Break the rules. It’s 3am and you’re feeling peckish. You stumble out of your room and walk to the kitchen. You’re cheerfully offered a grilled cheese sandwich and hot chocolate – just what you need. You’re not at home, but it feels like it. The people at Flameback Lodges treat you like family. That the lodge has a 24-hour kitchen is a bonus.
“You can ask for breakfast at 4am or lunch at 9pm here. When you’re on holiday, the last thing you want to do is follow schedules” says P Bharath Chandra, the General Manager. Sitting pretty in a valley surrounded by paddy fields, mountains and shola forests, it’s just the place for a laidback holiday.
The central open pavilion at the entrance houses the restaurant, serves as the reception area, library and a place to chill in the afternoons with a beer. Accommodation is in spacious, Balinese-style villas and suites with stone fireplaces and wooden sundecks with picnic benches, while glass windows on three sides allow you to watch the sunrise and the star-lit sky, right from your bed. And if you’re in the luxury suite, you can star-gaze from your private outdoor Jacuzzi, too. A freeform swimming pool, shaded by trees and artificial mini waterfalls, completes the picture. The man-made lake here is a good place to take a stroll or ride a bicycle around, or go tandem kayaking on (free). It takes a while to get the coordination right, but, after knocking each other’s paddles out a few times, you’ll both eventually learn to row together – quite the bonding exercise. Return to the breakfast buffet that has so many delicious choices, you won’t know where to start. Or when to stop. Work off the post-breakfast lethargy by playing ‘fetch’ with Ruby, one of the three German shepherds here. Stay put at the restaurant and you’ll meet the birdlife, too, like the purple heron, wagtail, racket-tailed drongo, oriole and, of course, the flameback woodpecker after whom the resort is named.
The great thing about this place is that you can set your own pace. You don’t have to wake up at dawn to go trekking; Bharath, a nature lover and conservationist, will take you on his favourite treks for spectacular views of the mountains – when you’re both good and ready. Having trekked in these parts extensively, he can take you to secret spots that require little or a lot of walking, keeping your level of fitness or inclination in mind. Do the one near Shishila Peak (15km), in which you’re driven up most of the way in a 4WD, and which gives you 3600 views of the Charmadi Range. Or, you could actually hike up Shishila Peak, instead of gawking at it from a distance.
Devaramane Village is another nearby hideaway (12km). Get to the top of Devaramane Hill – it’s a short and easy climb – and look down at the shola-draped valley, as a gush of wind collects all the fog from below and blows it up at you, wetting your eyelashes and whipping your hair into a frenzy. On the way down, stop at the simple but beautiful 800-year-old temple; the smell of sandalwood lingers in the air within. The sculptures are largely untouched, taking you back to another era. There’s a lake across the temple, where wild elephants are known to bathe at night.
When you’re done with the outdoors, head back to that Jacuzzi at the resort, or to the in-house Robusta Spa and indulge in an oily ayurvedic massage (full body massage: ` 1,000/ hour). Then, find yourself a corner in the restaurant, from which you can watch the moon rise, as the buzz of the cicadas and night birds grows to a commotion… one that makes you smile.
Bangalore (260km approximately) is a five-hour drive away.
Mangalore Airport (121km) is closer than Bangalore, but the drive from Bangalore is better. Spicejet, Air India, Jet Airways and JetKonnect fly to Mangalore from major Indian cities (return fares from ` 5,490). The resort offers pick-ups (from ` 2,500/ one-way).
Kadur (71km) is the closest railway station. Take the 12725 Intercity Express (leaves Bangalore City Jn [SBC] 1pm, arrives Kadur [DRU] 4.15pm; ` 284 AC Chair Car) and return by the 12726 Intercity Express (leaves Kadur [DRU] 9.52am, arrives Bangalore City Jn [SBC] 2.05pm; ` 284 AC Chair Car). Flameback Lodges will arrange transfers (` 1,500 one-way in an Indica).
The resort has SUVs, in which it takes guests to trekking points, drives and temples in the area (free). Longer drives to places like Belur or Halebidu are chargeable (from ` 2,000). We used the services of Travelzone (00-91-99802 22022; email@example.com; No 25, 2nd floor, 2nd Cross, Kasturibanagar, Bangalore; from ` 2,400/ day).
Where to stay
Flameback Lodges: The resort has eight rooms – three paddy villas (from ` 12,000), three luxury villas (from ` 15,000) and two suites (from ` 15,000). Room rates include all meals and beverages, activities like kayaking, cycling, jeep drives and use of the sauna and gym (00-91-8263-215170/ 470, 00-91-9242714197 [P Bharath Chandra]; flameback.in, firstname.lastname@example.org; Billur Post, Pattadur Village, Mudigere Taluk, Chikmagalur).
What to eat
The food at Flameback is flavoursome and the menu is a good mix of traditional food – with recipes borrowed from the local Gowda and Mangalorean cuisines – and continental food, with excellent coconut, peanut and sesame pudis (dry powder chutneys) that go with everything from neer dosa to rice. The silky lemon pudding, with just the right amount of zing, is a must-try, as is the freshly-baked bread.
What to pack
Motion-sickness meds, walking shoes, jacket, mosquito repellent and a healthy appetite
The local market, or shandy – a corruption of the word ‘sandhai’, meaning market – is held once a week at different venues all over Chikmagalur. It’s held in Mudigere, the town nearest Flameback Lodges, every Friday. It’s a bustling burst of colour and a good way to kill time. You can pick up the odd knick-knack, too (Sante Maidan, Mudigere; 11am – 6pm; from ` 50 for a clay figure). Flameback Lodges sells organic coffee (from ` 245/ 500g) and spices like cardamom (from ` 500/ kg) and black pepper (from ` 400/ kg).
Clean loo guide
The loos at restaurants en route are basic at best. The one at the Indian Oil Petrol Pump is marginally better than the restaurants’ (Badkala, Mudigere Rd).
Even though a jungle surrounds it, Flameback Lodges is quite safe thanks to Shark, Caesar and Ruby – the resident German shepherds.
Flameback Lodges has a doctor on call. The closest good hospital – MGM Hospital – is in Mudigere town (00-91-8262-222505; KM Rd, Mudigere, Chikmagalur).
There aren’t any designated play areas, but the ample open spaces are great for a romp with the three lovable German shepherds. Cycling, kayaking and some of the shorter treks are some activities children can try here. But with a place as romantic as this, do consider leaving your kids at home.
Good to know
- Cellular reception is nonexistent here, except for BSNL users.
- It’s usually foggy in the evenings – which, combined with the winding ghats, makes driving dangerous; try to reach the place before sundown.
- Although there is no room service, the resort will make exceptions for the elderly who may find the walk to the restaurant tiring.
- If you enjoy the outdoors, chat with Bharath and he’ll organise a butterfly tour, bird-watching tour, plantation walk and the like for you. There’s even a night drive to see the fireflies on offer in the right season (check with the hotel for prices).