Sinna Dorai’s Bungalow Valparai

TEA O’ CLOCK – Grey clouds roll in and the bright green below takes on a darker shade under their fluffy bellies. A minute later, the scene changes, and now, the swathes of land are emerald green again and the sky is a bright blue, worthy of a Famous Five picnic, complete with scones, jam and lemonade.

This is the scene that greets you every single day at the Colonial Sinna Dorai’s Bungalow, a bubble of comfort in the wilds of the Anamalai Hills. Dating back to the 1940s, the bungalow stands high atop a hill and was once home to the sinna dorai (assistant manager in Tamil) of the surrounding estate.

The bungalow itself is a memory preserved in amber – British-era furniture, a library stocked with news magazines from the 50`s, and cosy rooms with (unused) fireplaces. This property is so nice that you wouldn’t want to venture outside at all. But, venture you must.

Wake up by 6am to the whistling of the Malabar thrush, then head out with Murugan for a spot of bird-watching (free). Through your time here, Murugan will be your lifeline. Also the resident naturalist, he is part of the staff and will go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that you live in as much comfort as a dorai would.

Valparai’s tea estates are surrounded by the Western Ghats, so the area is home to many feathered creatures. Do you hear high-pitched cries echoing across the landscape? Those would be peacocks. A speck of yellow flying by? That might be the more elusive great hornbill. Blame the fresh air or all the walking, but you will be famished by the time you’re back from your jaunt. The staff understands that, and breakfast is a hearty affair: fluffy idlis, crisp dosas and, if you’re still hungry, there’s an English breakfast with toasted sweet bread and eggs.

When you’ve had your fill, settle into a chair on the verandah with a cup of tea watching the rain clouds swoop in. The tea itself is magic in a cup. If you’re curious about what goes into the cuppa, go on a tea trail. Meet the tea pluckers, snipping away with their shears, and learn how to pick tea leaves (it’s always two leaves and a bud). Then, drive down to Mayura Factory and watch how the tender young leaves are processed to give you the beverage you know (free).

There are many walking trails on the estate, ranging in duration from 45 minutes to five hours. Pick a trail and start walking with Murugan guiding you along. The plantations and the surrounding forest are home to many species of fauna, like the lion-tailed macaque, the Indian gaur, the leopard and even the ana (elephant) that gives the hills their name. Murugan promises to take you “romba (very) close” to the gaur and the macaques, and, if he has his way, you’ll come away having seen at least one, if not all of these. You can also choose to walk with a different goal in mind – a picnic atop a hill (free), with a panoramic view of the area. The staff will assemble a hamper for you, and you can undertake the 45-minute uphill climb (if you prefer not earning your food, ask Murugan to take you through the shortcut, which will get you there in 10 minutes).

Ruskin Bond, in his book Rain in the Mountains: Notes from the Himalayas, says: “It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape.” And that is exactly how Sinna Dorai’s Bungalow will make you feel.

FACT SHEET

GETTING THERE

  • Closest metro: Bangalore (426km)
  • Closest cities: Coimbatore (107km), Kochi (157km)
  • Closest airport: Although Coimbatore Airport is the closest (119km), Cochin International Airport (124km) offers better connectivity. SpiceJet, Jet Airways, IndiGo, Air Asia, Vistara and Air India fly to Kochi from Bangalore (return fares from Rs. 3,120).
  • Closest railhead: Coimbatore Junction (CBE; 104km). Take the 11013 Coimbatore Express (leaves Bangalore City Junction [SBC] 10.10pm, arrives CBE 7am; Rs. 635 Third AC) and return by the 16525 Bangalore Express (leaves CBE 10.55pm, arrives SBC 7.20am; Rs. 695 Third AC).

GETTING AROUND
You will need a car with you at all times. The property can arrange a car with a local driver for you on prior notice (price depends on the excursion) or you can rent a car from Taxi Kochi (00-91-484-2707183; www.taxikochi.com, mail@taxikochi.com.com; from Rs. 2,900/ day [200 km/ day] for AC sedan).

WHERE TO STAY
Sinna Dorai’s Bungalow: This converted bungalow is sparsely decorated with wide windows and only six rooms. It’s exactly what you’d expect it to be: quiet, with only birdsong to keep you company. There is no air-conditioning, no TV, and no room service – but you won’t miss any of these (reservations: 00-91-4253-222265; www.sinnadorai.com, sinnadoraivlD@pai.muruaaDDa.com; Paralai Estate lyerpadi, (via) Pollachi, Coimbatore; Rs. 8,500/ night with all meals and activities).

WHAT TO EAT
The food at the bungalow is so brilliant that you wouldn’t want to eat elsewhere. Every meal is a three-course spread, featuring the best home-cooked fare available in the region, from avial and porial to sambhar-rice and meat-based dishes. You can also get continental cuisine on request. The desserts, especially the carrot payasam and the coconut souffle, are to die for. The cook, Ashirwadam, will also happily share recipes with you (breakfast: 7.30am – 10am, lunch: 1pm – 3pm, dinner: 7.30pm – 10pm). About an hour out of Cochin International Airport, close to Athirapally Falls, is Green Valley Hotel, where you can grab a meal before the long drive ahead (00-91-480-2769852; 9.30am – 9.30pm; mains from Rs. 150).

WHAT TO PACK
Rain gear, flashlight, insect repellent, binoculars, lightweight field shirts, T-shirts, shorts, water-resistant shoes, and a jacket for the cool mornings and nights.

CLEAN LOO GLIDE
Use the loo at Green Valley Hotel, as what follows after Athirapally is a vast stretch of forest land, with no loo stops.

SHOPPING
TMD Agencies stocks teas sourced directly from the factories that manufacture them and aren’t adulterated (00-91-4253-222675/ 76; 9/114, Main Rd, Valparai; 9am – 8.30pm; from Rs. 110 [black tea], from Rs. 180 [green tea]).

MEDICAL AID
There is a first-aid kit at the property for minor injuries or illnesses. For more serious issues, head to Parry Agro Garden Hospital, which is 4km away (00-91-4253-222488; Upper Paralai; 24×7). In case of a medical emergency, it is best to make your way to Coimbatore.

SAFETY
The bungalow has an electric fence to keep wildlife away, but animals roam freely outside the estate. Don’t step out without a staff member accompanying you at all times. The area is infested with leeches in the monsoon; so carry snuff or tobacco to ward them off.

CHILD-FRIENDLINESS
The management would advise you not to bring kids along, as there isn’t much here to keep them entertained. However, if they do accompany you, it would cost an additional Rs. 1,500/ night (six – 10 years) or Rs. 2,750/ night (over 11 years).

GOOD TO KNOW
* The property offers a night drive for wildlife sighting, but, as you need to take your own car, it might not be the safest option.

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