The Konkan Experience: Travelling Across The Coastline

On day 1 of the Konkan experience, we set off from the flushed January roads of Bengaluru to the idyllic old town of Coorg. Find out some interesting tidbits of the coffee plantations of the city
A traditional boat overlooks the Arabian Sea at a beach
A traditional boat overlooks the Arabian Sea at a beachWaquar Habib

Embarking on a journey through the cherished destinations of southern India in a luxurious Defender 110 car, the expedition that lay ahead held the promise of exploring the captivating landscapes of the deep southwestern region. Originating from Bengaluru, our route traversed the intricate folds and majestic faults of the UNESCO-conferred Sahyadri Ranges, also known as the Western Ghats, leading us to the picturesque coffee hill station of Coorg.

Continuing our path, we navigated the sinuous streets through the ghats, eventually reaching the coastal allure of Bekal in Kerala's Kasaragod district—an erstwhile domain of the Ezhimale Kingdom. Progressing along the Western coastline, our journey looped back into Karnataka, bringing us to the historically rich city of Gokarna, and concluded with a delightful circumambulation of the charming Varca in Goa.

The convoy moving into the hill station of Coorg
The convoy moving into the hill station of CoorgTribhuvan Tiwari

The day before our adventure commenced, we gathered with our instructors, Anil Ambady and Regnar Fernandes from Cougar Motorsports, who provided a detailed briefing on the impending expedition. The impending trip of the Konkan coast was a six day journey, starting January 21, to capture the coastline's beauty and idyllic aura and experience the Land Rover car on a long road trip. Cougar Motorsports, a leading organiser of luxury motoring expeditions, off-road experiences and extreme off-road motorsport have curated the trip.

In this prelude to our journey, we acquainted ourselves with fellow travellers. Engaging in discussions about the journey that promised to captivate us all, we eagerly anticipated the arrival of Day 1, when we would embark on our road trip.

Day 1: Bengaluru to Coorg

After a hearty breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, we started moving in a convoy with Anil leading in the front and Fernandes keeping an eye on his tailing sweep car, connected internally with walkie-talkies.

A glimpse of the Bengaluru flush in January taken from inside the car
A glimpse of the Bengaluru flush in January taken from inside the carWaquar Habib

January has to be one of the best months to visit Bengaluru. Through its city limits, where all the water tanks in all the houses, hotels, hostels, and offices are indiscriminately yellow – an amusing observation for a Delhiite like me – we headed towards the outskirts on the highway. Most of the lanes were flanked by trees, reared and indigenous. A dense flush on most of these trees painted the city yellow, pink, lavender, and purple. The majestic hills of the Sahyadri came up boisterously at some stretches while running continually on the side. At certain patches within this part of Karnataka, we observed roads decorated with red flags and orange papier mache towards the Pran Pratistha ceremony at the new Ram Mandir in Uttar Pradesh.

On our way, we stopped at a Cafe Coffee Day, CCD, on the outskirts of Mysore on a slip road on the highway. We were greeted by a dog hungry for pets and an annoyed white cat. While we were parking, a feature that stunned me was the 360-degree camera visuals that flashed on the screen - a brilliant employment of augmented reality that gives the driver an external view of the car from different angles.

The fish fry shop on the way to Coorg
The fish fry shop on the way to CoorgTribhuvan Tiwari

After a couple of cappuccinos, we returned to the road and headed straight for our destination in Coorg. A few kilometres before the city, we chanced upon a roadside fish fry joint that attracted our attention. The shop was but a trolley vehicle with its façade in the shape of a giant fish. Inside stood a local vendor with a huge tray of fried fish spread and stacked on top of each other in a circle. Obstructed by language, we made some small conversation with him in our limited capacity and tried his deliciously authentic fish fries that looked exceedingly symmetrical and well done. The man belonged to a local fishermen's residential area and had been selling fish along the highway for a long time.

Delicious fish fries sampled on the journey
Delicious fish fries sampled on the journeyTribhuvan Tiwari

Once we were in the idyllic town of Coorg, the landscape started changing as flat lands gave way to hills and dense vegetation. We quit the highway and took a steep alley leading up to the hills. On our way, we came across several old rusted boards of the Nagarhole National Park, warning (and alarming) us against various animals, prominently elephants. Thereon, we went deeper into the city’s heart as the roads kept narrowing and coffee plants and trees sprang up in battalions. At a high point, we crossed a sharp hairpin turn, which brought us to our lodgings for the day – a TATA-owned property called the amã Stays and Trails, the Cottabetta Bungalow.

A view of the Cottabetta bungalow
A view of the Cottabetta bungalowTribhuvan Tiwari

The resort was an old colonial affair, symbolic of Coorg, renovated and modified with modern amenities to accommodate the travellers. The Cottabetta estate that housed the bungalow was several decades old, with the bungalow being about 100 years old. As recollected by the manager at the property, the Cottabetta heritage properties go as far back as the British era. The area that now includes the TATA's resort and a golf course was under a certain Consolidated Company from Chikmagalur in search of fertile lands for coffee production. The Company was a union of several small planters who came together under British management and operated their coffee-growing business. It was quite late when TATA came onto the scene and then, in the following forty years, virtually bought out the whole of Coorg and its coffee plantations.

Vegetation around the Cottabetta estate
Vegetation around the Cottabetta estateTribhuvan Tiwari

We enjoyed a great view of the rolling hills from the resort and inside lay the cosiest of architectural elements. In my room, a rustic table in a corner with dim yellow light stood with a huge window on its side that looked out into the wild with incessant sounds of birds and trees. Old paintings, defunct chimney chambers, a traditional central courtyard, and a Mangalore-tiled roof were sights to behold. Soon, we went for lunch, served in the central hall of the bungalow. We hurried through our delectable mutton biryani cooked in the traditional Kannada style with a unique blend of spices and prepared ourselves for the coffee plantation safari, which was to follow.

Udai Naik, the naturalist at the property, came in shortly afterwards to give us a tour through the dense vegetation. “First in India, the coffee started in Chikmagalur in 1851,” Naik narrated. “There is a hill station called Baba Budan Giri named after a Muslim guy; the guy went to hajj from where he visited Ethiopia and Yemen where he found the Arabica coffee and smuggled seven magic seeds in his long beard,” he recited to us like a wizard storyteller. This Baba Budan Giri got the seeds to India and started the legacy of rich coffee plantations.

Coffee fruits in Coorg
Coffee fruits in CoorgTribhuvan Tiwari

The naturalist took us to the TATA coffee production plant and showed us all the production techniques, the quarters of the migrant workers from Assam, Bihar, and other states up north to work on the plantation in the harvest season, and the many trees. Pepper was another production observed in dense populations across the estate. Naik told us of the many life cycles of the coffee plants and the tricks of the trade that the cultivators employ. We took an encircling trip of the plantation, and towards the end, on another site, we witnessed a massive amount of Mexican avocado being grown.

Back at the resort, we spent some time relaxing, after which we were invited to a bonfire around the portico of the place. Grilled chicken, chicken tikka, mushrooms, paneer and other savoury delights were served as we sat around the warm fire and chatted away. The temperature in Coorg dropped shockingly at night compared to the day's brittle sunlight. This was followed by a dinner that seemed to have taken a back seat in place of all the conversations; we talked cars for a long while. The travellers shared their car expedition stories and expressed their excitement for the coastline ride to the Bekal that awaited us the next day before going to bed.

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