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Coffee on the rocks
India Today - Travel Plus, May 2005

Just six hours by road from Bangalore and a short flight from the metros, Coorg makes for a great short break. Bobby John Varkey spends a calming weekend at The Camp

BIRDERS ARE A very serious lot. But then, when you visit Orange County in Coorg, even if your birding is at the “look at that pretty blue bird” level, you’ll come away awed by the seemingly endless variety of colourful, exotic birds in the jungle nearby. Don’t be surprised if you start contemplating buying a bird book by the time you are back in the city and start your own ‘life list’. (You know, that’s what serious birders do). As for me, in three days in the middle of the 300-acre Chickanahally coffee, spice and orange plantation, I saw a pheasant-like bird covered in brown plumage, a coppersmith barbet, a jungle mynah, a sprangled drongo, and its ’cousin’, the greater racquet-tail dorngo!

This is perhaps what The Camp does to its guests. Simply put, it’s the kind of place where you kick back in and do nothing. Hammocks, coracles, and just a lot of quiet green. It’s a lifestyle that is sleepily decaffeinated, a rich brew, so to say. If you like waking up to the cawing sound of, a pheasant-like bird with a brown plumage; walking aimlessly through berry- laden coffee bushes; or finding your trial through tall silver oaks swatched in green pepper creepers… The Camp is your place. It lets you soak in the most of an environment fit for reverie. The bad news, however, is the 240 km-long potholed road from Bangalore, the nearest airport. This is a certain case of the destination being more significant than the journey. Who cares about a six-hour ‘cross-country’ flight when you know that at the end of it all awaits nature’s super bowl?

Orange County is beautiful, and that is perhaps why it is so famous. In the beginning, about a decade ago, the Ramapuram brothers started the County with just 12 Tudor-style cottages and named it after the orange orchards in the area. Their grandfather Emmanuel had bought the Chickanahally plantation from the British in 1926.

Some of the prized coffee bushes in the estate have been producing berries since then. Today, the resort boasts 50 meticulously designed 16th-century Tudor-style thatched cottages in six unique clusters, each with its own fireplace, kitchenette and balcony that offers breathtaking views of the nearby hills. The resort has won top honours, such as the Gold Crown award twice in a row.

The Camp is the resort’s latest offering: it has 10 luxurious tents with air-conditioning and heating, an exclusive infinity swimming pool that Borders the resort’s charming little pond and Peppercorn, a specialty restaurant. As a Camper, you are also made to feel privileged.

In addition to using the facilities at Peppercorn, you an also use any of the restaurants at the resort at ‘no extra cost’. Rustic, warm and inviting.. there are no television sets either to remind you of the world outside. My idea of a ‘fun-filled’ weekend: lazing in my easy-chair, watching the kingfisher at work on the silver oak in front of me, listening to the call of a white breasted water hen in the pond nearby.

The resort’s celebrity status - a week before I visited Orange County, I was told, Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai were staying there for more than a month (of course, because they were shooting for a film) - seems out of sync with the area’s homespun image. Postcard pretty with their redtiled cottages and purple flowering shrubs, the villages an hamlets enroute from Bangalore give way to the luxury and calmness of the resort. Inside, tall silver oaks lilt lazily in the breeze. In the beginning, you’ll find it difficult to walk through green pepper creepers and coffee bushes. But once you get used to it, believe me, it’s an experience you will remember for ever.

You’ll also remember Ganesh, the resident naturalist, bird watcher, trekker, historian and singer. His advice to help you make the most of your stay at the resort: sleep early and start your day before sunrise. Befriend him and you could see an elephant in the nearby Dubare Forest Reserve; spy on wild boards and deer; learn how a local Kodava collects honey from a silver oak tree; take long walks in the forest to the banks of the Cauvery; and talk more intelligently about a ‘pheasant-like bird with a brown or blue plumage’. From him I also learnt, and witnessed, that the local tribal community of Kodavas have a distinctly different physique than other south Indians. There are a number of theories on their origin. According to one, they are the descendants of the soldiers of Alexander the great, who were left behind after Alexander’s invasion in 327 BC. In fact, the best way to explore the sights, sounds and smells of the area is by taking a stroll with Ganesh, who adds history and trivia to your experience.

A word of caution, though: Don’t believe Ganesh when he says elephants, panthers, cobras and vipers stalk the forests here. Cobras and vipers, all right, but there are certainly no panthers anywhere near the County!

If you don’t see the pachyderms near the resort, head back to Ganesh. He will take you to the elephant training camp at the Dubare Forest Reserve nearby. Here, if you want to, you can bathe six-month-old Parasuram, six-year-old Ranjan, his 40-year-old mother Vijaya… and the oldest elephant of the area, 80-year-old Ammi. Dr. Sivaram, the friendly doctor here, makes a further allowance: you can also put a ball of ragi into the pachyderm’s mouth.

For more spiritual enrichment, you can go to Bylakuppe, the second largest Tibetan settlement outside Tibet. Complete with a monastery with almost 7,000 monks, a Tibetan village and a flea market, this indeed makes for a wonderful excursion. The expansive halls in the Namdroling Monastery hold 40 ft high gold-plated idols of the Buddha and his disciples. “More than Rs.10 crore were spent on building this monastery,” a monk tells me. I have no reason not to believe him. For temple tourist enthusiasts, just outside Coorg is the Omkareshwara temple over 200 years old, a fine blend of Islamic and Gothic styles, and the multi-roofed Kerala-style Bagamandala Temple. And after all this, the lruppu falls closeby makes for a wonderful picnic spot.

A half-hour drive from the resort is the Valanoor fishing camp on the Cauvery. A scenic angler’s heaven, Valanoor is famous for the silvery mahseer, known for its ‘fighting’ abilities when hooked on lures or files.

Serious anglers know it better as the king of Indian river game. “A mahseer is one of the largest freshwater game fish and one of the most stubborn too,” Ganesh talked on as we sat by the river. “It can grow up to an astonishing 5.5 ft and weigh up to 120 pounds!” And then he added what I expected him to: “It is found only in the Cauvery and the Ganges.” Of course, Ganesh, like all Kodavas, is very proud of his roots.

For all its chic interiors. The Camp still presents a wonderfully unkempt world. You may not find the Kodavas strutting about in a way you expect tribals to.

Still, it is a place generations removed from the congested tumult of other tourist hotspots in India. You can enjoy Orange County only if you haven’t sipped too many cups of coffee.

Contact: Orange County Resorts, Karadigodu Post, Siddapur, Coorg-571 253, Karnataka; tel: (08274) 258481/2/3; e-mail:

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