Call it whatever you fancy: Scotland of India, Kashmir of South or simply Coorg. Just five hours away from bustling Bangalore, this picturesque hill station captivates you with its charm. The soothing vistas of tea and coffee plantations and the fragrance of teak lingers in your memory long after you have left the hills behind.
It was late in the evening as the car slowly meandered up the muddy dirt tracks to the Woshully Estate, Plantation Trails, the newly opened holiday homes set amidst Tata Coffee estates in Pollibetta. But the rarified fresh air of the hills was unmistakable and I grinned with delight and anticipation when the cell phone started losing network, one bar at a time.
As the car turned into the main gates of the estate, the chirruping of crickets, the riotous green of shrubs and trees glistening with dew, immediately soothed my smoke-polluted eyes. Tucked between the leaves you could spot those green berries, which, come December, would turn blood red and enhance the tranquil beauty of the already picture perfect scenery.
Plantation Trails is a new venture launched by Tata Coffee, Asia's largest plantation company. These holiday homes are actually heritage bungalows that fell vacant after the downsizing of the company's management staff. Before we left Bangalore, Tata Coffee's managing director, MH Ashraff, had explained the company's reasons for venturing into hospitality: "It is a pioneering endeavour for us. There is an increasing demand for eco-tourism and we are sure Plantation Trails will make a great destination for tourists this season. We would like people to visit our plantations and see what we are doing with nature and how we look after the area. I am glad to say that the Plantations Trails is becoming very popular. We have four bungalows at present and plan to have eight more. Even with the four bungalows we have been doing very well and have been making profits."
Judging by our experience at the Woshully Estate, Ashraff's optimism is more than justified. This estate has a total of four cottages which come equipped with their own cook-cum-caretaker and are reminiscent of the Raj era. The rooms, adorned with splendid rosewood panels, wooden flooring and large airy windows, are spacious and cosy. Some rooms open out into little balconies that let you enjoy the cool air, while some others have fireplaces.
Back to nature
I was delighted when I entered Taneerhulla Cottage, my home for the duration of the stay. The rooms were simply furnished but comfortable, with a laundry service and a doctor on call. What is interesting to note is the absence of a television in the rooms. Dumping the bags in my room, I walked outside to sit on the lawn. The beautiful night sky was awash with stars and there was a cool breeze blowing — the perfect setting to enjoy a perfect pot of delicious coffee, thoughtfully brought out by Ram Das, the man Friday at Taneerhulla.
Dinner was delicious; Ram Das had rustled up a mean vegetable curry out of the humble radish. He also serves a different desert every night. Soul at peace and in complete harmony with the environment, I turned in for the night.
The following day, I awoke to the sound of birds serenading the morning sun. The birds flock to the numerous fruit trees that abound in this place. Indeed, one of the chief attractions of this holiday destination is bird watching. There are guides here who will enthusiastically point out more than 300 species, including pheasants, green pigeons, doves, Malabar pied hornbills, bee-eaters, bulbuls and more.
Plantation Trails offers an authentic experience of life on a plantation. The project is looked after by the wives of planters — Radhika Muthana, Sapna Chittiappa, Revathi Chengappa, Anisha Ganapathy, Priya Ashok, Sareena Rajeev, Gayathri Somaiya, Shilpa Muthanina and Jessy George. For the women it is both an interesting business venture and an opportunity to meet new people and introduce them to the charm of living on a plantation.
Speaking on behalf of the ladies, MB Ganapathy, senior manager of Tata Coffee's Woshully Estate, says, "They are very happy with the opportunities that Plantation Trails has opened up for them. It gives them a great sense of achievement and also a source of income."
Eager to explore, I quickly had a delicious breakfast of an omelette and appam with stew, washed down with, what else, but a cup of perfect coffee. We first went around some of the neighbouring 18 estates spread over 20,000 acres.
Unlike the tea bushes, the coffee plants are not spread uniformly and in between are pepper vines and trees like rosewood, teak and other quick growing species that are used for timber. Cardamom bushes and orange trees are also planted which is perhaps why there are so many different shades of green as far as the eye can see.
On the trail
The plantations offer a number of activities. You can walk in and around the estates and if you are lucky, spot a lumbering elephant. A guided tour of the coffee-making process is quite an interesting experience. The sports enthusiast can enjoy many facilities — tennis, table tennis, badminton, billiards and of course golf. For those who just want to relax, sitting on the lawns of the cottage, a good book and a hot pot of coffee is pure heaven.
We went white water rafting an hour away from Woshully Estate. The facility, run by a local establishment, costs extra but is well worth it. In the evening, I visited the Bamboo Club which is frequented by the planters of the area and is over 100 years old. Polished wooden floors and ever-attentive staff are the highlights of this charming club. Alternatively, you could opt for a bonfire and a barbecue — a great way to unwind.
On my last day, we visited Kushalnagar, an hour and a half away from Coorg. It is home to the second largest Tibetan settlement outside Tibet and the Namdrolong Monastery, a dazzling structure that houses breathtaking gold statues of the Buddha. One can shop for Tibetan souvenirs and sample delicious cuisine; or visit Tata Coffee's curing works and watch the dried coffee beans being roasted, ground and packaged.
A weekend is not enough to explore this region as there is so much more to Coorg. There is Madikeri, a pretty hill station and Nagarhole National Park, a wildlife sanctuary where one can spot various birds, flying squirrels, elephants and leopards. There is a jumbo safari at the Dubare elephant training camp for those interested. The people at Plantation Trails are happy to make travel arrangements and draw up an itinerary for guests.
Sunday morning came too soon and it was time to return to the daily grind. As the car sped past the coffee plants and my cell phone slowly came back to life, I made a silent vow to return and rejuvenate in the beautiful and relaxing atmosphere that Plantations Trails offers.
The next time you are in Bangalore or are planning a holiday, stop by the Plantation Trails and enjoy nature at her greenest and best. Believe me, you won't come back disappointed!
Click here for a photo display of Plantation Trails
By air: Nearest airports are Mangalore (135km), Calicut (170km) and Bangalore (260km)
By rail: Nearest railway stations are Tellecherry (110km), Mysore (120km) and Mangalore (135km)
By road: Nearest bus stations are Gonicoppal (9km) and Mysore (120km)
For reservations at Plantation Trails
Pollibetta 571 215
Telephone: +91 (08274) 251 428, 251 411-21
Fax: +91 (08274) 251 425