Marked by its tranquility and greenery, the town of Sakleshpur lies in the Western Ghats on NH 48 (Bangalore- Mangalore). The town is connected by rail too; however buses are more convenient, vis-à-vis timings. The name of the town (which was called Munzerabad earlier) is derived from a broken Shivalinga that was found in the town and named Sakaleshwara. It has a climate that suits coffee, pepper, cardamom, orange and ginger growing. The region enjoys heavy rains during the monsoons, creating an ideal setting for a variety of flora and fauna to thrive, thus having a diverse ecosystem. It is ideal for plantation visits, camping, trekking, off-road driving in hilly terrain, bird-watching etc. Attractions around Sakleshpur include Munzerabad Fort, constructed by Tippu Sultan and Bisle Ghat. Activities used to include a trek on the railway track from Sakleshpur to the Subramanya Road which is about 56 km and dotted by 58 tunnels, 109 bridges and about 25 waterfalls. However with regular train services now functional and problems with people on the tracks, it is reported that the Railways have now prohibited use of the track by trekkers.
We were however headed to the coffee estate that belonged to one of our friend Dr. H. Javid to witness the once a year phenomenon: the coffee blossom.
Last year, during my visit to Chikmagalur, I was told by my friend’s Dad, who owns coffee estates, that the coffee plants blossom just once a year, 7-9 days after the first shower, during March/ April. If it rains (and they do not have to irrigate), then the whole area, (all the coffee plantations i.e.), blossoms. He said that the sight is breathtaking and the fragrance heavenly and we had missed the same just by a week. Since then I had been wanting to visit a coffee plantation during the blossom. In the meantime, I met Dr. H. Javid, who has a coffee estate near Sakleshpur. We are both members of Couchsurfing.org, an online travelers networking site and had first met at one of the events the Bangalore Group of this networking site keeps organizing. I asked him about the blossom and he confirmed what I had heard earlier. So I invited myself to his estate at an opportune time.
There had already been 2-3 Bangalore CS group-trips to Doc’s estate. Some had camped near a waterfall on the boundary of the estate and others had stayed at the estate bungalow. I unfortunately missed going these times. Finally, I wanted to go during harvest-time and stay there till the blossom, but couldn’t make that as well. Also, there had been no rain this year and the blossom was being induced by irrigation with sprinklers, which meant there was just patchy ‘running’ blossom as the irrigation proceeded and no widespread regional blossom. However I felt that was worth a view as well. So finally before the blossom was over, I managed to visit Doc’s estate. Some of my friends asked me to let them know when I was planning to go so they could join too, having missed out earlier times. Eventually only two of them made it – Hamed and Mustafa, who are from Chad, Africa.
So, on 25th March, 2010 we started out to Sakleshpur. There are buses going there, in fairly good frequency from Kempegowda Bus Station, Bangalore. (any of the Mangalore –bound buses). We wanted to have a comfortable journey, so we took the Volvo service. We left Bangalore at 9 in the morning and were supposed to reach Sakleshpur by1:30 pm. The journey was comfortable but the bus took an hour longer than usual due to some problem with the vehicle.
The bus reached Sakleshpur at 2:30 in the afternoon, where a hired jeep-cab was waiting to take us to the estate. Since it was past lunchtime, we decided to have lunch in town. The driver took us to one of the better non-veg restaurants in town – The Prestige. The food was good and relatively inexpensive, but the service was slow.
After lunch, we started for the estate. It was a 30 min drive on winding roads through lush greenery. We passed many plantations but I couldn’t see much blossom. I was a bit disappointed – I had not expected that the entire region would be in bloom, but had yet entertained a vague hope.
We reached Cullerhully Estate, our destination, and as we entered the gate, we beheld the blossom – all the coffee plants in the area along the 300m long driveway were in full blossom, having been irrigated about a week prior to our arrival. The branches of the coffee plants were laden with bunches of white flowers giving an appearance of snow on the branches and the fragrance that permeated the air was simply heavenly! I was so happy at that point – I can’t explain in words.
We arrived at the estate bungalow and were welcomed by Doc. We were shown our rooms – I had a bedroom to myself and Hamed and Mustafa shared another room.
In front of the enstate on the enpty space the coffee seeds that had been plucked were laid to dry in the sun.
After freshening up and having tea, we went for a walk with Doc to a part of the estate through the flower laden coffee plants, which had a stream meandering through rocks, with little cascades here and there and bamboo groves and lush vegetation on the banks. We spent quite some time in that beautiful spot, wading and splashing around in the water. It was interesting to watch the water-spiders in the calmer parts of the waters.
After returning to the bungalow we played with Doc’s “Neri Kukur” (Bengali word for street dog), Rani and her five very playful puppies – Rowdy, Jackie, Andy, Michelle and Obama.
The evening was spent lazing around, smoking ‘sheesha’ which Mustafa had brought along, listening to music, gazing at the stars, lively conversation and dinner. It was then bed time and blissful sleep in the quiet serene environment, punctuated by the occasional night sounds of chirping insects and of the night-birds.
In the morning Doc woke me up early and I joined him in feeding the puppies, watering the plants in and around the bungalow and then a walk.
Hamed and Mustafa woke up late. After breakfast, the three of us went for a walk around the estate in a different direction from yesterday, while Doc had to take care of his estate tasks. We walked a lot and kept on walking till we had no clue where the road was leading us and hence turned back and retraced the route back to the bungalow, where lunch awaited.
Doc was waiting for us to return as well to take us down in the valley to the waterfall that I heard of from the others who had visited earlier. Due to its secluded location only the estate people or their visitors have access to it. On reaching the waterfall, we delightedly jumped into the pool at its bottom (it was like a natural Jacuzzi) and splashed around and also stood under the cascading water of the falls. The water was pretty cold and it took a while to get used to its temperature. It was a time of awesome fun. Reluctantly we came out of the waterfall, to a waiting cup of steaming tea from a flask that Doc had brought along.
We then walked back to the bungalow by a different route, through a field with tall wild grass, and witnessed along the way water-jets of the sprinkler system used for irrigation. It was then again a lazy evening of movie, debate and good conversation with puffing on the ‘sheesha’. And then welcome sleep again.
Next day, the morning was again a relaxed one, playing with the puppies, watching the various birds twittering around, especially a pair of ashy wood swallows that had nested right near the bungalow in the hollow of a broken branch of a tree and a pair of wagtails nesting in the gable. Then I saw some workers bringing in an uprooted coffee plant. It was loaded with ripe coffee berries. I went to check it out and found a well-camouflaged green- yellow frog and a very slimy slug among the berries and leaves. I spent my entire morning observing and photographing them.
Hamed and Mustafa as usual woke up late. Mustafa offered to cook lunch that afternoon and he made a chicken dish the Chadian way. It was delicious and not very different from our curries. Doc took off for his usual post-lunch siesta. After a ‘sheesha’ session, the three of us went back to the waterfall and splashed around and had fun again. We came back at around 4:30 pm, had tea with Doc and then started out to a nearby hilltop belonging to a neighboring company-estate from where there would be a 360 degree view of the entire countryside. Driving up in the jeep, we found that the road was blocked by irrigation pipes laid across. Disappointed, we turned back, but went for a drive around another neighboring estate’s tracks and by sheer accident found an alternate less-used track up to the hilltop we had planned to go. Even Doc had no idea of the existence of this track and that we had actually reached the summit, when we did he was very excited indeed. The hilltop had a small bamboo gazebo and a huge water-tank which could double as a swimming pool as well. It was very windy and cool. The view in the twilight all around was spectacular, though we missed the sunset. We could also see a big hill, Moorkannu Gudda on the Western horizon, which is a part of the Ombattu Gudda group of hills, a favorite trekking route. It soon began to get dark and we drove back down the hill. Doc is a fabulous driver to drive around in these steep mountain tracks.
Back in the bungalow, we again went back to playing with the puppies, listening to good music, animated conversation and ‘sheesha’. The three of us talked it over and decided to go to the famous temple-towns of Belur and Halebid, which are fairly close by, the next day, Sunday, and then on to Bangalore, as we had to be back by Monday. So after dinner we were off to bed quite early so that we could leave early in the morning to do the temple towns.
The jeep-cab arrived punctually early on Sunday morning to take us to Sakleshpur and after an early breakfast, we all hopped on to it and left Cullerhully after a very relaxed and very enjoyable few days.