Karnataka is a state that has been overshadowed by Kerala and Tamil Nadu, when it comes to tourism. And that is sad considering that it is one of India’s most diverse and beautiful states. It is a state where history lies beneath your feet( Mysore,Hampi, Badami) and a religious aura pervades the air( Dharmasthala,Shringeri) . It is a state where culture(Mysore) and modernity( Bangalore) co exist. And few states in India have its natural diversity, be it the unspoilt beaches of the Canara region, the thick forests of Malnad and Mysore or the hill resorts of Coorg, K.R.Hills and the cascading waterfalls of Jog, Gokak. Add to it the forts,castles and monuments of North Karnataka, and you have a place which is truly a tourist paradise. Add to it a friendly and hospitable people who are highly knowledgable, and a pleasant weather, except for N.Karnataka. Unfortunately except for the Bangalore-Mysore circuit, tourist infrastructure in the rest of the state is very poorly developed,and neither does it have an extensive road and rail network like Tamil Nadu.
One of the more underrated places in Karnataka has been Chikmagalur. Situated in the foothills of the towering Baba Budan Giri range in the Western Ghats, the place is also called as “Poor Man’s Ooty” due to it’s pleasant climate and laid back lifestyle. Chikmagalur covers the Malnad area in Karnataka, a thickly forested hilly and plateau like area. This place takes it’s name from a Kannada word meaning “Town of the Younger Daughter”, from the legend that this place was given as a dowry to the younger daughter of the local chieftain Rukmangada. The twin town adjoining this is Hiremagalur Or “The Town of the Elder Daughter”. In Indian history,Chikmagalur is often identified as the birthplace of the Hoysala Dynasty. As per legend, Sala the founder of the dynasty killed a tiger here, which is also the symbol in the Hoysala flag. The Amriteshwara Temple in this area was built by legendary Hoysala king Veera Ballala II. The area is however more famous for it’s coffee plantations and along with Coorg, constitutes the Coffee belt of Karnataka. According to legend, coffee was introduced in this area by a Muslim sufi saint Baba Budan in 1607 AD, who bought the beans from Yemen, on the way back home after his pilgrimage to Mecca. The hills surrounding Chikmagalur are named in his honor in fact. In 1978, this place shot into worldwide fame, when Indira Gandhi won the bye election from here, and made a comeback into Parliament after losing from Rae Bareily in 1977.
The major attraction of Chikmagalur is the Baba Budan Giri hills located to the north. Also called as Chandra Drona Parvatha, this place has the tallest peak in Karnataka, Mullayangiri, at a heightof 1930 m above sea level. Located around 16 km from the town, this can be reached by a long winding road, narrow at place, but which does give you spectacular views of the Western Ghats. On the way one can also touch the Seethalagiri peak named after the saint Sidhi Seethalaya. Mullayanagiri itself contains 3 caves dedicated to 3 holy saints or siddhas. There is no road going up to the peak,and one has to trek for half an hour to reach there. But it is worth it. On a clear day, one could even see the Arabian Sea in the distance. The Baba Budan Giri Dattatreya Peetha is a holy spot revered by both Hindus and Muslims alike,though of late unfortunately this place also has fallen place to sectarian politics. The Darga is dedicated to the Muslim Saint, while the Datta Peetha is located in a cave here. In fact the rites of the Datta Peetha dedicated to the Hindu God Dattatreya,is conducted by a Muslim fakir. This spot is also famous for the Jathra or Urs, which is attended by large number of Hindus as well as Muslims. The Manikyadhara waterfall close to this site, is worth a watch especially for the pearly effect it gives when the water falls down. There are many trekking routes in this area which could be arranged too, the most popular being the one to Mullayangiri and Baba Budan Giri.
55 Km north of Chickamagalur is Kemmanugundi or also popularly called K.R.Hills. Located at a height of 1434 m, this hill town is relatively calm, unspoilt and has a lovely climate, which makes it the perfect spot for relaxation. Famous for the waterfalls of Kallathagiri and Hebbe. It is also the retreat of the Karnataka Governor, and one can get spectacular views from the Raj Bhavan here. The Horticulture Dept maintains some lovely Gardens out here, and the Rose Garden is famous. This area is also pretty good for trekking and a lot of routes branch out from here. However there are not much lodges here to stay, and one has to make a prior booking in Bangalore for the Horticulture Dept Guest House. Wildlife lovers could visit the sanctuaries of Bhadra around 38 km from here, this place also has Jungle Lodges and Resorts Lodge here and is famous for the birds. Bhadra is also a Project Tiger reserve, and has a good collection of wild animals too.
The Kudremukh National Park is again another worth watching site, famous for it’s Lion Tailed Macaque. Shringeri,which is 90 km away from here, is famous as the site of the Saradamba Temple dedicated to Goddess Saraswati. The Vidyashankar Temple built by Vidyaranya Swami, the patron saint of the Vijayanagar Empire, is another famous one here, in the Hoysala style. The Sharadamba Temple is maintained by the Shringeri Sharada Peetham, founded by Adi Shankaracharya in 820 AD. This matha also maintains the Yajur Veda.
Chikmagaluru is worth a visit for its diverse natural beauty, and lovely climate. One could cover Chikamagalur and the Baba Budan Giri Hills, or the other option is Chikmagalur-Kemmanagundi. Problem is neither the town nor the districts have a proper road network. If you are trying to reach from Bangalore, you could take the route from Bangalore-Kadur-Chickmagalur via Arsikere or a longer route via Hassan-Belur, but the average time is around 5 1/2 hours. There is no train going there, so one would have to get down at Kadur from where its a 45 minute journey by Road. I would still recommed the road journey any time, though the drive itself is not that comfortable. Also there are a number of private lodges and resorts in the Chickmagalur to stay. So i would advise you to explore this beautiful area, it is worth it.