Monday, 18 April 2011

Mum Knows Best

With Spring Break fast approaching and still no holiday plans, I was beginning to get a bit panicky.  The novelty of the beach shack in Goa was wearing thin and the pressure was on for me to sort something out…and fast. We’ve only just recovered from the cost of Christmas in Thailand so I was looking for something economical and child-friendly. Orissa was rejected by the kids for being “too templey” and Kerala is apparently “too swampy.”
It was a stroke of genius on my part to insist we visit the Travel Exhibition at Bandra  Kurla after a particularly exhausting day in South Mumbai. Typically, nobody wanted to come and all three of them dragged their feet and moaned all the way around the exhibition. I had a word with a couple of tour operators who were only interested in selling me expensive international holidays and looked at me blankly when I said we only had a week and didn’t want to spend much. “So, how about Australia then?” er, no thanks.
I was about to give up when I came upon a stand for Shah Holidays manned by a very affable Jimmy Shah who said: “Madam, I have two words for you…Orange County. ‘’ The pictures of the private pool villas in  both resorts did look fantastic and I later found out are listed in the Small Luxury Hotels of the World directory.  Yes, but how much would it cost? Jimmy explained that it would be a two resort holiday - Coorg, and Kabini,  100km apart and a six hour drive from Bangalore. The price included airfare, a/c Innova, all meals and a ‘pick and choose’ itinerary of sightseeing and nature walks. The cost was a fraction of what we paid for Thailand, in fact, it seemed too good to be true but Jimmy promised me that if we didn’t love it the moment we arrived, he would give me a full refund.
And so a couple of weeks later we found ourselves driving out of Bangalore and into the lush green Karnataka countryside. The pace of life was suddenly much slower and it was a pleasure to see how rural India was coping with modernity – very well, thanks very much!  Driving past blue lakes and green fields, we eventually arrived at a coffee plantation nestled in the heart of the Western Ghats which was home to Orange County resort, Coorg. The air was clean, there was no litter and tiny coloured birds flitted overhead.
 Hugh said:  “Wow mum, it’s like Center Parcs but a million times better! “ Praise indeed from a normally grumpy 13-year-old.
Within hours, the kids had hired bikes and were off into the forest exploring the resort and we were in the deckchairs by the private pool,   digesting the enormous buffet lunch which had welcomed us.  The air was still and silent but for a few bird calls and our children ringing the bells on their bikes and shouting to each other in the distance.  When they came back, they were full of it.
“There’s three restaurants and you can eat whatever you want and there’s a big pool and a playground and a shop and a spa and a jackfruit tree and tribal dancers are coming at sunset and can we go on the bird watching tour and the spice tour?

This was all particularly appealing to Hugh and Polly because they spend so much of their time in Mumbai plugged into the X box or glued to YouTube, here was something they hadn’t experienced in a while… freedom.
So off they went again on the bikes and we got back to our books, it was shaping up to be a great holiday, everybody’s happy. Later on I had a bath in the inside/outside bathroom and a tiny multi-coloured bird flew in to drink nectar from the enormous flower that grew in there. I experienced one of those ‘I love India’ moments that are quite rare in Mumbai.
Over the next few days we stuffed our faces three times daily and waddled out to watch tribal dancing in the evenings. We went on nature walks and plantation tours and now I know absolutely everything there is to know about coffee. We visited a Tibetan Temple which was far grander than any I saw in Thailand.  I didn’t want to leave Coorg because I didn’t think anywhere else could be as perfect.
And then we arrived in Kabini - the second resort of the holiday.  The welcoming committee was marvelous, we were played in by a groovy little band, had our foreheads daubed with red powder and met the friendly resort elephant. Whereas Coorg was all about flora, this place was about fauna. After a delicious lunch, the children went down to the lake to wash the elephant and then we all took a ride in a coracle, no wallets or purses needed here. We went on a boat Safari and saw more animals than we thought we might though not the tiger that the earlier safari goers reckoned they saw. But there were elephants, warthogs and monkeys aplenty.  
“I like this place even better than the other place,” said Polly. Personally, I couldn’t really say which I liked best.
On the last evening, sitting in the Watering Hole with a couple of beers (wallets were necessary here) we watched as the kids and the elephant turned to silhouettes against the sunset  and reflected that this had indeed been a holiday of a lifetime and that we probably wouldn’t be asking Jimmy for a full refund.

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