About 40 years back in 1978, Chikamagalur town was a small picturesque town which was more famous for its coffee than anything else. Perhaps, beyond that not many people are aware that Coffee plantation in India started at Chikamagalur. Baba Budan was a revered sufi-saint amongst Hindus and Muslims around 16th Century. It is said that he brought coffee seeds to India from Yemen while returning from Haj.
Till that point of time, the coffee was being exported from Yemen in roasted or baked form to prevent anyone to grow it and thereby it remained being the only producer of coffee in the world. Due to this, it enjoyed a monopoly status in coffee production. Everybody else in the world, consequently, had to purchase coffee from Yemen. When Baba Budan went on a pilgrimage tour to Yemen, he noticed the coffee and enjoyed the drink. He decided to bring it back home. As there were restrictions in carrying coffee beans out of Yemen, Baba smuggled seven seeds from the Yemeni seaport of Mocha wrapped in his cloths so that he could grow them here. There is a story behind the seven seeds as the number seven is considered auspicious and sacred.
On a different note, there is a long history of struggles in fifteenth and sixteenth century over the control of coffee lands of Yemen. Coffee acquired its original name of Mocha widely referred to as Arabian Mocha from similar named town in Yemen. It is different from modern day beverage called café Mocha which is an American invention based on French and Italian mixtures.
Once the seeds reached India, they were planted on the Chandragiri hills which are on the outskirts of Chikamagalur and rest is the history. This hill range has now been named after Baba Budan and there is a shrine as well. Coffee at present happens to be the major produce of the region with more than 10,000 growers in the area. No wonder you can smell the aroma of coffee floating in the air. This apart the area surrounding the town produces many other crops.
Despite being the first cultivator of Coffee in India, Chikamagalur remained a small obscure town tucked inside the mountains in the hinterlands of Karnataka till 1978 when suddenly it shot into global limelight and became a center of attention. It was the time when Indira Gandhi decided to contest the elections for Indian Parliament Lok Sabha from Chikamagalur which subsequently she won. Indira Gandhi's electoral victory brought the distinction to the town of being one amongst those few parliamentary constituencies in India which have been represented in Indian Parliament by former, current or later Prime Ministers of India.
At that time, with all local and global media descending over the town, the whole world also got to know about the natural but pristine and unmutilated beauty of the place. The vast landscapes, beautiful mountains, lush green countryside and a pleasant weather were next to none in the world. Thereafter, it started appearing on the vacation plans of many. I can say that more or less it still remains the same to a large extent... pristine and unmutilated.
We stayed at a hotel on the central part of the town located on Indira Gandhi Road. This road is one of the main roads of the town and there are many hotels around there. Besides there are good eateries around which offer good local as well as other food. If you happen to be a backpacker especially on a tight schedule and budget, you shall be looking for a hotel to stay around this part of the town. However, if you are looking to spend some time and want to have a true relaxing vacation, then you shall be looking for any of the Coffee estates homestays which are available in plenty now.
Everything around is something to be savored especially if you happen to be a nature lover. It start with a slow drive on the roads surrounded with lush green trees on both the sides, hilly climes, cool breeze, coffee gardens, waterfalls, walk around the town, trekking to the tallest peak in Karnataka and a drive through the clouds. To name a few places...
This apart, there are few other falls which are recommended strongly by locals but we could not cover all those due to paucity of time. When in town, you can grab a copy of local map which is available everywhere. It will help in planning out the routing of your day trip. As we were on a 2 day weekend sortie, we did not had time to cover all the places but we covered Mullyanagiri peak and Dabdabe falls that I will write about in my next blog posts.
The nearest airport is at Mangalore which is an international airport and is about 160 kms away. There are direct flights from Dammam, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi. Apart from this, the town is connected through a railway line and there is a night bus from Bangalore which is about 250 kms away. Bengaluru is also well connected with direct flight from various cities.
Reach Mangalore - It will take another about 3-4 hours to reach Chikamagalur. You may plan a 3-day stay at Chikamagalur, if you are just looking to travel around, 3 days in-town are sufficient. Depending on the city you may be coming from, you will have to bake in 1 day extra for reaching and a day for traveling back. Overall, it will be a 5-day sortie.
Reach Bengaluru - It takes about 4-5 hours on road from Bengaluru till Chikamagalur. Bengaluru is well connected with direct flights from many national and International cities. You can start early morning and by noon you will be in Chikamagalur as the road up till Hassan is very good but after that it slows down a bit. However, if you want to explore a little further the way we did, you can have stopovers at Shravanbelagola, Halebidu and Belur for which you may add another 3-4 hours in your journey time.