Lofty towers - The country's finest luxury tree house getaways
The first time we got onto a tree house was sometime in 2001, when the eco-adventure resort Green Magic in Wayanad had pioneered the concept of tree houses in Kerala. It was like a childhood fantasy come true, as we imagined we’d be ushered like Phantom and Diana by Bandar into a counter-weighted basket that would magically zoom up in the air. We wondered if the jungle vine would snap or was it a ladder we had to climb? Walking through the lush plantation, we reached the edge of a ravine from where a gently sloping wooden ramp led to the thatched hut.
Gingerly walking up the ramp, we reached the rustic hut with a small balcony and a low bed made of bamboo. We were above the tree line and the aerial perch afforded a birds’ eye view, literally. The sight of bright orange and black scarlet minivets flitting about the dense shrubbery was magical. The thrill of being up there and spending a night as the wind creaked the trees can never be forgotten. That was 16 years ago, when the concept of a tree house was quite novel and still taking root. Today, every nature resort or plantation-stay worth its salt prides in having at least one tree house or machan. But gone are the days of rustic simplicity; today’s tree houses come equipped with all kinds of creature comforts.
Way up in Wayanad
The best place to experience tree houses in India is undoubtedly Wayanad. It is no coincidence that the hilly district, with its mountainous terrain and rich tribal heritage, is a stronghold for tree houses. Many resorts have relied on the traditional know-how of local tribes. Tranquil Resort at Kolagapara near Ambalavayal used to have a tree house with an actual basket that transported you to the top. However, they have renovated their old perches into the Tranquilitree tree house, perched at 45 feet on a gulmohar tree. The rustic 572 sq ft living space comes with an en-suite bathroom, verandah, mini-fridge, LCD TV and coffee maker. However, kids below 8 are not allowed, due to safety concerns.
High above the rainforest canopy, Vythiri Resort has five tree houses, ranging from 35 ft to 80 ft off the ground, including a child friendly one. Natural spring water has been channeled from a high source, so gravity takes care of water supply without using a motor for pumping water. The quaint thatch roof and bamboo walls have been built by members of the local tribal community using locally sourced materials. Plenty of precautions are taken – guests are asked to pack light with heavy luggage kept in a locker room and no food, liquor or smoking is allowed up there.
It’s the perfect escape for couples or honeymooners. The newest entrant into Wayanad’s extended tree house family is Pepper Trail near Sulthan Bathery. Lined by cheery orange and red heliconia, the driveway slices through the expansive Mangalam Carp Estate, set up by pioneering planter Scotsman Colin Auley Mackenzie in the 1800s. At the tiled roof Pavilion deck, a refreshing drink of lime is served, overlooking coffee shrubs interspersed with tall silver oak and 1,200 jackfruit trees.
Humming birdie calls
On a sturdy jackfruit tree, a wooden walkway rises over the coffee bushes in a gentle ascent to a tree house 40ft off the ground. The Woodpecker Tree house is fitted with wood-panelled walls, fine décor and linen, a country-style four-poster bed, dressing area, luxurious bathroom and a wide balcony with plantation chairs. Its counterpart, the Hornbill Tree house, was further away. Every morning or evening, we’d eyeball barbets, sunbirds, drongos and raucous Malabar Grey hornbills, while sipping our cuppa.
Lost in the cacophonic din of urban life, we discovered that silence in the remote rainforests sits on an underlay of crooning cicadas. Our arboreal existence drew the attention of a boisterous troop of macaques, who peered through our windows in the hope of some generosity of spirit. With no biscuits or bananas going their way, they’d romp on the railings in wild tantrum displays. Monkeys can be a menace, so catapults are kept handy with air guns to scare them away. We felt mildly annoyed about their infringement when ironically we had invaded their leafy domain.
With a live feed of Animal Planet outdoors, who would miss TV! Pepper Trail maintains a “No kids under 12” policy. While this may seem tough for families with kids, it underlines the resort’s stress on safety and concern for a guest’s need for peace and quiet. The sprawling estate is great for birding, besides leisurely walks to see how coffee and tea are cultivated. Take a drive around the plantation in the open top jeep or go on short highway jaunts around Bandipur and Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuaries.
High on a hill song
At Rainforest Boutique Resort in Athirapally, as if the charm of viewing Kerala’s most magnificent waterfall from your room wasn’t enough, a Swiss architect was roped in to design a tree house as dramatic as the view. Overlooking the Sholayar rainforests, the tree house is the ideal vantage point to gaze at the thundering Athirapally waterfalls. Equally dramatic is the Shola Periyar Tree House perched atop a banyan tree.
Another region making a name for its tree houses is the wildlife zone of Masinagudi near Mudumalai with rustic perches at Safari Land, Forest Hills and The Wilds. However, the trend is not restricted to South India. Tree House Hideaway is set in 21 acres of woodland adjacent to Bandhavgarh National Park, in Madhya Pradesh. Combine the joy of staying in a tree house with the thrill of spotting tigers in the wild on jeep safaris through Bandhavgarh. Five exclusive tree houses are built on stilts on five different trees – Mahua, Tendu, Peepal, Banyan and Palash.
Though grungy and wild from the outside, the rooms are posh. The dining hall is built across two levels around a century old Mahua tree with a dining hall on the ground level and The Watering Hole, a bar and lounge on the upper floor.
Pugdundee Safaris, who run Treehouse Hideaway in Bandhavgarh, also have other tree houses in lesser known wildlife parks of Central India — six fabulous perches at Pench National Park and two at Denwa Backwater Escape with fabulous river views of Satpura Tiger Reserve.
Barking up the right tree
Yet another luxurious romantic hideaway is The Machan near Lonavala. Perched at 3300 feet, the 25-acre patch is a part of a tropical cloud forest with a choice of treehouses. The Heritage Machan is built across four levels around a wild fig tree; a spiral staircase leads up to the glass-encased Canopy Machan, a wooden bridge connects up to the Forest Machan, the Jungle Machans are set amid a thicket of trees, while an elevated wooden walkway through thick vegetation leads to the towering Sunset Machans, known for their magical sunset views. The Machan is completely off grid and generates all energy from renewable sources (solar and wind). There’s trekking, birding and local explorations to forts like Lohagad and Koraigad, besides Karla and Bhaja caves.
Further north, 30 min from Jaipur at Nature Farms in Syari Valley is Tree House Resort. Perched atop keekar trees, the nests have several branches running through the rooms, blending nature with comfort. Each Tree House nest is named after a bird found in the area, and the 5-room tree houses are counted among the largest in the world.
In Himachal too, the trend has caught on. At Manali, tree house cottages near Katrain are perched on oak trees, while at Himalayan Village Kasol, the tree houses are actually wooden structures called bhandars, representative of typical Himachali architecture. Gone are the days when you thought of surviving the night on a rickety perch. Here, you can get out of the rain shower, grab a drink from the mini bar and plonk yourself on the sofa as if it were your own living room... there’s literally a whole new world up there.
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