappointment. The tomb of the Rajas and the temple are fascinating to look at, and I am amazed that you were able to see, do and eat for such a reasonable price per day. You really should write a travel guide.

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  48. Wow! It sounds perfect, such a find. Xx

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  49. Sounds like an amazing adventure. I definitely think some of the best places are the ones that not many people kow about. Once the hoards of tourists arrive they are spoilt.I love that this trip was inspired by a book.

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  50. It's like listening to Shahrazad - so beautiful, captivating, mesmerizing! Truly beautiful first paragraph - pure poetry, made me feel right there with you in an instance. The imagery is gorgeous! I love how you touch history, modern day, mix this and that, just like life itself - such a natural, organic mix of things, high and low and everything in between. Fantastic! xxxx

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  51. My wanderlust is so high after seeing these gorgeous photos. India has such a strong pull, it looks so beautiful. One of my close uni friends travels out there often and her love for the country has rubbed off on me a little bit and I know I need to travel out there soon! I can't wait to see more of this amazing trip! Love this post Vix! - Tasha

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  52. The Rough Guide team obviously don't know what they're talking about if they only gave Coorg one page. From what you've shown it looks like there is plenty to see and do! xx

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  53. Woops! I almost missed this post. Drinking rum and Coke in an Indian theater sounds like heavenly fun!

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  54. just so amazing! You should work for the India Tourist board! And i must say you're looking incredible and tanned and healthy! Thank you as always for sharing your incredible trip with us!

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  55. I'm popping by for a very late read from your fb link about the Lino prints.
    So glad I made the leap, what a fantastic adventure you had. There's nowhere like India for colour, texture and for opening our eyes and minds. Wonderful xxxxx

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  56. So, I'll be reading On a Shoestring to Coorg then!

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Don't be shy, if you enjoyed your visit leave a comment, I can come and visit your blog if you do.
Love from Vix
xxx