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A Cultural and Heritage Travel Guide on Kodagu (Coorg)

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A Guide For Historical & Heritage Travellers To Kodagu

Discover the beauty and uniqueness of Kodagu, also known as Coorg, in Karnataka. Immerse yourself in a different culture, cuisine, and customs, and be captivated by the Koduva tribe. As the southernmost district of Karnataka, Coorg is a perfect destination for exploring diverse cultures and landscapes in South India. From the warm and hospitable locals to the mouthwatering delicacies and brave warriors, Coorg can offer you a unique history and experience for every traveller. 

I had the pleasure of visiting Coorg for the first time in 1989; my most recent trip was in 2018. Despite changes in infrastructure and an increase in population, the charm of the region’s people and landscape has remained unchanged since my first visit. The captivating allure of Coorg still holds true.

The early history of Kodagu?

Coorg, or Kodagu as it is officially known, has a fascinating history dating back centuries. Historians have found evidence of human presence here since pre-historic times. However, the recorded history of Kodagu starts with the Haleri dynasty ( Founders and rules of the Kingdom of Coorge from the 16th century till 1834 CE). Their capital was Madikeri, a significant town in Kodagu today. 

Though Coorg had cordial relations with the British throughout colonial times, It is essential to mention that there was a war between the King of Coorge and the British East India Company in 1834. It was a brief but bloody war. It was one of the rare incidents in Indian colonial history where a small kingdom challenged the might of the English.

What is the colonial heritage of Kodagu?

The visible colonial heritage in Kodigu lies in its plantations and historic buildings. The region has always been at the forefront of education and has produced some of the finest civil servants and military talents. This is evident when studying India’s military history during the colonial and post-independence eras.

What is the cultural importance of Kodagu?

Kodagu holds immense cultural significance, deeply rooted in its traditions and festivals. The cultural scene of Kodagu is mainly linked with the Kodavas, the indigenous people of the region who have a distinct cultural identity and are known for their bravery and martial traditions. Their traditional festivals, such as Kailpodh and Puttari, showcase their vibrant folk dances, music, and unique costumes. 

The Kodavas also have a rich oral tradition, with various legends and stories passed down through generations, adding to the cultural tapestry of Kodagu.

How can you reach Kodagu?

To reach Kodagu, there are several convenient options. If you prefer air travel, the nearest airport is Mangalore International Airport, located approximately 160 kilometres away. From there, you can hire a taxi or take a bus to reach Kodagu. 

Another option is Bengaluru International Airport, which is about 270 kilometres away. From Bengaluru, you can avail of taxis, buses, or even the scenic train journey to Kodagu.

What are the top seven historical and heritage places you should explore in Kodagu?

a) Madikeri Fort: This 19th-century fort is a testament to Kodagu’s colonial past and offers breathtaking views of the town.
b) Omkareshwara Temple: Built in the Indo-Saracenic style, this temple is a fusion of Hindu and Islamic architectural elements.
c) Abbey Falls: A picturesque waterfall surrounded by lush greenery, providing a serene atmosphere for visitors.
d) Raja’s Seat: A scenic garden and viewpoint where the kings of Kodagu used to enjoy spectacular sunsets.
e) Namdroling Monastery: India’s most prominent Tibetan Buddhist monastery, known for its vibrant colours and intricate artwork.
f) Talakaveri: The birthplace of the sacred river Kaveri, a pilgrimage site nestled in the Brahmagiri Hills.

What are the other places of tourist interest in Kodagu?

If you are looking for places other than historical and heritage, Kodagu offers several other captivating attractions. You can visit Nagarhole National Park, a good place for wildlife enthusiasts, where you can spot elephants, deer and bird species. Seeing a tiger will come as a big bonus. 

Travellers of all kinds should explore the picturesque coffee and spice plantations nestled in the Kodgu hills. Witnessing the intricate process of coffee-making and indulging in aromatic coffee tastings are unforgettable experiences not to be missed. 

For adventure seekers, trekking in the mesmerizing landscapes of Pushpagiri and Tadiandamol is recommended. If you are interested in immersing in nature, visit the Chiklihole Reservoir, an idyllic spot for boating and picnicking amidst serene surroundings.

Which is the best time to visit Kodagu?

To fully enjoy Kodagu’s outdoor offerings, it’s best to plan a visit between October and March when the weather is most favourable. While the monsoon season from June to September adds to the beauty of the lush green landscapes, safety concerns may limit some outdoor activities. 

The summer months of April and May can be warm, but Kodagu’s higher altitude provides a relief from the scorching heat of the lowlands. However, if you wish to participate in the Kailpodh, the colourful harvest festival, September can be ideal.

What art forms should you experience in Kodagu?

Kodagu showcases a vibrant array of traditional art forms that are a delight to watch and experience. One such art form is the Kodava dance, also known as “Kodava Kolata,” performed during festivals and special occasions. It involves rhythmic movements accompanied by traditional musical instruments like the percussion-based “Kodava Komb” and wind instrument “Mandolin.” The vibrant costumes and energetic performances make it a captivating spectacle. 

Another art form worth exploring is the unique martial art known as “Kalaripayattu,” which originated in Kerala but has found its presence in Kodagu. It showcases impressive techniques of self-defence and physical prowess. Ask your guide or hotel about places you can see Kodava Kolata during your Kodagu expedition.

What are the best souvenirs you can buy from Kodagu?

One of the most popular choices is the aromatic Coorg coffee, known for its rich flavour and distinct aroma. You can also purchase spices like cardamom, black pepper, and cloves, which are locally grown and add a touch of Kodagu’s flavours to your culinary endeavours. 

Additionally, consider buying handmade crafts and artefacts, such as intricately carved wooden items, traditional Kodava jewellery made of silver, and beautifully woven traditional sarees known as “Kuppas” or “Coorgs.” These souvenirs serve as cherished reminders of your time in Kodagu. I purchased a Coorgie cap.

What traditional food and drinks must you try while in Kodagu?

Food tasking must be top of your agenda in your Kodagu itinerary. The region offers a delectable range of traditional food and drinks that should not be missed. The most famous and my favourite is the conic Kodava dish, “Pandi Curry,” a flavorful pork curry cooked with local spices. For vegetarians, “Kadambuttu” is a good choice: steamed rice balls served with various accompaniments. 

Coorg Chicken curry, or “Koli Curry,” prepared with a unique blend of spices, is also worth trying. When it comes to drinks, indulge in the famous “Kodagu coffee,” known for its bold flavour and smooth texture. Additionally, try the refreshing “Nellikka Pani” (gooseberry drink) and “Kachampuli,” a souring agent made from black kokum. Adding 30 ml of Voda can make it even more refreshing if you are into it.

What are the lesser-known facts about Kodagu?

Kodagu has some fascinating lesser-known facts that add to its allure. For example, did you know that Kodagu is the largest producer of coffee in India? Furthermore, Kodagu was once a prominent centre for honey production, thanks to its diverse bee species and thriving vegetation. 

Additionally, Kodagu is known for its passion for hockey, with numerous national and international players hailing from the region. It is also worth mentioning that the Kodavas have unique martial traditions, and many community members have served in the Indian armed forces. And if you are into angling, Kaveri River is suitable for trout fishing.

How many days are required to explore Kodagu?

At least 3-4 days for your visit. This timeframe allows you to visit important historical and heritage sites, explore the region’s natural beauty, engage in adventure activities, and experience the local culture. You should keep a full day exploring Madikeri’s historical sites, including the fort, temple, and Raja’s Seat. Another day can be dedicated to visiting Abbey Falls, Namdroling Monastery, and Talakaveri. One day for outdoor activities like trekking, wildlife spotting, angling or boating at Chiklihole Reservoir. 

You can also use this time to visit coffee plantations and engage in coffee-tasting sessions. Finally, allocate a day to explore the local markets, try traditional cuisine, and witness cultural performances.

Is visiting Kodagu worth it?

Visiting Kodagu is a worthwhile experience, especially for travellers interested in history and culture. With its rich heritage, colonial charm, and vibrant local traditions, Kodagu offers a unique blend of historical and cultural attractions. From exploring historical places and temples to witnessing traditional dances and indulging in local cuisine, there is something to captivate every traveller. 

The picturesque landscapes, coffee plantations, and wildlife sanctuaries further enhance the appeal of this destination. In addition, Kodagu’s warm and hospitable local community adds to the overall experience, making it a memorable trip for history and culture enthusiasts.

What are the best historical and heritage hotels available in Kodagu?

Kodagu offers a range of historical and heritage hotels that glimpse the region’s rich past while providing modern comforts. Please choose the right one from the list below.