COTTABETTA BUNGALOW

SOUTH KODAGU, KARNATAKA

USP: Live the planter's life

There is freshness in the crisp air caressing your face. Picture-postcard greenery fills your senses. Add to it a welcome shower. There is magic in Coorg, the coffee country.

The escape to the Tata plantation coffee trails in Coorg during the monsoon turns out to be a bonanza. After a six-hour drive from Bangalore, past the Mysore Highway, Ranganathittu bird sanctuary, bamboo forests, cinnamon trees interspersed with teak trees on which pepper vines climb to great heights, and the ubiquitous coffee plantations, we reach Tata's bungalow in Cottabetta (meaning cold mountain).

Tata owns seven bungalows in Coorg, and every bungalow is set amidst a 1,000 acre plantation. The three-bedroom and five-bedroom bungalows, occupied by the managers of Tata, have been converted into cottages, superior, luxury and heritage rooms and heritage suites. “The bungalows went vacant after the managers took VRS. As the butlers, cooks and gardeners continued working to maintain the bungalows, our management came up with the idea of homestays,” says K.C. Poovaiah, head of Plantation Trails, Tata Coffee.

Once occupied by British planters, the bungalows are more than 100 years old, but modified suitably for modern-day needs. Every bungalow is built on a higher elevation, overlooking the mountains and the plantations. Cottabetta is one of them. And, what a view! The majestic mountains open up — on the south is Kerala and to the North is Periyapatna, Kushal Nagar and the Madikeri hills.

As you take in the picturesque landscape from the portico, a curved road amidst the Tithimathi forests catches your eye. “It is a part of the Mysore Road,” Poovaiah explains. “When the British planters used to drive down, they would dim and dip the headlights at this point to alert the cooks.”

I check into one of the luxury rooms — the decoration is minimal but it has the comfort of a home. However, the bathroom is lavish with a bath tub. And, there is a beautiful balcony to sit and soak in the silence.

Barbets, drongos, golden orioles, parakeets, red whiskered bulbuls, flower peckers and sunbirds flutter by and feast on the jamuns, guavas, chikkus, mangoes and gooseberries, the inter-crops supported by the plantations.

Our tour of the bungalows begin with Woshulli, known for the spectacular view it offers of the Durbeen (binoculars) Road snaking through the plantations. (Vishal Bhardwaj has shot here for his new film “Saat Khoon Maaf”, starring Neil Nitin Mukesh, Priyanka Chopra and John Abraham.)

At the manicured 25-acre, nine-hole golf course in Polibetta, it is monsoon magic again. As it buckets down, we take cover under the majestic ficus tree, watch the rain pour down in sheets and sprint back to the car.

Then, we set off to Surgi bungalow and the plantation trail at Taneerhulla and Woshulli plantations spread across a sprawling 1,340 acres. “We get tonnes of litchis every year,” says plantation guide M.K. Umesh, pointing to the giant litchi tree (planted by the British) at the bungalow.

Umesh peppers the trail with scary elephant stories, and we stop at intervals to touch and smell coffee beans, pepper and vanilla. The Robusta coffee bushes here are 130 years old. Back at the bungalow, biting into crisp, hot onion pakodas served by the courteous staff, sipping coffee and watching the mist-capped hills is just the perfect way to end a beautiful outing in the hills.

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