Imagine walking up a winding path, surrounded by towering trees, hundreds of hectares of coffee, pepper, cardamom and betel nut plantations, the gurgling of the mountain stream and chirping of the birds the only other sound apart from that of the dead leaves under your feet. Top this with the experience of sitting around a bonfire under a canopy of stars, with a bottle of wine, campfire songs and eclectic conversation. Balur Estate, nestled in the hills of Chikmaglur district of Karnataka, a coffee estate that dates to 1853 offers exactly this experience and much more.
The drive up from Bangalore, via the Mangalore highway past the town of Hassan, through Belur and finally Balur village was perhaps the most scenic drive of my life -the roads in good condition (despite being, for the most part, state highways and internal village roads, snaking up hilly terrain), the people we passed friendly and eager to offer help and tips even though we spoke no Kannada and they spoke no Hindi and very little English and most importantly, several coffee stops (even a couple of Café Coffee Days)!
We spotted Balur Estate as we turned around one of the hairpin curves going up to Kalasa – a small board at the gate invited us up the driveway to the estate, which houses two bungalows.
You can book any of the six rooms on the estate, managed by Linger Leisure, for an idyllic get away from the madding crowds of Bangalore. I would recommend the Planter’s Room – attached to the living room, it has huge bay-windows from which you can hop out into the courtyard and soak in the sun during the day.
Much like the Neemrana hotels, the spacious, high ceilinged rooms in Balur have an old-world charm. There are no television sets on the property nor any telephones in the room and obviously no room service. Cut off from most networks, we were encouraged to linger over cups of coffee and spend hours soaking in the tranquil surroundings, reading, talking or simply staring out at the verdant hills surrounding the estate.
The estate staff welcomed us with friendly warmth and ensured that our short stay on the estate was memorable. I must live up to my newly acquired status of a gourmand, so I will start with the food served by Ratnamma, the in-house cook – simple, home-made and heart-warming meals that leave the palate delighted and the stomach satiated. Our first meal on the estate shall remain etched in my memory forever – dry pepper chicken, an interesting curry with beans and potatoes, sambar and pepper rasam served twice-cooked rice flour chapatis. For me, the icing on the cake was dessert – puranpolis! The coffee, brewed fresh from the plantation beans completed the culinary experience.
The caretaker Amza, a jovial young man showed us around the estate and walking us through the process of making coffee beans, right from the picking of the Arabica berries on the plantation and the washing process which releases the most intoxicating aroma to how the beans are dried in the sun and processed before being sent to the Coffee Board.
I don’t think I will ever forget that heady perfume of the wet coffee berries or the fascinating array of colours of the beans laid out to dry in the sun and I must admit that for the first time in my life, I understood how estate owners must feel when they looked out at their property. Can I also confess that I almost wished I could buy the estate? 😉
Balur was a magical experience, one we will be happy to repeat (hopefully for a longer stay next time) and mark as a yearly tradition. 🙂