Sunday, May 22, 2016

Amazing Homestay in Coorg - Victory Home 'The Fairy Tale House'

The distance between Mysore and Coorg is not much - some 120 kms or so - to Mercara or Madikeri. We headed down a well laid highway towards Hunsur and drove straight on towards a place where the road splits - one to Mercara and another to Virajpet. We took the Virajpet road and headed 45 minutes. The environs all through are green but what caught my eye were the many mango sellers who were selling mangoes (what else?) from their push carts by the side of the road. They arranged different types of mangoes - at least five varieties I'd think - in carefully arranged heaps and hardsold them to the speeding motorists. It was very attractive.
Leading up to The Fairy Tale House - Victory Home
The plan to go to Coorg has been on for many years. This time we were so close we had to go. We called a couple of homestays - they were booked all through May - and then we called Victory Home - and we were on. Nikki Ponappa, Professional golfer, Golf instructor and Social activist, daughter of Brigadier Ponappa, and a warm and energetic person by the sound of her, gave us all the information about how to get there, what to do etc.
Picture Perfect
We took the road that goes to Gonekoppal. Upon entering the town, we looked for the Mor supermarket on the right as we entered (as directed by Nikki). On the first floor of that building we found this lovely restaurant that is decorated with hundreds of bronze artefacts. Good service, great food and reasonable prices. Huge portions, so order conservatively. Into the town, a right towards Polibetta village, and after 4 kms we saw a small board with Victory Homes and Brig Ponappa on the right. The road to the estates is to the left. 
The Red Room

Victory Home
We drove on the narrow plantation road until we found a fairy tale driveway with a cute little board - The HOUSE. Drive on up towards the house, and you come upon a sight you don't expect - what most children and perhaps even adults call the Fairy Tale house. Nestling in the plantation, on a small hill, tall silver oaks all around, a beautiful garden with some of the most vividly colored flowers and arrangements in the garden is this delightfully built home, owned by Brig Cheppudira Ponappa and his wife Jancy, aka Kaveri. 
The Golf Mat on the Landing
Victory Home is set in the middle of a 100 acre coffee plantation owned by the Ponappas. The property has 4 ponds, and the thick forest like area grows Coffee, Arecanut and Peppers apart from the many other things that Kaveri grows in her garden, driveway and all over. 
Dining Area
Fairy Tale House
The driveway to the house is full of flowers, shooting out in the space between the way for the wheels. There are so many types of trees and flowers and birds that it would take a few weeks of dedicated work to even do a half decent job at knowing them. Almost every part of the house has something or the other that has been painstakingly collected over the years - Kaveri says its been done over 30 years of their travels across India as part of the army. Brass bowls, statues, idols, hangings, little garden statues, photos, certificates, a quaint bar counter, a home designed firewood stove with an oven, paintings -it all exudes taste, sensibility and class.
Sitting area
Kaveri aka Jancy, our wonderful hostess
Kaveri is a very creative person. And a very energetic one. She is always looking to improve on things, to make the world a more beautiful place. If its not the garden its the interiors or the flower arrangement or the food or the clothes or wines or juices. Once there at Victory Home, her energy, the famed Kodagu hospitality takes over. I wondered how she keeps the energy going, with so many different people and their different energies. But when you watch her interact with people, you realise she is completely non judgmental and clear on her basics. 'People are people,' she said. Then she said something that made me sit up - 'everyone is worth it'. Now that is a beautiful thing to say. I have seen very few people with that attitude - of treating all people alike, equal and not treating them as a class below by having them sit separately, drink from separate cups, eat from separate plates. They are people with great love and tolerance for all brings I do admire their capacity to love life. I, like many others, am nowhere close to being like that.
Acres of Coffee Plantation
Blue Room, Yellow Room and Red Room
It was our first ever homestay. And it was such a wonderful experience thanks to our hosts. Kaveri showed us our room - the Red room and its a room (all the rooms surely) you can instantly fall in love with. The three rooms - Red Room, Yellow Room and Blue Room - all have a distinct character.
The Blue Room
One room is on the ground floor while the other two are on the first, with common sitting and TV watching space. On the landing, there is a small golf mat where one can practice golf putting, and several things to play. Upon subsequent discussions Kaveri told me that for entertainment, if one is bored, one can watch TV, use the golf mat, play basket ball with a hoop, carrom board, chess, read books. Coorg Links golf course is 10 kms from the house and Brig Ponappa, an accomplished and active golfer, can guide you more on that. If you get bored that is.
The Yellow Room
Kaveri also suggests going fishing in the 4 ponds - if you don't have a line they can make a makeshift one for you. Serious anglers can get their equipment and head to the Valanoor fishing camp. For birdwatchers there are plenty of birds and apparently a doctor and his wife sat on the porch and spotted 37 types of birds once.

We were treated to a thunderous storm on the first evening and well, one has to experience it to know how the thick clouds swirl angrily like an ocean churning in the sky and how the lightning streaks through the sky with a wildness that's not of this world and how loudly the thunder claps to see what the rain is like up in the hills.

Sabyasachi, Smitha and Arindam
We met Sabyasachi Das, Smitha and their young thirteen year old son Arindam (he's way more mature than those years and really smart) who were also guests at the homestay. Anjali and Arindam got along fine and Arindam was very gentle and kind with his younger friend. Kaveri took us all for a walk in the plantation and showed us their ponds, the cattle shed, coffee plants etc.
Morning light on the landing area

Later during the evening we got talking, and I realised that Sabyasachi studied at the REC, Warangal at exactly the same time I was studying Civil Engineering at Osmania. Now a senior executive in an MNC that's into chip design, Das obviously did more with his engineering than I did. We spoke cricket, films, writing, movies and it was such a pleasure talking to him because he knew them all so well. Smitha and Arindam sang lovely songs in the night - from Beatles to Deep Purple, Queen and even a few Hindi numbers over a drink that evening. Dinner was delectable - Kaveri cooked pork, chicken and vegetarian fare that was out of the world. And a dessert that was divine - forget its name. She loves her cooking and it shows.

Jancy aka Kaveri's Cooking
Among her many passions is cooking and there are many gushing testimonials in the guest book where everyone leaves a comment on her cooking - be it the crisp dosas and chutney, pork, chicken, rice rotis etc. She likes to cook in her firewood kitchen that is built in a tiled block behind the house with a specially designed stove and oven. Kaveri picks up much stuff from the garden, fresh stuff, and we witnessed one such when she picked up a sanjeevani plant and made this lovely curry out of it.
Firewood Kitchen
I couldn't resist but ask her what the typical guest could look froward to in terms of cuisine. Kaveri said she could cook anything - Coorg, Chinese, Continental, Kashmiri, North Indian, South Indian. For breakfast a choice between - Paputti (cake rice) with egg curry, Otti (rice roti), Nool Puttu, all with curries. Thalia Puttu is another variant (a bit like sanas, idli). And we did get to try her delicious crisp dosas and mango ginger chutney - delicious stuff. For lunch and dinner one could look forward to the Coorg specialties like pandi curry (pork), pork roast, pork chops, koli curry (chicken curry). Then there is fried rice, onion garlic, Neyyi koolu (ghee rice), special pulao, mutton, raitha, leafy vegetables, brinjals, fish curry etc. For the veggies there is sanjeevani, greens all grown from the garden along with some potent chillies.
Stove and Oven
I went to the  firewood kitchen and took some pictures. 'I do all the cooking myself,' she said. 'I don't leave it to the servants.'

Kaveri also makes homemade wine (it's really nice). And she makes a variety of juices from what grows in her garden. Cherry, passion fruit, barbados, tree tomato, fig, butter fruit / avacado all wind up becoming fresh fruit juices. I tried one and its as fresh as it can get.

Kaveri is no homebound housewife. She has an active social life and meets her friends at the nearby club for a game of cards. She drives off by herself and is constantly busy at something. 'I was busy all the time when we were in the army as well,' she told me. 'I ran a finishing school for poor girls and taught them tailoring, flower arrangement, dress designing, cake decoration, baking. I would counsel the girls and help them get a job so they could look after themselves. I must have trained some 400-500 kids in the 11 years here.'
Backyard and kitchen area
I couldn't resist asking her about how she built the house and who conceptualised it. She said she was pretty clear about what she wanted and how though there was an architect involved. Her involvement shows in the elaborate woodwork - wood from the plantation and a carpenter from the army who came by. 'I want my own style. I don't want to copy,' she says. 'Anything I want to do I think for 10 days. then I start.' Sounds like a good method to create anything worthwhile.

Rains and Elephants
The evening rain gave us a sample of the difference - between how we view nature from our safe urban homes and how it is in the open. A day or two before, an elephant had come up close to the home in search of her baby and we could see where the elephant slid down the slope right onto the driveway.
Bronze vessels

That evening, I sought some time with my host Brig. Ponappa and he told me the history of the Kodavas. (We uncovered some delightful coincidences as well - he is related to the Jaisimhas and Junie aunty is his cousin!) Victory Homes was named so, he said, because when it was originally bought by his great grandfather, there was litigant who challenged the ownership. The case went all the way to the Privy Counil in London and it was ruled in the Cheppudiras favor. Hence Victory for the long, hard won battle
Driveway
Apart from being known for the famous Generals - General Thimmaiah and General Cariappa, Coorg has often been compared to Switzerland (or is it Scotland?). It's also called South Kashmir. I think they should just call it Coorg. It's different.

Brig. Ponappa said that Kodavas were not originally from here and perhaps were a different race.. No one knows when or where they came from - there are theories that they came with Alexander's armies and seem perhaps more Persian. Selecus the Greek perhaps had some influence. Arabs. They dress a bit like Kurds. The names however sound Telugu and Kannada like.
Porch
Among their unique customs, Coorgs pray to their ancestors. They have no other gods. All rituals are conducted by the elders and not pundits. They are clannish, bear the family name. As is well known they are warriors. They have no dowry system. There is no script and they speak Malayalam, Kannada, Tulu, Tamil. The two traditional professions were - join the armed forces or be a planter. As a planter, he says 9 months goes into the growing and in Jan and Feb, the middle men come for pulping of the coffee.
Garden
Brig. Ponappa, an avid golfer with many trophies that continue to grow in number, served the army for 35 years. He fought the 65 and the 71 wars and served in logistics.
Driveway
I asked about the Kodagu hospitality. He said guests were generally well looked after in Coorg. Home stays he says began in the late 80s and beginning of 90s as a tourism department initiative. Coorg is now full of homestays and lovely sprawling plantations.
Walk in the woods
Homestays in Coorg are registered and graded. Victory Home is a premium homestay but they charge far less (Rs. 3000 for a couple) than the Rs. 8000 they can charge up to.

Only families, No bachelors
Victory Home is particular that they get only families - and not bachelors or corporate parties where things can get a bit out of control. The idea is to have a good time without getting into everyone's hair and to keep the homestay etiquette going. Mostly guests come for 2-3 days.

There's a marathon, a barefoot marathon, organised by Nikki at Polibetta which normally takes place in December. One celebrity runner there is Milind Soman. It's probably a great time to visit Coorg.

One can stay on the plantation or go visiting stuff nearby. BYOB is the policy so you can stock up before you get there.
Bye Bye Fairytale House - Brig. Ponappa, Kaveri, Anjali, Shobha

We left Victory Home after a two day stay. I'd love to go back there again. Thank you Brig. Ponappa and Kaveri for a lovely time and for indulging me with all the information. I guess I don't need to put in any other recommendation - this entire blog is one.

Email - ponappa_jancy@yahoo.com
Call: 9448896196, 9480605625
08274 - 248090 (Coorg)
Nikki Ponappa - 98455 59452
ponappanikki@gmail.com

4 comments:

Raj Mani said...

WOW, Wonderful. From long time I have been searching for this kind of place. Thank u very much for this blog.

sonal s said...

I stayed at Victory Home a few years ago and still have warm memories of the place and the hosts. It's just a wonderful place, run by wonderful people. Your blog just reminded me of the three beautiful days we had there...

Harimohan said...

Thanks for writing Chudamani. Do visit.

Harimohan said...

Thanks for writing in Sonal. I have really fond memories of my stay at Victory too and hope to get back there soon.