As you drive towards Hassan, a district town a little under 200 kilometres from Bengaluru, you go through half-a-dozen tollbooths. But you are keen to reach your destination fast and so you don’t mind paying a few hundred rupees to use the mostly four-lane National Highway 75 that’s smooth as a ribbon. But Hassan is not your destination. You take a deviation just before: off the highway, on the way to Mudikere.
The road is more “normal” here, narrower and often broken at the edges, but still very fine. The only problems are the drivers born out of wedlock, desperate to overtake other vehicles … they pass dangerously close to you from front and behind. While you’re wondering why these idiots are in such tearing hurry, you weather a few near misses and turn left at Mudikere towards Kottigehere. You take a right turn there and start climbing the Nilgiri Hills towards Kalasa. After seven short kilometres and the first hair-pin bend, you are greeted by a stone slab on your left that says:
Balur Estate, 1853
I have given a somewhat graphic how-to-reach-there because if you get an opportunity to visit Balur in Chikkamagaluru, you must not miss it. And if you don’t, you might look up my blog sometime in the future and fulfil my ambition to be of some use to humanity.
Balur is an 800-acre coffee plantation cradled in the Blue Mountains. It’s just off the road, but when you enter the estate hidden behind silver oaks and thick bushes, you feel you are hundreds of miles from the rest of the world. There is absolute stillness but for birds’ trill. Peace.
On the slope of a hillock, an enormous bungalow in the middle – home for generations of planter “sahibs” – is flanked by two smaller structures on either side. There is also a swimming pool behind. The coffee planters who ran this place obviously took material comforts seriously. In front of the bungalows are a number of rectangular red flats made of brick. They are for drying the produce, namely, coffee beans, cardamom, and pepper. The estate office is a little below in a thatched cottage, in front of which about a hundred workers, men and women, assemble every morning, After a roll-call, they melt into the jungles to cut weeds and spray pesticides. They will harvest the crop in the winter. It’s jungle all around. You see thick shrubs of coffee and cardamom plants and tall trees around which pepper and other creepers climb. … A world in myriad shades of green!
The main bungalow – we were lucky to be allotted this – has a large hall in front, a more intimate parlour inside, and bedrooms on either side. The rooms are about fifteen feet tall with some glass panes fixed on to the tiled roofs. So even the rooms inside get natural light during the day and at night when you lie down, you get a glimpse of the universe beyond. In the rear of the bungalow is a dining room that opens into an enormous kitchen. On the long table in the dining room a fabulous lunch had been spread out by the time we reached. And an exquisite Coorg cuisine is not the only thing that’s special about the place.
It will be an understatement if I say the place is well-appointed. The furniture is a combination of the old and the new, and the new ones have been carpentered to match the earlier antique pieces with intricate carvings. The people who run this place obviously have taste and an eye for details.
The eye for details was further confirmed when it became dark and suddenly the resort came alive with millions of crickets making a huge noise that only made the place even quieter. There are books to read and a carom board and board games like chess and Scrabble which you put to good use in the evening. You are closer to the elements when you are at Balur. The human species is two million years old and except for about just two hundred years or so since Thomas Alva Edison invented the light bulb, our life was neatly divided into two parts: work during the day and relax when it’s dark. At Balur, you follow this simple primordial routine and wonder why we should run around sixteen hours every goddamned day!
So that’s what life should be. Relax in the evening, sleep early, wake up with the chirping birds to go on a long walk through the plantation. The breakfast is ready when you are back. And then you have the entire day before you for more walk or to feed stray dogs with broken biscuits. Can you think of a more enchanting holiday?
Monday, 01 June 2015