We shoot down the Bangalore-Mysore expressway at incredible speed, but fail to shake off the urban landscape. It is as if the city has extruded itself to fill spaces that were once the coconut groves and paddy fields of my girlhood days. A diversion brings us to a quainter, and bumpier, ‘local road’. Slowly the scruffy quasi-industrial landscape dries up as we turn into the tree-lined road to Gonikoppa.
I lose myself in the gigantic bamboo thickets and sky-shattering canopies whizzing past. Soon the undergrowth seems to thin out and appears more regular. Too regular...pruned bushes...coffee country! The road winds gently around soft slopes glistening in the monsoon sprinkle, and leads me through a white-and-blue gate. I have arrived at the Tata Coffee Woshully Estate.
Coorg is a tamed wilderness. The British domesticated these ancient forests to carve out estates in the most spectacular locales. They were private, of course: you had to be a sahib or akin to one to sojourn in the estate bungalows. All this is irrelevant now because I am at the porch of the Taneerhulla Cottage, one of the private bungalows that Tata Coffee has thrown open to guests.
The porch overlooks a well-groomed lawn dotted with anthurium. The divide between the living quarters and estate is a narrow strip of lawn with coffee bushes peeping over the fence. I expected the ‘cottage’ to be a tiny space with frilly curtains and basic comforts. But this place is, to use a Victorian term, ‘well appointed’.
Ramdasan, the chef, places steaming coffee before me. I accept graciously, successfully camouflaging my tea fundamentalism. Richie Ponanna, my guide, leads me first to the drawing room with its comfortable couches and generous windows. A warm kitchen adjoins a dining space, the high point of which is the crockery cupboard. I rush to complete my toilette. The estate managers have invited me for a tour.
We bounce down wet slopes in a jeep, gathering nuggets of history. I learn that Woshully is one among the many estates of the Polibetta area which were managed by British Consolidated Coffee since 1943 before being taken over by Tata Coffee.
I finally understand the technical difference between a cottage and a bungalow when we visit Taneerhulla Bungalow. From the outside it appears solid and practical, set amidst elderly trees. A commanding porch opens into a lovingly polished rosewood staircase. There is a flurry of activity, as the bungalow is being refurbished. The gracious women who manage the bungalow guesthouses, all of them managers’ spouses, lead me into the drawing room. Six of me can fit into the bay window. And there are eight of these gorgeous spots for basking in the winter sunshine or watching the afternoon rain.
It has been years since I saw a real cloakroom, so I linger there. All rooms, including the five bedrooms, have working fireplaces. The bathrooms are large enough to tango in but, sadly, the fittings are new. Wood-fired kitchen stoves, a king-sized pantry, and a round jewel of a dining table...
Next, Woshully Bungalow. The façade is distinctly Coorg, with a long, tiled verandah suggestive of the ainmane, the traditional homestead. The bungalow offers a telescopic view of the entire stretch of road though the estate.
At dinner, conversation centres around the famous ghost of Anandpur Estate. There is much laughter and the managers trade estate stories. Every now and then, one of the ladies slides quietly behind the doors of the kitchen. I realise that this is the touch that makes my stay comfortable and homey, without feeling like I have intruded on somebody’s private space.
The next day, after a visit to the elegant Glenlorna Bungalow, we head to the river to see whitewater rafting in action. Estate Manager C.U. Ashok expertly manoeuvres the jeep downhill. We hear the river almost as soon as we see it, a white frothy ribbon set in jade. The olive-green river is guarded on all sides by archaic sentinels — great-grandfather trees stretching up to the sky. There is a deep silence despite the chatter of boys getting ready to go for a ride on the rafts. It’s a beautiful, serene experience.
On the drive back, I make a list of things I could do on a longer holiday here: amateur historiography of the old Anandpur cemetery, a visit to the church, where the first Victoria Cross in India was awarded in 1917, a round of golf... Then again maybe I’d be content to laze around, walk the trails, and visit my friend, the river.
Tata Coffee, which owns large tracts of plantations in Coorg’s coffee-growing areas, has opened five of its managers’ bungalows as ‘holiday homes’. All are ‘heritage’ buildings, built in the colonial style. The bungalows have three bedrooms each, and have dedicated staff including a cook. Though seemingly set in the middle of nowhere (actually Polibetta in Coorg), a holiday at the bungalows come with such luxuries as room service, a laundry service and, yes, television. Activities include open-jeep drives through the plantations to learn about coffee-making techniques; bird watching; trekking in the surrounding hills; and playing golf at the Tata Coffee Golf Course. Contact www.tatacoffee.com