April 2019 | 736 words | 3-minute read
It feels like we have time travelled. The bungalow with wooden columns, roof frames and a spacious courtyard characteristic of Kerala architecture perches atop a hill overlooking a lush coffee plantation. It is filled with sprawling rooms and exquisite Victorian furniture, and surrounded by little more than the sounds of nature, transporting us back to the 19th century.
We are at Cottabetta Bungalow, which is a part of Ama Plantation Trails. Formerly known as Tata Coffee Plantation Trails (winner of the Booking.com Guest Review Award in 2017), Ama Plantation Trails is part of the newest product offering by Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL): Ama Trails & Stays, a group of heritage bungalows, guesthouses and homestays at unique locations across the country.
In February this year, IHCL signed a management contract for nine heritage bungalows with Tata Coffee in Coorg and Chikmagalur and is adding two of its own bungalows in Goa by mid next year under the Ama umbrella.
After an early morning flight to Bengaluru and a 230-km drive, the plantation nestled in the perennially verdant mountains of Coorg, Karnataka, is everything we had hoped it would be. Fatigue instantly gives way to anticipation when a butler — every bungalow has a butler and a personal chef — welcomes us with a choice of a specially brewed Coorg coffee called bella kaapi or a fruit juice. We settle for the local brew, setting the tone for our stay.
When In Coorg
The sense of adventure at the Ama Plantation Trails is contagious. Every night here has a surprise in store, ranging from programmes that highlight local cultures to bonfires and barbecues.
On the first night, local students perform Coorg’s traditional dance called Ummathat while the chef serves up a lip-smacking spread of local dishes like kori (chicken), pandhi (pork) curry, kodumbuttu (rice dumplings) and irresistible coffee-spiked desserts.
The chef at Cottabetta bungalow also serves Indian cuisines of the north and the south, Chinese, continental and a wide variety of desserts, but with all that the Coorg cuisine has to offer, we recommend you go local.
From Bean To Cup
The local community is at the core of the plantation.
In keeping with Jamsetji Tata’s vision, Ama Plantation Trails encourages local talent, particularly in their naturalists. They believe in having someone who has lived in the area and loves it, explain life amid the rich flora and fauna.
A leisurely early morning walk comes alive with a naturalist who can explain the botanical names of each plant in English and Kannada. As we stroll around the private nine-hole golf course, he identifies bird songs and calls, mimics some and helps us spot great black woodpeckers, the Malabar Grey Hornbill and more. The forest around us is home to some 300 avian species and a treat for bird watchers.
While an early morning walk might not be for everyone, the one thing you should not miss out on here is the ‘Bean-to-Cup’ safari.
The safari takes us through the plantation in a vehicle that has been customised for Ama Plantation Trails by Tata Motors. We stop to smell the coffee flowers, the source of the fragrant toiletries we have been indulging in back at the bungalow. We also get to pluck coffee cherries, which don’t carry the aroma of the beverage just yet, and learn about how they are processed.
November to March, we are told, are the best months to visit the plantation trails to catch the picking of coffee beans. However, with so much to see and do, Ama Plantation Trails is one of those places that you can visit any time of the year.
Unconventionally, Ama Plantation Trails also has a tea estate in Coorg, making it perhaps the only company to provide the opportunity to experience life on a coffee plantation and a tea estate in a single trip. The gentle undulating hills of the Glenlorna estate are a dramatic change of landscape from the tree-shaded coffee plantation.
And they are both a wrench to get away from. Indulgences aside, where else would you have the chance to hold a butterfly in your hand one day and enjoy an unexpected midnight sighting of an elephant the next?