You can do Coorg in several ways. You could stay in a luxury resort, camp in a tent pitched on the cool hillside, enjoy a home-stay in Raj-style bungalows of coffee estates, or be a back-packer in a log room on a balcony that you reach by swinging yourself up on a rope and a prayer. Or, you could try a filthily opulent extravagance with heated pools, chocolate-dipped strawberries and champagne. I have tried Coorg in all the above ways and I must confess that while my soul might think otherwise, my body could quite easily get used to this whole filthy luxury thing.
At the slick resort that it unveiled in Madikeri last week, Taj Vivanta has pulled out all the stops to how you can experience this verdant part of the country. While we can go on about all the little details such as service, rooms and banquets that the Taj, and indeed most major hotel groups, do so well, the moment when the resort takes your breath away happens elsewhere. At the moment you enter it, in fact. You step through wide doors to a stunning wide-open, semi-circular lobby that’s perched like an eyrie on the very edge of a high hill with a spectacular view of the Western Ghats and valley spread out below. Standing there on that open terrace edged with a narrow pool of pebbled water, the strong wind tugging at your hair and nothing but sky between you and the view, it’s easy to forget humdrum earth. You could be a bird, resting before taking wing again to tumble freely in the clouds.
A cup of hot bella kaapi — Coorgi black coffee sweetened with jaggery — brings you back to earth but in a comforting way, and you are now ready for the more mundane moments. Not that I can really call the deep tissue massage that follows mundane, as the Tibetan masseuse kneads every kink out of my aching muscles most satisfyingly. I need it, especially after that very long drive (seven hours) from Bangalore that tested patience and fortitude severely. Later that evening, I find that I also definitely need the exotic cocktails concocted by celebrated flair bartender Attila. It’s getting easier to see just why all these little hedonistic details are so indispensable.
The nature walk next morning makes hardly a ripple on the surface of this lotus-eating. It’s a sweet little exercise designed to make us feel all outdoorsy while ensuring we don’t break a single pretty fingernail. But nothing can take away from the sheer beauty of a shola forest and its denizens, and our guide is a genius. We see funnel spider webs and wild cinnamon and learn about the annoyingly pushy bracken. The resort has tied up with Muddy Boots for forest walks and birding sessions and it’s a brilliant idea.
You can’t avoid Nature here — it’s vast, stunningly beautiful, and all around you. And the resort celebrates this in the best possible way. The restaurants, cottages and activity centres, sprawled across 180 acres of rainforest, are all tucked away into the hills and landscape, almost organically blended in. My cottage has three walls of windows that look out on the forest, with both bed and bath-tub facing outdoors. I wake up to the call of a Malabar whistling thrush. We have strawberries at breakfast that are grown on the property.
Of course, they organise activities — there’s pottery and meditation, yoga, tours and walks. For the launch, we even had a champagne dinner serenaded by Grammy award-winning group Deep Forest and santoor star Rahul Sharma. Left to myself, though, I would use every minute to just soak in the amazing atmosphere of the place. Read a book on that breathtaking lobby balcony, look down at a wind-rippled patch of satiny paddy or lazily track swallows wheeling in the sky. Nights would be spent star-gazing, something the manager assures me is very much on the cards. You could call me lazy and you wouldn’t be wrong. But honestly, what better place to be lazy in?