Jani Jermans – Travel Diaries

January 12, 2021

Ushering 2021 at Rajakkad Estate, a 18th Century Palace

Filed under: Travel — jani @ 6:11 am

I came across Rajakkad Estate from one of the Conde Nast Traveller articles on palaces converted to hotels. I found quite a few listed there, which we are familiar like Oberoi Rajvilas & Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad and Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai. However Rajakkad Estate, came as a surprise as I have not read about it anywhere and also this was situated in South India. Even though it didn’t look as grandeur as palaces in Udaipur, Jaipur, Hyderabad or Mumbai, we wanted to give a visit once because of the historical significance that it had.

When I went through the website (http://www.rajakkadestate.com/) I looked at the pictures and it didn’t do justice to the place. Initially I felt it was a bit overpriced and still we were ok to explore as we read that it was a palace from 18th century. This wooden structure had been a 18th century palace in Kerala, which got dismantled and brought to Dindigul after the owner (Mr. Robesh) bought that place and it had been reassembled back in the 80 acres of land that he bought in a hilly terrain in Dindigul named Rajakkad Estate. Mr. Robesh is the brain behind for this such beautiful work and responsible for bringing such beauty and history from Kerala to Dindigul. He also ensured that he kept the old architecture marvel intact even when he had to do minor repair work to fit the modern facilities to convert it to a home stay.

When we shared this estate details to our friends circle, three of them were happy to accompany us as they needed a break after being locked up at home due to Covid. We five of us decided to drive and asked Shashank to join in the car since Tamil Nadu is usually warmer and will be difficult to ride a bike in that hot weather for almost 7 hours from Bangalore to reach the estate. But as expected his love for bike riding made him to stick with solo bike ride while we four of us enjoyed our car ride, with Sur behind the wheels.

Day 1: We started our journey early morning and it was drizzling. We thought weather will change and will be sunny as we hit Tamil Nadu. For our bad luck, it continued to rain and it started pouring heavily. Since rain decided to give us company throughout the trip, we had to drive slowly, keeping Shashank in mind as it’s difficult to ride in a bike in the heavy rain. We took extra breaks to ensure all of our safety and slowly we started enjoying the drive in the rain.

We stopped for breakfast when we found a local restaurant in Tamil Nadu. We were ok to get in as it was not crowded as we still have to be cautious due to Covid situation. Except myself, others were reluctant to have breakfast there initially. Since I could never miss a Tamil Nadu breakfast, I ordered a plate of Idly and it was served with sambar and three varieties of chutneys. For me that was one of the delicious and healthiest breakfasts. As I started eating, slowly others also started to order the idly as they couldn’t resist the delicious breakfast. We ended the breakfast with a filter coffee, which you should never miss in Tamil Nadu. After such hearty breakfast we hit the road. As Ayush and Akanksha went for a nap, I had to login to attend my online law classes.

After another stop for fuel, we entered Dindigul. The roads from Dindigul to the estate felt like we were in Kanyakumari/Kerala, because I could only see coconut trees all around. Then we started climbing to the hilly terrain which had almost 18 kms of hairpin bends. It was tough to drive in that road as they were narrower than other hilly roads like Ooty or Kodai. When we thought we were almost successfully manoeuvring these bends, without any hitch, we were in for a shock as a mini truck coming in the opposite direction hit our car bumper hard, even though our car had been stopped on the side much before as we saw the mini truck coming from the opposite direction and we had to give him a way to go. Looks like the truck driver was little distracted and he didn’t notice the car parked on the side even though Sur had been honking it to alert him. By the time he saw it, it was late. He did try to put a sudden break, but due to rain, the truck skidded a little and car bumper bore the brunt of it.  We were relieved as it was just the bumper. Truck driver did say sorry, since he realized it was his mistake. We had to just let go and requested the driver to drive carefully in future for his own safety.

After almost 9.5 hours of drive, we entered the estate and Mr. Robesh was waiting in the car near the gate so that he could guide us to take us straight to the homestay without we getting lost in the estate. We reached and we were in for a surprise as the house was beautiful with an open courtyard in the middle (similar to lot of Kerala houses) and we instantly fell in love with the place. We had our welcome drink and Mr. Robesh took us around the house to show the property. They had seven rooms and we had booked three of it. He told us that we can pick up anyone of the rooms out of seven as we were only the guests there. We were glad that as we had the house all to ourselves. We picked our rooms and each room was overlooking a beautiful garden and we were super impressed with it.

Then we freshened up for our lunch which staffs were waiting to serve as it was way past lunch hour as we got reached late due to rain. The food was pure South Indian, which consists of mostly rice, sambar, rasam, papad and varieties of vegetables grown from their own garden. I was little skeptical if others would enjoy as except me all of them were North Indians. This is the place for vegetarians since they get to explore lot of new vegetables which they would not tasted earlier. Since the non-vegetarians like myself never get satisfied with just vegetables for our meals we requested Mr. Robesh to have some non-veg option for the three of us and he ensured we had a chicken dish for all meals during our stay there. We enjoyed the vegetables like raw jackfruit, raw papaya and banana flower. Others have never tasted them before and to my surprise, they loved it as these were not new to me. My biggest surprise was from Sur, who loved the vegetables as Sur hardly eats any. I do make fun of him as even though I am a Non vegetarian, I have eaten more vegetables than him.

Mr. Robesh ensured that staffs were available throughout the day to help us with snacks etc. in case we needed at any time. After such a hearty meal, we went around exploring their library and other indoor games that they had. Then we sat for sequence game which found it during Covid and also catching up with each other since this was the first-time, we were meeting after the covid separation. We also found another favourite herbal tea made of ginger and tulasi from their garden. I lost count of the cups that we had as this was soothing as the weather was way too cold and others were not prepared for that weather. I have to thank Sur who insisted that I carry electric jacket which helped me in that cold.

Since it was last day of the year, we were waiting for the new year to usher. We couldn’t step out as the rain didn’t stop. We had our dinner so that we could retire the staff for the night, and we thought we will go back to rooms and will continue to play as we couldn’t handle the cold in the open lobby. This place also has a bad network due to strong winds, so it’s also a perfect place for digital detox. To our surprise staff had made the bonfire, just when the rain stopped. That came as a pleasant surprise and we were happy to enjoy the new year near the bonfire. We celebrated the new year and we had to step into our rooms as it was getting colder every minute. Since all of us were tired after a long drive, after welcoming the New Year, we crashed for the night.

Day 2: We woke up a little late and went for our breakfast. To our surprise Shashank didn’t wake up and we couldn’t wake him up either. So we had our breakfast of Idly, Dosa, homemade bread, omelette etc. As we finished, Shashank joined and once he finished, we headed for a walk in the garden as we had a pleasant day on New Year. First we noticed a big tamarind tree, that’s usually when the child in us awakens and we challenged to pluck at least one tamarind fruit even though it was above our reach. We had a grin our face when we succeeded and then walked towards the yoga platform which the staff had asked us to visit. It had nice rose plants around and we sat for sometime enjoying the sun and then walked towards the hill banana plantation (Hill bananas are grown at a height of 2000 to 5000 feet. This is unique to the state of Tamil Nadu, are known for their special flavour and long shelf life).

After enjoying our morning walk for an hour or two, we headed back to the homestay. We had a hearty lunch and Mr. Robesh suggested that we can visit a waterfall nearby, so we went to visit the waterfall which was just 15 minutes of drive from the homestay. We had to cross a hanging bridge before we got the view of the waterfall. We enjoyed few minutes there and then walked around close by to spot giant squirrels and birds. Then we headed back as we also wanted to enjoy the garden around the homestay which was beautiful and then played badminton for some time which we carried. We couldn’t continue longer as it was getting darker so we headed back for few more indoor games, had our dinner and crashed early as we were planning to start early the next day.

Day 3: After a good rest, we woke up, had our breakfast outdoors in the garden and we had to bid bye to the homestay. Mr. Robesh was kind enough to pack a carton full of hill bananas and the staff also got few saplings of Fragrant Glory Bower which I have been hunting for a long time for my garden. Then we hit the road and enjoyed our drive as we had a nice and sunny weather.  I was planning to get the biryani from the original place of Dindigul Thalapakatti as it’s famous there. However we were too early for that, so we gave a miss this time.

Then we were looking for a place to stop for lunch in the afternoon, however lot of places didn’t have dine in option due to Covid, so we did find it difficult to decide. Finally we spotted Radisson Hotel in Salem and we stopped for the lunch. Surprisingly it was crowded, so we decided not to go with buffet and ordered ala carte. We enjoyed the chicken biryani and the Non Veg platter and the vegetarians enjoyed their naan and paneer. For dessert, we ordered the Choco Sin and it was yummy. If you love chocolate, do give a try and next time I am close to this place, I wouldn’t mind to order again. Then we hit the road back and as we were entering Bangalore, it started raining. We reached after 11 hours of drive and we reached home with such rich experience.

A big thanks to Mr. Robesh for building such place and keeping the rich history intact and not to forget for such a beautiful garden. The staffs were friendly and they were ready to meet our needs at any time of the day. We enjoyed their amazing hospitality. This is the place difficult to find on our Indian booking sites as it’s not listed in any except to connect directly. This property is mostly visited by foreigners who enjoy such places and they are the frequent visitors and its mostly not known to the domestic tourists. If you find this place, do make a visit and you will come in awe and with rich and beautiful experience which would be carved in your memories for lifetime.

 

October 8, 2020

Being at the Nature’s Lap at Evolve Back, Coorg

Filed under: Travel — jani @ 9:43 am

About Coorg:

Coorg, officially called Kodagu, is the most sought after and popular hill station of Karnataka. This has lush green forests and a landscape dotted with coffee plantations all around. This place is the nature’s paradise to spot various birds and enjoy the nature away from the bustling life of the city. Kodagu is also happen to be the largest producer of Coffee in India.

During this pandemic of Covid and being locked up indoors for almost seven months, a break was the need of the hour, before both of us started our full-time studies. Keeping social distancing and our health in mind, we needed to ensure, that we chose a property where everything was taken care of without putting ourselves at risk and also others who come in contact with us.

As we were browsing for some options, we happened to come across Evolve Back. I was already familiar with this property as I had been booking their Kabini property for our offsites for other departments while working for my ex employer. I had a good feedback about them but didn’t get to hear much details from the team who had actually stayed there.

Evolve has three properties in Karnataka which is Coorg, Hampi and Kabini. Since I had already travelled to Coorg and Hampi, my first choice was Kabini, however after looking at the property pictures, Sur was impressed with Coorg. Each property has a different theme:- Coorg is built on local Kodava culture, Hampi is built on the palace theme and Kabini is on local tribes and it has a hut theme. So finally we decided to book in Coorg as this also had a private pool since public pools are closed due to Covid. So we had booked a lily cottage with private pool which would keep us at social distancing within the property as that’s what we wished for during this pandemic.

Itinerary:

Day 1: We started from Bangalore early morning around 6 AM, to ensure that we miss the heavy traffic. Also we made sure we do not stop anywhere as we didn’t want to put ourselves at risk. So we had packed our sandwiches and started our journey. It was five and half hours drive, took just a 5 minute break at a Essar petrol bunk near Mysore for a bio break. There were quite a few signboards of Evolve Back on the way, to ensure we take the right turn where ever necessary so we didn’t find any difficulty in reaching the place. Finally we reached the property at noon and were welcomed by the staffs at the reception. First our footwear was sanitized, then temperature check was done and after that we were asked to sanitize our hands and all that during check in process was, we just had to sign the paper. The staffs had already filled up everything before hand as we had shared the identity proof with address a day earlier, so that we don’t stay much longer at the reception. Even the pen handed over to us for signature, was kept in a separate box to ensure, that goes for proper sanitization before it’s reused. We got a cold towel to freshen up and a hot immunity booster shot made with local herbs. We were escorted by one of the staffs to our room and all the instructions were given to us while walking to ensure we were well informed about the logistics inside the property. They also had a buggy but we decided to walk as it was hardly 5 to 10 minutes away from the reception to the room.

We finally reached our lily pool cottage and our first impression was it was awesome and beautiful. It had a huge living room, bedroom and a rest room with a bathtub inside. Outside we had a lily pool as the name suggests and a private pool. Everything was superb and well maintained. What impressed me most was, how the property made sure they were 100% Eco friendly. The fruit platter was made of bamboo, flower vase was made of bamboo and wood, table vase was made from the coconut husk and shell. The haystock shop had things like bags made of plantain. The nature shop had everything eco friendly and all these items which we found in the room like vase and plate, all were on sale which were made of bamboo, coconut shell and wood. There was not a single plastic that we saw in the property. They also made away plastic water bottle and replaced with reverse osmosis drinking water purification system with a tap, so we could get our drinking water from there. This is what sets them apart from any luxurious properties. Being at the top position in terms of hospitality and service and also being at the top for being eco-friendly, they get additional brownie points for that.

The property is around 300 acres with coffee plantations which grows Robusta coffee beans. It was being in Nature’s lap with trees and plants all around. Most of the trees are gigantic and huge and we felt like we were in a forest and it was soothing with the sounds of various birds all around.

As we were enjoying the nature at it’s best, it was time for us to have our lunch. So we headed to Granary multi cuisine restaurant which was 10-15 minutes’ walk from our room. Since the buffet system has been removed due to covid, the menu link was shared to us through whatsapp so we could access all the info through our phone like activities, contact numbers to reach out, menus at different restaurant and vaidyashala (treatment centres). First we were served with Rasam before every lunch and dinner. A little note on the rasam who is not familiar with it:

Rasam means juice and is a classic example of a traditional South Indian soup which is used as a side dish with rice in meals. Rasam is known for its medicinal effectiveness as an appetizer and a digestive beverage due to the use of tamarind/tomato as its base. The traditional preparation of rasam is made with tamarind pulp and black pepper- both abundantly and natively available in South India. A bowl of steaming hot rasam is consumed in almost every household in South India and it’s is a good antidote for common cough and cold, lack of appetite, headache and tasteless in mouth due to fever or digestive problems.

So now you know why was the rasam served for all the guests at the hotel. Since Sur doesn’t enjoy anything healthier, I had his share of rasam as well and I didn’t complaint either as I always loved a good rasam. We had selected the menu from the link provided and ordered our lunch. Sur ordered the Mushroom pepper fry and watermelon with feta cheese and I went for a south Indian Non Veg thali which came with rice, mutton curry, fish curry and vegetables. The staff suggested for a tawa fried fish and I was happy to try and we had an awesome delicious meal. For a dessert, we found something unique which was coffee rasagulla and pearl of Coorg (chocolate shell with tiny rasagullas dunked in milk). So we ordered and surprisingly it was good.

We headed then to the room. Since Sur was tired from the long drive as he was the one who was driving, we rested a little. By the time we woke up it was late and had to head straight for dinner. Since we were not that hungry, I just ordered the mutton soup which was delicious, and fish fries with chips had been a let down. Then Sur went for the same watermelon with feta cheese. We returned to the room, just chilled a bit near the pool, enjoyed listening to the bird’s sound and then crashed for the night.

Day 2: We woke up a little late and went for the breakfast at Granara. We had our temperature check and then sat to order from the menu from our phone. I ordered the idiyappam (string hoppers) but that was slightly different from what we usually get in Kerala which is more smoother and thinner and also veg stew was a let-down. I am not sure this was a local version as I preferred the Kerala version which I used to be fan of, as the stew used to lot more creamier and tastier. I also had Immunizing Relish drink (melange of apple, ginger, carrots, black pepper and lemon) which was great. Sur doesn’t enjoy much the south Indian dishes, so he ordered the masala omelette and watermelon juice and he enjoyed those. Then we walked around the property a little bit, spotted lot of birds, giant malabar squirrels and then went to Nature Shop to check on the products. It’s a small shop, we saw a couple already shopping so we stayed out till they had finished and then we went inside. They had bamboo vase, coconut shell vase, water can meade of eco friendly products and few local spices as well. There were also passion fruit wine which tasted good and then there was coffee wine which I didn’t like but Sur picked up to surprise his dad with a coffee wine. We also picked up the bamboo vase and some natural products and then went to the room.

We caught up on some reading near the pool and were enjoying watching the birds. We were doing the nature walk and bird watching by ourselves from the room and around the property since we missed both those activities as we were not early risers as the activities were at 6.30 AM. Then we booked the story telling session for 7.30 PM in the evening. This story telling session is about the local tribes, history etc. Since Sur was nagging that we still didn’t enjoy the pool yet, we decided to enjoy the pool after the lunch. We headed to Peppercorn for our lunch which is a speciality restaurant. It is usually available only for dinner, due to covid and having seating restrictions they opened for lunch and were serving the same dinner menu. I enjoyed the lunch with tawa fried fish, mutton dum biryani and Sur enjoyed tomato and mozzarella salad which was average, but the dahi kabab and naan with mushroom and peas curry was delicious. We had curry leaf based ice cream which was surprisingly great. Then we headed to the room and went straight to the pool. The pool was so cold but once we dipped ourselves, we were ok. It also had jacuzzi. We enjoyed for more than an hour and once we freshened up, we just dozed off and we woke up only at midnight. However, we felt bad that we missed the story telling session and since we were not hungry we skipped the dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 3: We woke up and went for a quick breakfast where I tried the pathal (rice poori) with green peas curry and Sur went for his usual omelette and juice. It was a local dish and was delicious. Then we headed to coffeeology session. The session is all about coffee history and various types of coffee and how it’s prepared and then there was a coffee tasting session as well. There was espresso (black coffee), french press (coffee), cappuccino (milk + coffee), Vietnam coffee (milk + coffee), south Indian filter coffee (milk + coffee), Moroccan coffee (milkmaid + coffee). I had the share of Sur as well since he cannot drink hot beverages as he is afraid to burn his tongue and also he is not a fan of coffee. However, he enjoyed the Moroccan coffee since it was extremely sweet due to milk maid and my share went to him as I couldn’t handle that sweetness. The lady who conducted the session really kept us glued to the session and she was very patient to answer all our questions. We had so much of coffee that we skipped the lunch and went for a walk around the property and then went to see the souvenirs at haystack shop. This shop had few antique items (less than 100 year old), coffee, and lot of natural products. We got the French press, coffee and some souvenir for friends. Then we went to the room, rested and waited for our treatment sessions in Vaidhyashala in the evening.

We headed to Vaidyashala  in the evening and Sur opted for Abhyanga (Full body massage with herbal medicated oil which removes toxins in the body) and Kati basti (massage targeted for lower back, to reduce the lower back pain). He felt so good and was happy as it helped with his back pain. I went in for a Shiroabhyanga (targeting head, shoulders and neck, the oil massage which cools eyes and brings sound sleep),  Chakra Basti (targeting umbilical region to help with digestive disorders and Padaabhyanga (targeting lower legs and feet to relieve hypertension and relieves the tiredness in the feet). After such a relaxing treatment and both soaked in oil, we just didn’t feel of stepping out neither for story telling nor for dinner. We ordered a club sandwich in the room and it was just ok and crashed for the night.

Day 4: It was a day to check out, which we were not happy,  as we were enjoying the hospitality of the property. We got up late and I enjoyed the American breakfast and Sur enjoyed the omelette. We checked out of the room, settled the bills at the departure lounge and left. On the way we stopped at Kerala spices store which was near Mysore to pick up for some spices for our friends and family and reached Bangalore by evening after six and half hours of drive.

I also heard from the coffeeology session that evolve back is opening a property in Botswana shortly and we are excited about that and looking forward to enjoy their hospitality there as well. This is a luxury property and it’s going to burn your wallet but it’s worth every penny for their premium hospitality service. At this time of pandemic when you cannot compromise on your health, this is the best option. Adding to that, their effort for being eco friendly is commendable. They are an inspiration, how each of us can be eco-friendly in our own small way. If I have to visit, I wouldn’t mind going back again as I loved their hospitality. Being at the lap of the nature and away from the city, this is the best choice to get a much needed break even at this hour of pandemic.

A big kudos to all their staffs at Evolve Back for being so friendly, being exceptional in their hospitality and they were very prompt in their service. We were totally impressed.

To the staffs at Evolve back, keep doing the good work. Would love to be back to enjoy your hospitality again. Looking forward to enjoy more of your hospitality at other properties as well……….Until then Stay Safe and continue to provide the exceptional hospitality service and a big,big salute to your efforts for being 100% eco-friendly….Hats off to the entire Evolve Back Team and the Management.

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