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Take a green break

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Eco-tourism Finally Comes Of Age In India As Resorts And Hotels Pull All Stops To Woo The Responsible Traveller, Says Hoihnu Hauzel Published 21.02.09, 12:00 AM

Going green has never been easier: even when you’re on a chilled-out holiday. As eco-tourism becomes the buzzword, hoteliers and resort owners are working overtime to offer you a fancy green holiday.

Go green and you’ll be digging into meals cooked with fresh organic vegetables and you can forget about conventional sources of electricity. The resorts are saying a big no to power from diesel generators and using a combination of solar energy, gobar gas (from cow dung) and kitchen waste to light up their lives.

Post a green holiday you might come home armed with many tricks for growing vegetables the organic way, right there in your backyard. For, many eco-resorts are giving their guests not just tours of their organic farms, but also lessons in organic farming. What’s more, you might come back home equipped with other skills and know-how — like how to pluck coffee and tips on grinding the beans.

You could stay in a tree-house, and if you’re more adventurous you can even check out a cave-house. By the way, please leave your gadgetry (laptops and in extreme cases phones) back at home. A green holiday at a green resort has no room for them.

From the heart of India in Madhya Pradesh moving further south, eco-travellers are spoilt for choice. Most resorts are being run by a brigade of committed people battling to protect the environment.

Anurag and his wife Sujata Goel, both scientists, dumped their regular jobs to start their own green resort about nine years ago. “There was no better way to show our commitment to the green cause,” says Anurag who opened the Rainforest Resort in the Madikeri town in the Kodagu district of southern Karnataka.

Here are some of the resorts you can check-out as you hit the green trail.

Green philosophy

The USP of most green resorts is location, location, location. And you’d better believe the owners when they say that their resorts offer experiences out of the ordinary.

Babu Varghese, architect, has built his Green Magic Nature Resort 2 in the last belt of Asia’s tropical rainforests in north Kerela’s Wayanad district. Once an abandoned cardamom plantation, the eco-resort spreads across 30 acres at an elevation of 4,000 ft above sea level.

If you book, you’ll be picked up from a decided point as only guests are allowed inside the resort. “We prefer guests who are nature lovers and discourage walk-in visitors,’’ Varghese says.

The resort uses non-polluting renewable energy to generate its electricity. “We produce our own electricity with the help of a water source that comes down from the mountains,” he says.

Another man looking out for the niche traveller is Ajoy Thipaiah. Six years ago, this coffee planter opened the doors of his four-cottage Kerehaklu Eco Retreat in Aldur, a tiny village 275 km from Bangalore. “We welcome travellers with ecological sensibilities,” says Thipaiah. He’s quite capable of turning you down if you don’t conform to the resort’s guest profile.

Thipaiah is determined to keep the 248-acre resort 100 per cent eco-friendly. So don’t carry gadgets and don’t expect room service. Even building material like pillars and flooring are scraped out from the coffee bush and bamboo that grows in abundance here. The cottages (each can house eight adults and four children) cost Rs 2,950 per night.

The Goels of Rainforest Resort, a 20-acre eco-friendly boutique resort, are also hard at spreading the eco-tourism word. It has three cottages with two double rooms each and last year the couple added two tents. The cottages are powered by solar energy while the food is cooked on bio gas. The room rent is Rs 2,000 to 4,000 per night per couple.

You can also head for Vythiri Resort in north Kerala’s Wayanad district, 65 km from Calicut. Owned by a group of six hoteliers, the resort was unveiled in 1992 with just six rooms. As it adopted the green philosophy, it began discouraging the use of plastic bottles, making an exception for mineral water bottles. But even these will be disallowed once the resort’s mineral water plant gets operational and the water is bottled in glass bottles.

Dune Eco Beach Hotel in Pondicherry too has gone green aggressively. The resort’s 26 villas and 15 rooms are built from old building material collected from Kerala and Pondicherry. It runs on solar energy and the seven-acre organic farm grows vegetables and wheat.

Of treehouses and tents

If you like tree-houses, head for Babu Varghese’s Green Magic Nature Resort 2. The resort’s highpoints (as it were) are three tree-houses and a cave-house. Says Varghese: “Tree-houses and cave-houses allow guests to go back to the basics.’’ The cave-house and the tree-houses cost anything between Rs 9,500 and Rs 12,000 per night while the rooms are Rs 6,000 per night.

These tree-houses are built at an altitude of 50ft to 60ft and designed with bamboo poles, coir, grass and palmyra leaves. They can be accessed with a lift that works with the counter-weight of a water bag and a slanting rope-ladder.

Some other eco-resorts are also rooting for tree-houses. Last year Vythiri Resort added three tree-houses and constructed them with recycled wood at a height of 45ft and 60ft. You can access the tree-houses via a metal ladder and a manually operated lift. Apart from the tree-houses there are 18 cottages and four deluxe rooms.

The stay in any of the cottages comes at Rs 6,500 per night, per couple, while the tree-house is priced at Rs 12,000 per night, per couple.

Compared to other resorts, Krishna Kumar’s one year-old Ela Eco Land in Kerala’s Munnar is pretty tiny. The four-acre resort is proud of its king-size tree-top cottage perched 30ft high and can be reached by a wooden staircase.

Three other tree-houses come with double beds, attached baths and even sit-out areas. All the tree-houses are built using coir mats, bamboo poles and hay while the tree-trunks are used as pillars to support the structures. The resort also offers two cottages.

A tree-house here costs Rs 2,500 per night per head, the cottages Rs 1,750 per night, per head and a room at the farm house comes at Rs 1,000 per night (taxes extra).

And if climbing trees isn’t your idea of a holiday, check into eco-friendly tents in Madhya Pradesh. Two months ago, Ashwini Lohani, managing director, Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation Ltd, introduced tented accommodation in Dilwari, 50km from Bhopal.

The eight tents ensure a back-to-nature experience, offering you a taste of village life. The use of gadgets is discouraged and local cuisine is served. A tent is yours for Rs 1,500 per couple, per night.

The natural way

It was a natural corollary for Thipaiah of Kerehaklu Eco Retreat to reserve 10 acres of land for his organic farm. “Organic gardening is an intensive process and maintenance of an organic farm is a huge challenge,” says Thipaiah who has included a tour of the garden as a part of his guest’s itinerary.

Cut from the Kerehaklu Eco Retreat in Aldur village to Elephant Valley in Tamil Nadu’s Palni Hills, 20km from Kodaikanal. An abandoned coffee estate and some existing bungalows were taken over six years ago by Sunil Varghese. He turned this into an eco-friendly 12-lodge resort and went full-steam ahead with organic farming.

“Organic farming is a value-addition and most guests like to try their hand at it,” says Sunil, director and owner of the farm. Of the sprawling 100 acres, 10 acres is dedicated to organic farming (lots of exotic vegetables and herbs) and another 30 acres is for the coffee plantation. While the lodges get two acres, the rest of the land is left untouched so that a natural forest surrounds the resort.

“Everything that’s grown here goes to the kitchen and the surplus is sold in the local market,” says Sunil.

Local flavours

Foodies can look forward to sumptuous local fare at these resorts. One of the many things that guests love at Kerehaklu Eco Retreat is feasting on local cuisine like spicy coconut-based dishes with homemade bread. All vegetables for the kitchen come from the resort’s organic garden.

But if you are a guest at Vythiri Resort, you can prepare a typical Kerala meal with the help of an in-house chef. Dinner is usually multi-cuisine or even Continental.

Sujata and Anurag Goel of Rainforest Resort maintain that their menu is “quite varied.” Two local women run the kitchen and the menu is usually authentic local fare unless guests place special orders for Continental dishes.

Expect to sample local treats like kadamba puttu (rice balls), pandi (pork) and dishes prepared from organic plantain, jackfruit and mango.

If you stop at Dune Eco Beach Hotel, more organic dishes lie in store for you. The 30-acre eco-friendly resort that opened in Pondicherry in 2007, offers healthy gourmet — but organic — fusion cuisine in its two restaurants.

Green tasks

And while you are there you can’t but help get involved with some green activities. At Rainforest Resort, the Goels take turns to walk their guests through their certified organic spice plantation. They take the guests through the paces of how coffee, cardamom, pepper and vanilla are cultivated.

“We host specialised groups whose interest lie in learning something new,” says Sujata.

And at Elephant Valley near Kodaikanal, you’ll go through the entire process of producing coffee — from pruning, weeding, feeding organic manure to the coffee bushes to plucking, de-skinning, sun-drying, roasting and grinding the beans.

Those with an interest in organic gardening can take back a tip or two. “We explain everything from using the right seeds to the intricacies of organic farming,” says Sunil.

The Dune Eco Beach Hotel boasts of an interesting activity called the Artists in Residence. This is a programme where the resort provides work studios for artists from all around the world. Besides, guests are given bicycles during their stay to navigate the area.

Spa speak

You can go organic in more than one way at these resorts. The spa junkie can revel in total organic treatments. Here’s how: at The Vythiri Spa at Vythiri Resort, an array of classic and new treatments and massages are administered with organic products.

The Dune Eco Beach Hotel promises rejuvenation of a different kind. The resort’s Veda Spa is run by Dr Raganad’s Indigenous Medical Laboratories that focuses on Ayurvedic and natural treatments and offers more than 50 therapies on its spa menu.

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