There is so much to do in some luxury resorts that you could not be bored even if you wanted to. At the divine Vivanta Madikeri Coorg by Taj, in the Ghat mountains in Karnataka State, southwest India, the gal was so busy she had to get up even earlier than her pre-dawn norm just to keep up with writing and all the necessities of life.
One of the highlights of any stay is undoubtedly biking. Cycling, a highlight? Well, think of cycling in the precipitous woods around the Kempinski in St Moritz, or weaving through capital traffic when staying at Fairmont Washington DC, or cycling around the Imperial Gardens on a bike from either Four Seasons Marounuchi Hotel Tokyo or Peninsula Tokyo. And of course, at Vivanta Madikeri Coorg by Taj, once you see cycling is on the can-do list, one signs up..
KK (the hotel’s hyper-energetic boss-man, Krishan Kant Aggarwal) and I were in the hands of the 63-room resort’s adventure partners, Muddy Boots, a company based both in England and here in Bangalore. The bikes are first-class Giants, expertly maintained.
Every ride, one or two hours, is customised depending on your level. Our ride was, well, tough, in lowest gears going up steep diagonal dirt paths and twisting and turning. We passed coffee plantations and mangos and cardomon, all nestled down below with tall-tall centuries-old trees soaring as forest high above.
We came out into flat rice-field areas, and through little villages, where people had laid washing out to dry. Everyone is so friendly, kids wave and some initiate hellos – others, when you greet them, greet you back (there are exceptions, some ‘new money Indians’, who arrive as guests, have not yet learned manners….).
The 180-acre resort, which opened just before Christmas 2012, is already a big hit, partly thanks to the Viva Madikeri Official Video composed and recorded by Rahul Sharma and Deep Forest (Eric Mouquet). It went viral in a big way.
Those who come find there is zip-lining, and trekking, and visiting temples and villages. There is virtual golf, and virtual bowling, and real snooker. A corner of the lobby has a good all-round library (and WiFi is outstanding, resort-wide).
Add another interesting partnership, with Clay Station, a company that offers bespoke home ornaments and on-the-wheel corporate events. Here they have a studio with full firing kiln and three potting wheels. A resident artist shows you how to throw your own pot, or make a door label for your home, and when it is later fired it is sent on to you.
The artist also does painting/drawing classes. There is a museum, to tell you brilliantly about the people of Coorg, their history, their culture and their food. I read about the beautiful Princess Victoria Gowramma, whose descendents are in Australia.
They even grow their own coffee, here at the resort. The beans are dried for about nine days before roasting, and they serve it the local way, in a pot with inbuilt filter, and it is black, and sweet. Yes, they produce their own honey here, with three trained beekeepers, who double as plumbers, on the staff.
The only thing the clever guys, and some girls, do not do is make their own wine but there is very good Indian wine – I especially like Grover Vineyards’ Art Collection, a Cabernet Shiraz that has been made with the help of France’s ‘flying winemaker’, Michel Rolland. (The winery is now third-generation, with California-trained Karishma Grover running it with her father Kapil Grover.)
Two more tips for coming to any resort in this entire south-west part of India. The staff are so courteous and sincere they ask you after any interaction if you are comfortable, say how was the coffee, how was dinner and so on.
The other tip is to be wary of Coorg cuisine. It is basically dark brown and off white – think black chocolate, white chocolate – and incredibly spicey. One teaspoon of homemade mango chutney can almost open your mouth roof. The main local specialty, Pandi kari, pork curry, is here served with half a raw mango, a wild fruit from the forests here, strongly curried.
It comes with three kinds of rice, a raw red rice, vermicelli of rice, and a golf-ball shape of packed rice. Fortunately I had had a more colourful starter, a grilled chicken bit with more vermicelli, of raw beetroot and carrot.
You come to this luxury resort for the ambience, 4,100 feet above sea level, on the top of one rainforest mountain and surrounded by other similar peaks. As dawn breaks you look out around you, 360 degrees, and see all these round-topped mountains, with wisps of mist in between.
There is not a building (not even one of the other villas) in sight. You come here for total peace and calm. You come to keep fit – running or walking up the mountainside, or yoga classes, or the good gym, or swimming in one of the two pools. And you come to eat.
I can recommend the outdoor dinner barbeques down by one of the swimming pools, and the breakfast buffet (sit outside on the terrace) and I had an outstanding pasta dish in my room, looking out at the memorable views from this unique place. You leave, by the way, wishing you could stay at least one more night here in what is surely one of the world’s ten best resorts. PS there is even golf a couple of miles away…