If there’s anything my father and I love as much as we love travelling, it’s planning our next trip. We love checking train routes, flight schedules and in my case, long weekends or days when we can get the cheapest connecting flights. While our travel lists are usually always ready so that we can make the most out of every place we visit, an unusual 5 day break earlier this year gave us the opportunity to embark on a spontaneous holiday that gave us the best of history, culture and natural beauty.
I had a 5 day break from college in February and it had been quite some time since my parents and I had travelled together. Having visited Coorg in 2018, Chikmagalur, a lesser known region in Karnataka known for its coffee plantations, was on my list. Similarly, my dad had wanted to visit Shravan Belagoda, Belur and Halebidu since the longest time. We decided to club the destinations since they were all accessible by road and booked all our tickets less than a week before the trip, without thinking twice.
Shravanbelagoda, Belur and Halebidu all consist of historical monuments. History nerds who enjoy slow travel can actually plan a short weekend getaway to just these 3 places. We took flights from Bombay to Bangalore and from Bangalore we first drove to Shravanbelagoda, which is an important Jain pilgrimage site. To reach the top of the site, you need to complete a short 30-40 min hike. At the top, you are greeted with beautiful lake views and huge Jain statues. This one is totally worth the climb.
Halebidu, which was our next destination is a complex of temples known for its intricate carvings. I definitely recommend taking a guided tour here in order to appreciate the beauty of each temple. There’s a reason that the temples in South India are known for the magnificent architecture and Halebidu will remind you of that.
Belur, our last stop for the day, has an impressive temple with a massive Gopuram that will charm staunch atheists. We witnessed a beautiful sunset from Belur and the vibe at the temple reminds you of how positive and liberating faith can be.
After visiting all these 3 three places in one day and keeping ourselves fuelled with unlimited dosas and strong filter coffee, we headed to Chikmagalur. My parents and I were on this trip without my sister and co-incidentally, Chikamagalur means the town of the younger daughter!
If you’ve been to Ooty or Coorg, you would know that these places are not confined to a town or a single city; it’s an entire region. Similarly, in Chikmagalur, most of the viewpoints, waterfalls and lakes are outside the main town. You may however choose to stay in the main town for easy accessibility. We stayed in the main town for 2 nights. We stayed at Aadrika, a lovely property 500 metres from the KSRTC bus station. The rooms were incredibly spacious and the restaurant had great variety. They also have a cute coffee shop on the ground floor.
If you’re in the town area, you can visit the coffee museum which is very well-maintained and highly informative. You can also pick up filter coffee blends from Panduranga Coffee Roasters. The main market area also has a government establishment set up wherein they provide local meals for INR 10! We had dinner at the no-frills set up and I can vouch for the taste and the hygiene!
Outside of the Chikmagalur town area, here are the things you must do:
- Stay at a coffee estate for a night. We stayed at Coffee County which is in Kaimara. We paid INR 2200 per person and that included stay in a beautiful bungalow, a coffee tour, a bonfire and 3 delicious meals. Their egg curry and barbecue pineapple are to die for! The caretaker also organizes road trips on demand and took us to lakes that we couldn’t even find on a map!
- Visit the Baba Budan Giri range and hike through it. This is an easy hike which you can complete within a couple of hours.
- Catch a sunset at Mullyangiri, the highest peak in Karnataka. It is absolutely mesmerizing and the hike to the top is totally worth your sweat.
- Visit Hebbe Falls. We couldn’t do this one since there was a Tiger census going on in the nearby area, but Hebbe Falls is said to be the best waterfall in the region.
- Jhari Falls and Kallathi Falls were the two waterfalls we visited but they weren’t that appealing, to be honest. Both were crowded and badly maintained but if you have to visit one, I’d suggest Jhari Falls.
- Visit the Kemanagudi range and the garden nearby, if you have extra time.
- Head to the Hierekolale Lake and Ayyankere Lake to soak in some serenity.
- Kudremukh National Park promises great views but we couldn’t visit it since it requires several permits from the Forest Department and offers restricted entry. If you’re an avid trekker, you could plan in advance and get a permit.
We initially planned on keeping our last day in Chikmagalur for Kudremukh and Hebbe Falls before we headed to Hassan, a town 3 hours from Bangalore, since our return flight was from Bangalore. But since both these places couldn’t be visited and we explored everything else, we found ourselves scrolling through blogs and TripAdvisor suggestions for hidden, lesser known spots. In my personal opinion, I’ve always seen that some of the best parts of a city or region are not amongst the top 10 sights that you see on these online portals. You really need to dig deeper and find places that you think are great finds.
We ended up finding 2 really interesting places that I never knew of before that day. The next day, we embarked on a quest to find those places and unravel their beauty.
Our first stop was Manjarabad Fort, a star-shaped fort that Tipu Sultan had rescued and built. The fort is massive and even in February, we could see greenery all around the area although the interior of the fort would be much more beautiful in monsoon. If you’re looking for a lesser known spot that puts you back in time, this is it.
My favourite spot, however was our second find in a small village called Shettihalli. We navigated through kaccha roads, through fields to reach the Shettihalli Rosary Church, a 19th century church by the river. It was rescued by French missionaries and presently is in a semi-ruined state. The church against the backdrop of the river presents a brilliant view and watching it, in that moment, we knew we’d stumbled upon a gem. Taking the road less travelled has its benefits and we were reminded of that in the most visually pleasing way possible.
After a rather adventurous day, we headed to Hassan for a night halt. The next day, we chose to travel in a non-AC Karnataka Sarige bus which got us to Bangalore in just 3 hours! Public transport is truly changing its reputation in India and how.
Since the entire trip was spontaneously planned, we paid more at some places which could be avoided if we had planned earlier. We ended up paying around 25K per person for a 5 day trip which includes airfare, all meals,accommodation including the coffee estate and transportation in by car.
This holiday reminded me that there’s a joy in both spontaneous travel and planned travel. Our generation is completely swept off by YOLO trips that they fail to understand the importance of saving money and maximizing on resources while travelling. On the other hand, there are people who will stick to a rigid itinerary and not want to go beyond what the travel guidebook says. I believe a good holiday requires a mixture of both. While I absolutely enjoyed my stay at the coffee estate, writing in my diary under the stars and gazing at the sunset at Mullayangiri, things that we had planned on doing, the joy of discovering Shettihalli Church was unparalleled. I now feel that one must travel responsibly, have the basics sorted so that beautiful detours such as these can be accomodated. In the end, it’s all about enjoying what where you are and maybe discovering something new.
If you too, like me are seeking less explored, offbeat places to travel to, head to Chikamagalur. Seek some quiet in a coffee estate or go hiking in the Western Ghats; engage in enlightening conversation with the locals or chase architectural marvels. Stay responsible but keep that window open for spontaneity to creep in. Be Khanabadosh.