There are scores of palaces of former Maharajas that have been converted into hotels where commoners like you and I can rent rooms and spend few nights living like royalty. The Tamara Kodai is as posh as any of them but with a distinctly different lineage. La Providence, its central property, was built in 1847 and started life as the residence of a British district judge. It was one of the first buildings to come up in Kodaikanal at a time when it was populated largely by nomadic tribes.
The Jesuits took over the place a few years later and converted it into retreat for their priests to escape the heat and dust of Nagapattinam. They were missionary teachers at St. Joseph’s College. More recently, the property was bought by the Tamara hospitality chain and carefully restored keeping in mind its monastic heritage.
The Tamara Kodai, a five-star resort, opened for business in May this year and it has set a new benchmark for luxury for hotels in our hill stations. Tucked away among the pine and eucalyptus trees, it is at some distance from the hustle and bustle of Kodaikanal Lake and the crowded bazaar in the centre of town.
There are 53 suites, designed in colonial style, with wooden floors. Each suite has a spacious living room, electric heaters for chilly nights and a private balcony where you can enjoy a drink or two. These four-suite cottages are on landscaped lawns and a short walk away from the colonial-era main building, the centre of activities. If you don’t feel like walking, you can phone for a buggy to pick you up.
On the floor above the lobby, where the priests once presumably slept, there is a spa with five well-equipped massage rooms where you can have an Ayurvedic massage and come out smelling of exotic oils. Or you can go for the more vigorous Swedish massage with a choice of a heavy, moderate or light rub. I suggest you spend some time afterwards in the steam room. It will take away the aches and pains of any hike or ride you may have undertaken in the surrounding forests.
Among the other amenities of the resort are a crèche for children, a yoga lounge and a state-of-the-art fitness centre.
The old chapel built by the Jesuits has been has been refurbished and converted into a restaurant. The beautiful stained-glass windows will remind you of its monastic past. This is where you will have your bacon and eggs, sausages, idlis and sambar at breakfast. At lunch and dinner they lay out a lavish buffet of international and local dishes. This being Tamil Nadu, the non-vegetarian dishes are on a separate counter.
If your preference is for à la carte, you should head for the French-style bistro around the corner, next to the bar. You can sit indoors or, if the weather permits, outdoors. There is a well-stocked wine cellar with bottles from around the world to suit all pockets. On a sunny day you can head for Levinge Lounge at the highest point on the property and order your food and drinks there. Take along your swimsuit and take a plunge in the adjoining outdoor pool. It is heated and can be used even when the weather gets cold.
The mountains and valleys around Kodai have spectacular waterfalls, gently cascading streams and numerous lakes. One can hike along well-marked treks or pick up a bicycle from the hotel and take it a for a ride. Guides are available. Keep an eye out for birds and animals lurking in the woods. On my second day, I visited a sheep station in a jeep, an hour’s drive away. As we descended down the rough road, the view of the lush grasslands below reminded me of New Zealand.
Kodai residents are proud of their purple blue flower, kurinji, which blossoms every twelve years. The mornings can be quite chilly but if you are able to dislodge yourself from your warm bed, the sight of the sun rising over the hills can be very rewarding.
On my last night at The Tamara I decided to dine under the skies on the outdoor deck just a door away from the restaurant. I sat with some of my newly acquired friends at a table close to a roaring log fire. The staff pampered us first with starters: chicken tikkas, fish fingers and kebabs. That went down very well with my glass of Scotch. My companions wisely stuck to beer. For the main course I settled for a pepperoni pizza. It came the way I had requested it, with a thin crust. I drowned it with a glass of Chianti. It was heaven or, at eight thousand feet above sea level, close to it.