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Nilgiris – Rebels survive

8 Dec 2022

During Feb-Mar 2022 we spent almost a month in Nilgiris, cycling & brewing.

Though these hills are now known for some very fine tea but there was a time when finest Indian coffee was growing here and that is no surprise; you can find estates with average altitude of 5,500 feet and going up to 6,500 feet. Specialty coffee loves these altitudes and the kind of microclimate Nilgiris offer. This is exactly what lured us to this area. While farmers in traditional coffee growing regions are singing and dancing around fermentation tanks filled with papayas and pineapples to please coffee gods, one in Nilgiris sits amid tea bushes sipping a cuppa from the plants that refused to die when tea took over. Unaware that this coffee is blessed with a microclimate and altitude most suited for fine arabica coffee unlike anywhere else in India.

Nilgiris was once a home of finest grade specialty coffee growing under shade with Australian ladybirds taking care of bugs as coffee bloomed. However, during 20th century slowly tea took over as coffee was ousted by diseases, unsustainable market prices, felling of shade trees, mining and unavailability of labour during harvest. As a final push to dethrone the King Coffee, tea board sponsored the conspiracy through subsidies and incentives. By third quarter of last century, transition was complete; The King was banished, shade trees were encashed and Australian ladybird sang no more. All you were left with were sprawling tea gardens with few silver oaks standing in between.

Nina Varghese tells “But Clyfford still walks on moon lit nights, when the fragrance of the raat ki rani hangs heavy in the air, wending his way through the tea bushes searching for monkey berries to make his speciality coffee.” Read this beautiful story (When King Coffee bowed out to the Tea).

But some rebels, faithful to the king hid behind on rocky slopes growing in cracks in rocks where tea never dared; chopped to stump innumerable times, they refuse to die and rose every time monsoon came in. Stubborn they were and the force was with them! now Empire has finally given up and secretly Jedis are back in higher reaches of Nilgiris, shh…

Nowadays coffee estates in Nilgiri district are found in lower altitudes in areas around Gudulur and O’ valley, however what we were looking for was from higher regions and this one is from Coonoor-Udhagamandlam area and you shall find the effect of microclimate and altitude in your cup.

Another thing that is close to our heart is cycling and we must tell all the cycling enthusiasts there is no better place in India for cycling than Coonoor. 2000 metres of elevation, tropical forests and lush green tea gardens, well maintained curving country roads with very low motor traffic and fantastic weather with temperature rarely rising above 30 degree makes it a place where you can just wake up any time of the day and ride on!

This place is heaven for cyclists and nature enthusiasts.

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