India Uncovered: Hiking In Coorg

Photo by Aparajith Bharathiyan via Flickr

Chris Caldicott, The Daily Telegraph, March 7, 2014

I‘m on a craggy ledge in the hills of Karnataka, and although it has been a tough four-hour hike to get up here, the views are extraordinary. At an altitude of just over 5,000ft, I can see all the way to the Arabian Sea coast and the jungles of Nagarhole.

Coorg (also known as Kodagu) is one of the wildest mountainous regions in India, covered in dense forests inhabited by wild boar, elephant, sloth bears and tropical birds. But there is little sign of man. On my way up, I have walked through rainforest, climbed over stiles, hiked through paddy fields, pastures and plantations of coffee and cardamom into misty thickets of teak and rosewood. And I have passed just 10 people.

The reasons for this are historical. Until the 19th century, the area was ruled by a clan of Kodagu rajas who deliberately kept the hill country devoid of roads, and relied on narrow jungle trails between settlements to discourage invasion. That, for a while, kept foreigners out. Even a few years ago, Coorg was little visited, and anyone adventurous enough to come here stayed in small traditional hotels, temple rooms or the private homes of the local Kodava people. There was very little on offer for travellers.

That all changed last year with the opening of Vivanta by Taj Madikeri Coorg in Madikeri, the region’s beautiful hill station capital. Now, visitors not only have a contemporary hotel in which to relax (it has glass walls to show off the spectacular views) but also a new range of activities to enjoy, based on the natural surroundings and the culture of the Kodava people (who have their own tribal dress and cuisine – and a fondness for extremely strong liquor).

Easy day treks can be organised from Madikeri, including one to the impressive, domed Indo-Saracenic tombs of the rajas at Gaddige and the spectacular Abbi Falls. Other options for guests at the Taj property include overnight guided treks into the misty peaks, past streams and forest temples, and courses in zip-wire and high-rope skills. For the less adventurous traveller, there are botanical walks in the 180-acre forest and trips to villages to learn about pottery and other crafts. Not least of the attractions is a 30,000ft spa, for those who prefer to eschew adventure and just take up a supine position and be pummelled.

The accommodation: Perched high on a forested ridge, the 63 villas are discreetly hidden in the rainforest canopy. Features include wraparound glass walls, huge marble tubs and warming fires. The architecture takes inspiration from local houses, with entrances and courtyards open to the sky and, at the spa, wood-fired Gudda baths (where guests are scrubbed and massaged). Dishes on offer range from Coorg specialities and health food to international cuisine. Doubles from £80, b&b.

Getting there: Greaves Travel is offering six nights at Vivanta by Taj and one night at Taj West End Bangalore from £1,880 per person. The price includes breakfasts, return flight with British Airways, private transfers and guides.