• Saptadeepa Bandopadhyay

Not far from home - A weekend escape to Coorg amidst the pandemic!

Life has been pretty much the same through most of 2020! Some days are so monotonous that we hardly bother about the time we eat or bath. The essentials too get home delivered across my city, making all reasons to venture outdoors absolutely unimportant.

Though we are shocked and would like to pinch ourselves hard to discover that all this Covid-19 pandemic situation is an sci-fi dream, but much to our disappointment it's our reality now.

Amidst all this, I am grateful for a job that is flexible enough to have allowed my to work from the safety of my home, but at the same time it has dissolved the work-life balance. Today work is everywhere, starting from the kitchen to the bed or even the loo. My privilege to choose a life I admire, to connect and disconnect from a virtual office environment after nine hours has dissolved!

So when travel regulations within my home state of Karnataka were relaxed, we took a leap of desperation to escape our caged concrete nests to the land of spices and coffee, Coorg!

I had known this time it would be quiet different, but I had not expected such aghast difference in the before and after pandemic scenes across my journey.

This was not my first time to Coorg, so I pretty much had a good idea of the place! Nor was I wanting to cover any specific 'Places to visit in Coorg' list this particular season.

A summary on Coorg -

Coorg is a little mountain district of Karnataka state located in the Western Ghats of India. Its a nature lover's serendipity! Coorg is an unpredictable wetland, with misty mornings and humid often afternoons followed by rains in the evening. The dense rainforests here are known for their variety of wildlife. The favorable conditions of Coorg are also known for its spice and coffee plantations.

The indigenous Kodava warrior tribe who also join the Indian army in large numbers originally belong to Coorg/Kodagu.

Here is how we experienced Coorg differently this time!

We started from Bengaluru much before sunrise (around 4 am) over an early September weekend and slept in the backseat of the car until sunrise. The prevalent Metro constructions along with the monsoons had the highways in a sad state. So sleeping didn't remain a choice until long.

The scenes of wet and lush green neighbourhoods through my car window was immensely satisfying to my caged apartment soul. This time however I missed people and open store scenes throughout the journey. Eateries selling the staple south Indian breakfasts, coffee stalls were scarcely visible. However when we were bored of our packed snacks and the stomach growled for a proper satiating breakfast, we asked the chauffeur to halt at a hygienic south Indian restaurant. We were relieved that the place was following all safety precautions before we ordered our breakfast. After a plateful of Idli vadas with Sambar and Chutney followed by the authentic local coffee, we resumed our journey towards Coorg (or Kodagu, as the local name goes).

From my last visit's memories, I wanted to visit Kushalnagara's Namdroling Monastery and the Tibetan colony. Namdroling is the only Buddhist monastery of South India and has a calmingly serene vibe of it's own.

Having been misguided by a local, we drove all the way to the monastery only to find it's large gates shut! How I wish I could have visited it this time, this place so vividly remains in my memories still date!

Fond Memories of Namdroling Monastery of Kushalnagara in 2012

Starting here, I knew that the administration across states must have been planning to open up transport and tourism but it only depended on the local communities who would and should rightfully withhold the decision to allow tourists or outsiders. I am in complete support of the fact that just for the sake of travel, communities must not expose themselves to the dreadful coronavirus until the pandemic is under control.

No regrets, as I was out for a dose of fresh breeze and I should not be put any other lives at risk for my sake of free clean air.

Nisarga Dhama -

We stopped at Nisarga Dhama natural retreat which had a bunch of protocols to be followed before entering. There were no tourists around, no kids rushing to get the glimpse of deer at the Deer park or waiting for an elephant ride.

Nisarga Dhama - A natural retreat with no tourists amidst the Pandemic
But I had found what my heart was yarning for in the past few months. The wilderness of the bamboo forest, fresh green new leaves on every tree, smell of moist soil, hissing of crickets and the gushing sounds of the overflowing Kaveri River had awakened my dormant sense to life.

After soaking in the monsoon winds and admiring the mangroves around the gushing Kaveri river, we walked back to the car.

Mangroves of Kaveri River, Coorg
Lush Green Mangroves surrounding the overflowing river Kaveri

Abbey Falls -

In no time, we were in the heart of Coorg city. We visited the Abbey falls, which was gushing and roaring through its milky-white water fall. Abbey falls has been a crowd puller and this time too it was no different. There were less tourists but there were locals who were obviously enjoying the undivided share of their towns beauty.

Abbey Falls, Coorg
Abbey Falls, Coorg

We were next on the mission to locate our 'Tree-house' which we had booked online but was not visible on the Google maps. All attempts to reach the owner failed because of limited connectivity. Asking few locals and then driving past a few high-end resorts, when we reached the end of the tar road, we knew that we were staying amidst the jungle.

Through the murky wet route when we reached the end of the mountain cliff, we saw a lone building standing between the clouds overlooking the forest on one side and a valley on the other.

That is how you socially distance I said!

I was suspicious to remove my masks but saw our host family happily roaming around with minimum safety gears. We soon realized, we were the first guest to the property after they opened up post-lockdown. Our hosts were managing every bit of the caretaking, cooking, cleaning as their staff had left mid-March, 2020 and never returned. Small businesses will obviously face the difficulties, knowing that the migrant workers have left their jobs and shifted to their villages.