[Coorg is the land of stunning landscapes, awesome coffee, delicious food & invigorating wine. That’s the exact statement I heard before shifting to Coorg (or Kodagu) in 1993. I lived there for 2 years, followed it with dozens of jaunts, learnt that Coorg is much more than just a ‘touristy’ statement and decided to share my experiences of a mystifying land with wonderful people, unique traditions and Kodava Takk]
In April 1993, after writing my SSLC exams at Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in Shyampur near Bhopal, I had just returned to my family at Bachahalli, a small village on the fringes of Bandipur National Park in Chamarajanagara district of Karnataka. Tucked away from 1990s urban delights of colour televisions, ITI telephones, masala dosas, Five-Star chocolates, tin shaped Maruti cars, Bajaj scooters, baggy pants, sleazy Debonair magazine, step-cutting, Coca-Cola and neatly eye-browed busty females, Bachahalli was surrounded with beautiful green pastures, tiny hillocks, magnificent forests and hardworking peasants. A far-off South Indian settlement, Bachahalli had few basic amenities that were rare to see in many remote villages till recent times. Apart from four or five general merchant shops and two shanty hotels, it had a primary and middle school, hostel for backward community students, little health dispensary, one room post office, a bus connected it to the outer world and most importantly, a licensed toddy shop sold country made liquor. And on few blessed days for patrons, this shop stocked Government manufactured 250ml ‘Arrack’ plastic pouches.
After a harrowing two-day train journey from the hot and horrid plains of Central India, I had just landed into the pleasant climate of Nilgiri Biosphere where I was to spend three month long summer holidays with my family. It was a good sized joint family with people I loved the most – my parents, younger sister, granny, uncles, aunts, cousins and nieces. Tired of eating North Indian Poha for breakfast and Roti with Soya Badi curry for every lunch and dinner at my residential school, I was looking forward to relish homemade Idly, Poori and Chaklis. I was eager to meet my childhood friends and roam around the village like old times. I was planning to watch loads of Kannada movies at a ramshackle cinema tent in a neighbouring village, Bommalapura. I wanted to night camp in our farmland and see how people chased away elephants and wild boars that destroyed crops. After gruelling one year full of studies, assignments and exams, I was planning to enjoy my summer holidays before leaving Bachahalli to continue my higher studies elsewhere in the State.
But my dad had other ideas.
Within next one week, I was staying with my aunt in Bangalore and learning how to create and delete folders in MS-Dos on a shiny new computer. Ominously set-up in a small car garage, it was the sole computer in a place that called itself a Computer Training Institute.
Next two months were spent either watching Doordarshan on a Sharp television or hazy set of texts on a monochrome computer monitor. To my delight, a sunny afternoon in June that year, my aunt in Bangalore received an inland letter from my dad; a letter that I was eagerly waiting for last three months. In its secret folding secured with a stroke of glue, it carried an important message for a student who was nervously waiting for his SSLC exam results. In those days mobile telephones were nonexistent and owning a land-line was still a luxury. Speaking to relatives and friends who stayed beyond certain distance involved calling local telephone exchanges and placing trunk-call requests. It meant sitting next to telephone for hours waiting for a call from the exchange to get connected to your loved ones, and if situation demanded, your enemies. And most of the times, the rickety exchanges were busy with backlog demands which meant that your trunk-call requests were invariably transferred to next day. In those days the entire country, well let’s say, most of the urban part at least was connected with the ‘Great Indian Telephone Network’. It involved crisscrossing the entire nation with telephone exchanges connected with black coloured wires hung over silver coloured metal poles. This obscure network of ten feet poles and millimetre thin wires carried your voice across and most of the time, connected wrong numbers. So, my dad sitting in an tiny village some 200 kilometres away from Bangalore had to involve the ‘Great Indian Postal Department’ to convey my aunt that I had just passed my SSLC exams. Next, I had to study Vocational Training as part of my two year Pre-University course in another Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in Coorg district.
I had never heard of Coorg, but the name fascinated me. It was different. I decided to find out more.
That evening sitting in a balcony overlooking the busy Gokula Road in Mathikere, I was chatting with my cousin who was almost ten years elder to me. In between our conversation, I spoke about dad’s letter and asked my cousin if he knew anything about Coorg. That led to an interesting conversation.
“So, you are going to Coorg?”
“Coorg is a nice place”
That relived my mind, but it was not enough. I wanted to know more.
“But it’s different”
I know Coorg sounded different compared to other places that I knew to exist. Names of places or districts in Karnataka usually had Nagara, Ooru or Pattanna in them. Be it Bangalore, Mysore or Chamarajanagara, they all had the usual phonetic endings. As if reading my mind, he continued.
“Yes, the place, the people, their food and the language; everything is different”
For a moment, I was nervous. After two rough years in Madhya Pradesh, once again I didn’t want to end up in an alien land.
“Coorg is full of forests, hills and coffee estates”
I always loved nature. Trekking in forests and hiking hillocks around my village excited me. But I hated coffee. When I was 6 or 7 years old, my granny had mixed a homemade Ayurvedic tablet in my coffee. It was suppose to clean my stomach and rejuvenate my health. But the black concoction had hideous smell and extremely bitter taste. The first sip had gagged me violently and I had thrown up everything I ate that day. I was sick for a week and since then, I only drank tea.
“They eat Pork”
“Yes Pork. That’s why they are strong. And you know, when they go out, they carry a gun”
Even though that was clearly an exaggerated statement, I was still shifting nervously in my chair.
“And it rains, I guess, for 4 to 5 months a year”
I love rains. That shouldn’t deter me.
“In Coorg, women wear saris differently”
“You will see it for yourself”
Slowly, I was getting used to the word ‘different’.
“Most of Coorg men are in Indian army”
“That’s interesting. Then they must be strong”
“In Coorg, people play hockey”
When the entire nation was mesmerized by Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Azaruddin, Ajay Jadeja and the young lad Sachin Tendulkar, how could only Coorg people be interested in hockey and not cricket? I decided not to believe it.
“And Coorg girls are very beautiful”
“Yes, and I am sure you’re going to enjoy your stay in Coorg”
I was not sure. Instead of clearing my doubts and making me comfortable for the impending journey, the conversation had confused my mind and faintly, I was feeling uneasy. But somewhere deep in my heart, I was looking forward to meet a beautiful Coorg girl without a pork eating and gun wielding father.
But nature had other plans.
One fine sunny afternoon that month, I started to shiver slightly and felt sick. Later sometime, I threw up all over the room and got a terrible fever. I was diagnosed with Jaundice and doctor suggested few medications, strict diet and two month bed rest.
I was to join my school in 2nd week of July, but suddenly, my Coorg journey was in jeopardy.
[To read Part 2, click HERE]