What to do you say when your boss asks you to drive a luxury car to some even more luxurious resorts? I don't know about you but "No thank you, I would rather stay right here and come to office every day" is not among my list of responses. In fact as we speak I'm hatching my next big plan to escape from office and take a paid vacation. Err... Forget I said that. As I was saying I was under orders to take the new Toyota Corolla from Bangalore to Kochi and on the way stop at the Orange County resorts in Coorg and Kabini before sigh, taking the flight home having experienced the Brunton Boatyard in Fort Kochi.
After an early morning flight out of Pune I rendezvoused with Bert and our cameraman Satish in Bangalore. From here we were quickly shuttled to the Toyota factory at Bidadi to meet our companion for the drive - the Toyota Corolla Altis 1.8VL. The Corollas have long been known as some of the most comfortable cars around. And the new car isn't any different. Our car had the new 7-speed CVT gearbox, which is quite frankly the most exciting part of the car. Seamless gearshifts, quick responses and a premium far beyond what its price would suggest has become second nature to the Corolla now.
The road to Coorg is in perfect condition with dual carriageways most of the way. The Corolla's new 140PS engine made munching miles fairly easy. The last one third of the distance to Coorg is a single carriage way but is reasonably well maintained save for a few rough patches. The car took us over these rough patches without breaking a sweat.
Coorg is popularly known as the Scotland of India. I've never been to Scotland so I can only assume that Coorg does resemble Scotland, save for the lack of castles and bagpipes. The region has long been known for its natural beauty, wildlife, coffee and panthikari (the local pork curry). Nowadays, the place is also known for the Orange County luxury resort. The resort is set amidst 300 acres of coffee plantations and this theme is what can be seen in the kind of decor that is used here. The resort is surrounded on one side by the Dubare forest and on the other by the Cauvery river. The resort was started in 1994 on land acquired from the British by the Ramapuram family in 1926. In the beginning there were just ten cottages, from where it has grown to over 50 cottages in four different categories such as the county cottage, the presidential villa, the private pool villa and the king's court. The resort also has three different restaurants- the Granary, Peppercorn and Plantain Leaf each serving different kinds of food.
As we pulled into the reception area, the car looked perfectly at home in the premium resort. The newly restyled bumpers and front grille have given the Corolla a more upmarket look. Something you tend to appreciate when visiting places such as this.
We were staying at the private pool villa and boy was it luxurious. I used to think that having a pool in your backyard was luxurious. The thought of having a jacuzzi as well never even occurred to me. Everything in the cottage from the citrus scented interiors the to immaculately mowed lawn oozed luxury. The perfect place to kick back and relax.
The resort offers a wide range of activities for its guests and their kids. These include early morning bird watching tours, boating, ayurvedic massages and even a bicycle ride to the nearby tribal village. As we did not have the luxury of time with us, we decided the best way to get a taste of all these activities would be to ride a bicycle around the lake and then join the bird watching expedition for a bit before heading out for breakfast.
Post breakfast, it was time to head to our next luxury destination - Kabini. The distance to our next stop would be a little less than 120km but we were informed that the roads here are not exactly perfect. In fact we would soon find out that less than perfect actually meant almost nonexistent. The stretch of road from Coorg to HD Kote (trust me, you can't make up stuff like that) is quite good. But after HD Kote (it's a real place, honest) the situation worsens by gigantic proportions. We all know the Corolla is a solidly built car. But after an hour of driving on this road, we could hear squeaks from the car's suspension that weren't there before. But even as the Corolla got the thrashing of a life time in the space a few kilometres, we were all seated inside in relative comfort. So comfortable that Satish could even take a nap sitting in the car.
We had decided that rather than take the road all the way to the resort we would take a detour which would take us to a ferry. We would park our car there and proceed to the resort by boat. But by the time we got to the ferry, a journey that on any other day would take us just a little more than an hour had taken us close to four. We were so much behind schedule that halfway down the way we saw an Orange County safari jeep coming towards us. Apparently we were so much behind schedule that the Orange County management had sent a car to look for us. We followed them to the ferry and promptly hopped on.The ferry took us across the Kabini reservoir to a jetty where the boat docked. If it wasn't for the tourists crowded around the resort's resident pachyderm Meenakshi, I would've mistaken the resort for a tribal settlement. Orange County, Kabini is built around this tribal theme which it follows religiously with thatch roofed buildings and whitewashed walls. The only difference being, a tribal village does not have people waiting on you or a cottage with a private jacuzzi.
The main highlight of the resort at Kabini is the infinity pool that gives you a view of the Kabini reservoir. Unfortunately for us, the pool was undergoing maintenance when we got there. But the other amenities at the resort surely made up for that. The night started off with a cultural performance by the local villagers. A mixture of drums, flutes and a lot of dancing was accompanied by a snack of sweet potatoes in honey and roasted corn, after which Orange County's resident naturalist Aniket took us on a night time nature walk.
Orange County, Kabini is situated bang in the middle of the Nagarhole and Bandipur national parks. This makes it the perfect spot to experience wildlife. While on our night time nature walk we saw a number of interesting insects and bugs. We even managed to spot a trinket (a kind of snake) and a very rare worm snake.
The next morning we got onto the boat and headed into the national park to try and spot some wildlife. The Bandipur and Nagarhole national parks are home to a large variety of birds. This includes crested serpent eagles, kingfishers and grey headed fish eagles. We were hoping to see some tigers or at least a leopard. But Aniket informed us that this was the wrong season to try and spot tigers. As a consolation we did see some wild boar, sambar and spotted deer. Not quite the same.
We left Kabini by around noon and were headed towards Kochi. The drive takes us through the Nagarhole national park and into Kerala. Once we crossed into Kerala, the quality of roads improved dramatically. The entire stretch to Kalpetta is all smooth tarmac with tons of twists and turns that makes it the perfect driving road. With your favourite tunes blaring at full volume from the Corolla's touch screen entertainment system, driving on these roads is a real pleasure. The only worry is that being a single carriage way, you never know what might be coming at you at the next corner. Putting the Corolla through its paces on these roads is a joyful experience. What it lacks in handling, it makes up for in engine refinement and ride quality.
After passing through Kalpetta, Calicut and Thrissur, we finally reached Kochi late at night. We quickly checked in our hotel, the Brunton Boatyard and ran to the restaurant for dinner. The Brunton Boatyard is a CGH Earth establishment and boasts of being located right in the middle of historic Fort Kochi. The hotel is at the same site where the once prosperous boatyard of Geo. Brunton and Sons used to function. Having been a boatyard in the past, the hotel's location ensures excellent views of the bay. The Harbour suite of the hotel offers the most exquisite view among all the other rooms. Especially at night and early morning. At night you can see the brightly illuminated Vallarpadam container terminal across the bay. Get up early enough in the morning and you will find the Chinese fishing nets being lowered into the water.
The Brunton Boatyard is very well known for their food. This was demonstrated to us at both dinner and breakfast. The appams and fish curry we had for dinner still brings a tear to my eye. The amount of spices used, the consistency of the appams, everything was just right. Now the breakfast. We had a very varied mix of food for breakfast. There were appams and egg curry for local flavour and eggs Benedict for that British taste. By now you should be able to assume that this too was just, well, perfect.
It is a shame that we could not stay at any of these hotels for any longer. But one thing is for sure, I will be revisiting these places in the near future. As soon as I can save up enough money that is. And as far as our little road trip goes, I feel that no other car could have match up to the comfort and refinement of the Corolla. If I were to do the entire trip again, would I choose the Corolla? Hell yes.
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