As you can imagine, in a small town like Madikeri, there isn’t a huge amount to do once it gets dark. As a result, the young lads at Cyber Zoom, an internet and gaming parlour, have got to know me over the last several evenings, and I have become familiar with their favourite music (that is, when the gamers aren’t dominating with the flatulent artillery sounds that I’m used to hearing emanate from my godson’s room when I visit his Mum).
I have become quite hooked on a few of the songs they play, the main one being Bhool Bhoolaiyaa by Neeran Sridhar. It has a rather hypnotic chorus that simply repeats ‘Hare Ram Hare Ram, Hare Krishna Hare Ram’ and the lads now put it on when I come in. As the Imtrav group will remember, this was a popular number at our NYE Ranakpur Rave. Being quite starved of my usual music, I must sheepishly confess to having what Ashwarya Ray described in Bride and Prejudice as a ‘light bulb screwing’ moment in the privacy of my own dimly lit and curtained internet booth.
The next morning in my usual breakfast place, I note that this morning’s SSLC is on the physics of heat and combustion. After groaning and turning the page I read the back-story to the milestone event announced on the front page. The spiritual leader that the Beatles and so many others visited, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, has died in Holland at the (estimated) age of 91. I had thought he had died long ago.
On the bus again, waiting for people to accumulate, I’m kept company for a short time by a woman taking advantage of our delayed departure. She has particularly dark wizened features, although I don’t think she is as old as she looks. She rotates through a few different activities: rolling up and chewing her betel nut mix, jabbering at me as if I understand her every word and holding her hand out under my nose asking for money. All the while I have been scribbling away on some scraps of paper and she stops what she is doing sometimes to stare fascinated at my brisk pencilled scrawl spreading across the page. That’s okay; I’m used to my illegible writing attracting comment, although I am slightly nonplussed when she reaches down to squeeze my trousered ankle. Maybe she is testing if my legs really do go all the way down?
After morning tea and some shopping in Virajpet, I catch the bus back to Madikeri and ask them to drop me off at Green Hills. On the way I chat with a lovely lady called Priya who seems to lead rather a complicated life. Priya has a Masters in Fishery Science and works in Mangalore. Her husband and baby however, live in Mysore, and at the moment, she is staying in Madikeri.
Priya invites me to visit in the evening but I prevaricate as I’m not sure when I’ll be back in Madikeri. We swap details though, and she kindly ensures the bus driver stops in front of Green Hills for me.
I ignore the gate and pass through the Indian-style stile – a stone fence interrupted with an L-shape that you have to think-thin to pass through.
The driveway is gravel and lined with the inevitable coffee plants and some tall shady trees. After 200 metres the house comes into view. It is two-storey red brick and was designed by a Swiss architect around the turn of the last century. Steps lead down from its front verandah into a terraced garden lush with greenery and flowering plants drape over arbours.
I approach the front steps where I can see some people who look like staff chatting on the verandah. They immediately come over and ask if they can help me. I ask about room rates and whether I can stop to have coffee. A young lady hands me the Neemrana rate card and indicates the small section devoted to Green Hills. It transpires that the Thimmiah family have given the chain a ten-year lease although Master Thimmiah still farms the estate and lives nearby.
Tim is no more, but on learning of my interest, the staff are very pleased to show me around. The rooms themselves are fairly plainly furnished with lovely bathrooms – perhaps not quite what I would have expected for 5,000RS ($150), but access to the estate and the rest of the house adds value.
The dining area and living room, described by DM as being full of rosewood and teak furniture and fittings, are still true to her words and all the hunting trophies bear the evidence of good taxidermy with leopard, tiger and elephant heads or full bodies on display on the higher reaches of the walls.
It is left to me to imagine Tim’s young family involved in a game of Scrabble as they occasionally wander out onto the verandah to witness the progress of the singing and dancing for the Huthri Festival.
The two young men showing me around point out photos of Tim in polo and hunting pictures as well as with his wife and family, as we wind up a gorgeous wooden staircase and – bliss – show me into the library on the second floor. The room has bookcases lining the room up to the window ledge level where wide windows have lovely views over the garden and broader estate. Comfortable chairs abound to tempt the guest, although I note the offering of books was nothing special: Jeffrey Archers interspersed with other airport fodder. I also noticed a rather tacky elephant foot umbrella stand – oh dear.
Back on the side verandah under-utilised staff deliver me coffee in heavy silver service. The coffee was wonderfully strong and as black as sin. I’m so over milky anaemic coffee! The hot milk came in its own dainty silver jug, as did the sugar cubes. After two cups I discovered the pot was empty – this was a surprise as the pot felt heavy enough for at least two more cups, but it was all silver pot.
It is now past 5.30pm and I think I’d best start investigating bus options. After paying with a generous tip, the two lads are more than happy to escort me down the drive and inform me of the bus schedule. I have about an hour's wait.
I’m not sure if I’d want to stay here myself – even though the coffee alone is a draw card – it would depend if I had the right company, as the location is secluded and quiet and encourages romantic contemplation. I’m very glad to have seen it though. To think this is where the family gathered and entertained Dervla and her daughter Rachel under the circumstances she described. Definitely a bygone era of tradition and ritual.
All up, I am very satisfied with my adventures in Coorg, and while I may not have left my heart in San Francisco, I’ve definitely left my sneakers in Coorg.