Cosying up to Nature in Kodaikanal​

An upmarket addition to the verdant hilltown, the Tamara Kodai is all snug nooks and history wrapped up in architectural elegance.

Please login to bookmark

Built in the 1840s, the building that houses The Tamara Kodai has seen its share of makeovers. At present, its 53 plush suites sprawl over eight acres in the Western Ghats. Photo courtesy: The Tamara Kodaikanal

Three monks gather around the entrance of The Tamara Kodai, the Tamara group’s newest property in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. The dark marble figures stand in communion, their figures denoting peace, reflection, meditation. The statues pay tribute to the monks who used to live in the older avatar of this building on St Mary’s Road, built in the 1840s as the Baynes Bungalow. Originally owned by a British district judge, and sold and renovated in 1860, the building later emerged as La Providence—a rest house for priests from Nagapattinam.

The handcrafted statues, designed by the property’s architect Mahesh Iyer, speak to history but have a modernist aesthetic; they are abstract, without faces. If they had them, they might proclaim the surprise of these early inhabitants of La Providence, who would never have dreamt of such luxury, let alone a temperature-controlled pool that allows its occupants to swim in the cool Kodai mist. With its 53 plush suites, The Tamara has used about eight acres of prime land to create a landmark resort in the Western Ghats.

The aesthetic is simple yet impressive. Sleek, wooden Indonesian furniture, railway sleepers forming the entrance to some of the rooms, elegant drapery, and large, graceful exteriors—the place is full of classic, old-world charm. A restful pastel green features in all the signage and the fortitude of stone is showcased wonderfully throughout the property. The high-ceilinged lobby, full of spacious fireplaces, gives way to conference rooms, restaurants, and a halcyon pathway, bordered by cottages.

Tamil Nadu 14

The resort rooms are spacious and comfortable, with wooden floors, room heaters and minimalist interiors that work well in Kodai’s cool climes. Photo courtesy: The Tamara Kodaikanal

Tamil Nadu 15

The placid Kodai lake is located close to the resort. Photo by: jayk7/Moment/Getty Images

 

The rooms, at about 450 square feet (all luxury suites, superior luxury suites are slightly larger), are comfortable and spacious—a partition separates the living room from the bedroom when you want to retreat. With its wooden floors, room heaters and traditional yet minimalist interiors, this is the kind of space which works best in Kodai’s cool climes. Tranquil watercolour paintings depicting local scenes decorate the walls, and each room opens out to a verandah, where you can sit and watch the inevitable afternoon rain. The daybed is another charming feature, the perfect spot to curl up and read, and a writing desk offers space for work or reflection. All that’s missing is a yoga mat and turndown service with verses from Rumi.

“We wanted to create a space in Kodai for the luxury traveller”, says Tamara Leisure Experiences’ CEO, ShrutiShibulal. “La Providence seemed to have it all—a rich history, a unique experience we could offer our guests, a diverse flora and fauna in the surrounding Shola forests, staggering views thanks to its elevated vantage point, easy accessibility and the space to expand.” The group is one of the most ambitious operators in Kodai’s small but burgeoning hotel scene, and has multiple properties operating and in development across South India.

The property’s biggest draw for locals is the rustic wine cellar and its multi-cuisine restaurant, Bistro 1845, which is scheduled to serve alcohol soon, says The Tamara. La Providence, the stunning dining room, features formal table settings, framed vintage prints and a centrepiece made up of a few dozen atmospheric lamps—a beautiful modern take on the chandelier. When we visited, it was filled with an uncanny chanting that evoked the history of the building (a recording, the staff told us, but the effect was surreal). The walls of this building are skilfully renovated to retain the look of the original, though the decor might feature one antique telephone too many.

Tamil Nadu 16

Kodai’s quaint but colourful character is reflected in old buildings like the Sacred Heart Church. Photo by: Vinod Kumar m/Moment/Getty Images

Tamil Nadu 17

Kodai’s misty groves of mountain trees add to its charm. Photo by: Paddy Photography/Moment Open/Getty Images

 

Among the standout dishes here are ennakathirakkai, or eggplant simmered in a tamarind-tomato gravy; hearty mutton shorba (served elegantly in a cast iron pot whose soupy contents are poured over flavourful morsels of meat); jungle curry, an oriental medley of baby corn, chicken and bamboo shoot; and Stuffed Mushroom Kumbh, in a sinful north Indian-style gravy. Everything from local Dindigul cuisine to Italian and Malayali fare is on offer on this menu, probably the most diverse variety on offer in Kodai. While some of the dishes on the menu (such as the risotto) weren’t available, this can be put down to the minor teething issues that mark the outset of any new venture. The service, too, needs some fine-tuning, but the staff are wonderful and warm, many of them from nearby areas.

Situated outside but at walking distance from the hubbub of the centre, the resort is close to both the central Kodailake and some of the town’s green spaces. It is a veritable oasis in what has become a noisy, over-crowded town during the months of April-May every year. Kodai may follow the lost paradises of Shimla, Nainital and Ooty, if measures to limit footfall and pollution are not taken.

There are few things as surreal as staying in a hotel in your hometown (I grew up here). What is special about The Tamara is that it truly makes you feel like you are elsewhere; both visitors and locals will feel transported. This, after all, is the ultimate goal of a hotel. Especially memorable was the sensation of being in open water in a cold place and not freezing! Add to this the easy access to hiking I took the trail to Vattakanal, a half hour walk with flying squirrel spottings, and lazy, purposeless walks within the property. Resorts tend to parachute into small towns. Many prefer boutique hotels when it comes to authenticity, but they don’t always acquire the critical mass necessary to survive. This is a venture that appears to be trying to integrate with the surrounding township, and not just in the painstaking restoration of the building it began with.

While the standards it brings to the cosy hotel scene in Kodai are wonderful, it remains to be seen if The Tamara will implement the many programmes it has in mind, around garbage management in the vicinity and entertainment programmes incorporating the customs of Kodai’s indigenous people. The signs look promising.

Essentials

The Tamara Kodai is located in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, and is a 3-hr drive from Madurai airport and 4.5-hr drive from Coimbatore airport (www.thetamara.com; doubles from Rs19,840).

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

  • Rajni George is an editor and writer. She has worked in publishing and journalism for the last decade, and enjoys slow travel.

COMMENTS

Please Login to comment
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE