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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Rainforest relaxation

Reading Time: 4 minutesBask in luxury in the heart of nature at the beautiful Vivanta by Taj Madikeri in Coorg

Gudda Bath at the Jiva Grande Spa

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Imagine a five star luxury resort in the midst of a rainforest about 4250 sq feet above sea level, that houses over 370 species of birds. Trees and plants of all kinds surround your room, which is set in the side of the mountain. Then, add to it all the luxuries of a five star hotel, with activities for guests thrown in. And an uber luxurious spa that offers the best of massages from all over the world. That, in a nutshell, is the Vivanta by Taj Madikeri.

For those unfamiliar with India’s geography, Coorg is a part of the Karnataka state in South India, and is known for its coffee and pepper plantations. Also known as the Scotland of India, Coorg has several homestays (homes of plantation owners which double up as bed and breakfast places) and resorts set amidst shrubs of coffee and pepper vines.

As I arrived at the hotel, the wind blowing through the entrance was strong enough to blow me away. Walking into the lobby, I discovered why. After walking past the sunken seating area, open doors lead to an open space and a wooden deck that stretches towards the cliff. Only a small moat-like barrier of water full of pebbles separates me from a sheer drop down the cliff. Inspiration has been drawn from Coorg style houses with their sloping roofs, pillars and open-to-sky entrances.

Vivanta by Taj – Madikeri, is spread over 180 acres of living rainforest. The 63 rooms include cottages, suites and villas. The five villas are spread over 3,300 sq ft each, and come with a built-in indoor pool and a retractable sunroof. The Presidential Nirvana Suite is a stunning 9,000 sq ft with three bedrooms, a swimming pool, a pavilion by the pool, a jacuzzi and a central courtyard, among other features. Room rates start at approximately AUD225 and can go up to AUD1800 for the Presidential Nirvana Suite, excluding meals and taxes.

Each room is secluded from the others but since the property is so vast, one needs a golf buggy to move around. A call to reception and one arrives at my doorstep within five minutes. Muted colours, mud paints, displaced soil and recycled wood, tiles and natural river stones contribute to a seamless and undisturbed layout, and one which is built around trees. The hotel was built on the natural lay of the land, as it has existed forever.

My room is a Premium Indulgence room spread over 900 sq feet, with a sunken sitting area flanked by a fireplace. Glass windows doubling as walls offer an undisturbed view of the forest, valley and mountains in the distance.

Dining options are plenty. The Ferntree, which is the multi-cuisine all day diner; Dew, the wellness restaurant serving healthy and wholesome but tasty food at the spa; and Nellaki, the fine dining Indian restaurant serving Indian, and predominantly local Kodava cuisine.

We dined at Nellaki which is open for dinner and Pabitra, the head waiter who served us, impressed us with his knowledge of local cuisine. The name Nellaki means the place where the grains of the first harvest are stored. Pabitra made sure we sampled a range from the Neer Dosa, pancakes made with coconut water, to the Double Bean Curry and the local Chicken Pulao, and also what is perhaps the most famous Coorgi dish – Pandi Curry – or pork curry. We even sampled a purple coloured kheer (rice pudding) which gets it colour from the leaf of a plant known locally as maddu soppu. The leaf can only be plucked in August, 18 days after the plant starts flowering. It is then boiled in water and the concoction imparts its purple colour to the dish when mixed with the kheer. The food on the whole was tasty and well made, with no spice or chilli overpowering the other ingredients.

For guests, there are several activities such as hikes and nature walks which are an education on the flora and fauna of the forest. There is camping, biking, cultural performances on weekends, a conservatory documenting the history of Coorg and its people, among others.

Indoor activities include a golf coaching session, culinary and bartending sessions, and storytime for kids. I had signed up for a pottery session and my teacher was a young man named Vamshi. I was his only student that afternoon; he taught me about understanding the nature of clay and ways to mould it. Whatever misshapen creation you make, is baked, finished and returned to you.

The Jiva Grande Spa on the premises is the signature spa of the Taj Group. The 30,000 sq feet spa sports eight private treatment rooms with their own steam and showers, a relaxation deck and the signature Coorg experience – gudda bath (a wood-fired bath in an outdoor pavilion).

With so much to do and see, and so little time, my stay at the Vivanta in Madikeri was an unforgettable experience. Next time I plan to stay longer to really take in the rainforest and all that it has to offer.

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Minnal Khona
Minnal is a senior writer and editor. Her forte is lifestyle journalism, art, food, beauty and travel writing

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