STAND AND STARE A WHILE AT THE TATA COFFEE PLANTATION TRAILS IN COORG
Every time I, a self-confessed tea-lover, go for scouting the flavourful Darjeeling, the grocery shelves spill over with that one, trusted, ubiquitous brand- Tata Tea. It is no wonder that while searching for hotels in the Coorg district, when I came across bungalows owned by Tata Coffee Plantation Trails, I was pleasantly surprised. Coffee and Tata? I didn’t know that Tata owns almost forty thousand acres of coffee plantation in Coorg and Chikmagaluru put together. I didn’t know that eighty percent of the coffee produce goes to Starbucks. I didn’t know that sixty percent of the profit incurred from the bungalows-turned-into-hotels are used to educate children with special needs. I didn’t know many things, not until my husband and I decided to stay at the Woshully Bungalow, a one hundred thirty-eight year old heritage, British-era built bungalow.
One of the reviews enlightened us that the Priyanka Chopra starrer ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’ was shot in this bungalow. That got me more excited. We drove from Bangalore on a breezy, rain-swept day in early June. The monsoon had just hit Kerala.
Coorg is greener than one can imagine. Driving through the tree-lined state highway, punctuated with houses of tiled roof transported us to an old world, lost but much cherished. The road, leading up to the bungalow cuts across coffee plantations that rise on the right and slope on the left. This area of Polibetta is spotlessly clean. Owned and maintained by the Tatas, this has a sprawling golf-course, a co-operative store, the officer’s sports club and the other bungalows.
Woshully Bungalow is quaint. With its tiled roof and rosewood pillars in the roomy verandah it exudes an old world charm. The lawn in the foreground is small but pretty with lilac and carnation hydrangeas lining its edges. The rain drops on the blossoms had weighed down on their fragile leaves making them droop in the steady wind.
This bungalow is a living vestige of colonial etiquette. So as soon as one drives down their parking lot, one can expect a staff, dressed in ivory, to welcome you and usher you to the precinct of the bungalow. There is the customary welcome drink. But as a first time boarder what really intrigues one is the surrounding- acres and acres of coffee plantation, whichever direction your eyes take you. We were given a small tour of the sitting area and the dining area, the colonial furniture, the crockeries daintily seated inside glass cupboards. Lunch was a Coorgi affair. So sumptuous was it that we could finish only one portion though we were served for two. Post lunch when the rains had relented, we took a stroll down the Polibetta road. Barely any vehicle plied down this green stretch. The road, interestingly, had a carpeted look in patches from the recently trimmed side hedges. We walked for almost a kilometre down the road with the swooshing sound of the trees as company and the greenery for a treat. When in need of soothing the mind and finding a solace Nature is unparalleled.
In the late afternoon we drove down to the golf course for a guided birding tour. The rain would pour intermittently. This would mean we always had an umbrella in tow. While we were told that the Malabar Grey Hornbill is often spotted we were not that lucky. We had to be content with a common kingfisher that perched on a wooden staff jutting out of a water body. So drenched was it in the rain that it could barely be spotted. We also spotted a couple of barbets. However what makes the heart jump with joy are the sprawling swathes of undulating greenery, so pristinely maintained that it makes you travel to another world.
In the evening, we sat in the verandah listening to crickets. It was dark outside except for the beam of a car light winding down the Polibetta Road. We were served hot pumpkin soup. The trees in the plantation, swaying in the breeze, crooned into the nightly air until their generated wind caressed us. It was still drizzling. We had been narrated incidents of elephants breaking in in search of jack fruits. We waited for a considerable amount of time to witness such an adventure, but we weren’t in for luck. Dinner was again a delicious one. We called it a night. But not before reminding the staff that they should awaken us if they heard an elephant.
The next morning, we woke up to overcast skies. It was about to pour any moment. However after grabbing a quick breakfast, we set off for Madikeri. Barely a kilometre into the journey it had started raining. We drove through luxuriant greenery as our car wiper battled with the increasing rain. Visibility was gradually decreasing and the famed Western Ghats were nowhere in sight, enveloped as they were in the clouds. We drove over bridges, under which the river gurgled ferociously. The roads were narrow with small houses strewn here and there. They were lined with tall coconut trees which swayed precariously in the violent wind. We were almost near Madikeri when we decided to take a u-turn because of the inclement weather and rightly so because on our return we had to take detours twice due to fallen trees or overflowing bridges. It was quite an adventurous drive because the google maps wouldn’t work and we were almost caught in a never-ending maze. Fortunately google had mercy on us, the map was displayed and we drove to the hotel. It was lunch time when we reached the hotel.
Post lunch we rested in the balcony. The rain had stopped. But the gentle breeze still danced with the trees. The swooshing sound was nothing but Nature’s music. Just then we found a small but colourful bird fidgeting among the moist leaves. There was one more and more came in hordes. Upon close observation we found there were primarily two varieties- the common leafbird and the vernal hanging parrot. Both the birds are exquisitely beautiful, camouflaging them in the green leaves. The vernal hanging parrot, hitherto unseen, particularly stole my heart. How beautifully it hung inversely and nibbled on the fruits. When the rains had stopped completely their chirrup knew no end. To give them company, the ever-restless squirrels too joined the party. We spotted wood peckers, racket-tailed drongo, nuthatch, jungle myna, minivet too but at a distance. Our disappointment at not having been able to visit the usual tourist sights were washed away by the unexpected sights that Nature and these guests entertained us with.
The next morning we were given a guided trip through the coffee plantations. Though it was still raining, the guide was enthusiastic enough to stop the car at various places and show us samples of cardamom, cinnamon and coffee beans. He also narrated an amazing fact. Elephants love the coffee bean odour and feed on them which in turn makes them inebriated. On many an occasion elephants, unfortunately, have been electrocuted in such an inebriated state. We drove through slushy, undulating tracks around the plantation. We drove back to the hotel, had our breakfast and bid adieu to this beautiful place until the next visit.
If one wishes to stay at the Tata Coffee Plantation Trails bungalows, one should relax and unwind here. The sights and sounds here are enough to rejuvenate one. One need not visit the tourist spots. This is the place where one can merely ‘stand and stare’ and not worry about the cares of the world. While browsing through the reviews of these bungalows, a reviewer had succinctly brought out the essence of this place: Take a sip of life in the slow lane. This is indeed the slow lane that we seldom get to tread in today’s commotion.