When looking at hotels in Pondicherry, I happened upon an eco hotel group that has six hotels across India. One of them happened to be next to the hill station, Kondinakal, up in the coffee plantations. Add in horses and an organic farm, and you got me.
I spent three nights in Elephant Valley – you fly either in Madurai or Coimbatore and drive for a few hours (it took three from Madurai – message me if you need a good driver in southern India) up into the hills where it suddenly gets very green and lush, and a bit chilly.
The resort itself is laid out quite simply, with a restaurant, a lounge (basically a covered room with a television and DVDs, a few books, and a bunch of chairs to sit around in), the stables, and the garden, all on the river, and surrounded by the guest cabins.
The cabins themselves are worth a look – they range from a tarp-covered tent to a tree house to my cabin, the Equine cabin, where you can get your horse tied up to the entrance when you want to go riding in the morning. Around the resort, there are acres of trails to follow, up onto other ridges where you can see views for miles around – or animals, such as wild bison, elephants or boars from afar. You can also ride out on one of their many horses with a guide to explore… I did both.
The real treat at the resort was the food – fresh juices and fruit with your breakfast in the morning (along with freshly brewed Elephant Valley coffee from their plantation), delicious Indian dishes such as palak paneer (with the spinach blended in a way that I’ve never had before… making it much creamier and brighter that most I’ve had) and xx chicken, as well as more western dishes such as chicken schnitzel with mashed potatoes (sure, it might sound odd that it was so good… but don’t knock it til you try it) and fresh salads with local mozzarella.
The organic garden grows a large number of different fruits and vegetables… name it and they probably grow it. Whatever they don’t use at Elephant Valley is sent to their other hotels across India (note to self, great produce in those hotels as well!) The first day, they were harvesting tapioca in the garden (if you’re like me, then when you think of tapioca, you think of bubble tea, and specifically, those bubbles at the bottom). Well, tapioca actually looks like a root, it is the underground part of a large plant… they cut it off then cook it in small chunks. That night, I was surprised with an extra dish at dinner, tapioca cooked with curry leaves and mustard seeds… mmm.
The resort was great, from a nature and culinary perspective… I would definitely go back as a way to spend a few days in the hills and eating very fresh, organic food!