Why Go To Red Hills
Green slopes, waterfalls fields of wild flowers and dewy grassland, locally-grown tea sipped by a roaring fire and the urge to snuggle deeper into your muffler. It’s hard to believe that the English countryside is only a 300km drive from Bangalore. Welcome to Red Hill Nature Resort, the closest thing to jolly old England that the Deccan has to offer.
Located in the Nilgiris, the drive there takes you up a twisting but spectacular ghat road. Each turn offers a sight that tops the last. The final leg of the journey cuts through a pine forest growing on steep slopes that, except for glimpses of blue water, obscures the view. And when you finally clear the woods, the reward is a vista that trounces everything that came before, as green hills rise majestically above misty waters of eight lakes.
The resort itself is based around a 115-year-old bungalow with whitewashed walls, tiled roofs, well-manicured lawns and strategically-planted flowerbeds. Originally owned by an English knight, the estate changed hands in 1937 when it was taken over by the Kumar family. Everything, from the refined manners and accent of the host, Vijay Kumar, to the century-old furniture, has stayed true to its Origins. You can choose from 10 cottages on the grounds, each with subtle differences, though they all offer the same English feel. The floors are either red oxide or wood, the furniture is colonial in style, and there are fireplaces everywhere. The main dining hall offers all this on a grander scale, with a large hearth and plush leather sofa being the main attraction. Still-chilly evenings generally find guests engrossed in lively conversation around the fire.
A stay here is a truly unique experience and is almost worth the fairly step price tag. Almost. One never quite shakes off the feeling that something’s missing. The cottages lack aesthetic details that are vital. The floors don’t have rugs; the pictures on the walls haven’t been chosen or placed with any real thought. The bathrooms are spacious but suffer a similar affliction, with tricky plumbing and the odd uncovered socket. Most of this can be easily ignored, though. Light up a fire and the room becomes cosy, but when you are paying five-star prices you have a right to expect a little extra.
The resort offers several activities as part of the daily package. Start with an 11km trek into the surrounding hills. While 11 km might not seem like much, it’s uphill for a good part of the way and takes at least six hours to complete. It is great exercise though, and offers breathtaking vistas and the possibility of seeing some of the diverse wildlife or 80 bird species that can be found in the area, including the greater hornbill.
Mountain biking is another option; but if this conjures images of adrenalin-pumping rides along rocky trails, you’re going to be disappointed. The most adventure you’ll have is when you’re done rolling easily down hill and have to cycle back up.
Visiting the local Toda village is one of the more interesting outings; the Todas are the most ancient of the five tribes that inhabit the Nilgiris, and are said to have Greek blood. You could also go to the trout hatchery, though the air of decay that permeates the area isn’t exactly uplifting.
The Porthimund and Parsons Valley reservoirs and beautiful and offer gorgeous sunsets. Try and get permission to walk across Upper Bhavani Dam, though this is not always guaranteed as it’s a protected area (ask at the resort; Rs. 2,000). You can also fish here; the resort provides fishing equipment and a guide who will string your rod, set your bait, and teach you how to cast a line. While you may not catch the trout or carp that can be found in the lake, it’s great way to spend a day, and one that fits the relaxed moods that Red Hills is likely to put you in.
How To Reach Red Hills
Closest metro: Bangalore (310km) is a six-to seven-hour drive away. Leave early to avoid traffic. There are two routes you can take from Bangalore; one via Mysore (SH17), and the other via Chamarajnagar (NH-209). Both converge in Gundlupet on the Karnataka Tamil Nadu border, ensuring that you get the full benefit of some of the most beautiful forest scenery that the south has to offer.
Closest city: Coimbatore (110km)
Closest airport: Coimbatore Airport (110km). Red Hills Nature Resort arranges pick-ups; it’s three hours away (Rs. 3,000 one way). While flying cuts travel time, the cost negates any benefit. Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, SpiceJet, IndiGo, Go Air and Air India fly from Bangalore, with return economy fares starting Rs, 5,300.
Closest Railway Station: Ooty (28km). There are no direct trains from Bangalore to Ooty; it’s best to take a train to Mysore (155km). Take the 12007 Shatabdi Express (leaves Bangalore City Junction 11am, arrives Mysore Junction 1Pm; Rs.305 AC Chair Car) and return by the 12008 Shatabdi Express (leaves Mysore Junction 2.15pm, arrives Bangalore City Junction 4.15pm; Rs. 275 AC Chair Car). From there, take a cab to Ooty (Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 2,000). You could also take the daily overnight 11013 Coimbatore Express (leaves Bangalore City Junction 10.15pm, arrives Coimbatore Junction 6.30am; Rs. 472 3AC) and return by the 16525 Bangalore Express (leaves Coimbatore Junction 10.50pm, arrives Bangalore City Junction 6.55am; Rs. 514 3AC).
Getting Around Red Hills
Transport is part of the package at Red Hills Nature Resort. There are two jeeps that will take you around.
Where To Stay in Red Hills
Red Hills Nature Resort has 10 rooms and cottages, and prices are constant year-round. All rooms have a similar theme but there are differences. Rooms in the main building have great views, but you’re more likely to have people always walking past your door. The two rooms tucked in the back of the resort are more private, and the forested hills tower above. Or, choose from the two rooms located on a higher plateau slightly above the rest of the compound. Very private, larger than the other rooms, and thanks to their elevated location, offering the best views of the valley. However, they’re recent additions, and though pains have been taken to mimic the original style, they haven’t quite succeeded in achieving this (Red Hills Nature Resort, Emerald, Nilgiris; Rs. 6,000 including meals, transport and all activities.)