*Written for Karnataka Tourism
A king’s ransom, as impressive as it might be, can never measure up to a princess’ dowry, especially when the dowry is a gem nestled in the Western Ghats like Chikmagalur is. Chikmagalur gets its name from Chikka-maga-luru or Younger Daughter’s Village, the younger daughter being Rukmagada Raya’s younger princess who received this poem of a locale as her dowry. Just as the straight highway gives into the winds and turns of Chikmagalur’s roads, the smell of coffee rushes to greet you with a warm, warm hug. We all took one of those synchronised deep breaths and grinned at each other as we exhaled - ah coffee! Like the millions before us did and the millions after us will, that first deep breath taken by every coffee-loving soul to set foot in Chikmagalur, is an unconscious sign of obeisance to Baba Budan, the Sufi saint who introduced coffee for the first time in India.
Legend has it that, in the 17th century, when coffee was still a guarded secret of the Arabs, the mystic Hazrat Shahi Janab Allah Moghtabi also known as Baba Budan smuggled seven coffee beans in his robes at a detour to Yemen while on a Mecca pilgrimage. It’s on these hills - today known as Baba Budan Giri - coffee first took root and then grew into a vital part of the Indian psyche. Chikmagalur unravels at the pace of a curling mist. The sunrise is a gradual but no less magical curtain-raiser to the rest of the day, where one hill after the next is dappled in light, turning them from the deepest shades of green to emerald. The route to Kemmannagundi is as interesting as trying to spell it. The roads narrow into trails without warning, the trees brushing against the rolled up windows, the flowers so vibrant like someone went berserk with the saturation controls, the air fresh as dew.
The pitstops are magical and unique - some of them accessible only by foot - so be prepared to spend a good while of your day at Kemmannagundi. It’s not for nothing it was the favourite summer home of the Wadiyar King. From the vantage of the Z Point, the world looks like a great place to be and you are in perfect agreement with Louis Armstrong - yes, it is a wonderful world, indeed! The trek to this vantage point varies from thick woods to a hill-side trail. The walk was just about getting a little too creepy with just us two girls on the thickly wooded trail, when a lil doggie decides to join us. She chaperoned us all the way there and back. With just our water bottles and our cameras on us, unfortunately, we had nothing but gratitude to offer her in return for her company.
There are next to no shops around, so considering how much time you’re bound to spend there, carrying food is a good idea. But be nice and be sure not to discard the plastic around and be discreet with your food. There are monkeys around who’d think nothing of coming between you and your grub. The nearby Rock Garden is also worth a looky if flowers and gardening rock your world. They have some really exotic looking flowers here. Done with the high, it was now time for the rush. The Hebbe Falls is elusive as it’s beautiful. You need a jeep to get there, other cars cannot and might not survive the climb. And the 10 km journey could cost well over Rs.500, so you might as well make the trek, if you have the time. The falls that breaks in two tiers - the first a 121 m drop and the second one 60.5 m - culminates in a therapeutic pool with the healing properties of a million herbs. Sounds like something straight out of the myths, doesn’t it? Well, not so much as a temple you need to wade across a pool to reach.
The Kalhatti Falls might not be very impressive but it certainly wins quirk points. The 16th century Shiva Temple nestled between the rocks where white waters rush by, looks like it’s made an appearance through some act of divine intervention. The highest peak in Karnataka is a teeth-on-edge drive where killer scenery and killer sheer drops vie for attention. Half way up the hill and a rather unusual looking temple tower peeped from behind a bend in the road. Legend has it that the Seethalayanna Swamy Temple is dedicated to a half-baked penance, as opposed to the temple dedicated to a complete penance that stands at 6,314 ft. above sea-level.
Yes, there’s a fascinating story in every nook and corner and this one’s about two brothers Seethalayya and Mullayya who set out to meditate in these parts. Halfway through, Seethalayya’s spirit weakened and chose the family way, while Mulayya saw his strict penance through, for which he was bestowed with, literally, the highest honour - a temple at the highest point. And Seethalayya had a temple dedicated to him at exactly half way up the hill. Mulayya’s penance must have really impressed the powers that be, for the view from the top of the peak is magical.
The climb up the steep steps up to the very top of the hill of course made us feel like we’d scaled the entire height of the hill on foot. The adrenaline buzzing in our ears was the only sound we could hear. Mullayyanagiri is where the world comes to be quiet. The wind treads softly here, and thanks to the temple, the tourists are reverentially subdued - a nice, amicable silence made of pristine green hills, soft yellow flowers and a soft kiss of a wind. A silence that’s occasionally speaks up with the “Ding” of the temple bell. A silence, that’s almost the Amen to the prayer in your heart.