LANDSLIDE AFTERMATH: SEVERE WATER SCARCITY COULD HIT COORG HOMESTAYS

By P.T. Bopanna

With some of the wards in Madikeri, the headquarters of Kodagu (Coorg) district in Karnataka, getting drinking water supply on alternate days even before the onset of summer, the homestay sector could be in serious trouble in the coming months.

Though Kodagu received unprecedented rains in the last monsoon triggering huge landslides, the water bodies in the district have already dried up, leading to concerns of severe drought.

Geologists have been quoted as saying that the imbalance in water table could continue for a few more years in areas affected by the landslides. All these years, the residents in the affected areas were dependent on natural springs which have dried up now.

Following the unprecedented rains last August, most of the water bodies supplying water to Madikeri, including Kootpole, Pampinakere, Kannada Bane and Roshanarakere, the water level had reached the brim. But there has been a sudden drop in the water levels in the reservoirs, causing concern of a serious scarcity in the summer months.

The Karnataka government should order a study to find out why despite the water bodies filling up in the monsoon, water has suddenly started drying up even before the onset of summer. Steps should be taken to improve the water table, especially in and around Madikeri, the hub of the homestay industry in Kodagu.

Due to the low water levels, water supply has already been restricted to alternate days in wards like Mahadevpet, Ganapathi Beedi and Ranipet in Madikeri.

The Madikeri City Municipal Council has cautioned residents of Madikeri to use water judiciously because of the scarcity conditions.

If the trend continues, the CMC and the district administration may have to order closure of the homestays in Kodagu to ensure water supplies to the permanent residents.  

But the CMC has to explain to the people why still there is no assured water supply to the residents of Madikeri. Faulty planning and corruption has ensured that the residents are starved of water in the summer months.

It is time the Kodagu district administration and Karnataka government stepped in to ensure adequate supply of drinking water in Madikeri, which has emerged as a hot tourist destination in South India.

 

 

 

 

POLICE RAID RAVE PARTY AT COORG HOMESTAY. REVELLERS FROM MUMBAI, PUNE AND BENGALURU

By P.T. Bopanna

Though it was an open secret that rave parties were being held in some of the homestays in Coorg, perhaps for the first time the Kodagu police have succeeded in busting a well-organised racket.

A police team led by superintendent of police Suman D Pannekar (in picture) raided a homestay at Nelaji village near Napoklu on Saturday evening where a party was in progress with DJ music being played on loudspeakers and arrested five persons, including the owner of the homestay A-1 Glamping, Maleyanda A Appanna. 

Those arrested include Jude Pereira of Pune, Shankar Shanthanu of Mumbai, Sairam Ramesh of Cambridge layout in Bengaluru, and M V Ishwar of Mathikere in Bengaluru.

The Kodagu SP said: “They were probably part of an organised network, given the number of revellers at the party. It is a guarded area and permission was given only for an anniversary party.”

The owner had reportedly taken permission to host the party to celebrate the first anniversary of the homestay. Reports said there were over 70 revellers, high on party pills. Only those in possession of ganja were detained.

The police seized 29-gram charas, pipes, machines used for powdering ganja, musical instruments, generator, mini lorry and cigarette paper.

The Kodagu police should be complimented for unearthing the racket. The nefarious activities that go on in several illegal homestays should be dealt with an iron hand to ensure that the reputation of the homestay industry in Coorg is not damaged.

The Kodagu district administration should be blamed for not clamping down on the illegal homestays which outnumber registered homestays.   

 

TOURISM BOUNCES BACK IN COORG THANKS TO NEW YEAR MERRYMAKERS

By P.T. Bopanna

Tourism has bounced back in Kodagu (Coorg) thanks to the just concluded New Year celebrations which brought back hordes of tourists who had deserted the most popular hill station in South India following the killer landslides.

The government had banned tourism in Coorg from August 16 to September 9 following a spate of landslides which struck the hill station last August on account of unprecedented rains. Parts of the state highways had been washed away due to landslides.

Tourists had stopped visiting Coorg in the wake of the landslides and this had affected the business of homestays and hotels.

Though government and tourism agencies held publicity campaigns to assure the visitors that Coorg was safe, not many responded fearing landslides. The tourism sector suffered heavy losses in the last few months for lack of business.

All that changed overnight in the last week of 2018 as holiday-makers in large numbers headed for Coorg to celebrate the New Year. Most of the homestays and hotels reported full occupancy. This was helped by the fact that hotels and homestays had offered discounts on the tariff.

 The traffic jams were back in Madikeri, the district headquarters, leading to the woes of the local residents who had respite from the jams during the lean season.

There is no guarantee that the tourist flow will continue in 2019, considering the fact that the roads and highways have been badly damaged by the floods. Moreover, the roads affected by the landslides have not been rebuilt. Instead, sandbags have been stacked to temporarily allow the movement of vehicular traffic in places where the roads had caved in. A Madikeri resident remarked: “Placing sandbags to hold the roads which have caved in is like applying band-aid on a deep wound.”

Unless the roads are rebuilt, there is no guarantee that they will be motorable in the next monsoon.

It is a welcome move to hold a three-day Pravasi Utsav in Coorg from January 11 to 13.

This is the right time to weed out illegal homestays which have brought a bad name for Coorg. It is no secret that government officials and police are hand-in-glove with the owners of illegal homestays who indulge in nefarious activities.

 

UNION GOVT ISSUES FRESH GUIDELINES TO DEFINE HOMESTAYS

By P.T. Bopanna 

The Union tourism ministry has issued fresh guidelines for homestays with a view to standardizing facilities across the country.  

According to reports, properties where their owners or promoters physically reside will be designated as homestay establishments, while those where only an agent or operator resides will be designated as bed & breakfast.

It is said most of the facilities which go by the nomenclature of homestays in Coorg are operated by agents who do not stay in the premises. 

The homestays run by agents in Coorg are invariably from outside the state. In most cases, they are fly-by-night operators who engage in running prostitution and gambling rackets.

The reports said these guidelines will constitute the Common National Standards. Each State and Union Territory will be free to build upon them to suit their requirements, while keeping the core tenets intact. The properties will be categorised as silver and gold on the basis of the facilities they offer.

A property would be classified in a two-stage procedure under which the presence of facilities and services would be evaluated against a checklist. “Due preference will be accorded to the homes, which are able to provide Indian experience by way of Indian decor, authentic and exotic Indian cuisine, etc.”

The ministry has also stated that homestays and bread and breakfast establishments too need to apply online for accreditation, approval and re-approval.

For the first time, the ministry has prepared a set of guidelines by which it will approve and classify online travel aggregators online travel (OTAs) ensuring reliability of their services.

The scheme for approval/re-approval of OTAs will be rolled out online by the end of this month and all applications and fee payment will have to be made on it. The scheme will set standards towards accreditation and add value to the dependability and reliability to the aggregators in the online space operating in the organised tourism sector.

An official said such a scheme for accreditation was necessary as letting the market operate unhindered could lead to unscrupulous players to vitiate it through unethical trade practices.

The new guidelines are welcome as far as Coorg is concerned because Coorg is considered as the homestay capital of India.

In the past, successive Kodagu (Coorg) district administrations have failed to tackle the menace of illegal homestays which have brought a bad name to genuine homestays who enable tourists to experience local culture and cuisine.

It is time the district administration cracked the whip and implemented the new guidelines to check the menace of illegal homestays.

COORG LANDSLIDES: IMPACT ON HOMESTAY BUSINESS AND THE WAY FORWARD

By Nimi Chengappa*

Contrary to what has been portrayed in the media, the recent unprecedented calamities in Coorg (Kodagu) have taken place only in a limited area that had experienced a tremor prior to the rains and calamities this August.  

There are thousands of homestays in and around South Coorg where no calamity has occurred. That alone explains the fact that the catastrophic disaster was not due to homestays, but more due to the aftereffect of the tremors.  The earth cracked and then the incessant rain followed into the cracks and pushed the land down.

In view of the disaster, there is need for introspection on the future of homestays in Coorg. Sustainable, regulated, responsible tourism has to be encouraged in order to preserve the fragile ecology of this region.  A true homestay is the only model for this.  If the local families are not supported and encouraged to stay and live in Coorg, the whole ethnicity of the region will be threatened for want of greener pastures.

Talking of homestays, one has to first understand the very concept of what a true homestay is all about and how the idea was born.

Coorg coffee plantations are mainly held by small growers with small holdings.  With the fluctuation in prices and vagaries of nature affecting the crop output, the Coorg women had to find another income to supplement and sustain the family income.  So it started as a ladies initiative.  It is also a way for the ladies to use their talents and continue to live in Coorg without moving to the cities to earn.

It is said that there are around 3,000 homestays in Coorg, of which only about 500 are authorised by the Department of Tourism.  An association called the Coorg Homestay Association was formed to keep a check on the code of conduct of those Homestays that become a part of the Association.

The main issue dogging the tourism sector in Coorg is the presence of over 2500 illegal homestays.   How were they allowed to build on the hilly landsides and run with no norms and no legitimate rules and regulations?  Who is answerable for this disproportionate mushrooming of so called homestays?

The norm for homestays laid down by the Department of Tourism include, provision for only five rooms; the owners must reside in the same premise; liquor is prohibited to be sold.  Existing family homes, retaining the ecology, living on the premises sharing the culture and cuisine, was the whole idea, to supplement the family income in a sustainable eco system.  Waste disposal is minimal, like any family set up and the ecology is not tampered with.

There are ever so many places called homestays that have more than five rooms with a manager or caretaker to manage.  Pandi curry which is a Coorg signature dish would never be on that menu.  Every Tom Dick and Harry can run a hired/rented/leased place and call it a homestay.  They come from neighbouring States and build humungous concrete buildings and call it a homestay.  All kinds of nefarious activities take place and it is called a homestay.  Is this the true concept? 

In conclusion, I would say that Coorg lures tourists with its natural beauty and if it is not retained, then tourism will die a natural death.  Coorg does not need four-lane highways and railroads in the name of development and tourism.  The beauty is in the narrow winding roads and the natural colors and sounds of the flora and fauna.  Such a tiny insignificant little district, with an unmatchable distinct culture will just vanish if decisions are taken in the wrong direction.  The time has come for the mistakes made, to be reversed and not create new ones.  A true homestay is such a beautiful product in the true sense of the word, let’s not destroy it!  Let’s encourage and regulate it!

 *Nimy Chengappa (in picture) is the owner of a homestay in Coorg

 

 

ILLEGAL COORG HOMESTAYS: WILL DC SREEVIDYA BITE THE BULLET?

By P.T. Bopanna

Will the proactive deputy commissioner of Kodagu P.I. Sreevidya (in picture) bite the bullet this time and clamp down on the illegal homestays operating in Coorg?

The Karnataka government which has given several deadlines in the past, has once again asked homestay owners to register before August 2, 2018.

Tourism Minister S.R. Mahesh has given a deadline of August 2 for all homestays in Kodagu to register, failing which he has warned of action.

It is said only around 400 out of the 4,000 homestays operating in the district are found to be legal, with the rest being illegal.

The minister noted that some homestays are operating resorts in the name of homestays to avoid payment of taxes. “Many of these owners run a chain of such properties, in clear violation of the guidelines,” he added.

Two years ago, the government had brought guidelines to regulate homestays in the state. The guidelines include the owner of the homestay must own the land where the business is being operated. And a maximum of five rooms in the homestay only can be provided for tourist accommodation.

It is no secret that nefarious activities thrive in the illegal homestays, including flesh trade and gambling. In the recent years, touts have become real nuisance for tourists visiting Kodagu as they pressure the visitors to stay at a particular homestay.

Even the district SP was not spared and his car was stopped in the night by the homestay brokers.

The image of Kodagu has taken a beating in the recent years because of the goings on in the illegal homestays. Will the district administration act before Kodagu goes the way of Goa?

 

TALACAUVERY AND BHAGAMANDALA ARE NOT PICNIC SPOTS, BUT SACRED PLACES  

AN APPEAL: Journalist P.T. Bopanna is shocked by reports of tourists turning the holy places into spots for merry-making, garbage-dumping and a place for open cooking.  Equally shocking is the callous attitude of the Kodagu district administration and local panchayat bodies in failing to discipline the tourists. This is an appeal going out to the tourists to respect the local sentiments and maintain cleanliness around Talacauvery, the birthplace of the sacred river Cauvery, and Bhagamandala, located on the foothills of Talcauvery, around 39 km from Madikeri.

Bhagamandala is the confluence of the sacred rivers of Cauvery and Kannike and legend has it that a third river Sujyothi, a subterranean stream, joins the two rivers. The Bhagandeshwara temple is located on the banks of the two rivers and is one of the important pilgrimage centers in Coorg. Pilgrims proceed to Talcauvery only after offering worship at Bhagamandala. It is customary for the Coorg men to shave their head at Bhagamandala in the event of a bereavement in the family.

The following is an interview given by Journalist Bopanna to Arre, an Indian entertainment content platform based in Mumbai, on what Cauvery means to people of Coorg.

EXCERPTS FROM BOPANNA’S INTERVIEW:

As a community of nature worshippers, we think of ourselves as the offspring of the river because it originates from our land. It courses through our lives, from the time we are born until the day we die. Every landmark, every momentous occasion is marked by some association with the Kaveri.

Like every Kodava, I went to Talakaveri – the source of the river in Coorg and a holy spot for us – after I got married. At all our wedding ceremonies, a prayer is offered in the name of the river and the family’s ancestors. After the wedding, we go for a dip in the holy water. Another time, I’ve felt a kind of vibration. The waters seem to have a kind of strength… I am an agnostic, but I still felt the positivity.

The Kaveri figures not just in Kodava celebrations, but also in our grief. It is invoked in death. At the 11th-day ceremony after a person dies, the male family members shave their heads and go to the Talakaveri after visiting the Bhagamandala temple, for another dip in the river’s purifying waters. At home, the corpse is laid out in the house for people to pay their last respects, accompanied by a pot of Kaveri water. Then, tulsi leaves are dipped in the water and put on the dead person’s lips, a way for the deceased to attain moksha. The path to the gates of heaven flows through the Kaveri.

And yet we remain Kaveri’s forgotten children.

The relationship between the river and our land spans back centuries and yet the river has never been ours. It flows down to the plains where Karnataka and Tamil Nadu wage war over it, riot over it, fight for it to further their industries without even acknowledging its holiness.

They don’t celebrate Kaveri Sankramana every year in October, we do. This is the time when water from a pond at the Talakaveri gushes out; this holy water is called thirtha. On Kaveri Sankramana day, a bott, or a post-like thing with creepers, is put in the fields, near wells, or manure pits. It’s the time of the year for children to go a little wild. The women, who perform the puje, keep dosas as offerings at all the botts. After all the prayers, we would run to all these dosas and eat them in secret.

The Kodavas come together for the Kani Puje, to thank Mother Earth for the bounty received from Mother Kaveri. And the irony is that we receive nothing. We are caught in an endless cyle of water shortage, triggered by deforestation and large-scale environmental devastation. But our worship of Kaveri never stops.

To date, children in Coorg grow up listening to stories about the river, which marks its presence even in our traditional dress.

According to one legend, the sage Kavera Muni chose Brahmagiri in Coorg to meditate. He prayed to Brahma for children, who granted his prayers by giving him a daughter in the form of Lopamudra (also called Kaveri).

Lopamudra married sage Agastya on the condition that he wouldn’t stay away from her even for a moment. So one day, Agastya put his wife in his kamandala, a water pot, and went for a bath. Lopamudra got so angry at this that she spilled out of the pot and started to flow like a raging river. She washed over all the Kodava women, who pleaded with her to stop her from leaving their land. The story goes that she washed over them with such force, that their saris swept from front to back. Even now, Coorg women pleat their saris at the back, instead of the front.

And yet our voices go unheard. Each successive Karnataka government has been unjust to Kodagu, withholding funds for the Bethri project, to supply water to Madikeri town from Kaveri. This project has been in the pipeline since the 1980s. The Harangi dam project, which is in Kodagu, has been conceived over the river Harangi, a tributary of the Kaveri. However, the water available for irrigation in Kodagu is only 607 hectares, out of 54,591 hectares of the total irrigation potential. Thirteen villages in Kodagu have been submerged in the building of this dam. We don’t even get drinking water in Madikeri, which is facing an acute water shortage. The lack of water and neglect of irrigation facilities is because Kodagu lost political clout after the erstwhile Coorg state merged with Karnataka in 1956.

We don’t ask for separate statehood. All we ask is that Kaveri’s own land, her own children don’t perish from thirst. Kodagu is in the main catchment area of the Kaveri; we already bear floods and damage to roads and communication.

Kaveri’s anger does not deter us. We will forever be her children. Even if nobody acknowledges us.

 

KODAGU (COORG) SP LATEST TARGET OF COORG HOMESTAYS TOUTS

Kodagu superintendent of police P. Rajendra Prasad (in picture) has also not been spared by touts soliciting business for homestays in Coorg.

Addressing a meeting recently at Madikeri, the SP recalled how his vehicle was stopped around midnight by agents of homestays, asking him whether he wanted to stay at their homestay. They scooted only after he revealed his identity.

With illegal homestays mushrooming in Coorg, touts are pestering tourists visiting the district. The SP went to the extent of saying these touts are posing a “law and order problem.”

It is not just the touts who are posing a problem. Cases of honey-trapping of tourists have been reported regularly in Coorg. It is no secret that many homestays are involved in flesh trade.

The concept of homestays in Coorg which was earlier meant to offer the tourist an authentic experience of living with a Coorg family and tasting some of the local cuisine, has now become a money-making racket.

The Kodagu district administration has to take the main blame for its failure to act against illegal homestay which outnumber government-recognised homestays.

 

 

NEXT GOA IN THE MAKING: IS COORG THE ILLEGAL HOMESTAYS CAPITAL OF INDIA?

By P.T. Bopanna

Is Kodagu (Coorg) district in Karnataka the ‘illegal’ homestays capital of India? Are these illegal homestays engaged in prostitution racket, gambling and rave parties?

The answer is in the affirmative because only 242 homestays are legal and the rest of the homestays estimated to number around 4,000 in Coorg are operating illegally.

According to a survey conducted by HolidayIQ, Karnataka had the highest concentration of homestays in the country with Coorg being ‘India’s homestay capital’.

Karnataka Tourism Minister Priyank Kharge (in picture) said 242 owners had registered their homestays in Coorg and another 357 were operating without registration.

The Karnataka government had introduced fresh guidelines for homestays last October and had fixed November 15 as the last date for registration. This was subsequently extended till December 1.

But a majority of homestays in Coorg are being operated illegally to avoid scrutiny. Some of the requirements for registration, include that the owners should stay in the premises and they should not offer more than five rooms for guests.

It is learnt that many homestays are operating resorts in the name of homestays to avoid payment of taxes. Many of these owners run a chain of such properties, in clear violation of the guidelines.

What is worrying is the fact that some of these homestays are known to indulge in illegal activities such as prostitution, gambling and rave parties.

An official was quoted as saying: “We have information that some homestays’ links to brothels in Bengaluru, Mysuru, Mangaluru and Mumbai.”

Former minister M.C. Nanaiah, who was chairman of the committee to suggest measures for safety of women and children, has been quoted as saying “At least 3,000 homestays operate in the Malnad region without certification from the state tourism department. They offer rooms at rates much lower than the licensed homestays. Most of these places do not have families staying in them and are run by people with dubious credentials. These illegal activities cannot happen without the tacit support of police and local authorities.”

The blame for not cracking down on the illegal homestays should be taken by the district administration led by the deputy commissioner Dr Richard Vincent D’souza.

It is time the district administration cracked the whip on the owners of illegal homestays. If their activities are not checked, Coorg will go the way of Goa.

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