What do 5th generation coffee estate owners, solar panels, rainwater harvesting, and mud-splashing off-road driving have in common?
Nature trippin is exactly what you get when you head to Golden Wood Eco holiday homes which is situated between the gorgeous expanse of the Western Ghats in India. It falls in Sakleshpur in the Malnad region, the name itself translates to the land of rain and hills.
The resort follows an Eco way of doing things and is also home to one of the oldest coffee cultivators in the country. About 150 years old exactly and they have been producing pure Arabica and Robusta coffee beans which are exported to countries all over the globe.
Their Classic Coffees brand has been winning the best Arabica at the international Flavour of India – Fine Cup Award, for the last four consecutive years now. However, the good bits don’t end there. The estate is also home to crops such as cocoa, banana, areca, vanilla, coconut, cardamom and pepper.
You can walk around the place and spend time with the plantation or simply ask someone at the estate to tell you more about the flora and fauna. One of the coolest things you could indulge in on the way to the waterfalls, is an area that is used to serves authentic Malnad food and BBQ in the evenings.
A Bug's life
Since the resort is in Sakleshpur, we had to get there first from our home base, Mumbai city and when it comes to heading for a 2000km round-trip, you’d hope to drive in a large comfortable SUV.
However, we were looking at a classic alternative.
We’ve always been fans of all things retro cool, and the new Beetle personifies that to the core. It may look tiny, thanks to the way it is executed so gorgeously, but it offers a ton of space both for the driver and passengers.
There is a boot-load of room to pack enough luggage for the drive and an entire weekend. As we stepped inside and got acquainted, we instantly appreciated the way the car was built on the inside, with absolute attention to detail.
The outside is still very Beetle and that happened to be the topic of discussion, especially between fans young and old who knew about the bug legacy. Wherever we stopped, we were asked about the vehicle and the questions did not stop at four.
The two-tone finish adds to the overall premium look on the inside and you will end up appreciating the seats at the end of a long journey. However, what you will appreciate even more, is the way this thing drives.
There is absolute minimal body roll as you push the bug around the twisties and boy that 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is a joy to work with. One of our only quirks was the positioning of the seatbelt buckles.They are simply put, out of reach, unless you ask the person sitting on the rear seat to pass them over to you.
All of that is forgiven when you realize that on full tank we managed to cross into Belagavi from our start location in Chembur, Mumbai. That’s roughly 438 kilometers!
The Volkswagen Beetle battled all the rage the monsoon conjured up and was a delight to drive both on battered roads and on the absolutely stunning NH4.
After driving about 11.5 hours we completed the 948km route and reached what turned out to be a spectacular affair.
Taking the Eco initiative
What Goldenwood offers is the perfect harmony to enjoy a great vacation without ruining the natural surroundings around it. Coming back to the Eco bit we spoke about, the resort makes use of three lakes as catchment areas.
All excess water goes into these and this water is pumped to provide water through the estate. The electricity used within the resort is generated hydraulically at one of the gushing waterfalls on the estate, or by solar.
Golden Wood goes one step ahead and ensures that even your meals are made from produce grown organically on the plantation!
Since the estate is situated at an altitude of 3400 feet above sea level, what you get is an ideal temperature (which varies between 10ºC to 30ºC) to take nature treks up the mountains.
Into the wild!
You are obviously in for a treat if you love photography or simply want to document the massive variety of insects, frogs and other wildlife in the area.The place is also home to over 200 types of birds and various other creatures including Jungle Pigeons, Owls, Deer, Wild Boars and Foxes, so keep an eye out and your lens ready.
Hunting is strictly banned in the area, hence shoot only with your camera and be respectful of your surroundings.
While spending time at the Hilltop Cottage, we quizzed the owners about the wildlife in the area and learnt that the estate is also part of the Elephant Corridor. Which means there is a good chance you will be able to spot a few during your next vacation.
You can choose between four different types of homes for your stay and mark our words when we tell you that each of them offer an absolutely unique experience.
Starting from the bottom, you are first welcomed by the Brick Cottage, which we would recommend for the romantic types. No points for guessing that the place is constructed out of bricks and it is a job done perfectly. Everything inside, from the cloth hangers to the thatched roof is eco-friendly.
Old Monk rum bottles are reused to hold shampoo, body shower and other lotions and recycled wine bottles are used to serve water in all the rooms.
One of the neatest bits we found about this place was its shower room, which is as rustic as it could get. It gives you a feeling of being one with nature, thanks to a tree that is part of the installation and a huge rock, that you can use to sit on and sip on coffee while you shampoo your head.
Hear the trees talk!
The next home is right across the Brick Cottage and is much larger and airier. It is called Whispering Trees and it is aimed at offering the experience of a new-age planter’s home. Most of this place is lit by natural sunlight and the entrance walls are constructed out of glass.
This is the place to be at if you love birdwatching. The hall with glass walls and the dining and sit-out on the terrace gives a great view of the area. Ignore if you love privacy.
Or head to the Hilltop
We, reckon you would end up fitter after your stay here as the homes are spread across a few kilometers and there is quite a bit of walking to do, well if you love walking. Unlike us, who simply hopped into one of the Jeeps that is used to ferry guests around the estate. As you climb further up, you reach the Hilltop Courtyard, which offers a panoramic view of the estate valleys and hills.
Finally if you want to plunge down a hundred years into the past, you need to book yourself into the Farmer’s Home. The house is over a hundred years old and offers a superb view of the stream that flows below and lush hills on either sides.
Classic Coffee Cuppa!
Harley Estate is located in the Manjarabad region, which is about 190 Kms by road from Bengaluru and situated between 3100 to 3400 ft above sea level, a height that is ideal for growing coffee beans. The Silver oak, Jackfruit and Fig trees that provide shade to the coffee plantation do influence the flavour just that little bit and we aren’t complaining.
At the coffee lab, the crushed coffee is tested to ensure proper flavour. The area opposite to the coffee lab is used to dry the coffee beans and the pulping unit is a short walk away, all of which we experienced first hand and you will get see more in our video on our youtube (Stuffindia) channel.
The estate is home to Classic Coffees, a brand which has recently introduced a new way to enjoy your favourite cuppa during the four different times of the day. You can pick from four variants that are blended in a way to offer varied strength as far as the flavour is concerned. We sampled each one of them at the lab and had a hard time choosing one. So, we had another round of the brew, quite shamelessly. If you had to ask us, it is the best ₹300 you will spend.
Getting the mix right
Here is where all the magic happens, first the beans are cleaned and the water from the pulping station is drained into a larger tank. The water is then let to evaporate and the solid waste (skin and mucilage) is used in composting.
The good bit is that the estate goes a step ahead to ensure that the whole process is eco friendly. Once the beans are sorted and graded, they are packed into 60 kg coffee beans packed in hydrocarbon free jute bags.
Classic Coffee has a unique offering that lets you choose the perfect blend for that particular time of the day and you can either use the Aeropress or Mangalore filter, as they are best recommended by the estate owners.
Once a year, the brains behind the Harley Estate inside which the resort is located, hold an interesting event inside the 600 acre plot. A local team is put to place to arrange an off-road event called the Freedom Drive.
It takes place over the August 15th weekend and has been conducted since several years now. Essentially during that weekend, resort dwellers get to witness the spectacle of over 80 - 90 off-road vehicles splashing through the place.
The entire drive is about 25km long however, since the route is treacherous, it takes about the entire day for the cars to complete. Cars that include everything from the Mahindra Thar and Maruti Gypsy to the older Jeeps and more.
The event starts at 6am in the morning and goes on till late evening. We were lucky enough to be able to drive a Thar through it and boy we didn’t want to stop.
Just beware of the leeches though, they can crawl in without warning and when provoked, start moving even faster in search of red nutrition from your body!
The gear you need
All of the stunning images you see in this feature were shot on the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. It comes equipped with 30.4MP full-frame CMOS sensor and Dual Pixel CMOS AF. Which in mortal language means that your shots will end up sharper than Bond’s lines before he pulls the trigger.
We do appreciate the high-speed AF that you can use not only for stills, but also for 4K movie shooting. However what we love even more is the moody depth of field that you can achieve, provided you mate the camera with a good lens. Our weapons of choice were the 70-200 and the 16-35 lenses which proved their worth as we shot in varied conditions.
Oh, before we forget, the way this thing can shoot in lowlight is absolutely legendary. Take our word for it.
Just make sure you protect your camera gear by carrying a camera bag worthy of the job, like this one from Vanguard!
One for hunger pangs
Now, when you embark on an epic journey, apart from the destination, the drive itself is hugely important, and something you should try to indulge in and enjoy the most. Like for example, it is best spent looking for the best food spots on the route and then stopping and relishing on it.
One such place is something we found in Davanagere, just about ten minutes from the national highway. Called Sri Guru Kottureshwara Benne Dosa. It is an unmissable eatery minus the frills. The place is famous for its legendary dosas which are sprinkled with freshly made churned butter that ensure the Dosa melts in your mouth.