A travelogue about a trip to upper kerala and coorg.
Alright…I have to admit, rather reluctantly, that Kerala is – ‘ God’s own country.’
The reason why I have used the word ‘reluctantly’ is because I am an atheist and so naturally I don’t like this sobriquet.
However, the beauty of Kerala and nearby region of Karnataka is such that one has no choice but to agree that it is rather a special place, and has been very well crafted by – God, for some; nature, for yours truly, in it’s infinite and timeless wisdom.
The truth is that for me; that god, that supernatural power, which others see in a deity, or if not in a statue but in a vague ‘superpower’, that ultimately controls everything, and that cannot be defined and explained or seen by us; is nature itself– and the laws of physics, chemistry and biology – controlling and defining it, specially physics.
That and the simple breathtaking beauty of mother nature.
Thus, it’s no wonder that I, along with my family, was totally bowled over by the phenomenon which I observed at Nileshwar beach, Nileshwar; Kerala recently.
That phenomenon was – an Annular solar eclipse – which was seen on 26th december 2019 in a narrow band of 120 kms from upper Kerala and parts of Tamil Nadu. Rest of India saw a partial solar eclipse I.e. there was no ‘ annualrity’.
‘Annularity’ means that the shadow of the moon does not fully cover the solar disc during an eclipse.
This happens because the moon is far from earth in its orbit and consequently it’s shadow is smaller than usual and instead of a total solar eclipse it forms a spectacular ‘Ring of fire‘ during the eclipse.
This phenomenon is a rare, but a mesmerizingly beautiful celestial event in any country at any given time. However, the region where it was going to be seen this time and the time of the year when it was scheduled to occur, were extremely fortuitous – Kerala! and December!
Thus it was an opportunity not to be missed, and the astronomy and the travelling bug inside me bit so hard that I planned a special vacation with my family – Annular eclipse on a beach of Malabar coast of Kerala followed by a stay in the misty mountains of Coorg.
Both – the natural beauty of the region and the physics of celestial bodies transiting each other in their orbits ( sun and moon) and casting shadow on another mighty orb in space ( earth); were going to be prominently on display at the place where we planned to witness this dazzling event. So it was a trip not to be missed by me. And I didn’t.
Fortunately, my parents and wife share my enthusiasm for astronomy and travelling, and they were immediately intrested in doing this trip. So, we planned and plunged into this extraordinary vacation headlong.
I researched and found that a tour company, foliage outdoors was planning to take a group of astronomy enthusiasts to Nileshwar, in Kasargod district of upper Kerala. The site was chosen as it was bang in the middle of the narrow band of annularity and it’s clean beach provided the best chance of observing the eclipse in the frequently cloudy weather of the region.
Later, we realized that it was an inspired choice.
We started from Ahmedabad for Mangalore airport early in the morning on 25th of december and all our grumpiness of the early morning journey evaporated as we deplaned at the Mangalore airport in the afternoon. It was beautifully situated and built. Nestled amongst coconut groves and near the sea, it quickly restored the good mood in our group.
We started towards our destination – Malabar ocean front resort at Nileshwar- after a sumptuous lunch at Mangalore. This journey of 100 kms was covered in an innova comfortably, and to my mind this short journey showcased the very essence of lower karnataka and Kerala.
We passed through meandering roads amongst plentiful coconut trees, and frequent backwaters and rivers. After about half an hour we crossed Karnataka border and entered Kerala.
This was my first brush with this amazing state of India and I was not disappointed. It was just as I had imagined- lush greenery, quaint villages alongside the road filled with picture perfect houses having a big garden and a small but omnipresent car, people of different religions walking in same attire -men with dark colored shirts along with a lungi flying at half mast 🙂 and ladies wearing simple but graceful saris along with a veni of white flowers in their hair; small blue colored fishing boats lying upturned on the shores of backwaters and a delightful sea breeze wafting inside the car from the nearby ocean and making us wish to remain there forever.
And the Arabian sea itself was never far away. We caught glimpses of glint of sunlight being reflected in the ocean every now and then. The sea was playing hide and seek with us like a playful muse trying to lure us – appearing suddenly in all its beauty at one turn then vanishing for some time, only to appear out of nowhere at another bend of the road.
Indeed the whole setting was so soulful and serene that my wife asked in all seriousness that – what might be the cost of land here? She was so enamoured by the simple and peaceful living of the region that she was pondering in all earnestness for us to buy a small piece of land and construct a villa there!
It was so different from the region that I had seen for most of my life – Rajasthan and Gujarat- that I wondered about the bewildering diversity of my country.
If it wouldn’t have been for the traffic, I would have thought that I was in a different country all together. Yes.. Seriously; like anywhere else in India the traffic was pure hell. Cars, buses and trucks rushed towards one’s car as if with murderous intentions on the single laned roads, only to turn away at the very last second.
I think this craziness on the roads and the utter disregard of the traffic rules is the single most binding factor in our country today. Otherwise, what could have bound such a big nation with areas as different from each other as chalk is from cheese?
From kashmir to Kerala and from sikkim to Gujarat; people, religions and cultures are mind-bogglingly different but the traffic remains disorderly and maddeningly same.
As it was christmas, there were celebrations going on and at one place we crossed a sight which made me laugh and also to think. That sight was – a pot- bellied Santa dancing in an open truck on Malyali songs in a town which was predominantly muslim.
It can only happen in India.
A slice of heaven on Earth :-
We finally reached our destination the wonderful and luxurious Malabar ocean front resort, as the sun was preparing to dive into the ocean.
The resort was beyond our expectations. Situated in a prototype kerala village- Ozhinhavaluppa ( yes that’s how it’s spelled…don’t ask me how it is pronounced), it had comfortable modern huts built right on the beach.
It had been almost completely booked by Foliage outdoors for the eclipse tour, and we were greeted by the people of the company and were introduced to the group. It was a congregation of like-minded astronomy enthusiasts and also had an emminent astronomer and a naturalist along with it.
View from the room.
After a fast check in and the tour of the resort we immediately went to the beach as we were itching to take a refreshing dip in the sea before the sunset. Kids were ecstatic and so were we.
Later the group assembled inside a villa and the astronomer of the group gave a presentation about the solar eclipse and what we could expect the next day.
After a tasty meal we went to a deep sleep filled with excitement and anticipation of the next day.
It promised so much!
The vanishing sun…
I got up early around 6 am and immediately walked towards the beach and turned my head towards the sky and found my spirits sinking.
It was cloudy!
There were clouds everywhere and not even a patch of sky was visible. My heart sank.
Was it going to be a no-show?
Although, we had been forewarned that there were 10-15% chances that sun might not be visible due to the weather, I had been confident, over-confident rather, that everything would be fine. But it seemed that our worst fears were going to be realised.
The first touch of the Moon’s shadow on the sun was scheduled at 8:04am, so everyone got up early and got ready. Everyone was apprehensive about the eclipse. But we had high hopes that sky would clear atleast for some time and we would enjoy the eclipse.
We all assembled at the private beach of the resort by 7:45 am and stared expectantly towards heavens.
Each and everyone had been provided a special pair of glasses made of solar filter to watch the event with ample warnings not to look directly at the sun.
As the appointed time approached, our hopes were raised a little as the sky began to clear a bit.
Meanwhile, we were also enjoying the beach and the sea. The latter was particularly rough due to the increased tidal activity of the moon.
It was a picture perfect setting – a clean and delightful beach surrounded by coconut groves, and we were dazzled by the pristine beauty of the nature. Kids started building sand castles while waiting for the sun to peep out of the clouds.
‘Hope is alive!’ :- As the time progressed and sun rode high up in the sky , the weather began to clear up and we were able to witness, with tremendous excitement, the moon’s shadow creeping over the solar disc.
The mighty sun was reduced to a moon like cresent.
As the eclipse progressed we waited for the clock to show the time of 9:24 am. Because at this time moment the moon’s shadow would fully cover the solar disc leaving a beautiful and dazzling ‘Ring of fire‘ around it. The moon was scheduled to cover around 97% of the sun.
All our apprehensions were gone as the appointed time of annularity approached. The sky opened up fully and we were able to witness this rare and once in a lifetime spectacle in all its glory right on the Malabar coast.
As the annular phase began, everyone started to cheer and shout. I heard a lot of whistles and catcalls, and smiled thinking- only a solar eclipse could turn perfect gentlemen into rogues and kids- such was it’s power and affect.
This is what we had come to see!
It was breathtaking. Those three minutes of annualarity are going to be etched forever on my mind. Even kids were affected by our reaction and they saw the spectacle with much awe. I think it was a very good event for my kids to get intrested in astronomy and science in general.
I got hyper and could not contain my excitement. My planning had paid off! You can have a glance at the annularity in this short video. Kindly excuse the shrill, hyper-excited voice of the speaker. That’s yours truly trying to give the first hand account of this spellbinding phenomenon!
After the eclipse, that ended by about 10:30am and gave us a memories of a lifetime, we strolled on the beach.
The place looked right out of a travel magazine and we had a great time there. Children collected sea shells and elders got busy in clicking pictures and then just sitting quietly, taking in the unbelievable scenery and hearing the soothing lullaby of the waves.
Hmmm…Must be Kerala…
As it must be pretty evident from the above pics that we had a whale of a time at the Nileshwar beach, and it was with a heavy heart that we returned to the resort.
” Tu hi re…”
After checking out from the resort we went to a place of extreme historical importance of the region – Bekal fort.
It is the largest fort of Kerala and was constructed by the then king – Sivappa Nayaka in 1650’s. It is right on the edge of sea and 3/4th of the fort is surrounded by the sea.
This fort played an important part in the history of the region and changed hands according to the frequent wars and their Victors. Tipu sultan constructed a massive central watch tower from which a huge area around the fort can be observed.
This fort was immortalised in the famous song of the movie Bombay- ‘Tu hi re..’ This song was completely shot here and now this fort is commonly known as ‘Tu hi re’ point.
The Land of the Mist…
After spending two days in sunny Kerala we now were headed towards another great destination that is known for its misty mountains and coffee plantations – Coorg.
Coorg in South Karnataka requires no introduction. It’s a famous hill station and is known as – ‘The Scotland of India.’
This title does full justice to the place and we were wooed by its verdant beauty.
As we started from Bekal towards Coorg, a journey of about 115 kms and took around four hours, the terrain changed quickly. From the coconut trees and backwaters it turned to tall silver oaks, climbers of pepper and coffee plantations around the winding roads.
We stayed at another great resort – Coorg cliffs resort. If the u.s.p. of Malabar ocean front resort was sea facing cottages, the main attraction of this resort was again it’s wonderful location.
It has been constructed at the top of a cliff which is surrounded by acres and acres of coffee plantation. The rooms are so situated that from its balcony whole valley and plantation are visible. It’s like living in a luxurious tree house.
It was so soothing and heartwarming to wake up to the chirping of birds and critter-cratter of the insects; and this went on throughout the day! It was like living in a jungle but with all the worldly comforts. It surpassed all our expectations and I can say, after travelling a lot and having stayed at many resorts, I have never been at a place that provided this kind of view and ambience. It was brilliant.
I experienced such peace and calm while sitting in that balcony that it was almost like meditation, and felt my creative juices overflowing. I could have passed the whole day there sitting in the chair and doing nothing…Just revelling in the miracle of nature.
The resort had all other attractions and amenities which a place of this quality should offer. In fact it had an infinity pool which was amazing.
At Coorg we were joined by the families of my in-laws and my sister in-law. They had arrived from Banglore. It was so good to have a family reunion at such an unique place.
Throughout the day we relaxed at the resort – chilling in the pool or riding the Bullock cart or enjoying a game of T.T. and carrom. The kids enjoyed a lot at the kids play area.
Smells like coffee…
In the evening was a mouthwatering activity for which I had been waiting for a long time and that was – The Plantation walk.
Accompanied by the resident naturalist of the resort Mr. Kunjappa, we all set out to explore the extensive plantation around the resort.
The plantation mainly grows coffee and black pepper. It is owned by four brothers and is quite old, being inherited from generations to generations.
Coorg and the surrounding hills of Western ghats form the coffee basket of India and produces the best quality of coffee in India.
While walking on the uneven pathways of the plantation and surrounded by the tall silver oak plants; on which pepper climber climbs and that also provides the much needed shade to the coffee plants; we were introduced to the history of coffee in India. It came from Yemen in the form of smuggled seeds in the pocket of a man who wanted to grow it here, and then later the Britishers cultivated it commercially and made India a coffee hub.
Mr. Kunjappa was very knowledgeable and told us many things about coffee- like how it is grown, the varieties( robusta and arabica), how it’s dried and processed, and many other intresting trivia about other spices like black pepper and green chillies.
At the end of the tour we emerged at a place where there was a picturesque church, in the courtyard of which there were a lot of coffee seeds that had been kept for drying.
The whole vista was so beautiful that for few moments I just stood there and gaped at the scene. It seemed we had descended into a fairytale.
It could only happen at a coorg that one would find a church with coffee seeds in its courtyard, surrounded by the tall trees of the plantation behind which are misty cliffs and black clouds over them.
Later, at the resort we were greeted by a bonfire and foot tapping music. Everyone danced around the fire and it was great fun.
Taking the tuskers to the task…
Next morning we set out to explore coorg and our first destination was a famous site – Dubare elephant camp.
However, when we arrived there we were stumped to see a huge crowd there. There was an never-ending queue for the tickets. I have to say that the place was not managed efficeiently. The tickets were available for only two and a half hours and there only two small boats ferrying the tourists across the Kaveri river where the camp was situated, so the line moved very slowly.
After a gruelling wait of an hour we were forced to abandon the queue and revise our itinerary. We decided to go there in the evening session.
When we returned in late afternoon after visiting other attractions of Coorg like Nisargdhama deer park and the golden temple ( a monastery where a large number of buddhist monks stay), we were again dumbfounded to find another huge queue and my brother-in-law who had gone earlier gallantly to stand in the line, told us that he had been rooted at the same spot in the hot afternoon for an hour.
After an eternity we were able to procure the tickets and boarded the boat for the short ride across the river. It was very scenic and restored our jolly mood, which had been ruffled somewhat by the heat and the long wait.
Dubare elephant camp houses many elephants who were earlier used by the royal family of Mysore in the famous Dussehra festival of Mysore.
This practice has long been stopped and now these tuskers are retired. However, this place gives the tourists an unique opportunity to interact with these majestic gentle beasts.
Here one can feed the elephants and can bath them. We enjoyed the interaction a lot, the kids specially were thrilled to touch and feed the elephants.
Trip comes to an end with a surprise.
Finally, after having a wonderful time together, the day came when we had to return to Ahmedabad.
With a heavy heart we checked out of the lovely resort and set out in our cab towards Banglore from where we had to catch our returning flight.
But surprise..Surprise; the way to Banglore was not a boring and tedious journey…not at all.
About 35 kms. from Coorg and enroute to Banglore, is situated the famous Nagarholle national park, and we passed thorough this park on our way, though not from the core area.
We saw some elephants in another camp and then suddenly there were deers grazing just near to the road. Kids were excited to see them standing there nonchalantly.
As we went onwards on our journey and crossed Mysore, going towards the historic town of Srirangpatna, our driver suddenly remarked that there was a gem of a bird sanctuary tucked nearby and asked whether we would be interested in visiting it.
Always keen on visiting such places, we immediately said yes. Though I was a bit sceptical as I had not read anything about a bird sanctuary in my research, but I am always game for such excursions. So we took a short detour from the Mysore- Banglore highway and headed towards Ranganithittu bird sanctuary.
Ranganithittu Bird sanctuary.
This quick excursion became the cheery on the cake for the trip and we were pleasantly surprised that such a beautiful place had earlier escaped our radar.
The bird sanctuary is situated on some islands in the backwaters of Kaveri river few kilometres from Srirangpatna.
It is home to a plethora of indigenous bird species and also becomes a temporary residence for the migratory birds in the winters.
The tour was conducted in a boat which encircled the islands where the birds were roosting or feeding their young ones. It was a thrill to observe these exotic birds in their natural habitat from up close. The employee of the sanctuary spotted and informed us the names of birds like – Pelican, Night heron, painted stork, white throated kingfisher, spoonbills and many more.
As we cruised in the waters of Kaveri at a comfortable pace, our guide pointed out that a couple of crocodiles were lying in the water quite near to us!
It was the first time that I was in a water body that contained crocs, and it seemed dangerous yet exciting at the same time. Needless to say that the kids were suitably impressed.
As we observed the birds, a large pelican glided gracefully near our boat and then suddenly swooped towards the water and with a quick strike of its beak captured a fish and then flew towards its nest on a large tree on the island…
Memories of lifetime are created :-
This trip turned out to be such a triumph that I was compelled to turn it into a travelogue quickly so as to preserve the memories forever in the way they were etched upon our minds.
I always try to plan a trip or a vacation in a manner that it provides a vast spectrum of activities and experiences, and thus gives me the best worth for my time and money.
This trip was a short one of about four nights and five days but contained so many dimensions that it seemed we were away for a long time.
It had – astronomy, beach, hill station, history, wildlife, proximity to nature, bonding, relaxation and quality time with family and lots of fun!
Needless to say that this ‘Knee’dy traveller is feeling much satiated after this trip, but this satiety is only for some time and I am already rubbing my hands in anticipation of planning the next trip 🙂
Goodbye to all…here are some more pics from this incredible part of India…India rocks!
The ‘Knee’dy Traveller.