Ever wondered what makes you yearn to go back to a place repeatedly?
It could be as pretty as a picture and some places don’t work that for you. It is simply the way the memory of that place is instilled in one’s mind. The rush of joy in one, when those moments at that place are randomly revisited by the strayed mind. One feels the breeze, smells that fragrant air or even drools at the mental imagery of the food they once had. My constant such place, a zen zone of sorts, has been the Sinnadorais Bungalow up in Valparai of the Anamalais.
Two splendid colonial bungalows- Rottikadi & Iyerpadi, nestled amongst verdant tea gardens lined with forest fragments and breathtaking views of the evergreen grass hills. Be it monsoon or spring or winter, the charm of these bungalows reach newer bounds every season.
The glistening red oxide floors, the dainty wooden furniture, the floral arrangements, the antiques, the wall hangings and the quaint library - all wonderfully coherent and sensitive to the land and its heritage. The amenities are precise and the activities offered are thoughtfully curated. The easy chairs and wrought iron benches at every corner are such subtle reminders of relaxation and you can’t help but cocoon into them often.
The well made, cozy bedrooms, citronella scented spic and span bathrooms ,the dressers that make you want to get dolled up or the study table that urges you to write; aid you into experiencing the good slice of plantation living. It would make one consider plantation as your career alternative. While it is true that this charming bungalow would make you pine for time there, I wondered if it was just that.
Impeccable hospitality is in the air at Sinnadorais. The gatekeepers here are hard to beat as you are welcomed by bloomers of every colour and songs as sweet as honey by the endemic Malabar Whistling Thrush. The fresh gust of breeze makes you feel instantly light almost as if you experience calm for the very first time. It would be right to say that Valparai is blessed on impartial terms when it comes to beauty. Just as I think that, Uma akka with her bright smile welcomes me with a refreshing drink to kickstart my rendezvous with I, me and myself. The drink is just the perfect way to sink into the reality of the forthcoming days of blissful slow-living.
Chitra akka, is one of the earliest working members at the bungalow and her innocence and warmth is endearing. I am an unembarrassed fan of milk powders ; on one of my stays at the bungalow, she had noticed me dunk the lil sachets and get to an empty tray. I got back to my book only to be interrupted by this sweet woman’s gesture of offering me a larger sachet of milk powder while telling me how much she loved it when she was young and that she’d stock a few extras for me. Since then, every time I see a sachet of milk powder, it is the thoughtfulness of Chitra akka that pops in my head and there has been an inevitable smile on my face.
When you live in Valparai, sipping tea becomes a way of life. While I end up swaddled in thermals or quilts, the chefs Asirvatham or Murugan never fail to pamper me with their mouth watering delicacies. A humble pakora and a hot cup of chai could even heal the brokenhearted when served just right and these men have never failed to deliver that. If you are a coffee person, give in and let them nurture your experience with tea and it will stay with you.
My plantation walks with Thavam and Murugan Anna have been experiences to cherish. Being a birdwatcher, it is impossible to hide the excitement when I see hornbills or scimitar babblers or black eagles just waltzing around me. Having sighted my euphoria, Murugan Anna who had left for the day returned one night, just to show me a brown fish owl. While it might only sound like a person merely did their job, one must also consider the terrain this person lives in.
The estate is located in a wildlife habitat that is home to Gaurs, Elephants and Leopards. The exceptionally blessed ones have spotted a Tiger too. This man walks or rides through the estate in the dark to get to his home after a day of work. The encounters he may have are worrisome to imagine. The diligence he had to his duty, his sheer passion towards hospitality or just the goodness in him to see his guest experience the happiness of spotting an owl is what made him choose to walk back through the dark estates that night. An ever smiling, humble man, fulfilling his purpose to the best of his ability is who I met that night and he gifted me with a wonderful nocturnal birding experience at the Bungalow.
The Rani Life is what I call my time at The Sinnadorais Bungalow. Luxing in crisp, white bed linen- check; gorging on sumptuous food- check; self care with all things cared for- check. An integral part of this life are the walks and book reading sessions in the green spaces around the bungalow that are impeccably maintained and cared for by the gardeners Hari & Muthu. I have had insightful talks on gardening with Mr.Muthu and he was the one who taught me to propagate a poinsettia. Free knowledge or plant cuttings are a few other perks of staying at these bungalows.
All of these wouldn’t be a reality if not for good training and management. On my latest visit to the property, I made sure to document these endearing people of Sinnadorais and pivotal to it all was Mrs. Meenu Mandanna Nair. Her day begins before any of her guests could wake up; she monitors every tiny detail at the property - the cleanliness, the menu for the day, the garden, the table setting, floral arrangements, the waste segregation & composting, the bed making for incoming guests to making sure the blinds are rolled up so you enter a bright space in the morning with not a wing of a termite from the previous night left on the floor.
She has always made sure that I felt safe on my solo visits to the property. Her thoughtfulness and foresight makes the bungalows baby proofed. Her date cake is a signature dish and celebrations at Sinnadorais get better with it. As the manager of the bungalows her systematic way of operations from the booking process to the checkout makes every part of your stay pleasurable. I have enjoyed my conversations with her on a plethora of topics ranging from home linen to self care. I would call her the Conductor who orchestrates the symphony that is The Sinnadorais.
Photographed by Keerthana Balaji, The Dream Team of Sinnadorais Bungalow
The Rani Life is an experience crafted very carefully by Mrs Meenu and her endearing staff at Sinnadorais and they are my reason to return to this plantation bungalow time and again.