Orange County - Coorg

Number 10 often finds a pride of a place amongst numerals. 10 Downing street symbolizes the seat of power, a Perfect 10 defines the zenith of performance in gymnastics. Jersey numbers of sports legends (Pele, Maradona, Beckam to our own genius - Sachin) have been Number 10.

Naturally, our 10th wedding anniversary demanded a perfectly planned holiday.

Like typical Indian PC Buffs, Gallons of midnight oil was burnt, surfing through hordes of holiday planning sites, and the decision was ORANGE COUNTY five-time winner of the RCI Resort of International Distinction.

The Shatabdhi express took my family (wife, daughter and me) from Chennai to Mysore and a car ride through meandering roads (around 100 KMS from Mysore) past lush coffee plantations and a dense reserve forest lead us to Orange County.

This fairy tale place is set in the midst of a 300 acre Coffee Plantation bordered on one side by River Cauvery and the other side by the Great Dubare Reserve Forest complemented by a 4 acre private lake. A small wooden gate, with two guard houses and a small wooden name board, provide the entrance to this wonderful place. The chirping of birds and the drone of the bee's are natures first welcome notes, as we drive through the gates.

The first impression of this place is deceptively ordinary. An English clubhouse styled, all rosewood reception, forms the main office. Anthurium bouquets and a passion fruit welcome drink, sets the tone for the hospitality in store. A wide choice of accommodation is available. A simple apartment styled single room, a faithful re-creation of an English County Tudor cottage, a Presidential Villa, or a traditional Kerala Mansion with a private pool - options to suit the pocket and style. Each of them have been tastefully laid, amidst sprawling lawns, bordered by coffee shrubs and pepper creepers.

The Five Star quality Villa with it's own private pool, exotic rosewood furniture and an ambience matching the traditional Malabar aristocracy, was our retreat for the next few days. The tastefully recreated traditional Kerala mansion is a splurge of rosewood excellence. The plush interiors are complemented with five star bathroom facilities and a large (really huge) bedroom and dressing area. Set within the Ayurveda Village, there are only two of these master pieces, that almost transport you, back in time.

An amazing view of the paddy fields, bordered by the jungle, with the calls of the Bison, the trumpeting of the elephants and the various sounds of the forests, just across a high barbed wire fence, completes this awesome setting. The pride of place however, is the tastefully laid out private pool amidst lush green lawns.

A dip into the pool in the enchanting night sets the tone for a few Fosters, before the train & car journey begins to take a toll. After a quick dinner, the sound of the forest lulls us to sleep.
A breathtaking morning dawns amidst the call of the wild, chirping of the birds and the humming of the bees. The landscape is a riot of different shades of green. The dark green pepper vines clinging on to tall trees, coffee bushes spreading out their branches, tender green cardamom plants covering the slopes, the coconut and banana palms swaying gently in the breeze with the wild flowers adding a dash of colour. The air is fresh and the pebblway presents an inviting setting for a refreshing walk or a jog.

The bird watchers abound the track in the wee hours of the morning and huge arrays of colorful birds adorn the trees and skies. This coupled with wild colorful flowers along the banks and the fresh mountain air is an awesome experience.

Breakfast is a combination of South Indian and Continental spreads. Activities begin with the Plantation tour. The resort is located in the middle of the Chikkenahally plantation and our guide, plucks ripe red berries to reveal the hidden coffee bean while talking us through the pulping, drying, cleaning and curing stages. We are also given a briefing on Teak, Pepper and other spice plants and their characteristics. This is rounded off by a visit to the anthurium garden where the red-spiked plant grows in lush splendor. The air is crisp as one walks through thick tropical forests, trying to store away all the straws of knowledge gathered, as only the unaware can. Our guide explains that some of the prized coffee bushes have been producing berries for 90 years. As for the oranges after which this resort takes its name, they were destroyed by disease a dozen years ago. Coffee, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, teak, mahogany, rosewood, avocados, lemons and ginger make for a visual delight. He also cautions and points to a direction far away and deep into the wild, where a rouge elephant had gored a tribal the previous night.

Lunch is a lavish spread of traditional Coorgi and Continental cuisines, rounded off by a handy spread of desserts. It is best to take it a bit easy after lunch. The hammock at the banks of the lake helps laze around with book in hand. Optionally one could try fishing. Call it beginners luck we land a turtle. After a photo session, it is dutifully returned back to the lake.

The evening brings with it its own adventure - a stint at the 'Ayurveda Vaidyashala'. With a traditional prayer to start with, the masseurs go about their task with methodical ease, taking pains to explain each of their actions at various stages of the massage. It is a wonderful experience and a great stress reliever. This is usually followed by some outdoor games amongst guests (like shuttle badminton, etc) and soon the gathering is one big family..

As the sun sets, the twittering of birds and chirping of crickets punctuate our introductions and conversations with other guests The night comes alive at Orange County with the natural symphony of the sounds of the forest and the DJ taking charge of the guests at the common swimming pool.

There's plenty of music, food and fun. Game counters like 'Lucky 7'.Fishing the bottle lend a carnival atmosphere, which is rounded off by a game of 'Housie' with good prize money from the collections.

Dinner is a lavish affair with a mix of local, Italian, Chinese and continental flavors, and a mix of veg and non-veg counters at the Misty Woods restaurant. A handy spread of desserts, complete a sumptuous buffet. A thoughtful pot of midnight candy awaits us back at our villa, as we walk back the winding pebble tracks of the resorts, with bright stars on clear skies for company. The mystical silence urges us to whisper - not to disturb this rare tranquility.

Our villa, presents a magical picture, what with traditional bronze lamps lighting the gardens and trendy underwater lights casting a mystical blue shade around the pool. The bright stars and the sounds of the jungle across the fence add a magnificent aura to the stillness of the night. A relaxed stretch on the deck chairs, later followed by a midnight dip in the private pool, amidst the soothing splurge of the cool underwater sprouts, the tone is set for a perfect holiday routine - for the next few days..

This bird watchers paradise has a curious mix of local population - the Kodavas and the tribal people. The Kodavas are reputed to be descendants of an ancient warrior clan dating back to Alexander the Great. So fiercely independent were they that neither Tipu Sultan nor the British managed to conquer them. And to this day, they are the only Indians who have the privilege of carrying firearms without a license. If you hear a gunshot, fear not - birds aren't being hunted. More likely, it's one of the locals signaling the birth of a son.

Every day of the stay at the resort is a memorable event. Trekking, Cycling, Angling, Boating - a huge array of activities, depending on individual preferences awaits us. Almost every tall tree in the resort has a little placard with a homily painted on it, lauding the virtues of honesty, hard work and respect for one's environment. There's also a duck pond with a gaggle of geese and a good range of ducks at the resort while the turkeys strut around, occasionally chasing visitors. The Barn basically hosts the library and indoor activities during daytimes. Kids are kept engaged through the day with a hoard of activities from drawing to crafts to what have you.

The people at the County take hospitality to newer heights. From the guards to the room attendants, from the receptionist to the stewards, each and every one of them pampers you with their hospitality and attitude. (Even Bruno, the resort dog seems to be bitten by the hospitality bug. One of the friendliest German Shepard's I've seen in recent times, Bruno dutifully kept us company every time we decided to trek or cycle into the woods)

There is a sign at the reception that reads -We welcome a visitor, and send back a Friend. This really says it all. It was with a heavy heart, we bade farewell to Orange County, at least for now!

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