A home stay at a green refuge in Thippanahalli leaves behind comfortable and contented memories.

It sounds like a chord on a mandolin: Thippanahalli. We liked the sound of it even before we knew where it was. And when we did locate it on our mental map, we liked it even more. “It’s 15 kms from Chikmagalur,” said our friend in K arnataka Tourism. Chikmagalur is often associated with the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi and coffee: a yellowing news-item on the far frontiers of remembrance. But Thippanahalli was even more remote. Excellent.

We had been travelling in a car for over a month; stopping, questioning, photographing; stacking up new impressions. Now we wanted a little spell of peace and congeniality to clear our minds and let our teeming memories settle down into an ordered matrix that we could mine for a book.

Heritage and history

We found our green refuge at the end of a long and winding road, snaking between forests of tall trees, cloaked in pepper vines, shading burgeoning bushes of coffee. Unexpectedly, the forest stepped back, a manicured garden spread and, in the centre of the garden, was a red-and-white manor. It breathed the quiet confidence of heritage and history: shooting trophies on the walls, a framed family tree, portraits of the ancestors, formal rooms, informal rooms, dogs in the kennels, a ginger cat with a plume of a tail, and cottages in the grounds. We were shown to one of these cottages: it had a name, Robusta, as all good cottages should. If we had been cats, we’d have purred!

That is how one should feel in a Home Stay: comfortable, cared for, contented.

Out host and hostess, Ravishankar and Meera Araluguppe, and their son and daughter-in law, Nitin and Arpitha, have descended from a long line of planters. That first evening, over coffee and cakes and the sun glowing on the bric-a-brac acquired over generations of understated affluence, we asked Meera why they had opened Thippanahalli to home-stays. Her reply was revealing. “We grew up in extended families, with relatives coming and going all the time. But now, the old joint families have broken up, relatives have migrated to other lands, it’s not the same any more.” She smiled wistfully. “We felt that it would be nice to have other people visiting us; sharing our home...”

In spite of our plans to sequester ourselves, we were drawn into the warm circle of this family. We spoke of coffee and the yearly cycle of the plantation with Ravi, gardening and the fascinating day-to-day activities of her establishment with Meera. And went for a walk along a trekking trail through the estate with Arpitha. Nitin was away for much of the working day paying the workers and attending to the endless cycle of nurturing and harvesting in the estate.

Enriching experience

That’s the difference between a home-stay and a hotel. At best, hotels give guests impersonal efficiency with a veneer of caring. In home-stays, hosts behave like family, ask guests where they’ve been, what they’ve seen, what they’d like to do, and then they enrich all this with their own views and experiences. And it was these conversations with the family that prompted us to explore.

Every morning, when we had sipped coffee on the verandah of our cottage, we had seen the mist rising out of the forests, wreathing the wooded mountains beyond, and noosing a high peak with light. Ravi said that it was the highest in Karnataka with the mellifluous name of Mullaiannagir. We decided to drive up to the top of that mountain.

From the heights of Mullaiannagir, the green ridges of the Malnad region of the Western Ghats stretched down to the densely wooded plantations, and then on to the flatlands, patched with fields and highlighted with the glisten of blue of lakes and wetlands.

Tattered veils of mist drifted over the mountains trailing shape-shifting shadows in their wake. It was very beautiful in an untamed, Lord of the Rings sort of way. We decided to drive on to a legendary settlement: the sacred birthplace of Indian coffee

Baba Budan was the affectionate name given to a Muslim hermit who, reputedly, smuggled six coffee beans out of Arabia, and planted them in these hills. Legends have been woven around this revered man and the cave in which he lived.

The cave is also associated with Sage Dattatreya. The followers of these two spiritual leaders lived in perfect harmony for many generations till politics raised its divisive head in the late 20th century.

Divisive politics

Peace and harmony have now, apparently, been restored but it has left this sanctified place looking like a cross between a concentration camp, with barbed wire fences, and a construction site, with the façade of the cave covered in corrugated iron sheets. The cave is in danger of total collapse but everyone treats it with kid gloves and people with kid gloves are too finicky to repair anything. The roadside hamlet of Baba Budan is little more than a garbage-littered shanty town when it could be a prosperous pilgrimage centre.

On our last night in Thippanahalli, Ravi invited us to visit his Chikmagalur Golf Club. It’s a superb facility in a beautiful, mountain-backed, setting. Planters of Ravi’s and Meera’s generation have the means, and the background, to take life with unhurried grace. And to convey this equanimity to their guests.

In a frazzled world, absorbing that serenity could be a major gain for many opting for a Home Stay in Thippanahalli.

Quick facts

Getting There: Air to Mangalore and then 123 km by road; or Bangalore and then 250 km by road via Hassan and Belur.

Railhead: Kadur and then 75 km by road.

Accommodation: Two Cottages @ Rs. 5000 double with all meals or three Rooms at Rs.4000 double with all meals.

Reservation: 08262-247474/247475. E-mail: thippanahallihomestay@rediffmail.com

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