I just spent the weekend at Sunti koppa, a small village to the northwest of Mysore, in Kodagu, a.k.a. Coorg, district. I was there with my relatives – six of us in all – and we were put up at a homestay in the middle of a coffee and pepper estate. It was my first vacation in three years and although it was only 48 hours long, it was splendid. As travellers to the area will be familiar, there are lots of places to visit in the area. We ourselves visited the KRS dam, Brindavan gardens, Namdroling monastery, Mallapalli falls and the Dubare elephant camp. However, the highlight for me was the homestay itself and its situation in what city-dwellers would know as the Middle of Nowhere.
Our homestay is to the left of this picture. The path here leads to the quarters’ front door. The structure visible ahead is the kitchen, and to its right the staff quarters. Around the perimeter encompassing these three structures, a coffee plantation 65 acres in area stretches on all sides. Our homestay was managed by Mr Cariappa, the owner of the plantation. We had a cook at attend to our food needs and another person who helped keep the place clean and running.
Mr Cariappa was also there frequently, talking to us about the area, discussing must-see places nearby and making sure we were comfortable. His house, where he stayed with his mother, brother and a dachshund, was located a few hundred metres away, right of the kitchen in the photo above.
To get to our house, you had to take an arterial road out of Kushalnagar (I’m not familiar with the exact route) and at one point take a left, plunging into a cluster of coffee and pepper plantations. Then you had to keep going for a few kilometres until you got to Emerald Estate – Mr Cariappa’s holding – and near its gate take another left and drive on for a few hundred metres. The video above is what you see on this drive: trees upon trees on either side of a narrow road, the ceaseless chatter of numerous insects, bird calls, and – if the sun has set – the occasional feeling that you’re hopelessly lost.
It’s peak rainy season this time of the year in these parts, so what we saw was flora and fauna at their most profligate, the soil wet and bursting with ideas about what to incubate. The insects in particular never gave up, as if they had all congregated around our home. We saw the biggest mosquitoes and crickets. We heard calls at night that we thought at first were from some kind of perimeter alarm, designed to drive animals away. We then thought they were produced by thousands of frogs sitting in the pond a few score metres outside our front door. We finally found out they were from insects – friggin’ bugs – which was improbable in our minds because of the sheer amplitude of their nocturnal opera.
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My mum took to one bug in particular – although we never figured out the specific identities of the racketeers – that voiced a five-note trill of increasing pitch (I think it’s audible in recoding #7 below). It was comical to the ear because a similar sound is played during comedy scenes in many Tamil movies.
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In the coming week, I intend to identify all the birds and insects making the sounds in these recordings by myself.
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On the first day of our two-day trip, we visited KRS dam. Access to the top of the dam itself had been cut off, according to some police personnel stationed nearby, after heightened tensions between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu about sharing the Cauvery water last year. In 2018, however, such tensions have been staved off thanks to excess rainfall in and around Kodagu, causing the river to swell and the dam to fill up. Only half a week before our visit, water had been released from the KRS dam because it had rained nonstop for three days, according to Mr Cariappa.
The way to the dam’s walls is via the Brindavan gardens.
After Brindavan, our driver and local guide, Mr Shivanand, took us to the Namdroling Monastery, a shrine dedicated to Guru Rinpoche, an eighth century Indian Buddhist widely regarded as the ‘Second Buddha’. The object of attraction at the monastery was the Golden Temple, a big hall that houses three statues – of Guru Rinpoche (a.k.a. Padmasambhava) and two forms of the Buddha, Amitabha and Amitayus. Of them, Guru Rinpoche’s and Amitayus’s statues are each 58 feet high, and Amitabha’s, 60 feet high. They are all made of copper and plated with gold. The hall’s walls are also decorated with paintings, as described below:
Videography was explicitly prohibited inside the hall and signages at various locations asked that visitors maintain their silence and not treat the temple as a place of entertainment. However, it looked like nobody was paying any attention to these requests, speaking loudly to each other, shooting videos, grazing their hands along the walls, etc. This was very sad, and at times infuriating, to witness, as if people were eager to exercise their freedoms mindless of their responsibilities.
After KRS dam, we had stopped briefly at a small Hindu temple nearby, surrounded on three sides by the backwaters of the Cauvery. Parts of the temple were still under construction but visitors thronged its corridors. There were signboards here as well asking people to keep quiet, but the temple’s administrators knew what they were dealing with. They had stationed officious-looking people at various points inside the temple charged only with walking up to loud dumbasses and asking them to shut up. It worked very well.
I learned later that Namdroling Monastery is the largest teaching centre of the Nyingma lineage, founded by Guru Rinpoche, in the world. It was established in 1963, given the name Namdroling by the Dalai Lama, and hosts over 4,000 monks and almost 1,000 nuns.
As soon as you enter the monastery, you walk into a giant plaza lined on two adjacent sides by small souvenir shops and residential quarters. The other two sides are bare. If you walked right across the plaza in a diagonal, you’d reach a gate of sorts opening into a path. Walk straight down and you will reach the Zangdog Palri temple, whose backside is visible in the picture above, crowned by the chakra. Behind the temple is the Padmasambhava Buddhist Vihara that houses the statues.
Unlike the other sites we visited on our tour, Namdroling was peopled. So I don’t know how the other visitors were comfortable pulling out their phones and taking pictures of themselves inside as well as of a place that housed other people, leave alone behaving as if they were at the beach. I for one was confused about why the monastery even opened itself up to visitors: to let people experience the wonder of Namdroling or to provide a source of amusement for its monks and nuns. Who was the more amused was anyone’s guess.
To be continued…