Immerse yourself in the greenery of Coorg
The lush green district in the Indian state of Karnataka is a sensual sanctuary
By Text and Photographs: Gustasp and Jeroo Irani
Published: Thu 4 Jan 2018, 11:00 PM
Last updated: Fri 5 Jan 2018, 1:00 AM
The Nalknad Palace in Coorg, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, has the aura of a hideout of an insecure king rather than that of a sumptuous palace where life unfolded in a joyous way. Snuggling amidst dense forests, at the foot of Thadiyandamol, the highest peak in the district, the red-tiled roof, two-storied, pillared palace is studded with escape routes, trap doors and dark underground chambers that somehow sent chills down our spines.
The interiors of this late 18th century seat of the kings of Coorg, even today, are resplendent with murals showcasing victory processions and the royal life, and carved teak pillars separate the various chambers. Yet the palace is wreathed in lashings of tragedy, intrigue and colonial skulduggery. Here King Doda Veerarajendra married his beloved second wife in a richly-carved pavilion which still stands on the grounds. When she died years later, the king, it is said, succumbed to insanity. And there was more heartbreak. The last king of Coorg, Chikka Veerarajendra, who resided at Nalknad Palace, was dethroned by his colonial masters in 1834 and exiled to Varanasi.
After a few twists and turns of fate, the last king sailed to England with his beautiful 11-year-old daughter Gowramma in 1852 to claim and recover his lost wealth. There, the lonely little princess captivated Queen Victoria by her beauty and air of vulnerability. The Queen had her baptised and called her Victoria Gowramma. The monarch tried to play Cupid between Victoria Gowramma and another deposed, exiled prince, the handsome Maharaja Duleep Singh. But sparks didn't fly between the two and Victoria Gowramma chose instead to marry a much older man, Colonel John Campbell. Tragically, she died when she was just 23 years old, under enigmatic circumstances. On her death, it is said that the Coorg jewels too vanished.
As we drove back to our resort, Tamara Coorg, 10 km from the palace and located in the village of Yevakapadi, melancholy thoughts dissipated as the beauty of Coorg suffused our senses. In the seemingly limitless green depths of the forest, tall bamboo stands formed arabesques up above in the soft air; tall silver oaks knifed the blue sky and, below them, lovingly tended coffee and spice plantations bloomed. And, occasionally, we glimpsed the sprightly jade-green, fish-speckled Kaveri river.
Tamara Coorg snuggles within 180.2 acres of a lush organic coffee and spice plantation, and is surrounded by a tangled forest of rosewood and bishop wood trees and stands of bamboo and wild ferns. The resort lies 3,500 to 3,900 ft above sea level and is essentially Coorg in microcosm. There is the same feel of a wilderness; of blue skies streaked with the evanescent colours of swooping, flitting birds and butterflies; the roar of gushing waterfalls fill the air that is so fragrant that at times, one's pollution-coated lungs want to cry out, "Halt! We can't take any more of this astringent freshness."
Our cosy wood-panelled villa (there are 29 villas), built on stilts, was cantilevered over a verdant valley and fielded views of distant misty mountains. The villas, crafted of Canadian spruce wood and Burmese teak (purchased from green farms) with shingled roofs and private sit-outs (the suites come with open-air jacuzzis) are secreted away amidst lush foliage. The cottages are strung out along a 2-km trail that winds through the property and we often felt that we had this ethereal corner of our planet all to ourselves. We had to travel in electric buggies to and from our villa to the restaurant or to The Verandah, an artsy coffee lounge-cum-boutique, where we would relax with a cup of the estate's organic coffee and watch dusk claim the forest.
On our first morning, we had a birdwatching foray scheduled with the young resort guide Bopanna K. D. who could identify birds, their calls, trees, plants and even the type of moss that smothered the trunks of trees. Around 350 feathered species can be spotted in this verdant district and Tamara Coorg turned out to be an open-air aviary of sorts. Initially, as we walked along the meandering pathways, there was total annihilation of sound; barring the occasional cool sigh of the wind - which sounded like the whispered sweet nothings of a lover. Soon a roll call of avian species started to greet a new day by twittering joyously; we spotted scarlet minivets, parakeets, yellow browed bulbul, white-cheeked barbet, copper smith, Malabar Grey Hornbill.
We strolled past waterfalls that gush through the property and ultimately stream into the sacred Kaveri. Their course remains unchanged and the resort's wood-panelled Falls restaurant has been artfully built on a bridge that straddles a valley so as not to disturb the cascade's journey across the land. And one can gaze at the waterfall hurtling over slippery rocks through a transparent glass floor in the centre of the swish dining area while the wind sighs and flirts with the tracery of dense foliage which envelopes the restaurant.
It was in the spa located in the 150-year-old bungalow of the original owner, a subedar under the British, that we got a whiff of the ancient spirit of the land. With its Mangalore tiled roof, a shady porch, yellow façade, timber floors and rosewood and teak artefacts and panelling - the spa was an extension of the leafy utopia. As we luxuriated in a massage and followed it up with a sublime yoga and meditation session in the Yoga Temple, we fully understood the resort's adherence to the Balinese concept of being in sync with nature and God.