Category Archives: Tamil Nadu

In The Land of Kurumba Tribes-Part 4-Reaching Tea Nest and Singara Estate

This post talks about a guided trek from Coonoor’s Singara Estate all the way down to Kurumba Village resort, going through the monsoon clouds, tea estates and little government buildings popping out of nowhere. The previous post talked about exploring the Toy Train ride to Ooty from the land of the Kurumbadis. If you’ve just arrived here, we’ve so far talked about how we arrived at Kurumba Village and spent some time with a naturalist exploring the environment at Kurumba Village. 

In the evening, I managed to speak to the hotel manager ‘Jyotish’ about the possibility of a guided trek, who helped me arrange a trek with their resident guide. This needed to be planned as I had to arrive at Tea-Nest, a sister property of Kurumba Village which was about 20 kilometres away. I had to drive with one of the hotel staff early next morning till Tea-Nest, and then requested the staff to drive the car back to Kurumba Village. I would trek and come back to Kurumba village in a few hours.

So I woke up in the morning, and drove to Coonoor, where we would pick up our guide Srini (who spoke in a Malayali accent, but was actually from Mysore, who’s parents were settled in Coonoor).  The drive out on the mud-road is slightly challenging on the ascent, when you need to be on 1st gear, but otherwise its a straightforward drive to get to the main road.

Faith on a slateboard at Coonoor
Faith on a slateboard at Coonoor

We waited at a few points on the drive, to pause and take note of the beauty of the mountains. The sky was pregant with rain clouds, and the sun was threatening to find its away by showcasing an orangish gaze. The rain won the battle, and I had to get back in the car to focus on reaching Coonoor, so as to pick up our guide-Sreeni.

Beautiful view of mountains en-route Coonoor
Beautiful view of mountains en-route Coonoor

We reached Coonoor town by about 6:30 am, and were waiting for Sreeni- the guide from Nature Resorts. Sreeni arrived at 6:45 am, as he was walking and coming from his home, which was 5 km’s away. Sreeni is an active walker, who prefers walking from Coonoor to Mettupalayam, as its quicker to travel that way than get caught in the traffic jams that happen on weekends when travellers come in droves to Ooty.

Misty Morning in Coonoor
Misty Morning in Coonoor

We saw a beautiful ‘Thamburusi’ flower, which was having a beautiful contrast with the light mist, the green leaves and the dark clouds. The water-droplets on the flower, were like the fountain of youth dangling on them visually.

Flowers in bloom, amidst the morning mist
Flowers in bloom, amidst the morning mist

I had a cup of tea, and then started to walk on the trek. Stay tuned to Part-5 coming up soon.

Teanest- Our destination and starting point for the trek
Teanest- Our destination and starting point for the trek

Do have a look at the video where I reach Teanest, from the hotel. The videos always have a little extra than what I write.

 

 

 

In the Land of the Kurumbadi Tribes-Part 3-The Toy Train Ride to Ooty

Teanest- Our destination and starting point for the trek

This post talks about exploring the Toy Train ride to Ooty from the land of the Kurumbadis. If you’ve just arrived here, we’ve so far talked about how we arrived at Kurumba Village and spent some time with a naturalist exploring the environment at Kurumba Village. 

Getting Ready for a Toy Train Ride

After a beautiful walk in the woods, I was planning a trip to Ooty just to show my son the Toy Train. I had previously booked tickets on the Toy Train knowing that I will be staying in ‘Kurumba Village’. The closest station is Hilligrove, but the toy train does not admit people there, even though it stops, so I had to drive in my car till Coonoor, which is about 14 kilometres. I had a train at 1630 IST which was to reach Ooty by about 1730. I thought the morning Toy train would take longer, but it looks like there are different trains with different speeds or maybe the trains have started to go faster since my last trips in 2010 and 2002. We packed for some biscuits, the Go-Pro Camera, my camera kit (DSLR and mobile with the smaller tripod).

Watch a video of my ride in the toy train

The Ride to Coonoor Railway Station

We passed by Kattery Park and Glendale Tea estate (from a distance) as we reached Coonoor. While I did not have enough time to stop over, for the fear that I may get caught in a traffic jam.There were some beautiful views of the mountains in the distance and we paused for a few moments at each place to take in the view, and then reached Coonoor by about 3:55 pm, and since it was a weekday, there seemed to be enough place to park my car in the railway station.

The Glendale Tea Estate when viewed from a distance enroute Coonoor
The Glendale Tea Estate when viewed from a distance enroute Coonoor

As we walked into the station, i noticed a train already waiting, and on checking with the TTE(Traveling Ticket Examiner), it was confirmed that this was my train, which had probably been advanced by about 30 minutes. I boarded the train in my little compartment that could house 6 people facing each other where 4 seats would have access to a window view.

 
 

From childhood, I’ve always fantasized being in a pocket sized train, which I can take anywhere I want. The cars of the early 19th century were like a small toy train compartment which had wheels on roads. Having got inside, I took the middle seat, and gave the window seat to Nandu, asking him to observe what he sees. We were to pass by tunnels and bridges (There are 250 of them on this route) and we were part of a beautiful blue carriage with large windows that was slowly chugging past a beautiful green landscape.

History of the Nilgiri Mountain Railways.

The Nilgiri Mountain Railway was thought by the British back in 1854 and it took about 54 years to plan and cut through the rocky terrain to make a train go through these mountains. The locals of this area frequently were used to find paths to walk between Ooty and Mettupalayam in an hour and still do. The Toy Train is used by migrant workers or for people who want a safer commute between little towns on the hills, but with the trains coming in 1908, it did make a huge difference to the way people could commute and transport materials.

The Steam locomotive that pulls from Mettupalayam(MTP) to Udhagamandalam(Ooty-UAM) stops over at Coonoor for a more powerful engine to pull through the hill side. The engines were using coal, but due to diminishing coal resources, the trains now fill water at each of the stations which gives enough fuel to get to the next station pulling a group of coaches.

The train has a rack and pinion arrangement for better grip on mountain paths, and as a result the maximum speed is about 13 km/hr on the rack path, and about 30 km/hr on the non-rack path. The metre gauge track runs for about 46 kilometres from Mettupalayam to Udagamandalam

The Cinema connection to the Nilgiri Mountain Railway

The beautiful and simple mountain railways in ooty has attracted many cinema directors to shoot on this iconic railway line. The Tamil Movie ‘Moondram Pirai’ also remade in Hindi as ‘Sadma’ was shot here in 1982.

The other famous movie shot here was the Mani-Ratnam directed Uyire/Dil Se’. There were many more movies, that were shot here, but I have included the 2 most visually appealing film-makers who have shot here. The complete list is shown below in the appendix.

Our Experience on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway

On the Nilgiri Mountain Railway Toy Train from Coonoor to Udhagamandalam
On the Nilgiri Mountain Railway Toy Train from Coonoor to Udhagamandalam

The train’s doors were bolted by the TTE at the start of the journey. The train did not allow passengers to get down and amble around, and stops for about 45 seconds in each of the stations enroute (Lovedale, Ketti). This was a slight bummer, since there was a fast pace vibe to sitting in a slow train.  Our co-passengers and I would take turns to exchange views on windows. The train starts with views of betel trees, heads off into mild forests and then opens out into a valley view of tea estates, before passing by a lake by the side of the Udhagamandalam railway station.

We had booked our second class reserved tickets from Coonor to Ooty and had not booked our return tickets, since there was no train showing up on IRCTC. As a result, we had to get down and go buy tickets from the counter. The train stops for about 15 minutes at Udhagamandalam, and functions as a complete unreserved passenger train on the return journey to Coonoor. There is enough time left to go buy a ticket and find a place to sit, unless it happens to be a weekend, where there is expected to be a bigger rush.

Window seats on the unreserved journey back to Coonor
Window seats on the unreserved journey back to Coonor
Footboard View of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway Toy Train
Footboard View of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway Toy Train

On our return journey, the light started fading early, as mist started accumulating as the train slowly found its way into beautiful village with settlements built around railway stations.

Dusk, Rain and a forlorn railway station as the evening and night start talking
Dusk, Rain and a forlorn railway station as the evening and night start talking

Every time a tunnel came, it would automatically prompt the younger crowd of tourists to yell until the tunnel found light. The train ride in the evening was sleepy at best due to the fading light and we reached Coonoor, being happy enough to drive back to our resort, albeit feeling a little drained.

As much as I expected Nandu to feel entertained, he was falling asleep by the chill evening wind

Unreserved Passenger Train from Ooty to Coonor
Unreserved Passenger Train from Ooty to Coonor

Other Media on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and Ooty

Here’s a big list of movies shot in Ooty, apart from the ones I have shared.

Ajay Jain of Kunzum, travels and shares his experience in a detailed photo blog, as part of his Arabian Drive.

Amit talks about a detailed road trip  + Toy Train

Sam and Sheena actually managed to put their cycle on the train. I found some very useful info on the intricacies of booking tickets, from their blog.

Planning your Trip on the Nilgiri Mountain Rail Toy Train from Mettupalayam to Coonor/Udhagamandalam

  • You could opt to book waitlisted tickets from a railway counter or on IRCTC, but that would mean uncertainty till the last minute.
  • There are 21 tickets sold in person on the morning of the journey. So if you can get to Mettupalayam really early before the rest of the crowd comes in, you can find a hack to book your tickets. But do remember, that these are small trains, and if you are using them at the start of your journey with heavy luggage, then it may be tough. There is a parcel van for one of the trains, which has a separate office to book your luggage. Do come early to avail of this facility
  • If you are with a large group, make sure every member of the group is with you during booking tickets, otherwise the ticket booking person is unlikely to book it since there is a huge demand
  • Ooty/Coonoor are in Tamil Nadu, which for a large part is a very hot and humid state. People from various parts of Tamil Nadu flock to ooty on the weekend, to have better weather and to treat their kids to a toy train ride. If you are planning a weekend trip, do try and club it with a Friday or a Monday, and keep your train ride on weekdays, if you have not planned in advance. There are not more than 50 seats on the train, and its extremely tough to get reservation unless you book early or reach the railway station line on the day of the journey (being the earliest). Most people come here by the Nilgiri express train from Coimbatore, so you will need to make sure you are ahead in the line, by reaching earlier than them to get ahead on the line. The train reaches Mettupalayam at 6:15, so you need to beat them to be earlier than them. 4 am maybe to be first in the line.
  • If you travelling from Bangalore, you would enter Ooty first and then come to Mettupalayam(unless you want to take the salem-avinashi-mettupalayam route longer by 100 kilometres but with pristine 5th gear worthy highways).  It’s always better to arrive in the hills, and then keep the ride as an attraction, than to use the trains as a means of commute on your journey start or end, since there is not too much space for luggage.

In the Land of the Kurumbadi Tribes-Part 2

This post talks about how we spent some time with a naturalist exploring the environment at Kurumba Village.  The previous post talks about how we arrived at Kurumba Village .

Night Walking in the Forest

As the evening paves way to the night and the winter chill sets in, I walk across the stone path from the dining place to my room. I can hear sounds of bats and crickets, and I find that the stone path zig zags a bit and goes down a considerable distance. I leave it for the day to explore, as it seems a little scary at night, and there’s a light drizzle that’s just picking up. I decide to come back post the rains, and discover that the path down basically goes to a beautiful tree house. There is a ‘buggy service’ for transporting guests to different parts of the resort, and I am far away from a resort staff at 9 in the night, and my phone is in the room, so I just walk back quietly. I am told that sometime elephants do come into the resort as the forest blends into the resort. As long as we don’t mess with the elephant, it will come by and go further down the hill, without really bothering about you.

Jaywalking at Night in the stone path within the resort at Kurumba Village
Jaywalking at Night in the stone path within the resort at Kurumba Village

On the Kurumbadis

The next morning I wake up early, and look at some of the paintings that adorn the wall of each of the rooms.  I also ask around, and figure out that the Kurumbas were hunters and gatherers, and usually exchange goods and services with the other 2 tribes. The Kurumbas had small dwellings with a garden patch, growing bananas, mangos and jackfruit. Most of their settlements have seen migration from the higher reaches of the nilgiris to just above the plains, owing to de-forestation. Some of the Kurumbadi tribes in the region, work in the ‘Kurumba Village’ resort. It is also said that the Kurumbas are known for their sorcery, but this yet to be verified. This website, talks a bit about the Kurumbas. If you happen to know a little more, do help me gather information by commenting on the post.

Painting/Sketchings of the lives of the Kurumbadi Tribes
Painting/Sketchings of the lives of the Kurumbadi Tribes

Planning the day ahead

At breakfast, Nandu and I decided to plan our day on what each of us wanted to do. I wanted Nandu to travel on the toy train and also attend a class on environment with the in-resident. Nandu wanted to play and read something on the hammock. So I had to sit and plan the day out. I wanted to go on a little hike with the in-house guide, who advised me on a hike nearby but he clearly said kids cant do the hike, so I postponed that plan to the next day to be done, when Nandu was sleeping.

Scenic Breakfast View at Kurumba Village Resort
Scenic Breakfast View at Kurumba Village Resort
Dining against the backdrop of the Bakasura Mountains
Dining against the backdrop of the Bakasura Mountains

So the plan for the day was to start with some hammock time, picking a couple of books from the room(Each room comes with a little library of books, apart from a library at the reception). It was initially a little tough trying to balance 2 bodies on the hammock, but once we settled down, it seemed a very relaxing thing to do.  Nandu went in first,  trying to play on the mobile, to discover that there was no network and no Wifi for him.

The lure of the hammock in a forest-Kurumba Village Resort
The lure of the hammock in a forest-Kurumba Village Resort
Morning Story Telling
Morning Story Telling

Naturalist Tour for kids, inside Kurumba Village

A resident naturalist called Dinesh, takes kids on little tours inside the resort and introduces them to the animals inside and gives them an introductory lesson on how children can get closer to the environment. I decided to follow them from a distance to try and see what Nandu learns, since I was trying to teach him something similar on our trip to the Andamans

Spot that Bird There!
Spot that Bird There!

Dinesh decided to divide the session into 2 parts. Nandu was with Rohan, another kid staying at the resort, and both of them had to go collect leaves and twigs from around the resort. After they had got about 5 leaves, they needed to pick up a paper and create a little art form by sticking the leaves on paper. While paper dried, Dinesh would take them around the resort, talking about the birds in the vicinity, spotting animal footmarks, learning to stay still and hug a tree, and about the Kurumbadi village. I was lapping all of what Dinesh was saying, staying happy that Nandu found an interesting activity to engage himself in.

Ambling our way within the resort (Kurumba Village)
Ambling our way within the resort (Kurumba Village)
Nandu reaching out for the adhesive at the Children-Activity center at Kurumba Village Resort
Nandu reaching out for the adhesive at the Children-Activity center at Kurumba Village Resort
Children's activity centre overlooking a beautiful view of the forests at Kurumba Village Resort
Children’s activity centre overlooking a beautiful view of the forests at Kurumba Village Resort
Tree Hugging Excercise at Kurumba Village Resort
Tree Hugging Excercise at Kurumba Village Resort

The tree hugging exercise is a beautiful excercise that teaches kids that the tree is our mother and feeling the vibes that flow from nature to us humans. One needs to spend about 5 minutes in silence trying to hug the tree, feeling the bark of the tree (preferably blindfolded as your senses of touch are heightened). Nandu is a kid who is high on energy, and it was a brief break to pause and connect with nature. I intend to do more such trips, that helps him connect with nature and grow up to be a environmentally conscious traveller.

The last time Nandu and I did this in the Andamans, I got an award from Indiblogger for being the best blog talking on the environment. While it was encouraging to see external people realising its importance, I realize these are still baby steps towards making him an environmentally conscious traveller, but If you have any ideas that could help and sustain learning, please do comment and let me know.

Nandu collecting all the twigs and sticking them in his slam book
Nandu collecting all the twigs and sticking them in his slam book
Kurumba Village certifies Naturalist Nandu
Kurumba Village certifies Naturalist Nandu

This series continues in Part-3

Have a look at Kurumba Village’s facilities

 

If you cant wait, and need a little highlights reel on what to expect in the other parts, do watch this below video

Cost of Staying

The resort is priced above 12,000 INR onwards on its rooms, and it differs depending on the room type. Browse through their website to book directly

Best Time to Go

There is no best time for a place steeped in the hills, but if you can just before the Europeans come here for their winter season (Dec-February), the resort is flush with the freshness of the onset of the North East Monsoon(Oct-Nov) and the Pre monsoon showers (June-September)

Getting There

From Chennai– You could take the train 12671 to Mettupalayam via Coimbatore and then take a taxi from there to the resort. If you are flying down, take a taxi from the Peelamedu airport in Coimbatore.

From Bangalore-The best way is to drive, through Mysore and Gudalur into Ooty, Coonor and then Kurumbadi, but if you dont prefer the hills, you can drive through Salem, Erode, Avinashi keeping the ghat roads to a minimum of 14 kilometres. For those flying or taking a train, you need to come to Coimbatore to then take a taxi.

From anywhere else in India-Fly in to Coimbatore and take a taxi/train to Mettupalayam

To get to Kurumba Village, its best you travel on your own in your vehicle. Whether you travel on your own or take a taxi for your rides, it should be another 6000-7000 Rs on your driving costs at the minimum.

If ever you wish to be adventurous, the way to do that is to take the train at Mettupalayam and get down at HillGrove, and trek down into the Kurunji flower areas, cross a little waterfall hoping you dont slip, and you will find yourself in 20 minutes at the resort. I dropped my S7 Edge into the waterfall, but thankfully my phone can remain in water undisturbed.

The resort has only BSNL signals, so if you have anything else, it makes sense to call the resort from Mettupalayam/Coonor for directions, as there is no easy signboard to spot on your left, where you need to make a V shaped turn down the valley. If you are not sure how to drive down or drive up a hill, it helps if you can drive in 1st gear or get a driver who is at ease with driving in the hilly regions.

 

In the Land of the Kurumba Tribes-Part 1

Tribes– Seth Godin describes them as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea”. I was out to live in a forest but in the comforts of a proper resort, in the land of a tribal village called Kurumbadi, where the Kurumbas live. The Kurumbas, Toda’s and Kota’s are the three prominent tribes in the Nilgiri area, presumably  believed to have originated from 3 sons named that way, who went on to develop tribes from their family tree. With this little history, I set off on my trip to the land of the Kurumbadis

If you dont have the time, to read further, try watching the video that tells our story. If you have the time reading the post further on is probably the best experience.

The Route to Mettupalayam

The weather near Salem turned slightly overcast, as I stopped for a driving break. I could see some hills from the A2B restaurant, which had considerable cloud cover. I knew I had to be a little mindful of rain enroute, and of course on roads that might not have a whole lot of tar on it. The other thing that worries me on drives are usually battery levels on the phone, since I use it to speak and also for navigation. The folks from ‘Kurumba Village’ called me a day in advance to tell me directions as Airtel signals dont work from Mettupalayam all the way till Coonoor, and Kurumbadi is exactly between these places, where I need to discover a mud path going down from the hill, 30 degrees to my left.

I had great roads till the Avinashi Byepass, after which I had to slow down on a state highway to Mettupalayam. As I turned on my phone from the slumber of the ‘flight mode’, a slow drizzle started and my car’s windows were starting to become dotted with drops. Its a beautiful feeling to be in a closed cozy car, when its raining outside. I started the drive, looking at the betel plantations on either sides of the toy train track that was running parallel to the road that took me on the ascent to the nilgiri hills.

The monsoon cometh- Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu
The monsoon cometh- Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu

Rain and Hair-pin bends

In about half-an hour, after a few hair pin bends, and some drizzle, I was feeling at home driving in the hills, when I realised that I had probably missed the turn down. I slowed down, stopped and walked a bit back to check and luckily I had gone only about 150 metres ahead of the left turn. I managed to turn back and find the road down, with a little trepidation. For a first timer, to drive a heavy car down a part-mud-part tar road filled with leaves, is scary, as you dont quite know the terrain. The hotel was still 500 metres away down that road. I settled for the comfort of the second gear, to just have a light grip on the accelerator, as I passed by homes of the hotel staff into the forest in a single road, which went down after a couple of curves into the entrance.

Getting to Kurumba Village

I had the hotel staff waiting for me, with their traditional ‘Vanakkam’, post which I was led to my room by one of the staff members.The Kurumba Village resort, was set up in 1996 and it took about 4 years to get all the permissions, and then by the time, it was complete for bookings, it was 2004. It takes some amount of patience to build a hotel, that’s a work of art, and the biggest compliment I could give it, was that it did not feel like I was in a resort, but in a forest where there were homes in random places along the stone walk.

Our room opening to a private garden and hammock-Kurumba Village Resort
Our room opening to a private garden and hammock-Kurumba Village Resort

Next to my room, was a private little garden surrounded by plants and a hammock, while each roomed adorned a painting of the tribes of the Nilgiris. The room had a valley view, opening out to the magnificence of the Bakasura mountains. The drive to the place was worth it. There were no telephone signals and there was a very bleak wifi. Not bad to just observe silence and connect with nature. With the resort basically being tucked in on a mountain, and near a waterfall, TataSky was going to have some problems coming properly. That was our only connection to the outside world, and when it rained the TataSky looked like a 1990’s video streaming on a dial up connection. The disconnection to the distraction of the modern world was well set up. I did not quite mind the situation, as I went over to the restaurant to have lunch.

Our room at Kurumba Village Resort-Kurumbadi-Tamilnadu
Our room at Kurumba Village Resort-Kurumbadi-Tamilnadu

As I sat there, gorging the hara bhara kebabs, the clouds were floating right above me, since the restaurant has this edge-of-a-cliff feeling. My son gasped at the size of the mountains, even as he was enjoying his meals, looking at the uniquely designed fork that was glistening against the table with its art form. After a long lunch, we just preferred to stare at the clouds and the mountains, as the evening light faded and the rain started to pour. Life was beautiful.

 

Edge of the Cliff Dining-Kurumba Village Resort-Kurumbadi-Tamilnadu
Edge of the Cliff Dining-Kurumba Village Resort-Kurumbadi-Tamilnadu

 

Read more in Part-2 of the adventure. If you cant wait, and need a little highlights reel on what to expect in the other parts, do watch this video

 

Cost of Staying

The resort is priced above 12,000 INR onwards on its rooms, and it differs depending on the room type. Browse through their website to book directly

To get to Kurumba Village, its best you travel on your own in your vehicle. Whether you travel on your own or take a taxi for your rides, it should be another 6000-7000 Rs on your driving costs at the minimum. If ever you wish to be adventurous, the way to do that is to take the train at Mettupalayam and get down at HillGrove, and trek down into the Kurunji flower areas, cross a little waterfall hoping you dont slip, and you will find yourself in 20 minutes at the resort. I dropped my S7 Edge into the waterfall, but thankfully my phone can remain in water undisturbed.

Best Time to Go

There is no best time for a place steeped in the hills, but if you can just before the Europeans come here for their winter season (Dec-February), the resort is flush with the freshness of the onset of the North East Monsoon(Oct-Nov) and the Pre monsoon showers (June-September)

Getting There

From Chennai– You could take the train 12671 to Mettupalayam via Coimbatore and then take a taxi from there to the resort. If you are flying down, take a taxi from the Peelamedu airport in Coimbatore.

From Bangalore-The best way is to drive, through Mysore and Gudalur into Ooty, Coonor and then Kurumbadi, but if you dont prefer the hills, you can drive through Salem, Erode, Avinashi keeping the ghat roads to a minimum of 14 kilometres. For those flying or taking a train, you need to come to Coimbatore to then take a taxi.

From anywhere else in India-Fly in to Coimbatore and take a taxi/train to Mettupalayam

The resort has only BSNL signals, so if you have anything else, it makes sense to call the resort from Mettupalayam/Coonor for directions, as there is no easy signboard to spot on your left, where you need to make a V shaped turn down the valley. If you are not sure how to drive down or drive up a hill, it helps if you can drive in 1st gear or get a driver who is at ease with driving in the hilly regions.

In search of Kumbakonam’s Famed ‘Degree Coffee”

I make the transition from the 4th to the 5th gear, when I see signs of Kumbakonam Degree Coffee on the Chennai-Bangalore highway near Kanchipuram. The Coffee that they serve is usually passable, to the point that it helps you refresh on a car ride, and then you get back to driving. While I have seen spurious copies of the Kumbakonam Degree Kaapi, I always wondered whether I would anytime be able to amble by for an original filter coffee/Degree Coffee at Kumbakonam. I found an opportunity recently, and I thought I should get to the right place to have the coffee. So I set out in an auto from the bus stand to the Venkkatramana Hotel, which I was told was the best place to sample the ‘Degree Kaapi’

What is the Degree Kaapi? Why is it called so?

Degree Coffee in a Brass Dabara-Kumbakonam
Degree Coffee in a Brass Dabara-Kumbakonam

Coffee is a mix of Decoction and Milk, and the Degree Coffee is basically using the first decoction of the day, with boiled milk at a particular temperature around 110 degrees (and hence the ‘Degree’ in the name). The first decoction is also sometimes called as the first degree. Quora has an interesting thread, that also says that chicory was mis-pronunced as Tikery and that came to be known as degree. The decoction comes from the Arabica and Robusta Coffee beans. Apparently Coffee came to India from Yemen in the 1600’s and the Coffee at Venkkatramana hotel comes through ‘Mohan Coffee Works’ which makes the powder, after sourcing it from the hilly tracts of Chikmaglur in Karnataka.

People queing up for Coffee Powder at Mohan Coffee Works-Kumbakonam
People queing up for Coffee Powder at Mohan Coffee Works-Kumbakonam

WikiPedia also mentions this on Filter coffee- ” The upper cup is loaded with freshly ground coffee. The grounds are then compressed (i.e., tamped) with the stemmed disc into a uniform layer across the cup’s pierced bottom. The coarser the coffee grinds, the more one has to tamp the coffee to retain the same extraction. With the press disc left in place, the upper cup is nested into the top of the tumbler and boiling water is poured inside. The lid is placed on top, and the device is left to slowly drip the brewed coffee into the bottom. The chicory holds on to the hot water a little longer, letting the water dissolve and extract more of the coffee grinds.

The resulting brew is generally much stronger than Western drip/filter coffee, and often stronger than even espresso.”

Where is Kumbakonam?

Kumbakonam is a temple town in Tamil Nadu by the Cauvery river known for its temples. It’s also the hometown of the famous mathematician Ramanujam. Kumbakonam plays host to the ‘Mahamaham’ which is held once in 12 years (very similar to the Maha Kumbha Mela with a rythmic 12 year cycle)

Kumbakonam- 6 hours away from Chennai (Tamil Nadu)
Kumbakonam- 6 hours away from Chennai (Tamil Nadu)

In Search of the ‘Degree Kaapi’

I figured out that there were 4-5 places one could go to for sampling the ‘Degree Coffee’ in Kumbakonam. There is Murali’s Cafe, Krishna Bhavan, Mangaleshwara Cofee Hotel and Venkkatramana Hotel if you want to have the Coffee directly. If you want to take home some memories there is Venus Coffee Shop and Mohan Coffee Works. I chose the last hotel in each of  lists, as I was recommended this by the local auto-driver

The auto driver taking me through Kumbakonam
The auto driver taking me through Kumbakonam

I hear the first destination to sample the Coffee was 10 minutes away. The auto driver, drove with an air of superiority as if he was the crowned prince who was steaming down his private road, passionately muttering things about the little lanes we pass by. I also hear him put together a temple package for the evening. I nod my head and say, we’l see. As it turns out he chose to assist me filming at the venue, in return for some coffee and tiffin.

Route from Kumbakonam Bus Stand to Venkkatramana Hotel
Route from Kumbakonam Bus Stand to Venkkatramana Hotel

Venkkatramana Hotel- Go For the Coffee

We met the Venkkatrama hotel’s proprietor who tells me about the history of how the Pasumpon Coffee Club used to have fresh cow’s milk early in the morning and how that used to lend a special taste as the decoction added was the first one. Usually the taste withers off with the second and third decoction, and that’s where the difference in taste happens. The earliest person to make this was Panchapakesa Iyer, who used to own cows and start making the first brew available at his Lakshmi Vilas hotel as early as 5 am. Over time, there have been more people from the Iyer community of Tamil Nadu who have set up shops, but there are only a few in operation, including the Venkkatramana hotel.

Do watch him and my experience with the Degree Coffee in the below video.

 

K-Balachandran-Proprietor of Venkkatramana Hotel
M-Balachandran-Proprietor of Venkkatramana Hotel

Post the ‘Degree Kaapi’ experience at Venkkatramana hotel, I proceeded to Mohan Coffee Works to go buy some coffee back home for my father, as he loves the powder from this store.

Buying Coffee Memories for Home- Mohan Coffee Works

Coffee Machines at work-Mohan Coffee Works(Kumbakonam)
Coffee Machines at work-Mohan Coffee Works(Kumbakonam)
Route to Mohan Coffee Works from Kumbakonam Bus Stand
Route to Mohan Coffee Works from Kumbakonam Bus Stand

 

The Coffee machines usually aim to ground 100 grams of the beans to around 80 grams of coffee powder. Usually this is an indication of very high quality, but its probably for the connoisseurs of this special taste of Coffee. This process is called roasting and after the heating is done, its advisable that the powder cools for 5-10 minutes, else the powder is half baked.

Chicory is added for colour before the Coffee powder is lapped by customers. However the beauty of the ‘Degree Kaapi’ is the heating up of the un-diluted milk to 110 degrees, and then mixing it with pre-heated decoction

I signed off from Kumbakonam, after making my bag pregnant with 4 packets of Coffee powder, and promised to come back for more to explore this little town. I am interested to go to the nearby temples on my own pace, and I hope to come back to Kumbakonam to just be able to do that over the weekend.

 

 

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New Trailer Out- ‘The Surf Trail’

Our little documentary on the Covelong Surf Festival is all set to release in November. The festival was conducted in August, and was getting sewn up in the edit room all this long. Here’s a little trailer and a couple of images. Let us know how you found it!

Monsoon and Surfs in Covelong
Monsoon and Surfs in Covelong

Jonty Rhodes surfing at Covelong-Tamil NaduJonty Rhodes surfing at Covelong-Tamil Nadu

Surfer cuts through the waves at the Covelong Surf Festival 2016
Surfer cuts through the waves at the Covelong Surf Festival 2016
Surfing has its hits and misses
Surfing has its hits and misses

 

The Surf Trail- A Sneek Peak

Earlier this year, I had travelled to the Covelong Surf, Music and Yoga festival to Covelong(A small town between Chennai and Mahabalipuram), to cover the festival. I have covered the festival previously writing on this blog and on Cafe Chennai of the 2016 festival. I thought travelling to the 2017 festival, I should experiment with video for my story telling. I leave you with some images and a small trailer on what to expect

Here is a trailer of the documentary that is about to release in November 2017.

Wet Weather and Swelling Surfs
Wet Weather and Swelling Surfs
Water, Water, Not Me
Water, Water, Not Me
Jonty Rhodes surfing at Covelong-Tamil Nadu
Jonty Rhodes surfing at Covelong-Tamil Nadu
Surfing has its hits and misses
Surfing has its hits and misses
Yoga, Music and discussions by the Yogashala at Covelong
Yoga, Music and discussions by the Yogashala at Covelong