Friday, December 9, 2011

The Call of the Coffee Plantation

After visiting the forest near Mysore, it seemed a pity to skip the coffee plantations that lay just a little way ahead - and so we continued into Coorg, the land of the Kodavas. The road being what it was (just about existing in parts and filled with treacherous traffic in others), it took us about six hours to reach. We stopped for a leisurely break though, at Bylakuppe, where there is a large Tibetan settlement and a wonderful Tibetan temple, monastery and school for monks. We had a light but satisfying meal of momos (stuffed dumplings) and thukpa (a hearty soup), amazingly an all vegetarian option was available in the monastery.

As we drove towards Coorg, the dusty plains gave way to cool, green plantations and the road sloped upwards. We passed acre after acre of identical looking land - filled with coffee bushes, interspersed with tall trees upon which were entwined vines of pepper. Birds called mysteriously from somewhere and we missed our forest ranger with the telescopic vision. The road led up and on, and we had to keep track of the landmarks mentioned in our map - an empty bus stop, a corroded bridge which only served pedestrians and then a tiny bumpy road which led us to our destination - BEL homestay in Madapura

A wonderful spot, in the midst of the plantations, with very welcoming hosts, Vijai and Ramolla and their two perky dogs, this is highly recommended if you want a short break away from civilization! They have a few comfortable rooms, beautiful gardens and a sprawling estate which is perfect for walks. This is not a fancy, modern place with gadgets and televisions (electricity is erratic and the generator and a wood stoked boiler are used) but a very welcoming old style, tranquil place with plenty of fresh air and delicious home cooked meals.

Excitement comes in the form of civet cats, dog fights, mongoose chases and bird calls, several of which we witnessed or heard. The air was bracing and up above, the stars peeped through cloudy patches. It drizzled a bit, which was not good for the coffee crop, laden as it was with red berries which would be gathered, washed, dried and opened to get the beans.

Civet cats process the beans in a highly prized manner and dump them along the paths for people to gather, clean and sell as a high end product. But much of the harvesting is done manually from the bushes which grow on slopy, uneven terrain, covered with wild fig trees, pepper vines and thick bushes. A very hard task. But the people on the plantation seem content to be there, in their homeland, working on their own and trying new ways to increase their revenue - planting vanilla, citrus trees and more; the trouble is that prices vary vastly from year to year for each product as global demands change. The infrastructure all around is poor; often owners have to lay and maintain their own roads. The bridge that we passed on our way is submerged upto five feet during the rains and no vehicle can cross at the time. It's amazing that work still goes on and the coffee reaches the market under these conditions.

But we only dwell briefly on these sombre issues. For we are now sitting in the verandah, shooting the breeze. Dinner is being laid at the table behind us - whiffs of delicious Coorg specialties come our way. The dogs, after a decent fight with friends from a neighbouring plantation, are curled up and fast asleep.

We have just walked through the plantation, learnt to distinguish arabica from robusta, learned how the wild fig trees help attract birds and insects which in turn help the environment around the coffee plants. We have seen poinsettia in vivid shades of red and an ancient and most beautiful mauvey bougainvillea in the garden. Tomorrow morning we plan to walk some more, to the top of the hillside and around, and then return to Bangalore - and back to work (sigh!).

No comments:

#Header1_headerimg { margin: 0px auto }