The Many Charms of Coorg

One of the most wonderful gems of India, tiny Coorg (also known as Kodagu) is in Western Karnataka, among the high hills (known as the Western Ghats). It is often referred to as the Scotland of India – and, rightly so.

Centuries-old traditions of farming and agriculture have made this a lush forest region with all kinds of exotic fruits, vegetables and spices that the locals use to cook up an entirely unique cuisine, unlike anywhere else in India. One that has also, over those centuries, easily absorbed influences from the many-world cultures of wanderers passing through and immigrants come to make new homes. Coffee is another big staple here and it is concocted in many different ways as the video below shows (coffee martini, anyone?)

There are wildlife parks and sanctuaries to protect the diverse fauna that goes with so much variegated flora. It is even believed that there are still many undiscovered life forms buried deep within those forests.

But, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. Even though the Karnataka state government, with some intermittent and irregular help from the Central government, has done much to protect and restore the forests, many have been converted to farmland (predominantly paddy/rice) and coffee plantations. This affinity to cash crops is somewhat understandable as the locals need to make a living too. But, it has taken a toll on Coorg’s once-enviable biodiversity, its wildlife and waterways — reducing some-40,000 acres of forest land from 1904 to some-7000 acres today.

Mass tourism has also brought commercial development by profit-driven hotel/resort entrepreneurs and, of course, this has added to the land-grabbing.

More recently, a gentler form of eco-tourism has been helping the indigenous local people and businesses with more revenue streams. Also, since the 1980s, there have been several initiatives underway by local organizations or concerned citizens, including direct appeals to the Indian Central Government. Much of this fell on deaf ears with the previous Congress regime. Perhaps the new Modi government will pay more attention.

Want to read some more? Here’s a lovely essay, “Aamchi Mai“, by a writer I know. D B Goman is a Canadian who fell in love with Madikeri, the headquarters of the Coorg district, during a hiking holiday. His language is just as luxuriant as the natural beauty that inspired it.

….a stout kingfisher on a electrical wire preening itself boldly above a field of rice stalks that seemed to sway in appreciation of the fashion show; in the early morning, high up in the branches of a wild mango tree, a family of iridescent green parrots loudly gossiping; a chameleon frozen on a boulder, deliberating over which color it will betray next in order to keep its tongue larded with bugs; a pale green-yellow rat snake as long as my arm, molting in an irrigation ditch, its delicately tiled tissue of skin a testimony of resilience; a rebellious young monkey hanging by its tail to impress or taunt its mother with its well-guarded handful of fruit; over-sized tadpoles in a creek looking fat as fish for fry; an imperious Western Ghat brown eagle, like the Hindu deity, Garuda, scouring from on high for potential disciples below who also happen to be delicious; a quarter moon hanging in the night sky between Venus and Alpha Centauri like a bright white hammock; or a symphony of fireflies sent to tame the darkness with its lyrical glitter.

And, the video below from NDTV’s food reporter, Aneesha Baig, on Coorg’s sublime cuisine is an absolute treat. It is an all-too-short segment and doesn’t get into any specifics at all about how some of the dishes are put together. Still, the meals look so visually appealing that, perhaps, too much chatter might have been distracting. Instead, we get to enjoy vicariously through the consummate epicurean, Baig, whose eyes and smiles glisten and widen delightedly with each new dish or drink put before her.

Please take a minute to sign at least one of the following two petitions for the conservation and restoration of Coorg’s forests: (this one has a lot of interesting linked news and analysis articles) and It is shameful how these have got such scant attention.