It was time, at the luxury hilltop resort that is Vivanta by Taj Madikeri, Coorg, for one of the escorted hikes. The gal seemed to find herself on the Stream Walk, which was going to prove a bit of a challenge as her foot would not allow her to wear any of the colourful Wellington boots provided. Never mind, she would have to manage with her usual Nikes with the built-in insoles. For the first time ever, she did take one of the proffered alpine sticks, which turned out to be a blessing as some of the slopes were amazingly slippery and steep. It was supposed to be two hours but turned into nearly twice that as we asked so many questions.
A golden rule for experiences in luxury hotels and resorts is that every ‘tour’ party should be minimal in number. Just as in the Okavango Delta last time I was lucky enough to have my own Botswana guide, him and me in a vehicle (it felt so good passing other 4x4s bulging with tourists galore), so I advise anyone to book a guide, anywhere, just for your own party. You never know how slow unknown fellows might be, especially when it comes to taking photographs. Or walking… but here, as we trekked the 180-acre resort, it was all so fascinating. We saw lots of coffee bushes – here there is Arabica on the left and Robusta on the right.
Our guide, Abhishek Jain, is absolutely first class, and it is he who has trained all the guides here. He undoubtedly does not drink coffee himself – he is almost vegan in his eating habits and he is definitely teetotal – he nonetheless showed how you can split coffee seeds to get at the two beans inside. These are the beans that are then dried, roasted and ground, to produce the perfect cup of coffee (and the coffee here at Vivanta by Taj Madikeri, Coorg, is jolly good). He introduced us to some of the 32 types of frogs that are here, including one that is a new discovery, a tiny frog that lives inside bamboo stalks. He told us that there are over 200 tree species, all indigenous to the area.
There are, however, only three of the about 2,600 known varieties of palm. Most prominent is the fishtail palm, properly called Caryota, named because of its fish-tailed leaves – there are 12 other Caryota palm varieties in Asia. We saw Halmaddi or dhoop (Ailanthus malabaricum), frankincense of India trees. Their dark brown resin has in the past been used extensively as anti-viral disinfectant, especially during childbirth, and it is still widely used. On the net, later, I see someone advertising ‘We are biggest manufacturer exporter of dhoop/frankincense widely used in church, and incense raw material, herbal extracts industries’.
I am fascinated by Bambusa burmanica, also known as Burmese Weavers Bamboo. It flowers after 20 years and then dies. How sad. Here is a Rudraksha tree, Elaeocarpus ganitrus, an evergreen that starts to bear fruit after about four years. Its walnut-sized seeds are dried and strung together, 108 at once, to make the necklace malas worn by Hindu holy men as rosaries, and to sanctify body and mind. We see wild asparagus, and cardomom trees, and termites’ tree nest and ground-set mini-mountains. We even see one angry-looking apple-green vine snake, with a nasty red mouth. There are no animals today, but we pass masses of big elephants’ footprints – they are wild – and we hear about the red bushy-tailed Malabar squirrels that have returned now that the forest is being regenerated. And we also saw hundreds of delicate, silk-like funnel-web spiders’ webs, sometimes with the spider in residence.
Yes, thanks to Abhishek Jain, it was a fascinating walk – and while the others trekked along the stream towards the end of the journey, he became my human crutch, helping me leap from boulder to boulder. Then we emerged, to walk past a few local farms, some of whom supply produce to the luxury Vivanta by Taj Madikeri, Coorg, hotel. That night, indeed, I ate local food, a dark pork curry, a light chicken curry, with typical white-white rice balls and a wedge of what looked like white foam rubber. I also managed to get a green salad and, by the way, the Big Banyan Shiraz is remarkably good. It is from the John Distilleries in Bangalore, founded and owned by Paul John, who also owns the Kumarakom Lake Resort in Kerala and the all-suite The Paul Hotel in Bangalore.