I had always wanted to make a trip to some exotic place in Karnataka during the monsoons, and I zeroed in on the beautiful hill-town of Chikmagalur. The trip started early on July 3 (coincidentally my birtday 🙂 ) I and my friend Joseph (from Chennai) started from my house in Horamavu in Bangalore around 2.30 am in the night in my Hyundai Santro, on this enchanting trip to the heart of Malnad.
Bangalore – Magadi – Kunigal – Chanrayapatna – Hassan – Belur – Chikmagalur (See map)
I would say, the above route is the best to take to Chikmagalur, Hassan, Mangalore or anywhere on the west coast while driving from Bangalore. The Tumkur road has become quite notorious for its traffic, and having been on this road a couple of unfortunate times before, I had decided to skip this road at any cost. So, took the Magadi road in Bangalore, which straight goes to the Magadi town. The road to Magadi is pretty good, and I could easily do this at 80 kmph, given that there was no traffic at all. When we returned from Chikmagalur, I took the same route, and faced some traffic near Magadi, but nothing comparable to Tumkur road. And, when driving on Magadi road, avoid turning at the brightly lit and marked right turn to NICE road, and continue straight to the Magadi town.
After Magadi, the road to Kunigal is a dream. It is nicely laid and passes through some rocky hills on both sides. It is pleasure to drive on this road, especially in the night. By morning, you will have to negotiate slow moving villagers and cattle standing on the road, but in the night I could easily touch 120 km in my Santro. It took us around 1.5 hours for us to reach Kunigal.
The road from Magadi to Kunigal goes straight for a long distance and finally ends at a T-intersection. Here, take left to go towards Hassan. The right will take you to Bangalore via the Tumkur road. And, while returning back, don’t forget to take this deviation in the right to go to Magadi instead of going straight to Nelamangala.
From Kunigal onwards, the road becomes pothole-ridden for a while. You also get lorries coming from the opposite direction once in a while, and the road does not have a separator. But, this hardly bothered me. After a while the road conditions get better, and you can have a pleasant drive all the way to Hassan.
The Hassan to Belur road cannot be better. It is neatly paved and marked. The road is pretty straight and you can reach the limits of your car’s speed here. It hardly took us 30 minutes to cover this distance of around 35km. Near Belur, the road deteriorates for about a kilometre or so, but it can be tolerated given the condition of the rest of the road. Also, as you drive out of Hassan, you get to see a nice lake with mountains in a distance. There are some huge windmills over these hills. It is a sight to watch and capture.
From Belur, reaching Chikmagalur takes just around 15-20 minutes. There was hardly any traffic, and there were green fields all along, making the drive even more enjoyable. Anywhere after Chikmagalur, good roads are not gauarenteed, and you have to be quite careful driving. To go to Kemmangundi, there are two possible routes. From Chikmagalur take the Tarikere road. After about 10 kms, you get a left turn towards Mullayanagiri. This road can also take you to Kemmangundi. But, it is heavily pothole-ridden and best avoided. Instead, proceed further on the Tarikere road (which is in an impeccable state), and reach the Lingadahalli village in about 40 kms, from where you could take a left turn towards Kemmangundi.
July is supposed to be the wettest month of the year in these parts. However, this year, the monsoon has delayed, and there were not much rains. Nevertheless, there was a slight drizzle all the time in Chikmagalur, which gave a pleasant feeling wherever we went. Also, since it was overcast all the time, I had a good time with my camera too. But I had been hearing that there were heavy rains in coastal Karnataka and Shimoga, which would ensure good inflow into the reservoirs, which in turn would translate into uninterrupted power supply. Bangalore, on the other hand, had absolutely no rains (except two 15-min drizzles for the whole month) till when I am writing this post.
I am not going to talk about all the details of all the places we visited, since the information available on the world-wide-web is plenty. I would however point out what is specific to this season (July and raining), so that it helps anyone who wants to visit these places.
The first place on our agenda was Belur. The sky was heavily overcast and the imposing structure of the Belur temple was a delight to the eye and mind in the early hours of the day. We were in Belur by around 7 am. Yeddyurappa (Chief minister of Karnataka) had ordered that early morning prayers be offered to all temple deities across Karnataka, so that it rains in the state, and people around the temple looked quite brisk and active for a dull Friday morning. Belur is a symmetric and well architected structure when compared to Halebid, but the twin Nandi statues and the asymmetry in Halebid draw my heart closer to Halebid than Belur. I went on a photo-clicking spree and my friend Joseph quite liked the place too.
After spending about an hour in Belur, we decided to go straight to Chikmagalur to check-in into the hotel. We had already booked a room for two days in Hotel Planters’ Court in Chikmagalur. The room costed us around Rs.850. I would call the price expensive considering that the room was not maintained very well, and the bathroom fittings were leaking. All other hotels in the town were in the busy main road, and costed much less. But I did not want to risk a holiday in a completely crowded place, and at the same time didn’t want to splurge. The hotel looks good from the outside, and the location was a bit out of the main town, and the room was quiet and peacefull, and had wall-to-wall carpeting. Anyway, you have very few good choices to stay in Chikmagalur town, and Planters’ Court looked like the best we could get inside our budget.
The usually dull and dusty Chikmagalur itself look bright, green and lively in July. The drizzle does the magic. I would say, this is the perfect season for doing nothing, reading a novel, getting wet in the drizzle, playing in streams and the sort. The ideal place to stay in Chikmagalur, especially during the monsoons, will be in a homestay. The weather was perfect for just idling around in the courtyard of a nice and cozy place, and it has to be a hometay in one of these exotic locations of Chikmagalur. There are umpteen homestays around the place, and I bet these places would be like heaven during the monsoons, especially since it was only a slight drizzle. The homestays fall on the expensive side, but come as a package offering food and activities which I believe are worth the price. Especially if you are a couple set out to enjoy the beauty of Chikmagalur, I would advise booking a homestay rather than a regular hotel in the town. I don’t have any knowledge on the service or quality of these homestays, but I just noticed one called Nature Craft Homestay while driving to Muthodi, and the location was cool and I wouldn’t think twice to book such a place.
Coming back to the trip, we reached Planters’ Court around 9 am, and we were disappointed to hear that the rooms were full and we could get a room only at 12 pm (the chek-in time). We were ready to pay extra for an early check-in but unfortunately, there were no vacant rooms. So, we had breakfast in a nice South-Indian place adjoining this hotel, and left to visit Halebid and be back by 12 pm.
We had to drive back to Belur, and take the road on the left there which goes to Halebid. It took around 30 minutes for us to reach Halebid, and by this time the drizzle had become steady and continuous. By the time we took photos of the Gomateshwara statue on the left side of the main temple, we were completely drenched. (After this I don’t remember any time outside our room, when we were not wet 🙂 ) We took photos of the temple in the rain. The carvings had become partially wet in the drizzle and looked magnificient. In another hour and a half, we were back in our hotel and checked in.
Hotel Planters’ Court has a restaurant attached to it, and we had lunch there. We were thoroughly disappointed with the food served there. We noticed that kebabs and fried rice were the only things that the chef prepares well in this restaurant. Any nice looking item on the menu should be best avoided. Adding to the woes was that the restaurant had a ‘Chicken Festival’ and a menu full of Chicken items. So, we ordered a fleet of chicken items, and were heavily disappointed. Anyway, KF Strong did some damage control for the afternoon 😉
That evening we decided to head to Mullayanagiri, the tallest peak in Karnataka. The road to this peak is virtually non-existant. It pushed my Santro to the limits it can endure. This peak is a trekker’s paradise. But, the constant drizzle and thick fog did not encourage us for anything of that sort. We drove up, drinking in the beauty of the green-clad slopes. The hill is normally dried up in summer, when trekking is at its peak. In the rains it gets covered in green, but the fog plays around with you and your camera. By winter I guess this should be heaven. The drive up was one of the most frightening I have done. The road was hardly 2 feet wider than my car, and after that there was a deep green valley. I drove at the brim of an imposing mountain on one side and treacherous valley on the other, and it was an experience.
Once we reached the top and got out of the car, we had another shock. The wind!!! It was blowing like hell, probably a couple of hundred kmph speeds. We could not stand without holding the car. There was another Mahindra Jeep which had a couple of guys. They were inside the jeep too, not able to venture out due to the wind. We could see the South east monsoon winds literally blowing from the other side of the huge peak, carrying truckloads of moisture along with it. After a while I saw that my car was shaking! I had this fear that my car might get lifted off the ground, and might fly away into the deep valely below (imagine how strong the winds were…). We were at the top for around 20-25 minutes, and then started driving back downhill. A few metres down, and soon the wind was not so strong. We took nice pictures all along the way down. The surroundings looked magical and Joseph gave some nice poses there.On the way back from Mullayanagiri, we saw some nice sunflower plantations. It looked like all the flowers were turned and smiling at us. We took a couple of shots and drove back to Chikmagalur.
Joseph got a leech bite. We noticed it only when we came back to the hotel room. It was the first time for him, and he was quite tensed with the bleeding. We got some cotton and dressed the bitten area so that he could stop worrying about it. Adding to the problem was that he got cold due to the rains, and generally was not feeling too well. So, a warning to all those who easily catch a cold in the monsoons – beware! 🙂 The next day he visited a doctor and took some medicines so that he could make it to office without problems in Monday.
We had a small sleep in the hotel and then went into the town for the night’s dinner. We found a place called Hotel Maharaja on the main road (I think the road is called Indira Gandhi road). It had some nice kebabs being made outside in the fire. We had some rotis, naans, and tandoori chicken. Dinner tasted exceedingly good after our stint with the wind and rains that day.
The second day in Chikmagalur, we decided to visit Kemmangundi. The drive was long, and the last 10km stretch was bad. On the way, we stopped at a beautiful waterfalls called Kalhatti falls. This waterfalls was a sight to watch. It was not something falling from great heights, but instead, this one came down in multiple steps through the forests, and there was temple at the base of the falls. The rocks at the base of the falls were carved with figures of deities, and it looked splendid. I remember a prevous time when this falls was crowded. So, make it a point to visit this place early in the morning especially on weekends.
Joseph was a bit apprehensive about climbing up the falls, but I did not hesitate a bit. Having gone on a good number of trips has made sure, I don’t much desitate to climb, get down, get dirty or get wet. Climbed up a few hundred feet, and here it was, the gentle falls making three nice streams down the rocks. The falls were very inviting, and if it was not drizzling continuously or if Joseph had come up with me, I would have taken a nice bath in the waters. Nevertheless, took good snaps of the same 🙂
Kemmangundi, with all the fog, rain and wind, failed to impress. The otherwise impressive hill station looked covered with a sheet of white. A few college guys and girls were enjoying a walk around taking pictures, and no one else there. We drove to Tarikere (10 kms) and had lunch there. It was already 4pm, and I wanted to visit the Muthodi sanctuary that day at any cost. The sanctuary was around 35 kms from Chikmagalur, and I pretty well knew that the sanctuary gates will be closed by 6 pm. Nevertheless, I wanted to test my luck whenever possible for any kind of animal sightings in the forest. We were not lucky that day, The person-in-charge told us that the last safari of the day had left (which did not surprise me), and we had to return. I made a note of the place, and decided to visit it early on the next trip to the coffee-land.
Thus our day ended with us returning to Chikmagalur. Had to visit the same Planters’ Court restaurant for dinner, despite the previous day’s woes. Ordered only those dishes which we knew would be good. The Chiken Malai Kabab was especially good, and we ordered two plates of the same. RC did some magic, and soon after, we were back in the hotel room and were fast asleep.
The next morning, we started back to Bangalore with nice memories of the lush green and mist covered hill-slopes, gushing water at the falls, long forest drives, Hoyasala wonders, and an overall exciting weekend. I have promised myself that I would be back to the lap of the coffee-country in spring this year, to have a more fulfilling experience of the Malnad.