This month RITZ goes back in time to two places that are a few centuries old and have been restored with modern sensibilities yet keeping the aesthetics and essence of the era gone by — The Tamara Kodai luxury resorts in the historical La Providence, in Kodaikanal, built at a 160-year old monastic retreat that has been restored and added with new constructions and Narendra Bhawan in Bikaner, Rajasthan that was once the grand residence of Narendra Singh, the last reigning Maharaja of Bikaner HH. We revisit India’s magnificent past and showcase a first-hand experience…
Finding Solitude & Peace in the Princess of Hill Stations
BY NAMITA GUPTA
Recce of The Tamara Kodai, a luxurious heritage resort that was once La Providence, an idyllic monastic retreat
You will be enveloped in a mask of green as you enter the picturesque foothills of Kodaikanal. After all, the name of the hill station itself means “The Gift of the Forest”. Either drive down to Kodaikanal from Chennai and Bengaluru by road or take the flight to Madurai and then drive up the rest of the distance to reach The Tamara Kodai, a 160-year old monastic retreat that has been restored and added with new constructions in the historical La Providence, in Kodaikanal. My weekend stay at this world-class heritage accommodation wasn’t just about indulging in luxury experiences in the heart of the Hills of Kodaikanal, but also delving deep into the poignant past and soaking in the serenity of nature at its best.
Kodaikanal was developed by the Americans. They came here as they wanted relief from Malaria and Cholera that was in the plains at that time and this quaint town became a retreat to escape from those diseases. The building itself was originally a residence of British District Judge Mr. Baynes. Baynes Bungalow was one of the first few houses to be built in the region and was sold to Father Louis Cyr in 1860, after which it was renovated and reopened as La Providence and used as rest houses for priests of Nagapattinam. The spectacular La Providence is a colonial building historically known to be one of the first to come up in Kodaikanal; today restored and expanded into a getaway tucked away amongst some of the most beautiful hills in south India, The Tamara Kodai is the perfect amalgamation of heritage and luxury experiences and houses 53 suites of French provincial design, tastefully created to take you back to a time when La Providence was a monastic retreat. Truly, a novelty in nostalgia!
A tour of this luxury Kodaikanal hotel dating back to the 1840s will leave you in awe and wonder on how Shruti Shibulal, Promoter and Director of Tamara Leisure Experiences with the help of a team of architects have transformed this heritage monastic retreat into what you see today. It took them almost ten years to restore and reconstruct it into the stunning marvel that it is now. Although the building was strong, it had to be restored with lime plaster, keeping sustainable living in mind. Some of the old windows and doors have been used and even if some new ones were to be added, they were built in a similar style to how it would have been back then. The French-styled dining bistro and the all-day dining restaurant was a library in those days with wooden flooring and was stacked with books. The upper deck has been retained to give it the look and feel of a library. There are conference rooms, a ballroom, The Elevation Spa (that offers extremely relaxing and rejuvenating spa treatments like Thai Massage and Deep Tissue Massage), a fitness centre and Kodaikanal’s only temperature-controlled swimming pool and a pool lounge. The suites boast of a bedroom with large balcony, living room, and an attached bathroom and each of them have been tastefully designed to take one back to a time when La Providence was a monastic retreat with wooden floors and colonial interiors, but have been equipped with all the modern-day facilities like room heaters, exhaustive in-room amenities, complimentary high-speed internet, LED TV with satellite channels, and 24-hour room service. The plantation teak wood furniture in the suites is sturdy keeping European aesthetics in mind.
Designed in the original La Providence building, the restaurant serves a lavish buffet including everything from international favourites to traditional, regional and local Indian cuisine. The restaurant also features a live kitchen counter to provide fresh, piping hot food straight off the stove, to your plate. Bistro 1845 is a French style à la carte bistro and bar, serving the best of European, Asian and Indian cuisine. With cozy settings both indoors and outdoors, this vintage-themed resto-bar takes you back in time. Located at the highest vantage point, the Levinge Lounge overlooks a heavenly view of the valley below.
Keeping responsible tourism in mind, everything in the entire property has been built in sync, including rain-water harvesting to make the resort self-sufficient. The resort also does its bit to support local employment, culture and practices.
After a relaxing, deep sleep on the comfortable bed, I was energised for my morning trek at the Rainbow forest, right next to The Tamara, under the guidance of Syed Mehaboob, who is a walking-talking encyclopedia on everything under the sun in Kodaikanal. Maneuvering my way through the thick foliage, mass of boulders, waterfalls, slopes up and downhill, I followed the trail led by Syed who shared his knowledge on the flora and fauna around. There are countless picturesque views from up the hill, but what won my heart was the Neelakurinji. The hills were covered with these Neelakurinji flowers that bloom once in 12 years and I was lucky to be surrounded by this masterpiece of nature. The trail led us to a winsome waterfall. Another must-visit is the Berijam Lake at the old site of Fort Hamilton in the upper Palani Hills amidst a canopy of green. On the drive to the lake you can stop at the Dolphin’s Nose, a rocky hill cliff to get a bird’s eye view of the breathtaking beauty around and a popular spot for photographs, the Pine Forest. No wonder, a lot of South Indian films have been shot here. You can also stop by the Manavanoor sheep farm where you can spot countless sheep grazing on the lush green slopes.
The highlight though was mountain biking around the slopes of Kookal Lake, again under the expertise of Syed, Manager, Unique Guest Experiences at Tamara. I was no longer wistful that I couldn’t go on a bike tour on my trip to Netherlands, a cycling paradise in January this year, as I rode on the scenic hill slopes. The pleasure of pedalling through forest paths uninterrupted and surrounded by mist is therapeutic and rejuvenating to one’s spirit. Adding to the experience was a stopover at a quiet, hill bounded picturesque lake. I had found the key to my solitude, bliss and adventure all at the same time, right here. The only thought running through my head then was, could I stay in this nature’s bounty forever.