HEAD IN THE CLOUDS
Words: VIBHA RAVI
Photographs: APARNA NORI
GREAT FROM Chennai, Bangalore, Madurai, Kochi
GREAT FOR Nature lovers, wildlife enthusiasts
When you wake up to the call of a Malabar whistling thrush, you just know you’re going to have a great day, no matter what. Along with a morning brew of your choice at the Briar Tea Bungalows, you have a window seat to nature’s daily goings-on. Babblers chase each other, red-whiskered bulbuls forage for fruits in the on-site orchard and, if you’re lucky, a herd of elephants casually appears from the Meghamalai forest interspersed with the Woodbriar group’s tea plantations.
As you drive up, the roads are really bad for nearly 3.5 hours of the six-hour journey after Chinnamanur town, but if you brave them, your experience in Meghamalai will more than make up for it. With lichen- and moss-covered rocks, gurgling forest streams and grass like a rock star’s unruly hair, this 6,000-acre haven in the Western Ghats offers the nature lover an escape from the greys of city life. When the noise from your vehicle’s engine dies down, the sudden silence is overpowering. The wind rustles tree leaves, and white lilies in the landscaped gardens nod at you, the smell of rain-soaked earth mingles with the crisp air and your shoulders involuntarily relax as all signs of stress leave your body.
Walking around, you notice the undulating landscape from which the High Wavy Mountains draw their name. A hammock in the fruit orchard beckons and, the moment you settle in, you feel the tranquility that nature brings. The elements will not just pervade your senses, they’ll shape your schedule too. True to Meghamalai’s name, meaning ‘hills covered with clouds’, it’s prone to swift invasions by a fickle mist to the extent that at times you might not be able to see the huge Indian giant squirrel even if it were right in front of you.
If it’s misty and pouring, enjoy the luxury of space and the round-the-clock services of an attendant at the quaint, Colonial-style bungalows. Feast on mouth-watering fare prepared by chef Pushparaj and curl up with a book, unwind with some music or just catch up on sleep. Should you need some activity, indulge in a game of carrom, chess or even badminton on the indoor court.
If the weather is friendly, the world is your oyster. Bathe in the cool stream at the Ootutheri waterfall, accessible only to hotel guests, hike to the animal crossing point at Vattaparai to spot Indian bison or elephants, have a picnic breakfast near dams like the Iravangalar Dam that dot the landscape, take in verdant views at Maharaja Mettu or go looking for the Malabar grey hornbill – Meghamalai is a biodiversity hotspot after all.
What’s more, you’re on a tea estate – go for a plantation walk to watch women or new-fangled machines chopping tea leaves or to witness the journey of a tea leaf from plantation to sack as it is processed at the Venniar Tea Factory.
As night falls and you chat with friends or family by a bonfire, the sound of your voices will be broken only by cicadas and the breeze whispering in the trees. After your time at the Briar Tea Bungalows, Lord Byron’s words, “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is a rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes… I love not Man the less, but Nature more,” are sure to echo in your mind.