No TV, no cell phones and no access to internet, we’d been warned. And when we arrived at Rainforest Retreat, Coorg, we realised that it was no bellboys, no room service and no breath-taking-view-from-the-window either. With more than ten kilometres of almost non-existent road between the plantation and the closest town, we were as good as trapped until we decided to check out. And once inside, the retreat functioned on a routine of its own. You eat when they say, and do what they suggest you do.
Not your regular tourist fare, this one.
Truth be told, we hadn’t known what to expect, because laziness and time constraints apart, we had set out on this journey with little or no research whatsoever hoping that the ignorance would only lend a fresh perspective to our experience. We’d booked a tent for the night. But what with half-baked notions of hill stations, rainforests, resorts and organic farms doing the rounds inside my head, by the time we reached the retreat, my brain had already put together an image of a resort prettily situated in the slope of a mountain overlooking a valley, with the tent giving the make-believe effect of rusticity and charm, when it was, in all actuality, providing the creature comforts of a luxury suite. Needless to say, it was anything but.
Situated in the tropical rainforests of the Western Ghats, Rainforest Retreat evidently took its ‘eco-lodge’ tag very seriously. Grassy hilltops that sloped down to meet densely forested valleys with towering trees, dangling vines and exotic flowers. Expensive varieties of cash crops like vanilla, coffee and cardamom co-existing in perfect harmony under the canopy of the forest. Cottages and tents tucked away within the forest unobtrusive to the eye. Solar lights, bathrooms with firewood stoves to heat water. Meals prepared with locally grown vegetables and spices. All rounded off with a tour of the estate filled with trivia about the crop rotation, effective microorganisms and organic farming. In short, the works.
We dumped our bags and camera in our tent and hurried down to the dining area. Lunch, a quick round of hi-howdy's with the other guests, and we were back in out tent again. We lounged aimlessly around, feeling strangely restless having nothing to do. Prat toyed around with his mobile (which showed zero range), tried swinging in the hammock for a while, and finally decided to go in for a siesta. I sat at the entrance to the tent, taking in the charm of the forest (And it was beautiful, I should admit!) but also idly wondering how much of ‘nature’ and ‘the wild’ can a city-bred urban creature like me take if I wasn’t ensured running hot water, a clean bed and three meals a day as part of the bargain. How much of the ‘eco-friendliness’ of the resort will I really enjoy before a tiny voice at the back of my mind demands mosquito repellents, tissues/toilet paper and breakfast in bed for the couple of thousands that I was shelling out for the night. And why isn’t the fact that I’m off the radar getting me to relax? Why is it that I was periodically checking my mobile, fully knowing that there was no range anywhere within the resort?
Tea, and a short walk later, we were back in our tent, watching the sun go down. We sat gazing as the mosaic bits of sky visible from under the foliage went from orange pink to an electric blue to the inky blackness of night. The sounds seemed to grow louder as darkness engulfed the forest. Water bubbled noisily down the stream. Frogs croaking themselves hoarse, keeping time with the intense and unrelenting chirping of the crickets that rang through the forest. The air, thick with insects that buzz and flutter around us. An occasional swoop and flapping of wings. And then, out of nowhere comes tiny pinpricks of light that rents the blanket of dark that’s enveloped us. Fireflies. From every direction come clicks, hisses, rattling and fluttering until the sounds merge to form a sinister orchestra of sorts, spooky and enthralling all at once. It was as if the forest has suddenly thrown back the veneer of stillness and calm to unleash the monster within, hissing and crackling with life.