Just fifteen minutes ago I’d taken off my pants for the evening to settle down and write about how magnificent Coorg is.  You will never be able to imagine my horror unless you’ve survived a similar experience.  *I* can hardly imagine my horror, and it’s still recent and ripe. 

Do you recognize these? 

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For the sake of my gentler friends I’ve chosen a bloodless photo (and for my myriad non-gentle friends, send me a note and I’ll email you a copy of the real mayhem) but it’s testament nonetheless.  On my trip today to taste honey and pork, to see green cardamom plants and greener coffee beans I was crawled upon and sucked by a leech. 

Oh god.  Do you know?  The horror of a leech is that they do their crawling-on-your-body completely unbeknownst to you.  They only leave behind a sickening calling card that they’ve visited.  This one had to jump up past my sneaker, up past my sock , almost a full HANDSPAN above my ankle.  (That is, in the area of my very heart.) All the while, under the cover of my thick denim jeans. 

I can still see it, though I hadn’t seen it, working its awful, slimy way up my leg, just like in that David Cronenberg movie.  Crawling, inching, sneaking–to have it’s way with me. I can see that too, the rotten thing wallowing in my blood, confident of my ignorance, squirming–squirming not just like a worm but squirming with pleasure.  Getting fat and juicy.  I bet they somehow get slimier as they bloat up with blood.  Then, so as not to tip their victim off, they dribble off like a thick gob of spit sliding down a sleeping invalid’s chin. 

And you would never know they’d been there, or that they’d drank your blood. 

But.   

The thing about leeches is that when they dine they need to attach themselves to you.  So they secrete some special, wormy superglue to stay stuck to your skin.  And while they’re pigging out, like children with jam smeared all over their cheeks, that glue is mixed with your blood and makes a shiny mess behind.  In fact, as a succulent leech slides down your leg, that’s what it leaves behind–an awful trail of black-red blood hardened into acrylic.  You practically have to chip the stuff off.  (Though if you’re quick, you can pull the leeches off and turn their trails into Gummi Worms made from your jellied blood.)  *That’s* what I just found in my pants, the Horror of Coorg, and what is tempering my romantic nature. 

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AND COORGI PARADISE, really 

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I think it’s pretty common to balance overwrought accounts of nature by pointing out her horrors, too.  My prologue should therefore indicate that I’m about to sound overwrought. But I’ll be damned if Coorg isn’t one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.  I mean, Coorg is soul-stirring in the way that makes your soul feel stirred.   What will description avail? 

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The fences are made from poinsettias, only gigantic tree-like poinsettias that must bloom year round.  Behind the fences grow wild citrus, acres of coffee and peppercorn vines that spiral up tree trunks.  When you stop along the road you drink honey and clouds race so low overhead they’re actually beneath you.  The birds look like butterflies.  The earth is red; it rises and turns itself into roof tiles.  Foliage, let alone the ludicrous flowers, is nothing special.  Pigs scamper without knowing they’re delicious.  Children on the other hand know sugarcane is worth the risk of smuggling it.  Men hunt for wild boars with antique rifles.  The rainforest sleeps, then wakens with a roar of insects’ saws.   

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If it sounds like I’m trying to be poetic, I am.  But I’m doing it in Coorg’s honor and with the idea that my extravagant words are trying to indicate a little bit of what I enjoyed.  (Ugh, for instance, I really watched a boy happily defy his elder for the sake of his snack.) 

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So included are a few photos of this place I can’t do justice to, and which were taken in defiance of my stated mission. Though the food is good, Coorg is better.  

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A POST OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE, written later

How fetching that first bit on the Horror of Coorg now seems to me.  A leech!  I was sucked by a single leech! Well, if humans aren’t adaptable they’re nothing at all.  We cling to life, we cling even to mere pleasure, in the direst circumstances.  What was once horrific becomes mundane, like castaways turned cannibals, humans adapt.  We suffer all sort of degradation to survive and enjoy. 

So it is that I’ve been transformed by these miniature leviathans, by leeches.  For the sight of waterfalls and cascading clouds I will now hardly bother to reach down with a stick and scrape the marauders from my sneakers.  Why, even as I write this I’m bleeding from eight separate wounds.  It seems like nothing.  Or, perhaps, it seems like daily life in Coorg.   This is a place where you become a hybrid of the land literally and quickly.   

Let me talk about food then. Coorg is in the Western Ghats in Karnataka, so its cuisine has many similarities to other parts of the south.  It’s probably best known for its distinctive pandhi curry, pork curry.  Though a few other dishes seem somewhat unique, too, like kadam puttu, balls of rice meal.  A black vinegar-like liquid called kachampulli is also used only here in the rainforest.  Farmers’ honeys are well worth seeking out; they literally taste like flowers. Coorg is covered in coffee plants, endless, endless, endless acres of coffee plants.  Here’s one. 

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And a bunch of coffee berries. 

This is a terrible photo, but I’m including it merely to show the source of the kachampulli.  A fruit grows on this tree which is sundried and processed to yield the fragrant, sour black liquid. 

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Here’s a pool of it on a saucer. 

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A field of ginger. 

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Rice paddies. 

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Turmeric plants in front, mango ginger plants struggling behind. 

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An areca palm tree, source of the betel nut. 

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Vanilla beans.  (A potted vanilla bean plant grew on a vine around my bathroom in the woods.) 

A black pepper vine. 

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Cardamom plants. 

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You can barely see the cardamom buds trailing along the base of the plant, here. 

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This big, wild lemon isn’t just big.  You can rub it on your sneakers to keep the leeches away, though the locals I talked to didn’t bother with such foreign activities. 

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I hate to deviate from my chosen mission, but it sure is purty in Coorg. 

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Bees suckle the abundant flowers, though many died in a viral outbreak years back.  Here are some survivors. 

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And the beekeepers’ local co-op headquarters. 

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See?  I DID eat in Coorg.  Here are some plain rice breads (akki rotis). 

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A Coorgi chicken curry. 

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Some tasty potatoes. 

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Follow the sign. 

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And this is what you get. 

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Some rustic noolputtu, or rice noodles.  When I’ve tried my hand at noolputtu in the past I’ve come pretty close to these guys. 

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The rasam in Coorg always tasted especially excellent to me.  I don’t know why, maybe the fresh mountain air went well the hot, refreshing ‘soup’. 

A bowl of rasam.

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A clear shot of the same. 

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And another super rendition, this time demonstrating that peeling those miniature garlic cloves isn’t always necessary. 

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A tasty homemade meal from the folks across the street from my lodge. 

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And an even simpler meal, but man it was excellent.  Just a few elements.  SO tasty.

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Kadamputtu, rice balls with topnotch coconut chutney and potatoes in a thin sauce.  I love how uncluttered, easy food can be the most delicious.

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