“It was an uncanny sight,” recalls Vijay Prabhu, founder and owner of Littlearth chain of boutique hotels in Udhagamandalam, about spotting a tiger on a sunny afternoon.
He was driving from Udhagamandalam to his property The Mangifera located on the fringes of Bandipur Tiger Reserve. “Bandipur forests have the highest density of tigers. It was an hour past noon, and this fellow stood there by the side of the road, may be 10 feet away, simply staring. I could also hear barking deer just a few feet away,” says Vijay, a lawyer, whose heart lies in offering holiday-experiences to people.
He bought the 7.5 acre property, back in the 1990s, basically to have a place to rest as he was shuttling between Chikmagalur, overseeing his coffee estate and Udhagamandalam, where he was a practising lawyer. “It involved risky long drives during night inside the forest where elephants and other wild animals roam freely as the forest check post closes at 9pm,” he explains.
Over the years, he turned the barren patch into a retreat orchard bustling with many varieties of mango trees, coconut and as many as 20 varieties of fruit trees including litchi, red Indian cherry, regular guava, Chinese guava, chikku, ramphal, sitaphal, wood apple, and more.
An absolute calm fills up your senses on a stroll along the orchard. Bird calls streak the air. “That is the Malabar grey hornbill,” says Aswathy Elikkal Baskaran, an in-house naturalist pointing to a big grey bird as she rattles off names of migratory birds like yellow-wattled lapwing, red-naped ibis, woolly necked stork, regular visitors at the farm during the migratory season.
Aswathy is nurturing lime and curry leaf trees, hibiscus and other ornamental plants, that serve as host plants for butterflies. There are plans to build a butterfly garden. She also takes guests on a quick nature walk along the neighbouring fields, where they grow onions, marigold and corn, spotting birds and butterflies along the way.
As rains bucket down, we tuck into piping hot parathas and a fiery chicken gravy, prepared home style by the in-house cooks. They wish us luck as we set out on Bandipur Tiger Reserves’s jungle safari and tell us that tourists often do multiple trips, in the hope of spotting the elusive tiger.
The property houses five rooms curated with comforting, wooden interiors. “The rooms are named Bamboo, Warli, Mustard, Panther and Pitta and the paintings themed on these are done by local artists,” says Meeta Prabhu, who runs the group’s boutique hotels and is also their interior designer. “I picked up traditional cotton fabrics from a visit to Delhi for furnishings. The interiors are themed on Indian village and wildlife,” she explains.
At a raised bund near the kitchen, the chefs grow vegetables, chillies, tomatoes, and lettuce. “To make it farm-to-table and sustainable, we adopt a reverse approach where most of the produce right from vegetables, fruits and dairy are available at the farm,” says Vijay, adding that this helps cut down their carbon foot print as well.
“We minimise use of fertilizers and we are working towards going completely organic. We are very conscious that we are located along the fringes of a forest,” he continues, adding that they are about 12 kilometres away from the Tamil Nadu- Karnataka border.
While families can enjoy the outing with Nature with children and pets in tow, or take a dip in the pool, we take quick drive to the Gopal Swamy Betta, the highest peak at Bandipur National Park, taking in the views of greenery and misty hills. At dusk, we watch sunset in absolute peace. We don’t spot the tiger. May be, another day.
To know more, visit www.littlearth.in/the-mangifera/