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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Monica Garden Tea Bungalow: A Colonial Holiday House at Valparai

It is is the perfect blend of remoteness, forests, tea estates, colonial lifestyle and nature. And that is when you thought it could not get any better at Valparai, the unsung hill station located in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu in South India. The Monica Garden Tea Bungalow is a British Colonial House that was built in 1925  and that is currently being maintained and managed by the Woodbriar Group.

The famous tea estates of Valparai 
When I was here with a group a couple of weeks back, I liked a lot of things about this place. First and foremost, I liked the colonial experience. I felt royal standing in a mini cricket field like living room and having a shower in a bathroom that is bigger than my bedroom in Bangalore city. Then, came the location of this bungalow. One side of the bungalow led to the tea gardens while the other side leads to dense forest to the extent that one can spot leopards from right inside the bungalow. The place was very well maintained with a sprawling lawn, and colourful flowers and fruits seemed to bloom all around. This attracted a whole bunch of birds, including the Malabar Hornbill, the Malabar Whistling Thrush, Scarlet Minivet, Woodpeckers and more. Now that reminds me of the brilliant whistling sound that I would wake up to every morning. Apparently, this Malabar Whistling Thrush used to live in the bungalow as I used to spot it roosting on a thin bar outside my room every evening.

Grey Malabar Hornbill at Monica Garden Tea Bungalow, Valparai - 2 
Now that was about the place. Even the service here is top class. Since it is not a hotel or a resort, my expectations of service was minimal and I was pleasantly surprised when the local caretaker doubled up as our tourist guide for our entire stay. Not only was he knowledgeable about the terrain and history, but he also knew the best spots to see around. And all this when we totally did not see it coming. The food here was out of the world. There was not even one person in the group who ate anything without feeling joy. And all these delicacies were doled out by 2 chefs in the kitchen, one of them being a dessert chef. Oh my-oh-my, the taste of the caramel cake, the chocolate pudding, and the strawberry fruit custard still make my mouth water. The food (all meals) was a perfect combination of vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare all cooked according to the palate preference of the group members.

Solitary tree branch against a soft blue mountain sky 
The place has a very rustic look n feel with its massive rooms, antique fireplaces in each room and creaky flooring. But, it also comes with some new age luxuries like spring mattresses, fluorescent lights and a hot water geyser in the bathroom. When we jammed up here at Monica Garden Bungalow as a group, all of us felt like we had found ourselves a new home for those 3 days. Except for the cooks and the caretaker, the entire place was just for us. 2 cars in the parking lot, a sprawling lawn for a sweet afternoon siesta, chirping birds all around and picturesque landscapes all around…Doesn’t this sound like heaven to you?

Lion Tailed Macaque Family at Pudhuthotham Tea Estate, Valparai - 3 
Then for the adventure seeker, multiple trails from the bungalow lead into tea estates and forests. So, whether you are a wildlife lover, birder or nature lover, you are definitely bound to love these different trails. We were walking on one of these trails one evening when a local passing by advised us not to venture here alone in the night as a leopard has just given birth to a cub and that too not far away in the bushes. Now, ain’t that a serious adrenalin rush to know that the mother leopard is watching you closely from the bushes??!!

Gaur at Pudhuthotam Tea Estate, Valparai - 3 
The best part about the Monica Garden Tea Bungalow is its perfect balance of civilization and forests. This bungalow, situated about 5 kilometres from Valparai town is one of the three bungalow properties managed and run by the Woodbriar Group at Valparai. The other two being the luxurious Stanmore Garden Bungalow and Villa Fair Winds. To reach the Monica garden bungalow, one has to take the take the Chalakudy Road from Valparai and at Mata Temple Junction (Mother Mary Temple Junction), one has to take a left on the road that leads to Kurungamudi. Once you cross the tea garden roads and enter the forest section, look out for a road that ascends to the right. This is the road that leads to the bungalow.

Feeding time for the Grey Malabar Hornbill at Valparai - 6 
The special thing about all these three properties is one can rent out the entire bungalow and make it your holiday home for that long weekend or for the entire duration of your vacation. This is ideal is you are holidaying with a large group of family and/or friends. The per day cost for Monica Garden Bungalow and Villa Fair Winds for a group of 10 people is Rs 17,750 and this includes Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Tea and Tax. The equivalent cost structure for the luxurious Stanmore bungalow is Rs 23,750 for a 10 person group.

Black Rumped Flameback (Lesser Golden-Backed) Woodpecker at Valparai - 1 
Smaller groups or couples can also rent out rooms here. The room cost for Stanmore, Monica Garden and Villa Fair Winds is Rs 7302, Rs 5220 and Rs 5220 respectively. This includes cost of stay, tax and cost of breakfast, lunch, dinner and evening tea. For international travellers, do remember to carry your international travel insurance as this bungalow takes care of accommodation and food needs only and not your insurance requirements.

Waves of GREEN - Tea Estates at Valparai 
Valparai is splendid in all seasons of the year. The summer offers the best wildlife sightings. Winters give you that heavenly feel. Rains make this place come alive with stunning views and a lot of water all around. So, if you are interested in holidaying in this unsung hill station, do remember to check these bungalows out.



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