Why you need to head to Madikeri to reconnect with nature

Make a nest in Madikeri, Coorg…

Have you ever dodged heavy doses of strongly discouraging feedback about an oncoming trip? Just days short of your travel plans? When anticipation levels are headed north? Pay no heed, because you, dear traveler, have your own agenda of discovery. Follow the advise of the old Chinese proverb…“Don’t listen to what they say. Go see”. Better still, draw strength from our true story. We kept our spirits high, stuck to our plans, went to Coorg and returned celebrating the precision of our instincts.

From Bangalore, hit the curvy Hassan highway for a pleasant 6-hour drive through the countryside. A hazy mountain outline signals Kodagu territory. As you roll past Madikeri town, the line-up of homegrown coffee-chocolate-wine shops and Tibetan monks in deep red-garb announces that nap-time is officially over. Inspect the scatter of traditional Kodava houses while you can, because soon you’ll be remotely away from habitation. Ensconced in your new nest in nature…Taj Madikeri Resort & Spa, Coorg.

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10 kilometres away from the property, turn off Google maps and follow the signboards along the narrow road through the thicket. Curving left and right, up and down. Along borders of endless green. On and on. Deeper and deeper into the woodland. 8 kilometres, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3. Endless neck cranes, constant peering. Are we there yet? Finally…rewards! A gated check post, a drive-in patio and a warm welcome at lobby. Impatient footsteps to the vast deck opposite. Jaw-drop. Wide-angle pan. And stunned silence. The limitless vastness of the rainforest infinity sprawling before you, broken only by a layered fringed of the undulating Sahyadris. Nothing between your hungry eyes and the magnanimous valley but a pebbled water-border. Luxe loungers, bolstered benches or chic day-beds…pick a favourite spot, sip some bella kaapi (black coffee with jaggery), and feast on the spectacle. Because this is just Act 1.

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Dive into nature

Exit lobby, enter forest. The foliage thickens and so does the drama. Buggy drop along a hilly road to one of the many cottage villas sprinkled all over the 180 acres property. First key twist. Second jaw-drop moment. Generously-proportioned living quarters and ceiling-high glass windows on all three sides overlooking the lush valley. Faux Coorgi roof. Real fireplace with real logs. A dream worktable to banish every stubborn writer’s block. And a hip black granite tub with a view. #bathroomgoals. Give up city conveniences and live here forever? D-uh!

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It gets better. Coorgi specialities like pandi (pork) curry, chilli fish steamed in cardamom leaves, mango curry, kadambuttu (steamed rice balls), akki (rice) roti at the open terrace restaurant. Heavenly spa with a pebbled stream. And a special Holi street-food dinner by a lighted blue pool. Fire pits, live food counters, hanging day-bed. And the pitch-darkness of the valley lit by a luminescent full moon. Star spangled skies. Nature’s background score…rustling wind, falling of a leaf. Are you in love or are you in love?

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Wake up to the sweetest alarm in the world and race outside to look for the whistling malabar thrush. Embrace the colors of nature…red sunrise, pinkish-orange skies and purplish-blue mountains and happily convert into a morning person. Swoon over the sight of the frothy clouds filling the valley. Persevere with the theme…prowl around the herb garden, chase butterflies, pluck sweet mulberries, pick juicy strawberries, find cardamom trees, pepper creepers and vanilla pods. Break for a healthy organic lunch under the shadowy bamboo trees. You could get used to this…

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Then embark on a 3-hour long rainforest walk with Nitin, the on-location naturalist and rediscover that you’re an insignificant speck in the vast scheme of planetary existence. From 40 species of frogs and work hierarchy of bees to termites as a survival food and 50 feet king cobras, to Rudraksh, strangler fig trees and healing properties of local plants…its a capsule course on the laws of the jungle, the circle of life and the survival of the fittest. Forget trivia of daily life, become part of the big picture.

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Listen to stories

Soak up the culture with local activist Colonel Muthanna at the property’s ‘Conservatory’. For centuries, this mountainous and misty land, where streams flow in abandon, dense forests hide mysterious flora-fauna and abundant wildlife thrives, has been home to the ancient warlike Kodava tribe, supposed descendants of Alexander or a band of Iraqi Kurds. The most fascinating leftover from the tumultuous past? Hand-dug war trenches (kadangas), 1.5 to 7.5 meters high, 3 meters deep, 2-3 metres wide, snaking over 6 kilometres of countryside. A fascinating slice of heritage from 9th-10th centuries, proof of the many bloody battles fought here to keep invaders at bay. Rare but not impossible to sight, if you’re willing to poke under wild foliage. Go further, push the envelope…trace out a monolithic burial stone or dolmen dated 2500 or 3000 BC. Hundreds are said to be scattered around the region.

Intriguing age-old traditions continue to be preserved passionately. Every Kodava belongs to one of over 300 clans, and every clan has an ancestral house (Ainmane) with a small shrine to offer prayers to ancestors (rather than gods). Its a great idea to try and visit one. Unique marriage traditions live on, where elders guide the ceremony instead of priests. Brides wear typical jewellery items like kokkethathi, (crescent-shaped pendant with a serpent-like head, figure of Goddess Lakshmi and two birds) and the Kodavu style saree, with back-pleats and a shoulder knot. Men sport a traditional coat-sash garment. Watch a tribal song-and-dance performance, dedicated to nature and heroism. Simple rhythmic moves of the barefoot dancers, brandishing swords, canes and whisks…glide back to simple times.

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Get a first-hand feel of the self-sustaining village life, where people grow their own vegetables, fruit, pepper, coffee, even betel nut. Be reminded of the medicinal properties of plants and herbs, as you savour the local vinegar (Kachampuli) in Coori pork dishes. Made of concentrated juice of a tropical fruit, Garcinia Cambogia, it is now accepted worldwide as a liver protector and weight reducer. And marvel at the eco-consciousness of the locals as you stumble upon protected forest patches, left untouched for centuries in the name of deities and legends. Part of an estimated 2500 acres of sacred groves called Devarakadu. Respect!

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Smell the coffee

The coffeeholic mandate while in a region that produces 60 percent of the country’s coffee? A coffee plantation tour. Hours slip by easily as you wander along the coffee bushes, immaculately trimmed to appropriate heights for bean-picking convenience. Tall silver oaks and short orange trees provide protective shade…slow down and gaze around all you can.

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Admire the unconventional beauty of the sweet-smelling white flowers and green-red cherry-like beans of the coffee plants. Learn to identify Robusta and Arabica plants by the differing sizes of their leaves, branches and cherries. Understand why the two are blended and why chicory is added in the ratio of 40, 40, 20. Ask questions about the harvesting-plucking and production process. See the beans drying in the sun, readying for the roaster. Get educated on instant-versus-filter coffee quality angle. Know how inferior seeds go into making instant coffee and the superior ones are kept aside for the filter version. Conclude with a coffee tasting session of freshly brewed coffee, straight from the plantation. Stock up on packets of filter coffee…add a percolator. Caffeine fix sorted.

Make precious memories

Stumble upon a secret spot for one of the most surreal scenes of your life. Through thick and thorny bushes, up a barely-there stony path, emerge into a secluded clearing to gasp at 360-degree views of layered blue mountains. Soundless, except for the wind. Have a solitude-soaked meditative moment, squatting on the grassy plateau, staring at the vermillion sunset, tracing the contours of the crimson ball as it dips into oblivion, leaving a softly fading splash on the endless canvas above. Could this be the purest form of reverence? Possibly, but the trance isn’t over yet…nature is presenting an unreal show on the open hotel terrace. Clouds descend upon you and the misty magic of the night envelops you in its magical fold. Close your eyes and sense the soft caress without a care in the world. Because some memories outlive photos a gazillion times over.

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Connect with nature in Madikeri, Coorg #rainforestresort #naturedestination #madikeri #tajmadikeri #coorg #mountaingetaway #coffeecountry #luxurymountaingetaway

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One surreal day in the achingly beautiful town of Bruges

Bruges is the loveliest canal town…

A labyrinth of meandering canals, cobbled streets and centuries of history. Nicknamed Venice of the North. UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to a fifth of the city’s 105,000 residents.  And just hour-and-half by bus from Belgium’s capital. Compelled to witness the aching beauty of Bruges?

Set the mood right with a stroll in the Minnewater Park, the beautiful green lungs of the city. Cross the Lovers Bridge over the Lake of Love to ensure eternal togetherness. Slow down near the 30 white-painted gabled houses built around a central green courtyard dotted with tall trees. That’s the Beguinage, a convent-like shelter established in 1250 for single and widowed women. Benedictine nuns still live here, so technically, you’re an intruder. Careful with those crisp leaves crunching beneath your feet. Shhhh!

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A second canal bridge and little gabled houses indicate that the Old Town is near. At the corner of Wijngaardstraatm, the famous Christmas decorations store, Kathe Wohlfahrt greets you with festive flair. The aroma of waffles and Belgian fries floats up from windows counters and pushcarts. People throng outside boutique hotels, fine restaurants, attractive bistros, hip creperies and cafes under green striped awnings. Tables overflow with mussels served in big metal pots and creamy fish stew. Linger over a mouth-watering meal under the warm sun.

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Quit the main walkways where you have to avoid stepping onto others’ toes. Head for the cobblestoned alleyways lined with vintage shops and minuscule chapels. Listen to the sound of your footsteps echoing in solitude. Peek into the tiny window-fronts of lace shops showcasing home decor items made of the famed Bruges bobbin lace. Testimony to the history of a painstaking, local skill dating back to the early Renaissance era, when Emperor Charles V decreed that lace-making should be a compulsory skill for all girls in convents and beguinages throughout Flanders.

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Wearing lace was a status symbol then and the lace trade reached its peak in the 18th century. Flanders linen was considered most superior in all Europe in the Middle Ages and Bruges was the most important outlet for textile and lace. When the Zwin channel silted up and Bruges lost out as a transportation hub, Bruges lace and cloth industries saved the city from financial ruin. Sadly, today, Belgium’s entire lace weaving industry comprises of just 1,000 weavers who produce everything manually. Some pieces are so intricate that they require the use of over 200 bobbins. Study the delicate reminders of those times…doilies, tablecloths, table napkins, cushion covers, wedding veils, handkerchiefs, using filigree-style ribbons and chains…from affordable machine-made copies and to genuine and expensive vintage articles. Take home an exquisite reminder.

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Bruges is nirvana for chocolate lovers, with over 50 expert chocolatiers within 50 square miles. This chocolate capital of Belgium even has its own official chocolate – the Bruges Swan. Think superior ingredients and obsessive adherence to old world manufacturing techniques. At Wollestraat, the city’s chocolate hotspot, shops are packed shoulder to shoulder on both sides. Each enticing display of pralines, figurines and slabs is quicksand of sweet temptation. Delicious variety lines the glass shelves…classic milk to almond praline to pure liqueur filled gourmet delights…countless types from the simple to the intricate… each with their own sophisticated flavours and heavenly textures. Traditional flavours to wildly experimental ones including black olive, tomato, wasabi, fried onion, bacon, curry, basil. Prices for chocolates are generally between 50 cents and 1 euro each and chocolate is sold by weight, starting with 100-grams. Apparently, locals buy fresh chocolate like others pastry or bread. Stock up! 

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The broad street opens onto the Markt. Enjoy a float, watch jugglers, listen to street musicians and stare at the medieval architecture. The large, ornate, neo-Gothic Provincial Courthouse, (a 19th-century construction), harmonizes perfectly with the older medieval structures. On one side, quintessentially Dutch, gabled red brick buildings cordon off the space. Old stone slabs, which traders would have used to cut and sell meat or cloth, are still preserved. Tiny figures soak in amazing views from the Belfort (Belfry), a 13th century bell tower looming above everything else at 83 meters. You’re inside a postcard…web of canals, little roof terraces and a flat landscape towards distant wind farms.

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On another side of the square, restaurants with outdoor tables are filled with hungry patrons enjoying the afternoon sun, sipping Belgian beers, digging into luscious steaks and indulging in that evergreen European pastime…people watching. The hypnotic clops of horses’ hooves and the regular quarterly chimes of the manually operated 47-bell carillon of the square’s belfry is like music to the ears. Detour to explore the tallest structure and the second tallest brickwork tower in the world, the 122 meter high Church of Our Lady, graced with Michelangelo’s famous Madonna and Child…in black.

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Picturesque canals shimmer as they flow under arched stone footbridges, white swans skim gracefully over the waterways, flower-draped, quaint cobblestone streets curve past turreted manor houses with gabled roofs and and shops overflow with antique treasures. Romance exudes from every nook and cranny. Eager-eyed tourists take leisurely canal cruises along the Reien, hooked to local anecdotes while gazing at delightful views of Bruges’ weathered facades. Could anyone tire of these historic buildings, bridges and vines draped down to touch the water? While away lazy moments and drink in the tranquil beauty. Bruges has taken centuries in the making…savour every vista with languor.

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Canal houses face the water, their stepped gables on steeply pitched roofs capped with slate or stone for easy access. The stunning Flemish brickwork facades blaze in the sunlight. Houses flaunt wooden medieval doors, stone gargoyles, circular and teardrop-shaped windows with diamond-cut traditional crown glass, intricate lace curtains and reliefs on walls showing apprentices at work. Indulge in the medieval fantasy.

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As the curtain goes down on a brilliant day in the prettiest town of Belgium, chew on this. Thanks to transportation on these waterways, brewing and textiles had reached their zenith in the 14th-century, laying the foundations for a magnificent city, where agriculture could not be the mainstay. And look now, the canals still run the town…not with textiles and beer, but tourism.

 

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Bruges is the loveliest canal town #bruges #belgium #canals #flemish

Brilliant blues will tempt you in the island of Capri

Idyllic island in Italy’s Gulf of Naples…

Keep your eyes glued to the window as the shuttle from Naples airport weaves slowly through the narrow streets of the city’s Greco-Roman historic centre. Past alley labyrinths and literary cafès. Past church steeples, Baroque facades, Renaissance statues and frescoed fountains. Past leftovers of the ancient Agora and Forum. To the buzzing port guarded by the turreted Castle Nuovo. Where the shadow of Vesuvius looming in the distance triggers a thought…maybe Pompeii just a bad dream. Long ticket queues to multiple islands, but the wait is short, because Capri ferries depart every 45 minutes. So sit back on the plush seats and enjoy the smooth sail over the Tyrrhenian Sea. Because here on, its stinging electric blue all the way.

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This is what your day trip to Sintra Cascais should look like

Discovering the best of Sintra Cascais…

145 square kilometres of a UNESCO World Heritage Site brimming with natural wonders and historic treasures. Hidden sandy bays, rugged coastline, towering cliffs, thick forests and shimmering lakes. Fairy palaces, exotic architecture and paradise gardens. All within 30 km of Portugal’s capital city. Lisbon itinerary minus Sintra-Cascais Natural Park? No-can-do!

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One day in five fantastic beaches of stunning Sri Lanka?

Beach-hopping in Southern Sri Lanka…

An idyllic, mystical pearl-drop island in the Indian Ocean with 1340 kilometres of coastline. Bait enough. Active adventurer, laid-back lazy or photo-enthusiast…whatever your travel style, beaches will inevitably creep into your Sri Lanka itinerary. Problem: Too many beaches, too little time. Multiply challenging choices by dubious dilemmas, divide by greed, and get smart. If you’re stationed in Galle, like we were, beach-hop an entire 50-kilometre stretch southwards, in search of unadulterated Sri Lanka. Resurrected post-tsunami. Down an endless road with dazzling, tan-gold tropical sands, wave-drenched rocks and emerald palm clusters. Sleepy villages, red-roofed houses with white columns and cool verandas, modest home-stays, elite eco-retreats, sarong-clad fishing folk, cheerful red tuk-tuks and suntanned backpackers in chappals. Serenity. Untouched by mindless tourism. Game?

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Why Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam is the ultimate retreat?

This royal haven is Germany’s largest world heritage site

If you’re racking your brains for a day-trip idea from Berlin, look no further than Potsdam, an oasis of lakes, lush fields, thick forests and unique cultural landmarks along the Havel River. Boasting of the largest World Heritage Site in Germany, Sanssouci, as its centrepiece, Potsdam is to Germany what Versailles is to France and Windsor to England. And its just a 45-minute drive from the buzzing German capital. So, die-hard lovers of sumptuous palaces and extravagant gardens, zip away on that Autobahn now!

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You can be a pigment in the colorful canvas of Cinque Terre

Inside Italy’s five most famous seaside villages…

Italy is an enigmatic lady. She flaunts varied sides of her split personality with equal elan…chic (Milan), arty (Florence), sophisticated (Bellagio), luxe (Capri) to innocent (Varenna), rustic (San Gimignano) or religious (Vatican), romantic (Venice). And if you’re looking for unspoilt and laid-back, there’s Cinque Terre (CHINK-weh TAY-reh). The cluster of five seaside villages stayed hidden from public eye for years, but are now  on every Italy-lover’s wishlist, and for several good reasons. No statues, monuments, museums and street performers here…just the sun, sea, rocky beaches, food, and unadulterated Italy. As its been since centuries.

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