Friday, March 27, 2015

Trek to Mandalpatti view point, Madikeri

It had been a few months since we went on a trek. Seeing the natural beauty of Madikeri and its surroundings, we were rearing to go on a nice long walk. There were a few operators who take you on fixed trekking routes and they were charging Rs.4000 for a couple, for a day's trek. We were clear that we did not want to walk through a forest on a cloudy / rainy day. You know leeches etc. and so, we had look at other options if any.


When we heard about Mandalpatti and the views along the way, we decided to trek there. Mandalpatti is about 24 kms. from Madikeri's bus depot. Large part of the route is motorable road. But the last 5 - 6 kms. is bad, and some places no roads, where you have to go on hired jeeps. The jeep ride costs Rs.1500 and a very short wait, we were told. As we wanted to do the trek in a leisurely manner and enjoy the journey as much a s the destination, we took an auto rickshaw (for Rs.1000 for half a day) till the point where they are allowed, and from there started on our 5 (?) km. trek. 


To be on the safe side, we carried lunch and plenty of water. Good pair of walking shoes and a hat, donot forget walking sticks finished our preparations, and we set off at a leisurely pace taking in the scenic beauty along the route.


As far as your eye can see, you will only see mountain ranges; rows and rows of mountains. The altitude is upwards of 1500m. In the valleys, where mountains meet, you can see abundance of trees. It looks as if green water is flowing through the joints, from a distance. Very picturesque!


The road, which is more like a trail, winding through the mountains, some covered with vegetation, some others totally bald, is easy, gently climbing.


There were trails made by jeep tires on several mountains by adventurous souls! Into the distance we could see very high mountains. The light was hazy for clear pictures.


This brown and brown black butterfly seems to be a common variety there. it was a delight to see them fluttering about everywhere. 


These wild flowers gave it an arid and desert feel to the region though lovely to look at.


On the side of a mountains you could see a lone tree trying to hang on to its roots. How it survived when none did, surprises me.


As we kept walking and climbing, the number of butterflies increased. They seemed to be from the same family, ie. family of blue and brown butterflies. I came across this small bush, by the side of the road, on which there must have been 25 to 30 butterflies of the same colour. 


It was an amazing sight. 


Best thing about trekking is (as compared to going by the jeep) you can stop whenever you catch sight of a breathtaking view. And there were numerous such views. the road goes winding on and on. In the above photograph, if you concentrate, you will notice an arch way at the end of the path. We thought the view point must be close behind it. 


Once you reach the archway you can see the view point. It was at least 2 kms. from the archway. At the foot of the hill, there is a sort of an office, and a few police personnel were there. Th reach the viewpoint we had to climb a short hill. There is a pavilion at the summit and spiral staircase leading to the roof. 


We rested our feet inside the pavilion for some time and unpacked our lunch and did justice to the sandwiches and soft drinks. From the top you get a 360 degrees view of the western ghats. You will only see mountains and row upon row, and finally they merge into the sky. 

They said the views during rainy season and past the monsoons are spectacular. The march light created its own special effects.
The air was fresh and pure, the sky hazy, the views serene and no habitation any where close, you can contemplate, be part of the scenery, marvel at the majesty of the mountains, and if you love nature in all its varied manifestations, then do not miss Mandalpatti view point if you are in the vicinity of Coorg.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

MERCARA GOLD (COFFEE) ESTATE

The thought of freshly brewed South Indian filter coffee, first thing in the morning, conjures up images of a steaming mug of dark brown coffee along with wonderful aroma. The taste buds gear up for the delicious brew. How many could resist such temptation? 

I must confess here that the only knowledge I had about coffee is - The coffee powder is made out of coffee beans. That is the sum total of everything I knew on this subject. Decided it is time to repair the lacuna!

On our recent holiday to Madikeri, on the corner of a busy street in town, we came across Mercara Coffee Estate, a coffee shop which sells coffee beans and powder. We were told they also conduct a tour of the coffee estate for a nominal fee of Rs.150 per head, which includes a cup of hot coffee at the end of the tour!
We hired an autorikshaw for Rs.200 (to & fro), and off we went in search of coffee bushes / seeds / powder!
  
Mercara Gold Estate

The coffee estate is about 4 kms. from the town of Madikeri; we reached it via winding hilly roads, past other coffee estates. 
  

Roasting complex

Through the gates, we entered the  grounds and went to the Roasting complex which doubles up as office. One of the staff acted as a tour guide.  

 Coffee Plantation

The terrain is sloping and hilly, on the western ghats. The trees (mostly big ones) originally in the forest, were retained and in between spaces, coffee bushes were planted. That way, ecological balance seems to be maintained. 

 Robesta coffee bush

The coffee trees or bushes live up to 80 years, it seems. The trees which we saw were 35 years old and they were barely 5 feet tall. After the seeds are harvested, the trees are trimmed down to the trunk. 

Arabica coffee bush

Mercara Gold estate grows mainly two varies of coffee bushes, namely, Robesta and Arabica. They also grow Liberica coffee bushes, but far less than the above two.

  Coffee buds

The bushes were full of buds and blooms at this time of the year. They looked like the Jasmine buds.

 Coffee blooms

It is important the buds bloom on time, and it can happen only with rain. The staff was looking forward to some rain, for the sake of the buds. If it does not rain, then they spray the bushes with water with the help of sprinkler system. The very next day, the buds open up and bloom. They are white in colour and have a fragrant smell, just like Jasmine. 

 Close up of coffee blooms

As you pass through the region where there are coffee estates, you can smell the lovely fragrance of coffee blooms! I wondered how the same trees give out such diverse smells such as from the flowers and the seeds!


 Coffee seeds

Once the pollination takes place, the flowers give way to Seeds. Initially the seeds are light orange in colour and slowly turn to red and then dark red, as they age.

 Close up of coffee seeds

Clusters of seeds are formed at the nodes. The seeds are either left on the bushes for drying or harvested and then dried in the sun. 

 Coffee seeds drying

In the front yard, the coffee seeds were spread for drying. Since it looked like rain, they started covering them with plastic sheets.

 Separating husk from kernels

Once the seeds are dry, they are put through this machine to separate the husk from the kernels. At Mercara, they do the drying in house. There are also drying units who do this.

 Raw Coffee kernels 

The kernels are light greenish brown in colour.

 Coffee seed roasting machine

They are put through the roasting machine; 12.5 kgs of coffee beans are roasted for 40 -45 min. After roasting the beans become dark brown in colour and that is when the aroma of coffee comes out.

 Ready to use Coffee powder

The beans are ground and packaged as per the specifications. Mercara Gold Estate makes 100% pure coffee, and also coffee powder having 10%, 20%, 30% chicory. I was told, higher the chicory content stronger the coffee! 
At the end of the tour, they gave us hot 100% pure coffee and it was heavenly. I am not a coffee drinker but the taste remained with me even after days!

If you are in Madikeri, go and see Mercara Gold Estate and treat yourself to some wonderful filter coffee!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What is an FD?


Most of you must have heard the word FD. Let us understand what it means and how it affects our investments.

·         FD is short for ‘Fixed Deposit’. In India it is called ‘Fixed Deposit’ or a ‘Term Deposit’. It is called Term Deposit in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada, or a ‘Certificate of Deposit’ (CD in USA).

·         A Fixed Deposit is a financial instrument for investment. As the word suggests, a Fixed Deposit is fixed in nature, i.e. you are depositing your money for a fixed length of time and at a fixed rate of interest.

·         Banks accept Fixed Deposits and some companies too accept them. Generally the interest rates issued by Companies are higher than those given by Banks. Similarly, the interest rates given by private banks and Co-operative banks will be higher than Nationalised banks.

·         A Fixed Deposit is a Bond. The Bank or the Company who accepts the Fixed Deposit from an investor, issues a receipt for the same.

On the receipt are mentioned:
     Name of the Bank / company
     Investor’s name and address
     Nominee’s name
     PAN card number of the investor
     Deposit number
     Period of deposit
     Date of maturity
     Maturity amount
     Annualized yield (p.a) or Rate of Interest – 8. 5% etc.
     Interest frequency – Quarterly etc.

·         At the end of the time period of deposit, the original investment amount plus the interest will be returned to the investor.

Simple Calculation to show the interest received for a Fixed Deposit:
A.     For an initial deposit of Rs.10,000,
At the Rate of interest of 8.5% and
If time period for which the investment is made is 1 yr., and
Interest compounded Quarterly,
Amount received at the end of 1 yr. will be Rs.10,877
At the end of 1 year, Rs.10,000 becomes Rs.10,877. ie. an increase of Rs.877 on the initial investment.

Looks good, right?

Is it the actual case?

No.

·         Because, there is something called TDS or Tax deducted at source. All banks & companies deduct tax before returning your money, if the interest exceeds Rs.10,000 (as per SBI).
Take for example, TDS is 20%. On Rs.877, the tax deducted is Rs.175.40. You will only receive Rs.10,701.60.

Supposing Inflation is at 5.1%. It means, that Inflation eats into the interest earned on the Fixed deposit. Effectively, your Rs.10,000 one year back, invested at the rate of 8.5% interest is worth only Rs.10,191.60 today.
If the interest rate is lower than 8.5%, you can imagine how much you will be earning on your Rs.10,000!

Not very inspiring and motivating, is it?

So, should you invest your money in a fixed deposit for an effective 1.91% interest per year?

Yes and No.

·         If there is a requirement for cash in the next few years, then it is prudent to hold the money in Fixed deposits. On the other hand, if you don’t need cash in the next few years, and you can invest for the long term, it is wise to consider other financial investment options which give better returns.