I wake up to a shower of birdcalls. From the window on my left, I catch a long, warbling melody followed by a series of high-pitched whoops. The birds scuttle around with purpose, feeding little ones, pecking affectionately at their mates, pausing every now and then to listen to the whispers of the forest, their tails swinging like pendulums and their heads cocked at a gentle degree of politeness. I can’t identify the red-breasted singer, the owl-looking wise one perched on a tree-top, or the little sparrow-like bird with the yellow-flecked wings, but I bask in their songs. From my balcony overlooking the rain-washed forest, everything sparkles anew. I waddle back to bed, snuggle under my blanket, and fall asleep, secure in the knowledge that my picture-perfect forest view will still be here an hour later—with a cup of steaming filter coffee.
Located between Coorg and Chikmagalur—Karnataka’s more famous weekend getaways—Sakleshpur is permanently swathed in robes of emerald and jade. Its slopes are filled with Arabica coffee plantations, gorgeous waterfalls, and trekking routes to suit all abilities. For those who like to spend vacations reading, dozing off, and living the life of a bean bag, there are intimate homestays. Others who prefer more invigorating weekends can spend their time trekking the Western Ghats, snooping for orchids, colourful frogs, and the numerous species of birds that live here.
Sakleshpur’s rolling hills and gentle bird symphonies are the perfect antidote to the city’s thumping, traffic-filled bass line.
The hills in the southern part of the Western Ghats are peppered with hiking trails that offer sweeping valley views. Photo: Siddharth Sumitran
Perched at an elevation of 3,240 feet, the Manjarabad Fort gives visitors a bird’s eye- view of the Western Ghats.The structure’s tall, pointed doorways, scalloped arches, and sense of symmetry, are typical of Islamic military architecture. Photo: Siddharth Sumitran
The ruins of the Holy Rosary Church in the Gorur Dam at Shettyhalli (62 km/1 hour from Sakleshpur) have a haunting beauty about them, especially after the monsoon. In the summer, the ruins stand on a scraggly hillock by the River Hemavathi. After the rains, however, the waters of the Gorur Dam swell, submerging half the structure. Built by French missionaries in the 1860s, the church was abandoned when the reservoir for the Hemavathi was built in 1972. Much of the gothic structure, like the ceilings and stained-glass windows, is gone, but the pointed arches, spires, and the sanctuary remain. In the monsoon, fishermen offer coracle rides to the church, rowing their boats under the arches, and past the sculpted columns that now have a roster of names scratched upon them. If you’re driving, visit the church en route to Sakleshpur.
Manjarabad Fort (6 km/10 minutes) looks far more impressive in the aerial pictures taped to chai shops near the structure—its outer walls form a perfectly symmetrical eight-pointed star. It is worth a visit despite its weathered condition. Constructed by Tipu Sultan in 1792, the fort has scalloped archways, an unusual, cross-shaped well in the centre, and an underground tunnel that supposedly leads to Srirangapatnam, 114 kilometres away. Around the central courtyard are chambers, now covered in moss, that were once used as stables and warehouses for grain and arsenal. In the 17th century, Tipu Sultan’s soldiers used the watchtowers to keep an eye out for British soldiers approaching from Mangalore. Today, they give visitors a clear view of the Western Ghats that stretch as far as the eye can see.
Sakleshpur is perfect for hours of pondering or aimless wandering. Most resorts are located on sprawling coffee plantations. Owners of homestays like Mugilu are happy to accompany guests on long walks, pointing out Arabica and Robusta coffee varieties, cinnamon trees, orange thickets, and rolling meadows that are a favourite with Kannadiga movie producers. Every trip, however small or large, is rewarded with fresh, frothy filter coffee and snacks that range from piping hot bhajiyas and vegetable upma, to biscuits and Mangalore buns (baturas made with banana batter), which are a local favourite.
The Western Ghats are filled with hiking trails. Some weave their way through the thick of the forest, filled with gurgling streams and intimate waterfalls that attract a bevy of colourful bugs and frogs (watch out for leeches though). Others ascend quickly past the forest of trees to the smooth grass-topped peaks. These hikes are relatively tough, but the feeling of the wind whipping through your hair and the clouds at your feet is well worth the effort. Ask your hosts to give you a thermos full of filter coffee to take with you—it’s a cuppa you’ll never forget.
Sakleshpur has one crowded street, filled with stores. B.M. Road is about a kilometre long, clustered with ATMs, petrol pumps, and stores selling spices, coffee, and flashy clothing. At Karnataka Coffee House, you can examine pale, just-picked coffee beans, see how dark they become after roasting, and take home robust chicory-coffee blends. Spice marts along the stretch sell bottles of thick, fresh honey, and packets of black, green and white cardamom, cinnamon, mace, and vanilla at throwaway prices.
Resorts like Tusk and Dawn Jungle Retreat take customers on short jeep trips around the mountains. Photo: Siddharth Sumitran
Sakleshpur has a number of charming homestays and resorts, most of which are a few kilometres outside the town. These roads aren’t in the best condition, especially after the monsoon, and are not to be attempted without an SUV. Most places, however, offer to pick up guests from the main road closest to the resort. Ensure you get proper directions to the pick-up spot before you leave town as cell phone networks are fleeting.
Tusk and Dawn was founded, H.M Vikram, an eco-conservationist and local hero. Though he is no longer associated with the property, the lodge maintains his respect for the wild. At Tusk and Dawn, which is surrounded by the Shola forests, guests can go on morning and evening hikes that last a few hours. The property houses 12 cottages, a gazebo where meals are served, and a bonfire clearing where guests spend the evening huddled around a roaring fire. There are pheasants, geese, ducks, guinea pigs, turkeys, and one brazen peahen that flitter about the grounds pecking for worms and sizing up the guests, who spend the day sipping on chai, napping in hammocks, or jumping on the trampoline in the courtyard. Tusk and Dawn also organises open air barbecues on prior notice (98455 03354; www.tuskanddawn.co.in; ₹2,700 per person, including all meals).
Mugilu is run by Sapna and Chandan Gurukar, and their four dogs, Shunti, Kichu, Zoey, and Gundu. The cosy homestay is located on a coffee plantation and has four tastefully furnished cottages, each with a large balcony that overlooks the lush, forest valley. Delicious malnad meals and frequent rounds of filter coffee are served in the common dining area, in the company of the chatty, knowledgeable owners. The couple moved to Sakleshpur from Bengaluru a few years ago. Over long walks to jalapeno and green pepper farms in the area, they swap travel stories, and share recipes for homemade fruit wine with their guests. Chandan is an avid birder and a fountain of knowledge about the numerous species that inhabit mugilu’s grounds. The resort is home to over 100 species of birds, making it a hotspot for amateur photographers (98454 51055; www.mugilu.com; ₹doubles ₹4,400 , including all meals).
Sakleshpur market is a heady blend of aromas. The stores along the main road sell cardamom, black pepper, coffee, and flowers. Photo: Siddharth Sumitran
Swarga, a 25-km drive from Sakleshpur, is perfect for families and large groups. The grounds of this coffee plantation resort has backwaters, which are especially beautiful in the months following the monsoon when the Hemavathi River swells. Swarga is filled with animals, both domestic and wild. The grounds are inhabited by eight dogs, pheasants, fowl, a pet horse, and other strays that find their way to the animal-loving resort. The backwaters are full of kingfishers, river eagles, and terns. The couple that run Swarga organise cardamom- picking walks, hikes through the coffee plantation, and fishing trips (94480 54505 ; www.swarga.in; ₹3,000 per person, including all meals).
Sinna Dorai’s Bungalow is a British-era structure that presides over the Kadamane Tea estate, which sprawls over 7,500 acres, rooms are plush, and comfortable. The estate office has an interesting book that dates back to 1959, with handwritten notes on waterfalls on the property, concerns with wild animals, tea cultivation, and migration (94819 25930; www.sinnadorai.com/kadamne.aspx; doubles ₹7,000, including all meals).
Most homestays and resorts in Sakleshpur serve guests all meals and little snacks through the day. However, there are a few traditional eateries that are worth trekking to town for. Shree Durga Mess, near the main bus depot is a local icon, famed for its donne biryani, mutton ball, and chilli chicken. The mess is no larger than a train compartment and thanks to a chintz floral curtain at the entrance, looks like a cheap saloon from the outside. Inside, it’s brisk takeaway business. Shree Durga also cooks up Chinese, tandoori, and north-Indian fare that the cook behind the counter is especially proud of mastering. Steer clear of these culinary conquests, and ask instead for his time-tested favourites. The donne biryani is a mild version of the spicier south-Indian counterpart, the mutton ball consists of heartbreak-tender meatballs made of mildly spiced kheema in a delicate ginger-garlic-yoghurt gravy, and the chicken chilli is a flavourful, spicy preparation made with generous quantities of ginger, green chillies, and ghee. The matka chicken and akki roti (made of rice) at Gandharva restaurant on the main road, are also worth sampling. Sadly, most restaurants and eateries in Sakleshpur do not serve traditional Malnad cuisine, which is famed for its use of pork and occasionally, boar.
Appeared in the August 2013 issue as “Hillside Haven”.
Sakleshpur is in the Hassan district of Karnataka, 223 km/4 hours east of Bengaluru and 131 km/3 hours west of Mangalore. The town lies between Coorg and Chikmagalur at an elevation of 3,100 feet.
Air The closest airport is Mangalore 131 km/2.5 hours away. Taxis charge ₹4,000 for a one-way trip in a non-air-conditioned cab.
Rail Trains including the Yesvantpur-Karwar Express connect Bengaluru and Sakleshpur. The journey takes about six hours, and offers emerald vistas of the Western Ghats.
Road Having a car means you can explore the region’s scenic driving routes. From Bengaluru, take NH48, go past Hassan until you reach Sakleshpur, which is on the national highway. The roads are wide and in good condition, making for a smooth drive until Sakleshpur town. After that, however, an SUV or jeep will be required to reach the plantations that are anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour outside town.
Local buses ply between towns and are useful to make trips to neighbouring Coorg or Chikmagalur. Taxis and auto rickshaws can be hired near the bus stop, to take visitors to plantations.
Sakleshpur remains pleasant throughout the year, save for a few weeks in July, when the monsoons (June-August) unleash their full vengeance. Summer days are warm (about 30˚C), but thanks to brief afternoon showers, the temperature drops to 20˚C in the evenings, even in May. Winter (Oct-end to Jan-end) is cold enough to demand light extra layers. day temperatures hover around the mid-20s and drop at least ten degrees when the sun sets. Sakleshpur is at its greenest in the months between August and September, when the days are misty and evenings cool.
loves exploring food markets or better still, foraging for new kitchen ingredients. She hopes to have a farm near the mountains someday. She tweets and instagrams as @nehasumitran.
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