Nestled in the heart of a 180 acre rainforest, 4000 ft above sea level, with it’s villas perched on the side of a hill, the Vivanta by Taj Madikeri, offers guests an extraordinary getaway experience which is an absolute once in a lifetime must.
For my birthday in February, Laveena gifted me a stay at this unimaginably beautiful property, tucked away in the midst of a living rainforest in Coorg. Although we had a choice to fly from Mumbai to Mangalore, we chose to travel to Bangalore instead, as our travel agent had said that the roads from Mangalore to Madikeri were not very good in most parts. We were warned that the drive from Bangalore was a long one, more than seven hours with stops, however the highway was tipped as being a smooth ride, hence the preference. We stopped for lunch and for coffee, after which our resourceful hotel driver drove us by a spice garden followed by a brief visit to a coffee plantation where he stopped and explained in detail, the different types of coffee grown in these parts of the state of Karnataka.
A little after 5 pm, we arrived at the hotel. Waiting to greet us with a traditional welcome was an effervescent and affable young lady, Vasihali, who we later discovered was not only a linguistic genius of sorts, but also the most resourceful individual on the property. She led us to the lobby where she said we would be checked in. The moment we entered the lobby with it’s expansive open frontage, we could feel the heartbeat of the living rainforest. Vibrant and majestic in it’s glorious colours of greens, yellows and bursts of reds, we had front row seats to the giant natural screen through which we feasted on the most spectacular views of a never ending expanse of thousands and thousands of trees, rolling hills and egrets in flight. These majestic white birds, in a large flock, flew quite near to where we were, as if to welcome us to this miracle verdant forest. And then time suddenly seemed to have come to a complete standstill. At this unique instant, nature embraced us in all it’s beauty and there was a sudden, unexpected feeling of love and a strange bond we both felt to this place which prompted Laveena to say, “ we only just got here, but I already want to return.”
Not wanting to leave the lobby view behind, we deliberately lingered on, unable to resist taking scores of pictures. The hotel GM, Mr. Krishan Kant Aggarwal, walked up to us and introduced himself. We exchanged a few pleasantries before Vaishali directed us to a waiting golf buggy to drive us to our room.
On entering our Villa, I was tongue tied. Laveena had secretly planned to decorate the room with red heart shaped balloons, a birthday wish in rose petals on the bed, a bouquet of flowers, strawberry and edible Japanese mint leaves dipped in chocolate and a beautiful message wishing me on this special day. Views from the room were spectacular. The ceiling to floor picture windows gave us the feeling of floating on a magic carpet and as far as the eye could see, were views of the rainforest, not very different from the ones we saw when we entered the lobby. With Laveena’s instructions and Vaishali’s prompting, Mr. Jishnu Meluveetil, the manager of Housekeeping had done a stellar job to ensure that the room was in mint condition and that the decorations were plentiful enough to bring out the innocent joy of a child hiding within me. We had the Premium Indulgence villa and indulge we did, in this 1400 sq ft luxury space we were thrilled to call our home for the next four days.
We had initially tried to book one of the 5 Luxury Bliss Villas which are spread over 3,300 sq ft each and have their own indoor pools. But we were late and the rooms were all taken ahead of the romantic Valentines day weekend break.
After feasting on some of the chocolate treats in our room and resting for a bit, we couldn’t wait to get to dinner. We called for a buggy and headed to the grill by the pool. Deepak Mishra excelled at his service courtesies that evening as he presented us with an impressive wine list and helped us decide on our dinner menu. Since the temperatures were fast falling and a light cool mountain breeze was blowing across the plantation and paddy fields, we decided to start with a hot soup, the Yakhni sorba or the lamb soup. We ordered a plate of Kebabs which included the Amrtsari Murg, the Lamb Galoti and the Sunchari Jhinga or prawn. I had the Lahori Naan and we also got a black daal and the subz panchporan in the mains. The talent of Chef Deepak Shirur was on display on our table as the lamb soup warmed us with it’s heat and taste while the perfectly marinated meats were tender and more than delicious. While we chatted and soaked in the beauty of our surroundings, Krishan the GM came up to our table for a brief chat. Krishan has a very likeable and pleasing personality. He is grounded, hard working and ubiquitous, ensuring that every guest of his is enjoying to the fullest the experience of this magical South Indian piece of paradise. He said that over the next couple of days we absolutely must do the nature walk with Nithin, the knowledgable guide who would introduce us to the wonders of the canopied woods. Krishan also recommended that after breakfast the next morning, we visit the herb gardens where we would meet with Arun and Asha the expert horticulturists.
Post dinner we decided to spend some time walking along the path to our room as we held hands, thanked the Lord and stared up at the clear night sky where a constellation of bright stars offered us a marvellous twinkle of a light and dance routine. Soon a buggy slowed by us and asked if we wished to be driven back to our room. We slept really well that night and awoke the next morning to the sounds of the whistling thrush and stunning views of the Madikeri hills and the lush green rain forest.
After a more than hearty breakfast of fresh orange juice, dry muesli, crispy dosas and hot coffee, we were on our way to the herb garden to meet with Asha and Arun. We spent the morning foraging through the herb and fruit garden, picking strawberries, eating organic bok choy, gooseberries, cherry tomatoes, lettuce and a variety of salad leaves. We were treated to some really interesting conversation, an exceptional tour of the vegetable patch, the conservatory and the herb garden following which Asha and Arun invited us to feed the fish and the ducks at the lake on the property.
I did voice my concerns about the destruction of the rain forest to accommodate a property as lavish as this, to which Arun explained that no hill was dynamited nor any rock displaced while building this magnificent hotel. He said that the architects closely studied the natural layout of the land and designed the hotel in such a way that all the structures were built around the trees. It was this that gave guests the sense of oneness with the breathing rainforest and the carpet of undulating green.
Later that evening we were booked for a leisurely 90 minute long body massage at the 30,000 sq ft Jiva Grande Spa. We decided that rather than nap in the afternoon we would visit the fitness centre following which we would swim at the temperature controlled indoor pool with cinemascope technicolour views of the living forest below and the rolling hills and pastures beyond. Our instructor for the afternoon was Tenzin Choeden. He had some remarkable stories to share with us about when he was in the army. One such story was about how he was shot by the enemy. A bullet grazed his leg causing him to fall from a great height. His injuries were so severe, they forced him to leave the army and spend 3 years recovering in a hospital bed. Who would have imagined this injured soldier would return stronger than ever before and with a resolve to share his army training with guests at the Vivanta by Taj Madikeri.
Even though the pool was a temperature controlled one, the mountain breeze helped cool us off. A few lengths were enough to stretch our limbs before we both decided to use the sauna and steam to rid our bodies of some unwanted toxins. This was followed by a blissfully relaxing aroma therapy massage. The views from the massage rooms are spectacular and although similar to the one from our villa, the lobby and the pool, the fact that these are all at different levels, offers you a unique perspective of the landscape.
The next day we set out on a nature walk with Nithin Subbaiah. If ever there was a knowledgable historian, botanist, biologist, ornithologist and zoologist all rolled into one single being, it would be Nithin. He walked us through the rain forests and the paddy fields and explained everything in such minute detail that we didn’t realise where the 2 hours drifted by. He had us in rapt attention, riveted us with ancient myths and legends of the forests and it’s tribal people, tutored us patiently on the types of flora and fauna, showed us how the funnel web spider made it’s home and trapped it’s prey and captivated us with stories of the elephants which freely roamed the area.
Lunch that afternoon started with freshly grilled crisp pappadams with a range of home made Coorg chutneys including coconut and ginger, sesame seed and an assortment of five local varieties of spinach. Ritesh Bhatt, the FnB Manager insisted we try the pickles too and served us homemade carrot pickle, lemon pickle and Bitter gourd pickle. For starters we had the Koli Chuttadh or the chicken morsels marinated in spices and grilled just right. For the main course Partha, the young man serving us that afternoon, recommended the Kori Yerchi kari or the curried lamb preparation with Coorg spices. We had this with the kaki Otti or the round griddle cooked bread made from rice flour and finished on charcoal. The food was absolutely divine. And then there was the secret elixir of Coorg, the maddu soppy payasa. This delectable payasa is flavoured with maddu soppy leaves, a leaf rich in medicinal value. It has a vibrant colour, it is aromatic and nutritious and it is a perfect way to end a traditional Coorg meal.
Over the next couple of days we indulged in the luxuries on offer at this heavenly resort, as my birthday weekend slowly neared it’s end. It was a holiday which was truly memorable, one that would forever be etched in our minds as a very special celebration from the start. A gift to me from deep within Laveena’s generous and loving heart.