A Ride to Mandalpatti in the Coorg Hills, South India

Account of a trip taken with my brother in law up into the hills of Coorg where we were heading for the Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary within which was Mandalpatti, a place from which to view the Western Ghats in that region of Karnataka.

The last couple of days me and Sonam Tashi have been hittin’ the road and driving up into the hills of Coorg. First day of the two saw us go to a place called Mandalpatti in the Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary which is in the Pushpagiri Hills to the north east of the hill station town of Madikeri, the administrative centre of the Coorg district of Karnataka. Second day was a swing across to the town of Somvarpet some 30 kilometres east of the Coorg town of Kushal Nagar and from there to make our way to Mallalli Falls, once again in the Pushpagiri Hills, only this time at the other end of them to where we went the day before.

The Mandalpatti ride saw me and Sonam Tashi leaving the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe by around 10.30 in the morning after a late first day of Losar breakfast, Losar being the Tibetan New Year and 2020 the Year of the Metal Rat. Going through Bylakuppe, Koppa and Kushal Nagar on the good ole National Highway 275 here are some of the signs I saw on the way for local hotels, shops, services and restaurants –

Hoysala / Sip ‘n’ Dine / Lopamudra Eye Care / Trends / Jayalaxmi Fashion / Topco Zam Zam / Kaveri Bakery / Coorg Grand Residency / White Wings / BSR Family Bar / Coorg Castle / Hotel Crown / Hotel Santosh Bhavan / Shades Hotel / Woodstock Villas / Coorg County – Resort & Spa

Kushal Nagar is a busy, thriving town which has been on an ever expanding trajectory for the last 20 years and lies just over the other side of the Kaveri River from the settlement. From all those places listed above it was the Hotel Santosh Bhavan which we dropped into on the west side of Kushal Nagar in order to have a second breakfast of iddlys, sambhar, coconut chutney and vadai. Not the best Indian breakfast I’ve ever eaten it has to be said, but it was Sonam Tashi’s call, so there was little I could do about it but sit there and munch my way through.

Back on the road the only place of any consequence we passed through was Sunticoppa halfway up in the hills and where if you wanted you could have come off NH 275 and dropped onto SH 8 to take you across to the town of Somvarpet. But we didn’t do that and continued on up the road to Madikeri where on the edge of town we took the road signposted to Abbi Falls and then on to Mandalpatti. Now, it has to be said that we did attempt to go to Mandalpatti last year but didn’t quite make it, mainly due to the heat, the track we were on, and having the wrong kind of car. This time around things were going to be different as once we got to the edge of the Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary we would park the Mahindra and take a jeep to get to the Mandalpatti view point, as besides walking, which in the midday heat would most definitely not have been a sensible thing to do, that was our only option. It was a jeep track, not a car track, simple as that. This was because it was a seriously rough one, something which we’d found out the previous year when, halfway along it in Sonam Tashi’s Mahindra Scorpio, our attempt had been abandoned.

It is surprising just how empty the hills of Coorg are, well, of course they are not empty by any means, it is just that compared to the busy life down on the plains they at least initially seem so.

up on high
the birds do call
in silence soundin’
rarefied air

It always feels good to be up there and off the plains if only for a while, as life in the hills is always a little bit different; quieter, more spacious. Red earth soil piled high into embankments with intimations of landslides abounding come monsoon time, it was clear that quite a lot of road construction work was going on in order to beef up the infrastructure, make it more resilient when the weather went wild, instead of cuttin’ off an’ shakin’ things down to a no-go situation. We got to the place where the jeeps were located without too much of a problem, a few bumps along the way for sure, but that just went with the territory, when at times the road which lay before us was all chewed up. The negotiation with the jeep guys for our jeep fare was no negotiation at all as the simple fact of the matter was that it was 1000 rupees to the viewpoint and back with no chance whatsoever of there being any discount. In other words, no haggle.

This was OK, pretty much what I expected if truth be told, so after each of us having a small cup of way too sweet chai we agreed the price and climbed into one of the jeeps – Sonam Tashi in the front and me in the back – before steeling ourselves for what turned out to be a bit of a bone crunching track ride to the viewpoint spur on a hill which went by the name of Mandalpatti. Got to say it took degree of concentration on my part to hang steady in the back, not to feel I was on some kind of horror ride which would soon see me crouched over with head spinnin’ and pukin’ up my guts. Managed to avoid that scenario but I think at times it got pretty close. Stepping out of the jeep was something of a relief, even if it was a case of stepping straight into the heat of the bright midday sun under which the temps were really rather tasty.

Sonam Tashi wasted no time at all in getting through the gates after paying a nominal fee at the office of the Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary before setting off on a path to the viewpoint. Turned out to be worth it, the rockin’ ride in which I felt like pukin’ was all pushed to the back of my mind when I looked out upon those Coorg hills spread before me before they disappeared into a misty haze of elevated silence peculiar to certain locations in South India. It all belonged to a section of the Western Ghats which ran pretty much the length of the west coast from the state of Maharashtra down through Goa, Karnataka and Kerala before ending up in the deep south of Tamil Nadu.

There were of course some other people there besides us, a group of excitable young Indian men for example, who predictably enough were shouting at the tops of their voices into the empty valleys below and thoroughly enjoying listening to the echoes created as a result. There was also another group of young people who appeared to be students setting up a photo shoot with the poses of some of them taken against the stunning views as backdrop. All in all we must have hung around there for around 30 minutes or so, taking in the scenery and inevitably also taking shots of it with our phones, doing pretty much what everyone else was doing in other words, but that was OK, as under the circumstances it felt like that was exactly what we were supposed to do. But it was hot and after half an hour of pointin’ an’ shootin’ we’d had enough.

For the ride back to the pick-up point I sat in the front of the jeep which was a whole lot better than that rockin’ ride in the back of it during which at times it felt like I was holding on for dear life. Typically enough, once he was sat where I had been, Sonam Tashi didn’t think anything of it, thought it little more than a walk in the park, or a ride in the Pushpagiri. Back at the station – or collection of shacks to be more accurate – where the jeeps were parked, I handed over the 1000 rupees fee to our driver and also bounced him a 100 as a tip, something which he seemed really pleased about, but it was worth it as a tumble down the side of the track with a bounce to the bottom of a gully in the scrub would most definitely not have been what the doctor would have ordered.

Somehow on the way back from Mandalpatti to Madikeri we got our wires crossed as to the roads we were supposed to be on, got more than a little bit lost, finally ending up on SH27 and about 25 kilometres east of Madikeri which was way further from where we should have been. What it meant was our arrival in Madikeri was delayed somewhat and that had implications for our stomachs as we were both now pretty hungry, having had only that small cup of sweet chai since those indifferent iddlys at the Hotel Santosh Bhavan back in Kushal Nagar or just west of it a number of hours ago. Now it has to be said that for a hill station town Madikeri is not particularly inundated with great places in which to eat – West End Hotel, East End Hotel and Hotel Neel Sagar being some of the ones on offer, but none of them are knockout by any means – however it just so happens to have a Dominos and that is where we went in order to have a nice fresh pizza each. For 867 rupees I was able to order for us the following – 1 x medium Farmhouse Vegetable for myself, 1 x medium Chicken Chilli for Sonam Tashi plus a small bottle of tasty 7UP Nimbu for the both of us. Not bad at all and when my pizza came I have to say it was absolutely delicious which meant I pretty much wolfed it down on the spot without so much as leaving a single piece of a single slice of it. That’s the way to do it – eat when you’re hungry, drink when you’re dry! Think it was some kinda Zen master or even Bob Dylan who said that and as square in your face statements go it is one which is hard not to agree with.

So that was it then, our ride up into the hills of Coorg dun an’ dusted, now it was a case of another simple point an’ shoot all the way back down NH 275 to Kushal Nagar and then onto Bylakuppe which lay just beyond. Upon entering the Tibetan settlement Sonam Tashi stopped the car for me to pop into the Tah-Shee Spirit House and buy some beers, 6 cans of Kingfisher Strong plus a couple bottles of Budweiser in its Indian version, brewed under licence by UB Breweries in the city of Bangalore, or Bengaluru more like, Indian mega city of the south whose size these days just has to be seen to be believed. Needless to say, as I clambered back in the car with my bag full of booze, I was already looking forward to sunset time when I would be cracking open a chilled one and sitting up on the roof, happy once again that I was down in South India.

Later that evening after getting back down from the roof I looked at some notes I’d made from our aborted trip to Mandalpatti from last year, there wasn’t much to them, but there was is what you read below.

There were reasons for us not getting to the Mandalpatti viewpoint and this mainly had to do with the state of the track we were on which was suitable for a Bolero Jeep maybe, but not for a Scorpio Mahindra, despite the fact it was a four wheel drive. Too much slip side, too much rockiness and too much in the way of feeling sick despite Sonam Tashi’s attempts to steer us to the top come what may. So halfway through it meant our vehicular ascent on the bumpity bump our attempt was abandoned and we headed to Madikeri instead for a possible meal there in the centre of town if we could find someplace suitable.

Going to places like Madikeri always seem to be like a step back in time, goes with the terrain Indian hill station style, in which there is something a little bit removed about them, cut off even. But for me they were removed in a good way however and I enjoyed our little stroll around the centre of town, especially when I came across a well stocked supermarket which sold bottles of Indian tonic water, which was a rare thing to come across in that part of the world I can tell you. Strange thing was I had some kind of inner conviction that we would find them there, even after drawing a complete blank in the city of Mysore a few days before. Call me Mr Psychic Tonic Master if you wish, but it is just the way it goes I guess, name of the game, the fact things are always a little bit different when up in the hills. Anyway I picked up four bottles of tonic at 40 rupees a pop just in case we got stuck into the Duty Free bottle of Gordon’s gin back in the settlement. I also got a few bags of chips and savoury crunchy snacks along with a pack of small cakes, all for a grand total of 270 rupees which by my reckoning was not even three quid!

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