“The most exciting journey is often the one you know the least about” – Yours Truly
The Known: The River Tern resort had requested us to check in by 1 pm so that we do not miss the safari.The few pictures of the resort perched at the edge of a reservoir.Google Maps informing us that we were 229 kms and 5 hours away from the resort, our midway point en-route to Coorg.
The Unknown: The road to Bhadra and then onwards to Coorg and its conditions.
This was in short the Leg 2 of our trip!
Leg 2: Hospet- Kedakkal Estate (Suntikoppa, Coorg) via the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary
Distance : Hospet- Bhadra 229 km; Bhadra- Suntikoppa 231 km
1.The River Tern Lodge : Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary
Situated by the Bhadra Reservoir 80 kms northeast of Chikmagalur town ,the resort gets its name from the thousands of river terns that flock the islands of the reservoir. Nestled in the midst of the Western Ghats and Bababudangiri range of Chikmagalur district, it acts as the gateway to the Wildlife Reserve. The Muthodi Wildlife Sanctuary popularly known as Bhadra Reserve after the river that flows through it, is a Project Tiger Reserve and a biodiversity hotspot for its sheer amount of flora and fauna .
2.Coorg: Kodagu , as it is called locally in Karnataka , is nestled in the Western Ghats. It’s known for its distinctive language,culture and food as also for its coffee and spices .
The day began at 6 am.Baba, the hero of Leg 1 of the trip, was rendered out of action by a stiff back and cramped calf muscles making yours truly in charge of the day. Packing was hurriedly done, the car cleaned and the hotel staff questioned closely on the route ahead. “Roads are narrow but good” assured the desk clerk. He knew it only upto 100 kms though. “There are no towns on the way till Shimoga” chipped in his colleague , “but then you won’t be entering it either “. “Please have a very heavy breakfast, you won’t be getting any on the way” they both added . And that, was the first piece of advice we acted upon.
The journey started at 7 am on a sunny Sunday morning .This was to be a drive through the heartland of Karnataka , from the north eastern corners of the state to it south west, through state highways and forest roads into Coorg, via Bhadra Reserve. Our first visual treat was right at the outskirts of Hospet- the beautiful reservoir of the Tungabhadra dam. The narrow road skirting the reservoir had heavy truck traffic (it was the road to Bellary mines!) so we could not stop to take any pictures.
The state highways of Northern Karnataka were as promised – narrow,two-lane and well asphalted. There were villages at reasonable intervals. It was a joy to watch scenes from an unhurried way of life – goats and cattle being herded, the informal darbars at “tea stalls” , the over crowded autos and the colorful plastic bucketwaala in his bike- the brilliant hues of his wares adding that extra splash of color to the landscape.
Halfway en-route , was a stunning sight- vast tracts of sunflower and marigold fields adding hues of yellow and orange to the landscape!! Wanting to savour the scenery , we pulled over to the side and promptly got mobbed by a bunch of little kids who seem to have accompanied their dad to the fields on a Sunday morning.
A few photos and some broken conversations later, we hit the road again .Two hours and a short stretch of potholed roads later we reached the resort , perched on the edge of the Bhadra reservoir, looking every bit as it did on the pictures . The River Tern Lodge ,run by the Jungle Resorts and Lodges ( a partnership by the Government of Karnataka and Tiger Tops http://www.junglelodges.com/river-tern-lodge), the best option to stay in the region did not disappoint. The cottages built to merge with nature offers stunning views of the reservoir and the forest. At 7500 INR a night per couple, the resort is a value for money proposition as it offers 3 star facilities , all meals included and 2 safaris for the price! This resort is indeed a classic example of what good a government agency can do with a bit of will.
After soaking in the ambiance of the resort and recharging ourselves we proceeded for the boat safari. A Supreme Court ruling at that point had banned jeep safaris into core tiger areas , thus exponentially diminishing our chances of seeing tigers. Sadly,a light drizzle during the safari nullified even the remote chances of tiger spotting. As a consolation though, we did see a host of birds, deers, alligators and foxes!
Content with our share of wildlife sightings for the day we retired early, the sounds of the lake adding a soothing lullaby. The next morning was to be an early one too. This time we had to reach Madikeri by 1 pm to pick up my parents who were to join us for a part of the trip. Being curious, excited and anxious about our trip, they had mapped our itinerary on their Google maps, and were following us vicariously so far . Now they were to join us for the next five days as we explored Coorg, Northern Kerala and Mangalore.
After discussions with the resort officials on the road ahead, we had to discard the google map recommended route for one through the jungle and tribal hamlets to Coorg. The Baba who by now had fully recovered from his ailments chose to drive this section.
An hour through the jungle road as the sole travelers on the stretch, we started our second tryst with Sahyan , who welcomed us back to its folds with a downpour. The ghat roads soon took us to the silver oaks and coffee plantations of Chikmagalur and to the first big town on our way since Hospet. We were contemplating a “kaapi break” in honor of the coffee town when Dad called us to inform of their arrival in Mangalore and of their onward journey to Coorg. After ascertaining our coordinates and the weather he rounded of the call with the customary ” Eda nokkiyum kandum vandi odikkanum…. Illel adayakum ” ( Drive carefully else you guys will become flattened rice flakes on the roads!).
Duly cautioned we drove through more flower fields , silver oaks and coffee plantations to enter Belur – the town known for the Chennakesava temple dating back to the Hoysala Dynasty. Having been there once as a kid, I remembered the awe I felt looking at the carvings on the temple walls. The Baba was given a quick lesson in history about the Hoysala empire and its architectural marvels – the star shaped temples of Belur and Halebid. Thus by the time we reached the road towards the temple, all it took was using Baba’s signature “Trust me ” dialogue on him to take the 0.5 km detour to the temple. The Baba was floored by the beauty and the intricacy of the stone carvings while I reacquainted myself with the temple. An hour was spent in enjoying the poetry in stone.
With just a 100 kms left for Madikeri, we were sure of reaching there on time. It was then we hit on the worst patch of our entire journey- a 40 km stretch where roads seem to be non existent. Little did we know that this was our welcome to South Karnataka. We did just 15-20 km an hour for the next two hours and by the time we entered the steeper parts of the Ghats it started to rain slowing us further. Four hours and with still no Madikeri in sight we stopped at a village tea stall to stretch our poor, tired legs and to enquire about the roads ahead. Thankful to hear assurances that the roads were better ahead we continued our way up the Ghats through the coffee plantations of TATA and the trading town of Somwarpet to reach Madikeri a good 5 hours later than planned to pick up Mom and Dad from the bus stand. The Kedakkal Estate at Suntikoppa which was to be our abode for the next four days was just ten minutes off Madikeri. But then, that ‘s the story for the next post!