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/ Taking In The Legendary Culinary Culture Of Coorg

Taking In The Legendary Culinary Culture Of Coorg

Oct 19, 2017

In Coorg (Kodagu), Karnataka’s smallest and supremely abundant district, The Tamara, an expansive eco-luxury resort set within an organic coffee plantation, sets the pace for a serene holiday amongst rolling hills, gurgling waterfalls, lush forests and mysterious dark curries. We take in the legendary culinary culture of Coorg. 

The Southside luxury plantation resort is far from a novelty in India. From the notable names in coffee country — Vivanta by Taj Madikeri, Orange County, The Serai in Chikmagalur — to plush estates in neighbouring Kerala, the plantation vacation is a legit and popular hospitality genre. This makes it all the more crucial for a property to carve a distinct identity for itself. Merely a luxury romp among Robusta and Arabica shrubs doesn’t cut it anymore.

 

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: Valley views from The Tamara. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

 

The Tamara (the word means lotus in a few South Indian languages) knocks it out of the park in sheer scale, with 56 luxury cottages on stilts perched at various levels across a heritage 180-acres plantation, all looking into the deep valley. Set 3,900 feet above sea level, high up above the hamlet of Yavakapadi, the romantic setting works its charm post a tiring 6.5 hour drive from Bengaluru.

After checking in and being revived with a cup of strong local coffee with jaggery, I’m transported via a battery-operated buggy to my Superior Luxury Cottage. (They even have two wheelchair-accessible luxury cottages on their accommodation roster, along with two bedroom suites with jacuzzi and the like).

My driver expertly winds up through coffee, cardamom and pepper plantations and looming, dew-laden trees. Most of the staff is trained to ride the buggies to ferry guests from their cottages to the spa, restaurant and recreation center. Children below 15 and pets aren’t allowed in and room service isn’t available. You either call for the buggy or walk a considerable distance to get anywhere. There are nine softly gurgling waterfalls within the property and enough soul-stirring scenery to make those long walks something to look forward to.

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: The reception lounge at The Tamara. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

 

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: One of the sonorous waterfalls within the resort. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

The Tamara is clearly designed for nature-loving honeymooners, but singles and warring couples needn’t sigh their days away playing Pictionary and feasting on delights from the kitchen. There’s a bunch of activities to dive into right away. A trek — they take you up a peak that borders Kerala — sounds good, but an early morning walk with the resort’s in-house naturalist is more up my alley. Coorg is a birdwatcher’s paradise; it’s thickly shaded coffee plantations and dense forests shelter over 356 species of birds — including the Nilgiri Laughing Thrush, the magnificent Brahminy Kite and the scarlet-bellied Malabar Trogon — and all of the 16 endemic birds of the Western ghats live here.

Unfortunately, we wake up to a particularly foggy morning, not suitable for sightings, but I spy a pair of Malabar Grey Hornbills, plenty of whistling mynahs and the beautifully orange, endangered indrella ampulla snails. (Pleased with my genteel choice of morning activity, I opt for a session of suryanamaskars and asanas at the serene Yoga Temple the next day.)

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: My Superior Luxury cottage on stilts. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

 

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: The Jacuzzi on the balcony of the top-notch Eden Lotus cottage.

 

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: The Yoga Temple. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

The bird-watching leaves me with more than enough energy to expend on breakfast. Choosing South Indian classics over continental favourites is a no-brainer, but The Falls restaurant can whip up brekkie to your liking. I request the chef to make me a Kodava meal for lunch, and spend the better part of the morning day-dreaming of it. A couple of hours at The Elevation Spa prove to be lusciously distracting. The award-winning spa, fitness center and two swimming pools are set in the massive heritage bungalow of the original plantation owner (the resort is owned by the eponymous hospitality company headed by Shruti Shibulal, daughter of Infosys co-founder S.D Shibulal).

They’ve collated a refreshing menu at The Elevation, with plenty to choose from besides the usual Ayurveda suspects. The treatments are centered around the concept of antar mouna (inner silence) with unique experiences like the Panigraha Anubhava (pomegranates and wild orange body treatment) Aranya Shalee Anubhava (wild rice scrub) and the signature coffee therapy on offer.

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: Breakfasts of champions: Dosa and Vermicelli Upma with sausages on the side. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

 

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: The Elevation Spa. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

 

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: An Ayurveda treatment room at the spa. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

 

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: The outdoor swimming pool next to the spa. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

 

My promised Kodava lunch packs a spicy punch, with the chef sending out one local star after another: baimballe (bamboo shoot) curry, koli (chicken) curry and koomu bhartad (stir fried mushrooms and onions), all to be mopped up with a snowy spread of rice sides, kadambattu (rice dumplings), paputtu (steamed rice cakes sprinkled with coconut) and akki roti (rice flatbreads). My uttermost adoration is reserved for the legendary pandi curry, a sinfully dark, thick and glossy pork preparation, characterized by the indigenous kachampuli vinegar and kanthari (bird’s eye chili).

The Kodavas, an ancient martial race and one of the few tribes in India that can posses a gun without a license, certainly like it hot. The fiery curry was initially meant for cooking hunted wild boar, a custom that ended with the Indian Wild Life Protection Act of 1972. The Kodavas no longer celebrate festivals like Nari Mandala where the hunter decked up like a bride/bridegroom sits next to her/his slain tiger; but they still worship their guns and swords during the annual Kiel Poldu festival which is characterized by a shooting competition.

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: Pandi Curry, Wild Mushroom Fry and Bamboo Shoot Fry. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

 

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg:
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: Vegetarian Kodava delights with a plethora of rice sides. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

My last day at The Tamara is spent throwing dice at their recreation center, a thoughtfully designed space with plenty more to do than karaoke, carrom and swigging a martini at the lounge bar next door. There are easels and crayons neatly laid out if you’d like to recreate the verdant paradise that you’re looking out at. They also have local board games like Chowka Bara, JengaAliguli Mane, Navakankari and Pagade, which is much more fun than staying in the room watching TV.

Later, I take a guided plantation tour, learning to identify between Robusta and Arabica coffee shrubs interspersed with pepper and cardamom vines, and the beans to brew process at the 100 per cent organic plantation. At The Verandah, their coffee lounge, I try my hand at measuring, roasting, winnowing and grinding my own little mix of beans in handy, table-top versions of larger machines on the property. The results of my brief labor are blended and handed back to me in a steaming cup, served with cookies.

 

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: The spacious Recreation Center with easels  lined on the sides. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

 

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: An afternoon game of pagade at The Recreation Center. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

 

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: The Verandah coffee lounge and crafts shop. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

 

 

The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg
The Legendary Culinary Culture of Coorg: The Blossom to Brew experience culminates with a steaming hot cuppa. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

It’s a redolent end to a responsibly luxe and memorably green vacation in the misty hills of Coorg. Someday (very soon) I’m going to bite into a pandi stir fry artfully arranged inside a fancy artisan bread at an impossibly chic restaurant somewhere on the other side of the world, and of course, be seduced again. But that porky devil will always taste better here in Coorg, over the maniacal cackle of an amorous pair of hornbills and conversations on King Cobras. 

Main Image Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar  

 

Aparna Pednekar

Aparna Pednekar

Author

 Aparna is an India - based travel writer for leading lifestyle and fashion publications. She's also a gemologist and jewelry designer. New cities, new food, cats, dogs, snakes, hours of walking and driving fuel her incurable ADD.

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