While Sufi Budan Shah, hid, seven coffee beans close to his heart at Mocha, a port city in Yemen, in an attempt to bring home the refreshing drink he relished there, little did he knew that he was about to create a history of coffee in India. Back home he planted those green berries in his garden around his hermitage in the present Bababudan mountain named after him. And since then the plant rooted itself forever and spread its magical wings all over the Western Ghats to give India its own cup of coffee.
Even in a quaint little village of Mudigere, there are more than fourteen coffee plantations to boast of. Nestled under the Devarmane hills this coffee rich county dotted with natural lakes and falls offers a peaceful retreat from the overcrowded smoky metro life. And this gave me enough reason to opt for a coffee break right at this part of the less traversed Western Ghats.
One is conveniently left with healthier options to spent the leisurely hours in absence of mobile connectivity and Wi-Fi. An early morning stroll to the next door coffee plantation being one. Rich aroma of coffee beans not only soothes the olfactory it also makes you forget all other odor around. Hence its use by perfume sellers all around the world. However, as I entered the coffee plantation and inhaled a lungful of air, I was disappointed. It smelled nothing like coffee. Am I having stuffy nose, I wondered. Our guide Sandeep smiled and gave away the secret. The lingering smell of coffee is only achieved after being roasted.
It wasn’t the coffee picking season. Instead, the beans resembled some wild green berries and nowhere like coffee. The berries would later turn reddish purple when ripe and would be peeled to unravel the seeds. The seeds would then be roasted, graded and sold.
But, unlike tea gardens, the plantation didn’t have only coffee plants. The evergreen shrubs with dark green glossy leaves were guarded and protected from the scorching sun by plenty of varied trees to provide shade and to keep the land fertile. This traditional method of shade growing yields superior quality as the berries take time to ripe and the taste and texture of the coffee gets enriched, well-balanced, mild with pronounced body and low acidity. They are also inter cropped with spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and pepper.
Tall trees of silver oak stood confidently like beautiful ladies wrapped in vines of peppercorns. Sun rays peeked through the Jack fruit trees luring us to climb and relish the heavenly fruit. Walking through the narrow meandering red soil path lined with “Robusta” plant on one side and delicate “Arabica” bushes on the other I just missed the coffee picking basket. Nevertheless, I satisfied myself taking pictures of the green raw berries that might end up in my cup one day.
After a refreshing drink of filter “Kaapi”, we set off to explore the Devarmane hills. We did a mini trek up a hill top and found ourselves surrounded by arrays of carpeted green hills. It was misty and felt heavenly as the sun started dipping behind the hills, imparting an orange tone to the sky.
Few kilometers away stood the Kala Bhaireshwara temple of lord Shiva that once witnessed the rise of Chola dynasty. It’s a simple temple with not much art on it except on the railings and at the shrine entrance which is flanked by demon figures. However, there is a special warmth and spiritual energy inside. Touching the stone walls of the temple I tried feeling the devotion, faith and prayers of millions of people who come here to surrender to God’s will and mercy. Walking down the steps of the pond opposite, I felt deported to an era when temples were a place to socialize. The pond was possibly used to cleanse themselves before entering the shrine. The tranquil pond against the backdrop of Kalasa jungle has an ancient well at the end of the steps called “Battalu Bhavi”.
As the red sun buried itself behind the mountains, trees around the lake turned into silhouettes of different shapes and sizes recreating stories of the coffee land. I hesitantly bid goodbye to my vacation the next morning.