09 Friday May, 2014
In March this year, Catriona embarked on a South Indian adventure and took her mother along for the ride. She started in Northern Kerala (read about her experiences here) and next she travelled to the underrated but fascinating state of Karnataka…
Our first stop was Coorg, a hill station situated between 900 and 1,750 metres above sea level, which provided a refreshing and enchanting welcome. This area is referred to as the ‘Coffee Cup of India’ as it grows some of the world’s best coffee. The lands are also rich with ancient trees, animals and spices – a real nature’s playground.
Our first night was spent at the Vivanta by Taj Madikeri which, having driven through a think band of fog, popped out of nowhere as we rose higher and higher until we reached our 4,000 feet goal. The resort is spread across 180 acres of living rainforest and offers contemporary living within nature. It is ideal as a family resort as there is plenty to see and do – from trekking in the rainforest to pottery classes.
The following morning we drove to Bylakuppe, a town of over 20,000 people and home to one of the largest Tibetan settlements in India. It is famed for the Namdroling Nyingmapa Monastery, which is the largest teaching centre of Nyingmapa (a lineage of Tibetan Buddhism) in the world, home to over 5,000 monks and nuns. You truly feel like you have hopped over the border to Tibet! The main temple was awe-inspiring and we managed to stay for afternoon prayers, which was unlike anything I have experienced before with communal chanting of hundreds of monks with drums and bells.
We then made our way back up into the Coorg hill station and found ourselves at Orange County Coorg. Gorgeous and green, you really are surrounded by a living plantation. We took a plantation tour (the resort is set within 300 acres!) and saw that we were surrounded by nature’s best, from bird’s eye chilli plants to pepper trees, from fruit trees to coffee, this plantation seems to have it all. After the tour, we retreated to one of the restaurants where we sampled the hotels home-grown coffee, which was fresh and delicious, before going back to our glorious room where our private pool looked invitingly at us. The rooms at Orange County Coorg are designed to be true to the local ‘Kodava’ architecture and with the deep terracotta tile floor and the traditional plantation furniture, we really felt as if we were in our own little hideaway. At night, as we dined in ‘Peppercorn’, we could hear the elephants stomping around the hotels coffee plantation only metres away. Luckily, for the hotel, elephants don’t like coffee; they are just interested in the plants surrounding them! As for us, we certainly ate like an elephant that night as we were brought plate after plate of delicious food!
The following morning as we left the hotel, we knew we were in for a treat. Orange Country Coorg had looked after us exceptionally so Orange County Kabini could only be the same… and we were not disappointed. Situated on the waters’ edge (you can reach the resort by either road or boat depending on which direction you are coming from), the hotel is a haven for bird life. As we were shown to our room, we walked the winding paths and ended up at a divine cottage. As we opened the gate, we were greeted by a lovely courtyard with a private pool. We knew exactly where we would be spending our free time! The room, just like the room in Coorg was huge and there were touches of safari in the décor, which made them feel elegant and authentic.
Whilst we were in Kabini we went on two jeep safaris and a boat safari around Nagarhole National Park. Both ways of spotting game held ample opportunities to spot the famed leopards and tigers. Although luck didn’t allow us to see any cats, we saw plenty of other wildlife from crocodiles to elephants. Wildlife is always such a pleasure to behold and a very exciting experience. I would go back in a heartbeat!
After our wildlife adventure, we reluctantly left Orange County Kabini and headed off to Mysore. This small city certainly had its ways of surprising us as we went on a walking tour with Royal Mysore Walks. Vinay, our guide was an absolute pleasure and he showed us the interesting side of the city whilst incorporating historical facts. The local market, named Devaraja, is one of the largest in the area and has over 800 stalls selling everything from incense to bananas and flowers to spices. Having visited many local markets throughout India, this is certainly my favourite – a true local haunt that sells to you at local prices.
Whilst in Mysore, we also visited the palace, which has an impressive history. Walking through the grounds and the palace takes you back in time and you can only admire the amount of thought (and money!) that went into creating this masterpiece. It houses items from across the globe from Italian chandeliers to British made columns and tiles. At night, the palace is lit up with thousands of light bulbs, which gives you a completely different view.
Our last stop in Karnataka was Bangalore, but not before we climbed the 800 steps up Sravanabelgola, an important pilgrimage destination for the Jains. Although a long way up, the shallow steps made it more bearable and the view from the top was amazing. We were glad to have left Mysore at 7am to get there in time before the sun was too hot! What was most impressive was the statue of Lord Gommateshwara, the world’s largest monolithic stone statue which towered over us as we reached the top.
Three hours later, we were in the vibrant city of Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, and in our cushy luxury suite at the Taj West End. You would never think you were in a city staying here as you are surrounded by ancient trees, plants, flowers and the sound of bird song. As we looked around the hotel, we wished we had more time here, to experience what previous guests would have done (Sir Winston Churchill and rock star royalty Steven Taylor from Aerosmith have stayed here), but unfortunately, business called and we were up early the following morning to fly to Goa.