The mist plays with the mountain. The hills come alive. We are in Coorg, locally known as Kodagu after the Kodavas who inhabit this region. As we drive up the Western Ghats, we see the slopes carpeted by coffee and cardamom plantations. The showers had just set in and the coffee plantations were filled with snowy white blossoms sparkling like jasmines.
Coorg’s tryst with coffee started more than a couple of centuries ago and it is believed that the coffee seed was planted here by the Mopla community from Kerala who traded with the Arabs. The locals cultivated “wild coffee” in the Nalknad area near Kakkabe initially. Soon small holdings came up on the fertile slopes of the Western Ghats which were too steep to grow rice and it became a commodity of trade.
It was not coffee that took us to Nalknad. We were in search of a small palace where the Haleri Dyansty came to an end. Our search ended in a small hamlet called Yavakapadi in Kakkabe where the Nalknad Aramane built by Dodda Veerarajendra in the 18th century awaited us.
There were coffee plantations all around. A small mud road appeared out of no where. A beautiful two storey structure painted in red with a tiled roof, old wall paintings and pillars gazed at us as we opened the portals of the palace.
A small mandapa in white was located close by. A drizzle started as we heard a sound behind us. A caretaker had silently moved in and was opening the main door for us. We were the only visitors. As we soaked in the moment, we were given a capsule of history.
Hyder Ali captured Coorg when Lingaraja 1 died in 1780 and took the young princes, Dodda Veerarajendra and Linga Rajendra as captives. They were sent to a fort in Gorur and a minister was ruling over Coorg. While Hyder Ali was fighting the British, the locals rebelled and overthrew the minister. Tipu Sultan recaptured Coorg, but Dodda Veerrajendra escaped. He fought relentlessly against Tipu Sultan and during one of the wars he retreated into a dense forest called Nalknad. He converted it into an operation base and built a palace. He even got married to Mahadevammaji here.This palace was the final refuge of the last king, Chikkaveerarajendra before he was deposed by the British and it symbolised the end of the Haleri dynasty.
The caretaker showed us around as we climbed a small ladder; saw the hidden chamber in the roof, the torture room, the royal bedrooms and the main durbar. A few tourists were slowly making their way here. They were on their way to trek the highest peak, Thadiyandamole, as the base camp was the palace.
A government school has now been built adjoining the palace. A bunch of school children were playing hide and seek among the pillars. I wondered if they realized that their childhood playground was once the royal playground of the Haleri kings.