There are two things we always look for while settling for a hotel or homestay – affordability and environment. Affordable, as we would not want to spend much time in the hotel. Hence, for us an expensive resort with its numerous facilities and amenities do not hold much attraction; we would rather be exploring the world outside. Environment, because we want to treat the whole journey and the stay as an experience, more so if the hotel/homestay/resort is located away from the hubbub, preferably in the midst of nature, with very few distractions.
On these two counts, Honey Valley Estate scored premium points when we were looking for a place to stay two nights during our sojourn in Coorg. I did a little research on it, as is my habit, and found that most of the people who had stayed there described the place as a ‘piece of paradise’. Now, we had a not-so-happy time at a homestay in Chikmagalur last year for which people had used the same epithet. Since then, we tend to take hotel reviews with a pinch of salt.
There were 7 of us – sis, her baby, our parents, the husband, our baby and me. We were asked to transfer the amount in advance and we did that promptly. Now, we were all set to stay in Honey Valley Estate!
The homestay was located around 35 km from Madikeri and we were advised to reach during daylight. Since we had a stopover at the Tibetan settlement at Bylakuppe, it was around 5.30 pm that we got to Madikeri. Dusk was just around the corner and we made haste to reach Kabinakkad, the place where we had to leave our car behind and board the homestay’s 4x4 vehicle. The SMS sent by the homestay read “From Madikeri, go to Bettagiri. At Bettagiri turn left to Napoklu. From Napoklu travel straight to Kabinakkad.” We tried our best to follow the directions but the wood and hill sprites conspired together to lead us a bit astray, perhaps to appreciate their green lands.
Coorg is dominated by forests interspersed with valleys and is peppered with coffee, orange, cardamom and other spice plantations as well as rice cultivation. There are also peaks ranging from 3,800 feet to 5,724 feet high. The people of Coorg deeply revere the forests, which in themselves are hubs of biodiversity. This beautiful concept of sacred worship of these forests by the Kodava people has ensured forest conservation to a large extent. Thus, we did not mind too much when we lost our way - it’s not every day that you come across such precious vistas.
Anyhow, we finally reached Kabinakkad at 7.00 pm and found a Jeep waiting for us. We parked our car as directed in a parking slot, which was most probably someone’s backyard. The homestay person assured us of the safety of our car on detecting a look of concern on the husband’s face. We collected our innumerable bags and clambered onto the vehicle. The parents opted to sit in front with the driver while the rest of us packed into the back. And then began a memorable journey into the steep, dark, narrow hilly road.
I can still feel the rumble of the vehicle as it lurched forward into the darkness. I smelled adventure in the cool winds! For around 3-4 minutes we climbed up a fairly normal stretch of incline. The husband started to grumble something like “Why did they ask us to leave the car behind? I can easily take it up here. All part of business!” The driver had not even switched on the headlights yet. Suddenly, the Jeep came to a stop, the driver fiddled a bit with the gears, switched on the light and…what serious FUN! We went up on an incline of almost 60 degrees, the vehicle roaring with all its might. My nephew threw his little arms around my sis’s neck and clung on tightly. Ma cried out bewildered, “Where are we going?” But I was having the time of my life! Stark darkness and thick forests on both sides of the narrow road, cold winds lashing at our faces and a roller coaster ride in the steep hills in a Jeep - what better adventure than this? To top it off, there was even a stream we crossed along the way!
Finally, we reached the homestay at around 7.30 pm, having missed tea time by half an hour. We were guided to our rooms and informed that dinner would be served at 8.30 pm. The rooms were large and spacious and the slanting roofs were typical of the region, made of red tiles. Too tired to do anything else, we waited for dinner. We had already informed the owners that we wanted some typical Kodava non-vegetarian dish for dinner.
While the others rested, the husband, little brat and I went ahead to the dining area. It was a large room with several tables inside and some outside as well. There was a large almirah that had a comprehensive selection of books, ranging from the history of Coorg to works of Robert Ludlum to the birds of Coorg. I spotted a few Harry Potters as well! All in all, a great way to spend time browsing these books.
We took down a few books on wildlife and birds from the shelf and kept us occupied till dinner was served. It was a simple affair at dinner time, the food hot, fresh and homely. Apparently, the estate produced its own vegetables. At one time, the estate was a thriving hub of honey production in the region, till a deadly virus wiped out the bee population. It was then that the owners Suresh and Susheela Chengappa had opened up their estate to nature lovers, resulting in another successful venture.
After dinner, we ambled off to our rooms for a long deserved sleep. The electricity in the estate was again indigenously produced and we were prepared for power cuts. We had also brought along our own mosquito repellant machines, considering the remoteness of the homestay and the presence of the little men with us. Suddenly we realized that we had the same problem as the one we had faced in the resort in Kaziranga. We could hear voices from the other room and vice versa. Thankfully, that room was occupied by the parents and sis. So it was fun crying out stuff like “Do you have my baby’s sipper in your room?” and receiving answers in a similar high pitched manner. When Ma started singing lullabies for sis’s son, that worked for my son as well!
The fun started when we switched off the lights and the room was sunk into pitch darkness. Now, how will the baby sleep? He had been brought up to sleep in at least some form of dimmed light. Just as we sat up thinking how best to deal with the situation, light streamed into the room from a hitherto unnoticed skylight on the roof. We looked up and saw that a roof-tile had been removed and a glass fitted in its place. A lovely idea, we thought, and slept away peacefully with a thin sliver of moonlight in the room.
The next morning saw us wake up to a musical cacophony of birds. In other times, we would have woken up at 4.30 am to go birding. But it was too cozy to just lie back admiring everything around us, although the husband did try his hand at clicking some of the little birds. He was not too successful as you can see from the record shots of the birds – they were too fast and smart for his lenses. I satisfied myself at looking at them through my binoculars, which was also a feat considering the fast movement of these little birds.
Oriental White Eye
Grey-fronted Green Pigeon
There were a number of Oriental White Eye birds as well as Vernal Hanging Parrots zipping in and out of the leafy canopies overhead. Malabar Parakeets zoomed past us screeching loudly while a few beautiful Grey-fronted Green Pigeons stopped by to catch their breath. Oriental Magpie Robins and Indian Blue Robins hopped about from branch to branch. Purple sunbirds and Loten’s sunbirds played hide in seek in the tree in front of our balcony. You just had to lounge around in a chair in the balcony and watch the birds at play.
Chestnut-headed Bee Eater
Oriental Magpie Robin
As I had written in one of my previous posts on Coorg, we went to Madikeri and Abbi Falls that day after breakfast, while the other inhabitants of the homestay set out for long treks. There were several trails through the woods that can be explored. But enticing as they were, we could not take them up owing to the babies. Another time, for sure. Breakfast was again very nourishing with light appams and lentil-based (green moong sprouts) curry besides the standard fare of butter and toast. There were home-made jams as well and we could not have enough of it. As a matter of fact, we ended up buying two big jars of the jam. Once could also buy coffee grown in the estate.
We came back dog-tired in the evening (we lost our way again) and like the previous evening, waited for dinner. The husband and I again made use of the wonderful library while a hot bowl of pandi curry was served to us surreptitiously (blame it on my pig-hating dad!). While we enjoyed our delightful pandi curry, we were joined by some of the other permanent residents of the estate. Kalu, Goonda and the gang tried to woo us in parting with our pandi curry, all the while wagging their tails. Did I forget to tell you that these were dogs? I was very happy to note that every one of the homestay guests (mostly foreigners) was a dog lover and they happily played with these four-legged friends of men. None of the “Shoo! Shoo!” business here. Dinner done, we crashed onto our beds and had another night of quiet slumber.
The next morning, the husband and I decided to explore the area a bit and ventured out towards the stream with our little brat in tow. We spotted several Small Minivets and Lesser Hill Myna couples on the way. We also barely managed to catch a camouflaged Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. Kalu and Blackie gave us company all the way. Apparently, they have the habit of accompanying those who go on treks. Just the previous evening we had listened to a group extolling the feats of Babaji, another resident pooch.
Orange Minivet (Male)
Orange Minivet (Female)
Lesser Hill Myna
The stream was a gentle one. It flowed quietly with a little murmur. While we looked around the area our son stood around its edge, not sure if he was allowed to splash about. Finally, he busied himself in throwing pebbles into the stream and watched them go ‘plop’.
The sun had come out quite harshly by that time and although the air was cool, the sun rays were not. We began our ascent towards our bungalow and by the time we reached the top, we were fairly drenched with sweat and out of breath. Age and girth were fast catching up with us.
The breakfast that day was a special one. We were served the Kodava staple of kadambattu (round balls of steamed rice) along with lentil curry. It was a memorable morning feast and we came back to our rooms satiated. We gathered up our bags and called for the Jeep to take us back to our car. I should mention that it costs INR 150 per trip. While the downhill journey is an enjoyable one, too, it however is no match for the uphill one taken in the darkness.
So, that ended our two nights’ stay at the lovely Honey Valley Estates. Although we did not interact much with our hosts, the Chengappa family, we noticed them taking care of their guests personally. Mr Chengappa seemed to be a very intent gardener and he was seen giving gardening tips to many interested in the subject. His son was quite active as well and he was prompt in settling our requests. The various people engaged in the homestay were equally polite and many a times they lent a helping hand in looking after our babies.
We plan to stay there again in the future. But maybe I should mention that the estate is strictly for those who love to live in the midst of nature, with rustic amenities. There is no TV or phone or even fan/AC in the rooms. Dogs are a part of life there. All of these worked for travellers like us. My only concern is that the place does not turn into a typical commercial venture, as I could see more bungalows being constructed in the premises. On the flip side, maybe that will ensure that I get a room there the next time I called up to book my stay at Honey Valley Estate in Coorg! Till the next time then, take care!
Update: Another post on birding at Honey Valley here
Update: Another post on birding at Honey Valley here