5 Star service in the Lodge from Hell!

Luxury AccomodationI lift up the pillow and a nest of beetles scurry away from the light.

I do the same with the next pillow, sending more beetles scuttling away in to the darkness.

I quickly brush them away before The Boss spots them and throw my own clean bed sheet over the whole bed, pillows and all.

The pillow is the same shape and consistency as a bag of cement and within 10 minutes I have a throbbing headache.

The bed too short for my height so I am forced to lie at an angle with my feet hanging over the side. The room bathed in a dim glow from the fluorescent yellow street light outside the window as I listen to late night wedding revelers returning noisily to the rooms next door, shouting at each other in Tamil despite their proximity and the late hour. I wouldn’t be getting much sleep that night.

Earlier that evening after a fruitless search for some quality accommodation in this small rural town we finally settled for the best of the rest and took a tiny room in a lodge down a noisy side street. It’s wedding season and everywhere is booked solid in a town that is not big enough to warrant a hotel of any kind.

The room qualifies as luxury accomodation as it has AC and a TV. One thing it lacks though is hot water. With hand signals and a few words in English and Tamil we explained to the owner that we wanted hot water to bathe in and he explained that he would supply us with an immersion rod, an electric element which you suspend in a bucket to heat the water. It needs to be suspended using a wooden stick so that you don’t get an electric shock but it is surprisingly effective.

Immersion heater

By 8pm it hadn’t arrived so I climbed down the narrow stairway to what functions as the reception. The lodge owner was still there juggling calls on his two cell phones.

“Hot water, hot water” I asked him.

“9 o’clock coming” came the answer. “Fresh piece.”

As good as his word, at 9 o’clock there was a loud banging on the door.

The elderly watchman, barefoot and clad in a white vest and dhoti, handed me a plastic bucket, a wooden stick and a brand new immersion rod still in it’s box.

Closing the door, I looked at the price stickers still on the bucket and the immersion rod box. The total cost was Rs650.

The rent for the room was only Rs600!

Reconnecting with Nature at The Tamara Coorg

A sharp crack fills the air as if the sky is being rendered in two. A deep rolling boom follows and water starts trickling through the trees to fall on the balcony suspended above the coffee plantation.
We are in a little slice of heaven, a retreat from the chaotic madness of the Indian cities, set high on a tree-clad hillside in a 176 acre coffee estate, far from the teeming crowds, the constant honking, the diesel fumes, the dust filled air.
My wooden cottage juts out from the hillside, on stilts 20-30 feet above the coffee plants below. The French windows open wide, the fragrance from the acres of white coffee blossoms below filling the room. Honey Bees pausing from their work of pollination fly into the room , take a couple of laps, before heading back outside into the soft rain now percolating through the shade giving silver oaks, jackfruit and rosewood trees towering above.
It’s our anniversary, and to compensate The Boss for another year tolerating my foibles, my idiosyncrasies, my moods, I have taken her away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the drudgery of the daily routine, and we have come here to The Tamara Coorg.

We left Bangalore early yesterday morning in an effort to beat the traffic but it seemed like everyone had the same idea, the roads filled with cars, each crammed with extended family members, brothers, sisters, their wives and husbands, and children sitting on laps or standing in the passenger foot well clinging on to the dash-board.
As is usual in India the drivers dispensing with all safety considerations, instead focusing on beating the car in front, a subconscious urge to arrive first overriding any thoughts of self-preservation or protection of loved ones.
Seven hair-raising, butt clenching hours later we turned off the main road for a 4 km drive up a single lane concrete road winding up into the hills. We wound down the windows and turned off the a/c to allow the fresh air and bird song into the car.

Greeted with garlands of jasmine and glasses of cold coffee we were then, formalities over, transported further up the hillside by electric buggy to our room.

The Tamara Cottages

Each cottage is built from imported Canadian pine and stands high on stilts reminding me of my childhood in New Zealand where ‘Pole Houses‘ are common given the hilly terrain. Not a tree was cut down to build each cottage and every effort has been made to retain if not improve upon what was there before construction. This is refreshing in India where the calls of commerce usually override any concerns for the environment.

After freshening up we walked 500 meters up the hill-side to the open air restaurant called The Falls, for lunch where a lovely buffet was served. The sky opened up and rain poured from the heavens, the smell of the wet jungle wafting through the dining hall.

Retiring to our room we sat, stomachs full, and looked out over the lush green hills, listening to the rain and the distant rumbles of thunder. Reveling in the tranquility, the peace, the satisfaction, that only being in a natural environment can bring. Thoughts of the city far away, our eyelids grew heavy with sleep, as we relaxed and breathed in the pure air, gazing out on the now mist shrouded hills that form the landscape of Coorg.
As evening approached the temperature dropped and the rain eased off, the sound of falling water replaced by birdsong, the shrieks of Mynahs, the pu-cock call of the Barbet, and the musical warble of the wrens and tits flittering from tree to tree.

We headed back up to the restaurant for dinner where a candle-lit corner table awaited us, specially decorated in honor of our anniversary. A chance remark to the executive chef at lunch time regarding Coorgi food, resulted in a dish of Pandi (Pork) Curry with Akki Rotis (rice bread), a dish this region is famous for, made especially for us. What followed was a lovely meal, accompanied by the sounds of crickets in the trees nearby and the twinkling lights of fire flies, like little fairy lights in the foliage above.

Returning to our room after dinner we found another surprise. Housekeeping in our absence had decorated our bed with flowers in the shape of a heart.

Rising before dawn the next morning we hiked high into the hills, accompanied by the resort guide, a local man with an encyclopedic knowledge of birds and their calls. Climbing high into the hills, the sounds of civilization soon replaced with the staccato hammering of woodpeckers, and the strangely human tune of the Malabar whistling thrush. Flattened bamboo and piles of dung marked the path of the wild elephants that had passed through before us, and our guide stopped frequently to show footprints of deer and other wild animals.

Cresting the final ridgeline we halted in our tracks, stunned by the view that opened up before us. Jungle clad hills and valleys still shrouded in morning mist and clouds stretched out before us as we gazed awestruck at the beauty before us. Unusually for India not a sound or sign of human habitation reached us as we sat perched high on the hillside, cool breezes wafting over us, birds of prey hurtling past us in a break neck dive into the valley below.

Coorg Landscape

In a grassy patch just above the tree line on the hillside below us a movement caught our eye. Looking closer we spied three Sambar deer, heads swiveling in our direction, ears erect, as our excited whispers somehow reached them. Watching as they moved gracefully across the hillside and back into the jungle we said an inward prayer of thanks to the universe for allowing us to reconnect with the natural wonder of our beautiful planet. A connection that sadly we have lost in our so-called civilized city lives.

Coorg Jungle

The joke is on me!

Sometimes my sense of humour gets me into trouble.
After a wonderful lazy lunch at the Polo Club in Bangalore’s Oberoi Hotel, I handed over my docket to the Valet parking attendant, and said with a grin “mine’s the blue one over there”.
The poor chap took me seriously and rushed over to the Porsche Cayenne that I wished were mine and proceeded to try and open it with the key of my way more moderately priced SUV. I had to rush over and stop him before he damaged the lock.
What I had intended as a joke ended up embarrassing both him and I!

Room Service confusion

So I am working from my hotel room, and too busy to go out and get some lunch. I decide to order room service and press the number for in-room dining.
“I would like to order some lunch, please”
“What would you like Sir?”
“I would like the Thai Red Curry Chicken please”
“Certainly Sir. It will be there in 30 minutes.”
5 mins later my phone rings.
“Sir, the Thai Red Curry Chicken you ordered”
“Yes”
“Do you want Chicken or Beef?”

 

Wild Woods Spa and Resort – a Botanical Haven!

Living in India’s mega cities can be frustrating with the constant noise and terrible traffic. Bangalore while small in an Indian context still has a population of 8.4 million which puts it on a par with Mexico City and Jakarta and more populous than New York and London. The population combined with the poor infrastructure, terrible traffic and constant noise can make it a frustrating place to live so every opportunity I get I escape to the beautiful Indian country-side for some peace and quiet.
A couple of weeks ago during a long weekend we packed up Roxy and headed off to the West Coast. Our original plan had been to return to Sai Vishram, (about which I had posted here) however they were taking advantage of the quieter Monsoon season to carry out some renovations and weren’t taking any bookings. After a bit of research we found a new place called Wild Woods Spa and Resort in Shiroor about 12 kms away from Sai Vishram. It had very good Trip Advisor reviews but we also checked with the Sai Vishram manager as we have found Trip Advisor to sometimes be unreliable. He gave his thumbs up so we booked ourselves in.
Finally reaching Shiroor after an 11 hour drive from Bangalore, we turned up a side road which headed away from the coast and deeper into the countryside. 15 mins later we spotted the manager standing in the middle of the road waving to us and turned into the unobtrusive entrance to the Wild Woods Spa.
Wild Woods is the brainchild of Mr. K P Shetty, one of those lucky people who discover their passion in life and pursues it every opportunity he can get.
K P Shetty loves plants. He has plants from all over the world. And Wild Woods is where he is able to indulge himself. Set on about 24 acres, 3 hours from the nearest city, Wild Woods is a Botanical wonder land. If anything could be the perfect antidote to the stresses and strains of living in a big city this is it.

Bananas
The resort is filled with trees and plants from all over Asia, Bananas of all different types, creepers from Bali, Palms from Thailand and numerous flowering shrubs which attract enormous colored butterflies even during the monsoon. This area gets a lot of rainfall so everything is lush and green.

_MG_8984_tonemapped
A beautiful fast flowing and clear river, cool with the run off from the jungle-clad hills forms the boundary on one side.
A small country lane bisects the property and on one side, set in about 2 acres is the accommodation made up of individual thatched and tiled cottages built from the local red laterite stone.

Cottage at Wild Woods
Amazingly for such a remote location, (there is not even any cell phone signal) the rooms have everything you would expect in a 5 star hotel. Large four-poster beds, safe, minibar, satellite TV, air-conditioning (although not needed when we were there as it was lovely and cool), hairdryers, tea and coffee making facilities, and large selection of toiletries. Every detail has been thought out even down to the 2 golf umbrellas in each room to ensure the guests stay dry while roaming the resort.
Across the road is another 22 acres of lush tropical forest and gardens where Mr. Shetty is building a Spa and more accommodation. The architecture is beautiful, incorporating the local laterite stone with antique wooden pillars and intricately carved doors salvaged from old houses.

Antique Door

The trees are home to numerous monkeys and birds, and butterflies flit from flower to flower.

Hornbill
Meals are taken in the large communal dining hall. Open on 3 sides and surrounded by a fish filled lily pond, here is where the resort really stands out. I have been to many places where the accommodation is nice and the food only average but here Mr. Shetty is truly blessed. In the kitchen Chef Rana and his assistant Chef Sudarshan conjure up some of the best Indian food I have ever eaten ( aside from the Boss’ of course). Served in buffet format, every meal was different and for the 3 days we were there not a single item was repeated. What is even more amazing is that the Chefs, although being from North India and Calcutta, were able to cook up authentic local food as good if not better than anything we have had in Mangalore or surrounding areas.

Wild Woods Spa Dining Hall
Where possible they use ingredients grown on site or from the local area so everything is very fresh. I believe the nutritional value in this food is so much higher than what we have in Bangalore and I actually gained 2.5 kilos (weighed on the scales which are found in every room) in my 3 day stay.
Mr. Shetty arrived from Bangalore on the 2nd day of our stay and delighted in guiding the guests around the property and explaining the different plants to them. We discovered a little green-house in the back section which had some of the most beautiful orchids. Mr. Shetty said that he had an even bigger collection in Bangalore which he will be transferring to Wild Woods.

Orchids
The surrounding countryside is also beautiful and I went for a couple of runs through the villages, frightening the local children and puzzling the parents. One goat-herd seeing me running past, waylaid me on the way back and asked me where I was from and why was I running, as his 3 half naked children looked on in amazement.

Shiroor Countryside
In the hills behind the resort are two waterfalls, stunning with the monsoon rains! We wanted to take a closer look and Mr. Shetty instructed one of his staff to accompany us as a guide as the trek was quite challenging.

Shiroor Falls

The, at first reluctant, guide initially tried to dissuade us with tales of blood-sucking leeches the size of your arm, but after stopping at a remote farm house for some leech repellent (a cloth ball soaked in salty water) he soon warmed to the challenge of dragging the city folk up the jungle slopes to the waterfall viewing point. At times crawling on our hand and knees through thick thorn filled undergrowth, and pausing frequently to dislodge the odd leech from between our toes ( the guide strangely enough being the main target of the leeches), after an hour and a half climb, the jungle parted to reveal a thundering cascade, pouring down the side of the mist clad hills.
A glorious display of nature’s might!

Shiroor Falls

Welcome back, Your Highness!

I am planning a drive up to Mumbai at the end of the month. It is over a 1000 kms so I plan to break journey half way. My regular readers will remember that the last time I did the trip I had a less than pleasant experience with the Hotel in which I stayed (posted here). Not wishing to repeat the experience I have decided to loosen the purse strings and go a bit more upmarket.
Discovering that the Taj Hotels Group have opened a new hotel in Belgaum, I have decided that this will be a good place to lay my weary head after 500 kms of dodging slow moving goods vehicles, wandering livestock, and the inevitable motorcyclists heading the wrong way down the highway.
Taj are renowned for their excellent hotels so I decided to join their loyalty program as I am always keen to pick up some loyalty points for later use. While filling in the online application form I was delighted to learn that there were a few more interesting options under Salutation other than the usual Mr., Mrs. or Miss. I scrolled through the options which included such titles as Wing Commander, Admiral, and Professor
I couldn’t help myself and within 10 minutes I received a welcome email from the Taj Inner Circle Loyalty program addressed to “Your Royal Highness Prince_____”
(I had thought about Maharaja, but as I am not Indian I didn’t think I would be able to carry it off)
The Boss was hugely unimpressed and urged me to change it as she said she will be so embarrassed when I check in.
I should think that would be the least of her worries. I am sure she will be much more embarrassed when she checks in and they greet her with “Welcome to our Hotel, Your Holiness!”

 

Mattress Hopping in Hong Kong! – The adventures of a Gigolo?

Deuce Bigalo - Male Gigolo

No I’m not a Gigolo, but that is not to say that I won’t consider any reasonable offers! (Just don’t tell The Boss!)
On my last trip to HK I indulged in a bit of what people in the travel hacking business call mattress running/hopping. Not as exciting as you would first think but it certainly has it’s rewards.
I am a member of the loyalty program for IHG Hotels Group which includes hotels from the Holiday Inn Express up to the Intercontinental. The Boss and I recently had two free nights in the Intercontinental Bangkok paid for by loyalty points (mentioned here) so I was keen to replenish my account.
Knowing I had at least 4 nights in HK I logged on to the IHG website and looked through their promotional offers.
Normally a stay earns points at the rate of 10 points per USD$1 spent so it takes a bit of spending to get enough points for a free stay in a decent hotel. Traveling for work, I was only given a budget for a cheaper hotel so staying at the Holiday Inn Express for the equivalent of USD$173 per night would only get me around 7000 points. A free night at an Intercontinental starts from 35,000 points so 7000 points is not going to go very far. Another tricky condition that can catch you out is that whether you stay one night or 3 at the same hotel it is considered as 1 stay.
When looking through all the promotional offers I found that there were bonuses available for 3 stays. There are two Holiday Inn Express’ on HK Island so the devious side of my brain kicked in and I booked the first night in one, the second and third nights in another, returning to the first hotel for the final night. Luckily having lived in HK I know the two locations well and HK public transport being excellent knew that transferring between the two locations would be simple.
I also found that there were a number of other bonus point offers I could qualify for so I registered for them all, gleefully anticipating the points haul I would accumulate, but in fact getting a bigger kick out of manipulating the system.
So the second day in HK I checked out of the hotel, jumped in a taxi and was at the 2nd hotel within 15 minutes. Left my bags with the concierge, spent the day in the office and returned in the evening to check in, repeating the process again on the 4th day, returning to the first hotel. the staff welcoming me back with a smile and thanking me for staying with them again.
Two weeks later the points arrived in my account.

The final total?
40,724 points!!
Enough for 1 free night in the Intercontinental Bangkok with some left over. IHG also have the Points Breaks promotion every couple of months where Hotels around the world are offered for only 5000 points per night. Sometimes there are gems like the Intercontinental Fiji or the Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake.
So for a minor inconvenience of changing rooms every couple of days I now have enough points for 8 free nights in fancy hotel. And the best thing is it didn’t cost me a cent personally!

Million Dollar view for 1/1000th of the cost!

View across the Hong Kong Harbour with the Ritz Carlton in the background

View across the Hong Kong Harbour with the Ritz Carlton in the background

If you want a Million Dollar view but dont want to pay the price, then stay in Room 2716 at the Holiday Inn Express SoHo on Hong Kong Island.

This was the view from my room looking between the Shun Tak Towers, over the Macau Heli-Ferry pad, and across to Kowloon where the towering Ritz Carlton stands.

At only HK$1200 per night where else can you get a view like this?