Coorg or Kodagu, also known as Scotland of India, was on my to-visit list since I saw it is rated as no.1 destination in India on HolidayIQ. So on Republic Day weekend of 2014 we decided to visit Coorg. As it happened, the road trip to Coorg was going to be our last trip before we set out to be parents!! There are three road options to go to Coorg from Bangalore and we decided to go via Channapatna and Mysore because of known road conditions and eateries.
Coorg and it’s surrounding tourist places like Wayanad are famous for homestays. So we decided to stay at a homestay this time instead of a hotel. After going through different travel websites I (the trip planner) zeroed in to Naladi Holidays homestay at Kakkabe, Coorg. Now there are two routes to reach Kakkabe…first Mysore-Hunsur-Virajpet-Kakkabe and second Mysore-Hunsur-Kushalnagar-Madikeri-Kakkabe. The first one is shorter by 25 km but we decided to go by the second one because as per the itinerary planned, we wanted to visit the famous Golden Temple on first day itself. Also homestays don’t serve lunch because they expect you to spend the afternoon sightseeing. We were hoping to reach Coorg by 12 noon so it made sense to visit a place, have lunch and then go to the homestay.
We started out at around 6 am. As it was winter season and we were headed for hilly area, we had packed lots of woolen wear which we were going to regret later!! It was cold only like from 3 am to 8 am! It was quite hot during daytime. We stopped only for breakfast at Vaishali restaurant on Mysore road and by 12 noon reached Bylakuppe near Kushalnagar.
Bylakuppe is a Tibetan refugee resettlement, provided by GoI for Tibetans who fled from Tibet following the 1959 Chinese invasion. The magnificent Namdroling Monastery and the Golden Temple are located there. The Namdroling Monastery is the largest teaching centre of Nyingmapa, a lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, in the world, and the Golden temple is a very popular tourist attraction. PAP (Protected Area Permit) is mandatory for foreigners to stay at Bylakuppe overnight.
When we enter the gates of the monastery, we feel transported to another realm of peace, solitude and mysticism. We feel we have entered Tibet or Bhutan or similar area and forget we are in South India. Inside the grounds there are two temples – the Zangdogpalri Temple, and the Padmasambhava Buddhist Vihara, commonly known as the Golden Temple.
The Zangdogpalri Temple is the one with the huge portrait of the Dalai Lama in front. The building is decorated with Buddhist murals, painted flowers and a rainbow on top. Then on the left side there is a beautiful garden and a small fountain and beyond that the Golden temple.
The monks move about doing their business according to the time of the day, unaffected by the crowd, its noise and its curiosity. We felt as if we are intruding into their peaceful world with our cameras and talk. This feeling gets heightened when we enter the Golden Temple.
The exterior walls of the Golden temple are decorated with Tibetan murals and Tibetan lion sculptures. We would have loved to have a guide who could explain all the folklore behind the paintings and translate the writings on the walls. One has to leave the shoes outside. Once we stepped inside, we were overcome by awe at the three majestic, beautiful golden statues of Guru Padmasambhava, Lord Buddha at the center and Buddha Amitayus; looking down at visitors above the altar.
The statue of Lord Buddha is 60 ft in height whereas the height of other two statues is 58 ft. The statues are made of copper plated with gold. I guess hence the name Golden Temple. The insides of the statues are filled with scriptures, relics of great beings, small clay mould stupas and statues which the body, speech and mind of the Buddhas. The altar is decorated with flowers, candles and incense and photos of the Dalai Lama and some other person whom I didn’t recognize.
The big hall is also decorated with murals depicting gods and demons from Tibetan Buddhist mythology and lots of people just sit down on the floor to meditate or contemplate looking at the benevolent eyes of Lord Buddha. It was enchanting to hear a Tibetan lady offer prayers by singing a mystical chanting song while rotating a prayer wheel. People were generally following the signboard “Keep Silence” but soon a huge group of school students came and it destroyed the calmness of the place. I feel the teachers should instill the urge to follow regulations by practicing ..for example they could have split the kids into small batches and shown one after another.
In the monastery campus few other buildings are there.Visitors were not allowed to go inside the Zangdogpalri Temple but we could see inside from the open doors on the side.
Suddenly from somewhere a big bell/drum started to sound and the monks started gathering in one of the building for some activity. It was lovely to witness the prayers in session, the ringing of gongs, drums and the drone of chanting by the monks.
There is a model of the entire settlement area in which you can see the various buildings of the entire area. The information board was only in Kannada so couldn’t gather any information regarding the model.
Outside the monastery, there is a small market with 1-2 restaurants and several stores that sell Tibetan jewellery, handicrafts, incense and souvenirs.We bought few souvenirs like a Tibetan doll, a replica of the bell in front of the golden temple etc. Then we freshened up and had lunch at a small restaurant there and started on our way for Kakkabe.
Visiting hours of Monastery – 8.00 am to 7.00 pm All days. Photography allowed. Free entry.
The owner of our homestay had contacted us on email after our booking (through Stayzilla) and given good directions to his home and helpful tips like only Airtel works at his place. Thankfully D has Airtel connection so we didn’t have to rush to buy Airtel sim. Another tourist place, Nisargadham was there on our way to Kakkabe via Madikeri, but since it was getting late and the homestay owner had advised us to reach before dusk, we did not stop for it. We decided to check it out on our way back to Bangalore.
The mountainous road to Kakkabe was in good condition and quite enjoyable to drive. It had almost got dark by the time we reached Kakkabe. Kakkabe looked like a sparsely populated area midst of dense forest and hills. The road leading to our homestay was quite narrow and scary in the dark. We were almost going to miss the homestay since there were no streetlights but we decided to stop and ask around. Google maps also doesn’t work well in such interior area.
The road leading to our homestay
The owner’s family welcomed us warmly and showed us our room which was upstairs; the family lived downstairs. It was a big enough room for a couple. There was an attached bathroom which was quite clean. There was hot water facility too. There was no mobile network inside the room. The owner’s wife gave oranges to welcome us which were quite delicious. The view from the balcony was awesome with mountains at a distance, coffee buds drying outside, tiled rooftops. The quaintness of the small town and the isolation of the area inspired a feeling of peacefulness, away from the hustle bustle of city life, away from the tangled web of electronic devices and internet…but it also gave a feeling of eeriness, all ghost stories (and there are only few I know) coming back in my mind, always expecting a howl to be heard in the distant forest, a worry that if something happens in this godforsaken place then??
Road in front of our homestay
View of dusk from our balcony
The food was served on the dining table in the common area without any intrusion on our privacy. We went outside at dinner time and saw food was ready. After a delicious South Indian meal, we turned in for the night, eagerly waiting to explore more of Coorg the next day.