As I woke up one morning and swept aside the curtains, a breathtaking view of a tea garden was laid in front of me. The sun was slowly moving up the horizon and the tea leaves still had dewdrops on them, the mist was all around and there was a proper nip in the air. As I was enjoying my cup of morning tea, after a round of photography and a nature walk in the plantation, the spell cast of the place started fading and I realised that it is the last day of my trip to Pollachi, a quaint town in the temple state of Tamil Nadu. With still a few hours to my departure, I soaked in the beauty and sat for a mental rewind of the last couple of days. As the shores of Chennai swung out of view, familiar views started appearing, and the sun was shining brightly through the milky white clouds. Every time I head towards the south, there is a feeling of homecoming; this time was no different, but the road ahead was new.
An hour and a half long drive from the Coimbatore Airport is Pollachi, the tender coconut paradise of India. The town boasts of the biggest tender coconuts of the country and is also the largest exporter to the world. As I took a right off the main highway, the city reiterated the fact itself with trees lining both sides of the road and coconut vendors every half-a-kilometre with never-seen-before sizes of tender coconuts. Due to its proximity to the Western Ghats, Pollachi is where the paradisiacal images of green hillsides draped in neatly lined tea bushes, coconut trees stretching towards the blue sky and the air thick with rustic charm converge into making vivid memories. As I reached the Coco Lagoon by Great Mount Resort, my abode for the next couple of days, I was welcomed by Maheswar, the Director of the resort. Maheswar has laid out a packed and perfect itinerary for me to make the most of my time in the city. The visit to this southern town was filled with revelations of sorts as what all a small place can hold in itself amazed me. Before I head out for my excursions the next day, I was given a rejuvenating Ayurvedic treatment to waive off the tiredness from the travelling and get rid of the pollutants for a glowing me ahead. Dr Ranjit David had arranged for Mukhakanti Vardhanam treatment at Vaidya Sutras. The Ayurvedic centre is designed keeping in mind the Tamil aesthetics and traditions. The day ended with a dinner by the poolside, which had all the local flavours with Tamil curries. The high point of the meal, though, was the tender coconut soup that had chunks of tender coconut cooked along with vegetables.
Day one started early with yoga and meditation session with Yoga instructor Santhosh Kumar. Santosh carefully guided me through the entire session that left me energised to take the day heads on. Followed was a visit to an 800-year-palace that belongs to the Kalingarayar family. The erstwhile zamindar family of the region that moved along with times but yet has its roots intact in the tradition. Known as Uthukuli Aranmanai, the house is now inhabited by Siddharth Kalingarayar, 37, one of the descendants of the Kalingarayar lineage whose ancestors are famous for having constructed the Kalingarayan canal in Erode, has been toiling hard to protect and preserve a heritage that dates back several centuries. It is his life’s mission to preserve a family heritage, which can be traced back to 37 generations. His father Arun Kumar Kalingarayar, who currently lives there, is still addressed as raja. Set in a sprawling estate of three acres, the constructed area alone could be two-thirds of it and, according to the inmates, a significant portion of this palace could be around 800 years old. The recent-most construction is also more than 100 years old.
Next stop was the Nachiar Vidyalayam, the SECMOL of the south, set up Mani Chinnaswamy and Vijayalakshmi Nachiar which focuses on the overall development of students and lays equal emphasis on the extra-curricular activities, so much so that entire functioning is run by a students’ parliament where the candidates are elected by voting. Instead of marks, the students are given customized currency which they further use to the development of the premises. The duo also runs Ethicus, an organic cotton clothing enterprise less than a decade old. The area where it is grown is now a UNESCO-recognised world heritage site: the Western Ghats. After the eye-opening seed to fabric journey, the chef at The Palm, the multi-cuisine restaurant at Coco Lagoon laid out a Tamil vegetarian thali to savour the variety the state has to offer. The spread had the staple sambar, Keerai Kootu, Carrot Beans Poriyal, Applam, and last but not the least Pollachi Elanir Payasam (Tender coconut is called Elanir in Tamil, take hints).
The evening turned towards the spiritual side of the city with a visit to the Temple of Consciousness. Also known as the Aliyar Ashram, it is the home of the Vethathiri Maharishi Kundalini Yoga and Kayakalpa Research Foundation, founded by Vethathiri Maharishi in 1985. The backdrop of Western Ghats makes the place alluring for both tourists and practitioners. Be sure to be punctual when visiting the Ashram as they are very strict with the timings and you might miss a chance to experience this silent revolution, which is taking place in the country. As the proverbial saying goes “Jine Lahore Nai Vekhya O Jamya-e-Ni” (He who has not yet seen Lahore, has not been born), similarly a visit to Tamil Nadu is incomplete without experiencing the architectural marvels, the temples of the state and hence the last stop for the day was the highly revered Arulmigu Masani Amman Temple (Annamalai Temple). Goddess Arulmigu Masani Amman is the presiding deity and is seen in a lying posture measuring 15 ft from head to foot.
After this, it was time for to get close to Nature as we headed for a bird watching excursion the next day. Accompanied and guided by one of the known birdwatchers of the area, we headed for the Anamalai Tiger Reserve. Though I wanted to spot a few animals as well, but the birds we spotted completely made up for the loss.
Annamalai is home to many species endemic to the Malabar region. We spotted a Malabar Parakeet which has a fluorescent green ring on the neck, Malabar Squirrel which is almost 20 times the size of the ones we see in cities, a spotted dove, and different varieties of the kingfisher. After this, we left for the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve that lies on the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. As it was a weekend, we didn’t have much luck but experienced an elephant safari. As I reached back the resort, I was told by Maheswar that I am headed to stay in a tea bungalow in Valparai (a three-hour uphill drive from Pollachi with 40 hair-bin bends). My joy knew no bounds as I ticked one more off my bucket list.
After a tiring and tough drive, I reached the Briar Tea Bungalows in Valparai, which is also home to some major tea brands in the country (I bought a few kgs of tea). I was given a wooden cottage with some of the best views possible. The doorbell rang, and the manager came to inform that the car is waiting, and this ended my trip to the yet-untouched part of India.
A number of domestic airlines connect Coimbatore with the major Indian cities. If you are flying during the daytime, ask for a window seat on the right side on the way in, for the best views. The flight from Delhi to Coimbatore takes nearly about two hours fifteen minutes.
Where to Stay
The Coco Lagoon by Great Mount Resort (www.greatmountresort.com) is a convenient option just off the main Pollachi Road and only 1.5 hours from the Coimbatore Airport. All their rooms are facing the pool and have an extra-bedding available prior. The resort also has a recreation area and is perfect for large group visits. Do try the Vaidya Sutras ayurvedic centre for some authentic treatments.
What to See and Do
Pollachi has many places to see including the Aranmanai Palace, which is instrumental in keeping intact the cultural richness of the city; the Temple of Consciousness for the spiritual enlightenment of the soul; Nachiar Vidyalam, a special school run by Mani Chinnaswamy, the Sonam Wangchuk of the south. You must go for bird watching excursion at the Anamalai Tiger Reserve (January and February are the preferred months to go as the weather is on your side).
Text and images by Supriya Aggarwal