School Thota, a division of the School Estate, is a heritage plantation bungalow in Madikeri, a hill station town in Kodagu district of Karnataka. Its owners, mother-son duo Mrs Saraswathi Aiyappa and Kushalappa Aiyappa have converted it into a comfortable homestay.
It’s a pleasant five-hour drive from Bangalore to School Thota. A weekend here is an invitation to unwind among gorgeous greens, in a setting that oozes old world charm and warm hospitality. The ride to their place from the nearest Virajpet bus stop is a lot of fun, especially if you are in an open jeep and the cool Coorg winds are blowing.
The garden right in front of the house is Saraswathi’s well nurtured and pampered child. You can see blushing orange blossoms and fresh lilies, beaming and blooming bright. Bougainvillea trees and palm fronds sway in the wind. Bees and songbirds serenade you with their mellow buzzing and humming.
The gazebo in the garden is a cool hangout, perfect for a game of rummy or Scrabble. Next to the gazebo is a hammock strung across a jacaranda tree and a pine. Laze here with a book, soaking up the sun. Add a dash of refreshing mountain breeze and you have the recipe for relaxation.
After a restful night, I walk down to the coffee plantations with Kushalappa and his dobermans, and am thrilled to see how lush and lovely it is. Besides coffee, there’s pepper, betel nut (supari), silver oak, teak and papaya. Most of the vegetables and fruits used in the School Thota kitchen are grown here. A tree house gives you charming and calming views of the School Estate. One of the smallest tributaries of river Kaveri flows through this place, and you can sit for hours beside it, listening to the sound of water gushing in, especially during the monsoons. If you enjoy picnics, there’s a nice sit-out nearby. During the fishing season when the water level is higher, the homestay does barbecues too.
The vintage style architecture at the homestay is beautiful. Rosewood doors and windows stand strong in their majestic frames. The sheen is intact even after decades, which speaks for the sheer quality of the work done. Tastefully decorated and aesthetically planned, each corner of the house contains a thing of beauty. Be it the near-perfect sketch of a horse which is more than 30 years old, the fireplace waiting to be ignited, the charming chandeliers or a hardbound themed on the Kodava people, each element adds to the character of the place.
The homestay has four rooms: Ebony, Cedar, Teak and Rosewood. The white-and-wood combination gives the interiors a rustic look and feel.
Meals are prepared in traditional Coorgi style by their talented cook Nagraj. Be it the vangibath rice which contains jaggery or their spinach curry, all have a distinct Coorgi flavour. Saraswathi herself is an expert with food, and teaches me how to make a simple light rice dish called paputtu, which tastes yum. I try aloo kheer for the first time and boy is it amazing! Being vegetarian, I didn’t taste their non-veg dishes but I am told that Coorg is famous for its pork curry, without which no Coorgi wedding is complete.
Saraswathi and Kushalappa are known in Coorg by their family name: Kelapanda. Yes, each family you meet here has an ancestral family name which is a legacy they have been carrying on now for generations.
As I take their leave, I am filled with gratitude for their warmth. During these two days, I’ve learnt so much about Coorgi history, traditions and their family heritage.
School Thota is indeed a perfect retreat from the rigours of city life.
Best time to go: Coorg is pleasant to visit throughout the year, but the region is especially verdant during the monsoons, from July to September.
School Thota (A division of School Estate),
Ammathi post,South Coorg 571211,Karnataka,India
Review: Tanmaya Murthy