In conversation with coffee roaster Vasantha Machaiah
Vasantha Machaiah comes from a Kodagu family that has close links with coffee and coffee growing. His father (Machaiah Ponnakachira) worked for large coffee estates in Coorg, before retiring to set up Saibaba Mills – a legacy coffee roasting and milling unit in Siddapur. All the good work started by his father is now in the capable hands of Vasantha’s brother who continues to run the unit.
Vasantha himself learnt the fine art of roasting coffee at the tender age of 15 at Saibaba Mills. With the extent of his processing and blending experience, he has, over the years diversified into manufacturing spices – offering a wide range of masalas under the banner of Coorg Valley. (Vasantha is also an excellent cook, and makes a mean Pandhi Curry over the weekends.)
Another plan on Vasantha’s drawing board is the development of a 20-acre tract of land in Bittangala, Virajpet Taluk. The location has two very interesting neighbours: Coorg Golf Links and the Coorg Adventure Sports Club. He is now planning a collaborative effort to develop this land into a holiday resort, and make an entry into the world of hospitality.
We now chat with Vasantha about “Kodagu” as a destination for tourists and vacation seekers. He talks to us about the many reasons why Kodagu is such a popular highlight on India’s tourism map and calendar.
How do I describe Kodagu? Ours is such a beautiful experience that I am sometimes at a loss for words. Famous people have referred to it as the Scotland of India – some have even gone to the extent of calling it the Kashmir of Karnataka. I would love to call it “Heaven on Earth” - because Kodagu presents an unmatched panorama of beauty and everything that goes with that.
Believe me, in this fast changing world there still is an old-world charm about Kodagu – expressed so beautifully through its dense forests, majestically flowing rivers and spirited waterfalls. Another key visual experience is the wide expanse of lush green plantation cover.
No story on Kodagu is complete without one drink that says good morning to you, every day – Coorg Coffee. Kodagu is a world famous hill station, largely growing coffee and spices - known the world over for quality and yield.
There are two ways to answer that question. For the adventure seeker you have trekking and adventure sport activity - carefully planned by individual outdoor sports clubs and some of the resorts based here.
Mandalpatti, Tadiandamol and Kotebetta are great trekking destinations. If you are curious about wild life, we have three wildlife sanctuaries - Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, Talakaveri Wildlife Sanctuary and Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary. The Nagarhole National Park, is home to tigers, Asian elephants and rare bird species.
For those interested in historical and touristy landmarks, there is plenty to see. Listing a few stopovers here: Abbey Falls, Raja's Seat, Nehru Mantap, Madikeri Fort, Talakaveri Temple & Waterfalls, Chiklihole Reservoir, Honnamana Kere, Mallalli Falls, Irruppu Falls, Omkareswara Temple and Padi Iggutappa Temple. (Please check tourism websites for more information on this.)
If you’re looking for places to stay, there is always a resort, homestay, or hotel in Kodagu to suit every taste and budget. You also have some excellent resorts managed and run by leading and well-known timeshare and vacation ownership companies.
Let me be welcoming here and say that Kodagu opens its arms to travellers and tourists right through the year. There’s always something to do and see in Kodagu – season after season. But going back to our earlier question of passions and interests, I would say that the months extending from October right up to April are good for outdoor and adventure sports. During March and April, Coorg is at its beautiful best – like a green carpet. The other part of the calendar – from May to September you can enjoy the wet and drizzly side of Kodagu – beautiful in a whole different way. (Please check tourism websites for more information on this.)
According to me you could also time your visit with some of our traditional festivals – Kail Podhu (worshipping our weapons), Cauvery Sankramana (celebrating the birth of River Cauvery), and the Puthari (our harvest festival). In Kodagu, weddings too are like festivals, with celebrations rolling out for days – try and get invited to one.
If you are looking for something truly local, authentic and passed down generations, we can offer you our time-tested specials. Since we have been a predominantly rice-growing culture, many of our traditional preparations are rice based.
Let me start with Kadumbuttu - soft steamed-rice balls prepared with broken rice. Then you have Nool Puttu, a local version of rice noodles. What’s really popular in this listing is Akki Otti –a soft, fluffly flat-bread version of the roti. These would go well with some of the curries I am now going to list.
Our Koli Curry (chicken curry) is always a big draw, and what makes this coconut-rich dish special is the laced flavouring with tamarind. Then you have the creamy and sweet Paputtu – a steamed rice preparation made with coconut and sweetened milk, and flavored with cardamom. Our Kummu Curry is another traditional curry prepared with fresh mushrooms and generous amounts of coriander, ginger and chilli. My listing here wouldn’t be complete without our world famous Pandhi Curry - pork curry with succulent cuts of meat in a hot and peppery gravy. We also have an interesting seasonal delight - bamboo shoot curry, flavored with ground coconut, mustard and red chillies.
To see how a Kodava will entertain you, you need to come prepared with a large appetite for good food and high spirits. We are excellent hosts and make you feel totally at home, with a spread that is wider than what you would ever imagine.
Madikeri is Kodagu’s activity hub with all road transport operators using it as a terminal point. Buses from here go to Virajpet, Kushalnagar, Gonikoppal, Pollibetta, and Somwarpet – which means you have good road connectivity if you’re driving around. Each of these towns has a story to tell and an experience you will take back with you.
I must add here that my responses to your questions are from my own (could be limited) point of view – not entirely complete or representative. The tourism department will do a better job of giving you a picture of all that Kodagu offers – about places to stay, places to see and things to do.
Here’s a big warm welcome from me on behalf of my people in Kodagu. Be our guests – any time of the year.
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