Part 3 – Activities
So how does one make the most of a rain forest with a lavish resort thrown in for good measure ? A host of ideas are probably popping into your head right now but wait … they have all that you are thinking about and much much more.
The Taj Madikeri is not just ensconced within acres and acres of deep green woods but is also deeply rooted in the culture and customs of this fascinating land of Coorg and they make sure that you soak not just in the lap of nature and luxury but also in the legends and stories of the land.
And so they have events that are carefully curated to make your time there a wholesome learning experience that will thrill you, entertain you, move you, educate you and definitely make you yearn to be back for more.
Kodagu, also known as Coorg, is one of Karnataka state’s 30 districts and is perched 3000 feet above msl (mean sea level) in the Malnad belt, which is one of the 3 geographical zones in the state. Mal(e) Nad(u) translates to land of rain and lies sandwiched between the plains and the coastal regions of the state.
Coorg occupies a part of this range that lies along the Western ghats.
Due to the rainy climate, the hilly terrain lies swathed in rain forests and is also home to spice and coffee plantations that bear a permanent freshly washed look and are a sight for sore eyes, obviously making it a popular destination for greenery starved city dwellers.
The beautiful Taj Madikeri resort is set in these stunning environs and its extravagant 180 acres of private forest make for a natural ambience that provides its own entertainment in the form of treks, guided forest walks, bird watching etc, apart from the other man made amenities that they have created.
The surrounding district of Coorg, is also a tourist destination with national parks, temples, waterfalls, rivers, mountains and a lot more. During this visit however, I stayed within the premises of the Taj Madikeri for the duration of my 2 night stay and I found that I needed to go nowhere else to entertain myself.
In fact, the 2 days seemed quite insufficient to explore the vast range of features and facilities and I reluctantly left, longing for more.
What to do at Taj Madikeri Resort & Spa –
While at the resort, one can indulge in a host of activities right from splashing in the water, to gallivanting on land to zipping through the air.
Taj Madikeri has excellent people to guide you at every activity or tour and these experts in their fields enhance the experience to a totally different level, which makes it all the more remarkable and memorable.
The various features and amenities include a spa, yoga center, gym, swimming pools – indoor and outdoor, conservatory, lake, frog pond, herb garden and amphitheater.
Tours, nature walks, treks, pottery classes, coffee tasting, concierge tours, adventure activities, spa treatments, yoga sessions, cultural programs and even cookery lessons can be arranged on request. Some of the activities are complimentary and some are charged. You can check with the staff before embarking on them.
Muddy Boots is the activity area with outdoor recreational installations like zip line, paintball, target shooting, archery, pottery, kayaking, zorbing and many more.
The resort itself is a beautifully landscaped space and one can just stroll around the undulating terrain, taking in the beauty of the place or wander around the several water bodies, drinking in the beauty of the lotuses, reeds and surrounding multi hued plant life and if one is lucky, spotting water birds and exotic frogs.
And if one is even luckier to be there in the right seasons, then one can relish the bounty of the mulberries, strawberries, guavas, pomelos and other fruit on the premises. I was so lucky that the mulberries had waited for me even though it was a bit beyond their time and I gorged on the dark ripe fruit as if there was a famine in the land.
There are some pretty looking non edible fruit also, so be aware before consuming.
At the resort, one can begin the process of delighting oneself, right from the beautiful cottages that are cleverly designed to offer you panoramic views of the abundant greenery. On days when the fog deigns to lift itself and stop clinging to the landscape, you are blessed with unhindered views of the not so distant mountains and forests. A sight that can one can gaze at for inordinate periods of time, limited only by the fact that there is so much more to do, which lying around indulgently in the room is not going to achieve 😀
The many species of birds and the thousands of cicadas keep up an orchestra which makes up your background music through the day, giving way only at dusk to the several species of frogs who then take up the mantle of resident musicians that sing you a lullaby until daybreak … when once again the well rested birds and insects take over … and so the cycle goes on.
The whistling thrush is the resident celebrity and we are told to expect his most human like whistling wake up call.
At night during the bedtime turndown service, a little scroll is brought to the room in a wooden box embellished with a flower and the sheet of paper bears tidbits of information about this potential morning visitor. This is truly a very sweet gesture by the resort and indicates how strong a sense of pride they have in their environment.
Of course the protagonist is an elusive creature and one has to be lucky to see it despite hearing its flirtatious, very human like whistling. I had a quick glimpse of it that I managed to capture on video before it flew away.
If exotic creatures are your thing, then the guided rainforest walk is something you just should not miss. The in house naturalist leads you through an easy 2 hour (3 km) walk both inside and outside the property and makes this an entertaining and educative experience that will delight people of all ages.
This is also where you can get your Natgeo’esque photographs as the the guide spots the resident creatures with his keen eye and points them out to you. Make sure you carry a good camera and zoom lens to avoid regret.
There are also morning treks that take you high up on the lofty mountains, from where on a clear day the views are said to be stunning. These hikes begin at 7.30 am in clear weather and usually start later at 10 am during the rains. One does the trek even on foggy days, just for the sheer uniqueness of the experience, accompanied by the able guide who instructs you and makes sure that you are secure.
Our activities at the resort –
The options were many but we selected a few things that we could fit into the 2 days of our stay.
On Day 1 we reached quite early since we had taken a ‘secret’ route from Bangalore that brought us within 4.5 hours. So we made the most of our time and our first visit was to the Conservatory.
Colonel PC Muthanna is the resident historian cum encyclopedia on Coorg 😀 and he is very passionate about imparting his knowledge to his visitors.
He hastens to begin the session by informing us that the conservatory is not a museum but is only a repository of carefully and thoughtfully curated items that symbolize and define Coorg.
A sort of one stop shop that encapsulates this land and its people, culture and customs and showcases them in a nutshell to its eager guests. This is a very interesting space and is a must visit for every guest.
Beginning with the origin of the word Coorg which according to him was the morphed version of Kodagu which did not roll easily off the tongues of Britishers, he went on to describing the Coat of arms of this warrior race and then onto the various ceremonies, festivals, traditions and customs of the people, vignettes of which have been captured in the form of brief evocative descriptions that have been framed on the walls.
He also took us through the displays of the flora, fauna, cuisine, traditional utensils, arms, weapons, agricultural implements and attire and he had many interesting tales to narrate.
We learnt of the Kupya cheley which is the coat and cummerbund set worn by men and the Coorg saree and jewelry of the women.
The conservatory also has a few books on Coorg written by experts like C P Belliappa and some European researchers. Some of the publications have been exclusively produced for the Taj Madikeri.
Talking to the Colonel can get addictive and one can spend anything from 20 minutes to 2 hours to even 2 days here with him and he obligingly is only too happy to share the stories of his land. We however did not have the luxury of time, so we moved on to lunch followed by the rainforest walk.
Rainforest walk –
This is a guided walk of 2 hours duration and usually conducted from 4 pm – 6 pm. The session begins at the Muddy boots cabin where all the walking gear is provided.
Being monsoon, we had to don leech socks, gum boots and waterproof jackets and we were given large umbrellas that acted as walking sticks when there was no rain.
Our naturalist and guide was Nithin Subbiah, who made the experience exciting right from the word Go!
He was quick to spot the beautiful Indrella Ampula, a nice plump(ula) snail whom I promptly named Cinderella. This mollusk is endemic to the Western ghats, which means that we are the exclusive beneficiaries of its presence.
We had a photo shoot of course where our model popped her eyes at us and turned this way and that, until we were satisfied. Of course we took our time because she did not look like she was in any hurry 😀
A nice round curled up Pill Millipede was our next specimen (of course I named her Pillipede or Philipede in case of gender mismatch) and she actually did nothing but lie there pretending we did not exist.
Dragonflies, damsel flies, tadpoles, golden bugs, caterpillars and the omnipresent cicadas, all paraded for us, enthralling us and imprinting themselves in our camera memories.
We oohed over the Garcinia gummi gutta fruit which gives Coorg one of its most treasured ingredients, the Kachampuli vinegar (a dark colored fermented concentrate that is used in many of their signature dishes), we aahed over the figs and we squealed at the luscious wild raspberries that shone like red rubies. We also popped some of the tart fruit into our watering mouths.
And as we went through dense forests and open fields resplendent in their 50 shades of green, we were told of strangler trees, that figs were actually flowers, of protein rich edible termites, of tadpoles that could choose when to grow into frogs, of elephants that scratched itchy backs on obliging barks, of pesky bracken that was brought in during colonization, of smart plants that had mechanisms to attract bees for pollination … all this and so much more, as we marched to the background orchestra of the cicada song, that intermittently rose to a crescendo and fell to a gentle buzzing all the way until dusk.
And as we proceeded, we forgot all about the time and listened enrapt to the secrets of the jungle. We learnt of the Sacred forest from which no one is allowed to pluck even a single blade of grass or touch any of the flora and fauna. This ancient wisdom was probably used to protect forests in the past but today it is enforced by the presence of a board and a temple that serves to deter anyone from damaging the forest, using the fear of divine backlash.
The walk went on for over 2 hours and the rain had behaved itself, so we had not felt the need for our umbrellas and we managed to use our cameras to capture some exquisite visual souvenirs.
We did not want the walk to end but we had arrived back at the gate and Nithin promised us more excitement in the form of the exotic frogs that live on the property.
The frog pond that they have named the ‘Bacterium’ has been created to provide a haven for nearly 40 exotic species of frogs, some of which are also in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of endangered species, which is very commendable on the part of Taj Madikeri.
Our trophies for the night, included the Rhacophorus Lateralis and the Rhacophorus Malabaricus which made sure we went Bactrium’phant (excuse the irritating wordplay :-D)
Our night did not end here and we were really touched to see a large metal Uruli filled with hot water, waiting for us in our rooms to soak our tired feet. Strewn with rose petals and a sprinkling of bath salts, this was a mere precursor to the real luxury that lay in wait behind secret doors. Yes the housekeeping staff unobtrusively set up the bath tub, complete with bubbles, petals and salts and one spends the next hour (or several :-D) just luxuriating in the lavishness.
Day 2 dawned under cover of fog through which we were supposed to venture on our mountain trek. The resort again provides all the necessary gear to deal with the terrain and weather. But though we were game for it, we realized that the near zero visibility would not give us the views from the top and hence we decided to utilize those 2 hours of our life on something more zippy … and what can be zippier than a zip line 😀
The zip line here is said to be one of the longest in South India and the 500 meters of line propels you over open fields in a flight that gets over much too quick and leaves you wanting to do a Zip-Fly-Repeat!!!
The Muddy Boots team again geared us up with boots (that we could muddy) and jackets and helmets and other safety gear, followed by a quick briefing session after which we tried our hands (or rather wings) at flying through the air as we Zip Lined, of course ensconced in the safety of our harnesses. Initial fears tend to dissipate very soon and this can get quite addictive.
They also offered to shoot videos of my bravery 😀 since it was raining and I did not want to soak my phone selfie’shly.
The rest of the team helped us land at the receiving end and then we had to walk across the fields and back to the resort.
After such an exhilarating experience which we did not repeat merely due to lack of time, the resort felt that we needed some pampering and what better place than the Jiva Grande Spa. Jiva Spa is the in house brand of the Taj group and offers a diverse range of signature wellness treatments.
The entrance to the spa is most unique and natural, where one has to ‘skip merrily’ over stones that are embedded in the floor, surrounded by a little stream of water. There is also a regular path for those who do not wish to prance in 😀
The decor of the spa like the rest of the property, also displays the fish trap light shades and an interesting feature is the foyer wall which is lined by 51 antique wooden pillars that were procured from ancient Coorg homes. The spa also has rainforest views from every room, intensely enhancing the effect of the therapies.
We were greeted by the soft spoken Dr Reji Raj, the Spa Wellness manager and Ayurveda consultant, who explained to us the ethos of treatments offered at the spa.
Desiring to offer therapies that are rooted in Indian tradition and culture, they refrain from treatments that are of Thai, Balinese or Western origins.
Some of their most sought out treatments are the Indian aromatherapy massages with options of deep tissue massage, relaxation massage, energizing massage, lymphatic drainage for detoxifying etc.
Ayurveda, yoga, meditation etc are a part of their Indian therapies that are provided in the expansive 3 storeys of the spa.
All their products like oils, scrubs, facial products are hand made and blended from all natural ingredients and customized exclusively for the Jiva at the Taj. Their linen is from organic cotton and herbal dyes and the pottery items that they use and sell as well, are from lead free clay.
A Gudda bath is the specialty of Taj Madikeri and the Doctor was keen that we have a glimpse of this. Having spent my childhood holidays at my grandfather’s coffee estate, I had grown up bathing from this large spherical drum filled with water that was heated by firewood from the outside. This bathroom with its typical red oxide floor, large natural stone platform and verdant views of the rainforest, brought back a literal whiff of nostalgia, as the petrichor like smoky flavor of the heated water gently tantalized the olfactory nerves and wafted across the memories hidden in the recesses of the heart.
It was now time to enjoy a soothing massage and I opted for the foot reflexology (because I had worked so hard in the rainforest :-D)
My masseuse Vili, gently washed my feet with aromatic oils before proceeding to give my legs an hour of indulgence. The staff at the spa are well trained and skilled, commensurate in keeping with the high standards of the Taj.
Gently trying to convince me to surrender my cell phone and surrender to her care, she lost this round when I told her that I needed to shoot pictures of the process 😀 However, I did regret not following her instructions, since I was distracted by my addiction and could not give my full attention to the great job that she was doing.
The massage ended with a garland of flowers whose scent lingered on as I wore it for the rest of the day.
Swimming Pool –
The Taj Madikeri indulges you with 2 lavish swimming pools.
The outdoor one stays closed during monsoons.
The indoor temperature controlled infinity pool with its infinitely great potential to make some beautiful pictures, is open through the year.
People like me can Reflect on the fact that offering a swim is not the only thing these pools do and my camera made the most of the mirrored picturesque setting and also of my companion who had obliged by posing in the water at the edge of infinity, paradoxical as that sounds.
The view from the indoor pool is surreal and the ephemeral landscape that is the slave of the fog, presents you with different avatars in split seconds. One moment your vision is blocked completely and the very next second, the entire vista shines brightly as it frees itself from the temperamental mist.
If you are lucky and also very alert, you could also catch the sky playing the same flirtatious game with you as it rapidly morphs through various dramatic hues at sunset.
Cultural programs –
With a size of around 4000 sq km, Coorg might be considered a relatively small district but it it is a land that is home to a distinct race which is proud to continue carrying forth their culture, customs, ceremonies and traditions.
A glimpse of their dances is provided in the main reception lobby in the evenings where the same Colonel from the conservatory, dons the mantle of program host and takes us through the stories behind the various dances that are performed by the Coorg men attired in their Kupya Chalye and armed with their daggers and swords.
This program takes place after one has returned from the rainforest walk and before dinner and is a 30 min visual lesson in the folklore of Coorg.
Day 3 was departure day and unlike the previous day, it was all bright and sunny as if tempting us to stay back. If we had the time it would have been a great day for the trek because the hitherto elusive vistas opened up to us to mercifully give us the views that we had been yearning for.
But we had to leave after breakfast hence there was not much that we did other than get our stuff together and reluctantly bid goodbye to the place. Well I did get a parting gift from the rainforest in the form of a cicada that I found outside the lobby. Exquisite even in lifelessness, this beauty made for an artsy picture, intricate wings and all. And yes I carried back that little piece of rainforest with me to preserve in my house. I am gory like that 😀
Please Note – This trip was made in collaboration with Taj Madikeri Resorts & Spa. The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.
Jul 15th-17th, 2019