Relish the country life and some adventure sports in the quaint Destiny Farm in Ooty, Tamil Nadu
A panoramic view of Destiny Farm
Cattle grazing at the Farm
Fishing - one of the many activities at the Farm
Horse riding at the Farm
The evening bonfire at Destiny
A bedroom at the Farm
The Farm's dining area
The dairy farm
A view of the fields
Here’s one way to enjoy the charms of a typical hill station. Visit Delhi in the winter. Yes, Delhi. You’ll get equally cold weather, nicer parks, plus incomparably better culture, eating out and nightlife. And thanks to the successful ravages of the true rulers of hill stations, the land mafiosi, you’ll arguably face less evil traffic and plug-ugly architecture in Delhi.
If you do need to get to somewhere pretty, count on a 90-minute journey to get anywhere. In that case why not just stay on, say, in Mumbai and invest the same time to get to the highly underrated Borivili National Park? Stay with me a while here. This isn’t a shill for metropolitan life. It’s a lament for the enormous damage that unchecked development and human population growth have done to hill stations.
Luckily for me, I’m indulging these dark thoughts because I can afford to. I am near a hill station that’s up there with Mussoorie and Manali in the grotesque development honours list. And yet it’s a beautiful sunny day, the quiet broken only by the wind in the trees and the occasional whicker of a horse. Across a shallow valley, a few young rabbits spar. Closer by, a Manila duck eyes me grumpily. Perhaps I’m in its path to the duck-pond, so I step back to what I was doing earlier, which was admiring the makings of a magnificent salad; all around me are healthy lettuce, cauliflower, carrots, rhubarb, artichokes, strawberries, leeks, dill, and many more vegetables and herbs. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme all grow in happily proximate patches, so of course I can hear Simon & Garfunkel’s lovely ‘Scarborough Fair’ in my head as well.
I’m at Destiny, a farm stay a little over 20km from the sprawling tourist trap that is Ooty. Destiny is near Avalanchi, which was named after a major landslide in 1823 reorganised the local geography. It’s a working vegetable and dairy farm run by the Ooty-based Littlearth Group, which supplies the several boutique hotels the group runs in the area. Farm stays are a fairly popular concept elsewhere, especially in Australia and New Zealand, and the husband-and-wife team of Vijay and Meeta Prabhu, who run Littlearth, realised some years ago that it wasn’t just the produce of their farm that had commercial potential. Destiny’s 120 acres border the blue-green lakes formed by the reservoirs of the Emerald and Avalanchi dams. Much of the plentiful greenery that can be seen from the resort comprises the protected Avalanchi reserved forest. The Mukurthi National Park is not far to the west; beyond lies Kerala’s Silent Valley. The entire area is part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, home to many species found nowhere else on the planet, a region that is rightly up for confirmation as a World Heritage Site.
It’s a perfect location for a holiday getaway. Throw in the opportunity to visit a functioning farm and dairy, and outdoor activities that include hiking, rock climbing, rappelling, commando-style valley crossings, boating and fishing, gardening and riding, and it’s evident why Destiny is already popular with HR managers planning corporate getaways, honeymooners and families with children. The Prabhus, themselves young parents, have set up a resort where children need to be seriously creative to get bored.
Not that the adults are short of diversions, either. I spend a few happy hours exploring the trails that wind through the forests near the resort with Prajal and Bhaskar, Destiny’s two adventure sports guides. Both trained at Darjeeling’s Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, and like a few other HMI grads I’ve met, they share an equal facility with rock faces and rock music. Thus ensues an unusual and entertaining conversation that segues smoothly from the unquestioned virtuosity of the late Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell to the very questionable gains from transplantation. Like most forests in the Nilgiris, and further south, in the Palani Hills around Kodaikanal, these stands of eucalyptus, pine and wattle are transplants. The endemic vegetation of shola forests interspersed with rolling downs covered in grassland now survives only in remote, protected tracts, though reforestation with original vegetation is on in many parts of the Nilgiri biosphere. Alien trees mean that the trails, though lovely, are curiously empty — this forest doesn’t sustain the diversity of species that the shola does. But animals can adapt, and every day I’m treated to the metallic-sharp honk of an alarmed sambhar. The big deer are seen here often; wild boar and gaur somewhat less so, though the equally impressive depredations of the former and droppings of the latter can be hard to miss.
Nor is it easy to miss the provider of another daily treat — the booming call of the Nilgiri langur. The handsome dark monkeys automatically associate in my perverse mind with grammar — thanks to Lynne Truss’s very pleasurable book on punctuation, Eats, Shoots And Leaves. Nick the first comma in the title and you have what the monkeys are up to. When they’re not eating shoots and leaves, though, they’re keeping a wary eye out for an even cannier adaptor to the new forest cover.
This animal eats monkeys among other prey and you won’t see one unless it deigns to show itself. It’s the cleverest of all cats, the leopard is. But its droppings, full of fur and bone shards, are everywhere. I look up from the trail, back in the direction of the resort. It’s evening, so the couples with children would be getting their last riding lesson for the day; others watch the ducks, geese, rabbits and guinea pigs returning to their hutches. Depending on their boss’s agenda, the corporate types are either making a final rappel down a sheer rock face or blinking through another PowerPoint presentation in the conference room, awake only because the lights and sound system that turn the room into a disco at night are all in place. I’m looking at the setting sun turn the emerald of the lakes to the colour of molten lead and wish the leopard good hunting tonight as I turn back. Good resorts allow spaces for very different people to find their zones. Destiny certainly does that.
Getting there: Ooty is best reached from Coimbatore (105km by road), which is well connected by air and rail to the rest of India. You can drive up or take the toy train from Mettupalaiyam to Ooty. Destiny - the Farmstay is just 20km from Ooty and the first17km stretch is motorable by regular cars and bikes. The final 3km to the resort is strictly for vehicles with high ground clearance; otherwise you can park and the resort will handle your transport from there.
The farm: Destiny is run by the Littlearth Group and the 120-acre commercial farm produces vegetables, herbs and dairy products. Accommodation is provided in 18 cabin-style rooms. The rooms are wood-floored and the deluxe rooms even have functional fireplaces. The tariff is Rs 2,475 for luxury rooms and Rs 1,775 for deluxe rooms in season. During the rainy off-season months of June to September the tariff is Rs 1,975 for luxury rooms and Rs 1,475 for deluxe rooms. The rates are per head on a twin-sharing basis and include all meals and taxes. For groups of six and over, there’s free transport every day at noon from King’s Cliff, the group’s Ooty hotel; at other times it’s available at Rs 200 per head each way. Contact: 0423-3207000/1; www.littlearth.com
Activities: There are a number of activities at the farm that will keep both children and adults busy. Guests can take an agriculture tour during which they can try their hand at planting or harvesting. The farm also provides plenty of scope for trekking and camping, all under the guidance of an expert. There’s horse riding, rock climbing and river crossing for the more adventurous. The kids will, of course, be excited by the presence of rabbits and geese at the farm. And yes, they are allowed to pet and play with the rabbits.