A villa of quietude: Nandanvan Villa, Kodaikanal takes you back in time with freshly brewed coffee
It can get really quiet up at the Nandanvan Villa in Kodaikanal, hosted as a private vacation homestay by SaffronStays.
Well-placed as it is, the villa sits at a far end of about 30 acres of the coffee estate of the same name, at a rather light-headed altitude of 4,500 feet.
On any bonny morning, over slices of buttered toast and marmalade, as you slowly stir a dainty coffee spoon of sugar into your polished porcelain cup of fresh, estate-grown coffee — you’d only hear the chirping of birds all around you.
And also, each distinct clink and tinkle of the coffee spoon running along the edges of your cup.
It could perhaps be a mystical acoustic effect of the late mist that rolls in — on some days, all the way until noon — overhung over the valley side, creating a cocooned studio effect to amplify every sound you make, over and across the sprawling valleys in front of you.
If you’re travelling with company — as in, with partners or couples and friends — they’re also quite likely to be easily lulled into the whole quietude of things.
In a moment, you’d even catch one another’s coffee spoons running slow, tinkly races around each other’s cups.
Things do tend to get quite romantic in such environs, and it’s a heartwarming thing that the coffee is enlivening, and a great perk-up. It does make you brace the airs about you, hold yourself a bit tighter, and feel a little more loved by the forces and powers that be.
A map on the wall
At the villa, you’re far removed from the raucous, honking of state buses and the general bustle of Kodai town — though, for a fair forewarning, there are the occasional mornings of savage dynamiting
in the distance, indicating either crude monkey dispelling methods or upcoming resort constructions.
In any case, there’s nothing much else to expect here apart from the most unwound, languorous and all but dreamy spells of extended late mornings.
It’s another good thing that you can pretty much ask the friendly kitchen staff to keep the flasks of piping hot coffee coming.
The arabica coffee grown on these estates have, over the years, picked up a mantlepiece full of noteworthy awards and certifications.
And there is a great deal of history lying around, for you to pick up and glean through — between the cosy (some of it faux) antique furniture, a charming collection of paintings, a few of which appear to be of local artists, or of former residents at the villa, and one fascinating area map framed on the wall.
Back to the future
All of this is, of course, swaddled in the finest instances of restored colonial architecture that you’re likely to find around.
For a quick note, the estate boasts of a verified 100% organic distinction, and the in-house meals are packed with fresh orchard-picked veggies, and home-ground spices — served up elegantly in a selection of choice cutlery and tableware.
The best part about a morning at Nandanvan Villa is in the few blinking moments, early in the morning, when you’ve just awoken — you look around and imagine you went to sleep somewhere in Tamil Nadu in early-2020, and woke up back in the late-1800s, somewhere in far-out Scotland.
It’s a good thing too that you can turn off all the gadgetry around you, if you like — phones, laptops, tabs, what have you — to feel like you’ve gone even further back in time.
Out on this corner of Kodaikanal, you’d even think aloud that the word ‘quaint’ was first coined for Nandanvan Villa, and you’re sure to have flocks of drongos, thrushes, flycatchers and wagtails twittering back in agreement.
On a morning like this, it is but natural to sink into a couch in the comfortably arranged premises, with a classic novel or old favourite book that you just haven’t had the time to leaf through.
Or better yet, assume the daydreamer’s position in the swinging garden chair at one corner of the lawns, and play hide-and-seek with the sun shining through the wisps of rising mist.
Apart from three well-appointed double bedrooms, a shared living room, sit-out, porch and dining area, the villa also makes room for a library and study, stacked with high shelves of books, neatly making room for everything from editions of Art Forum magazines to paperbacks of Louis L’Amour, with a number of Jeffrey Archers, Clive Cusslers and Robert Ludlums to go around for many afternoons.
There’s a private rocky beach stretch here too that you can head out to, along one periphery of the property, beside a gurgling, slow-flowing river that seems to fit right into the overly leisurely and easy-going nature of things around.
We recommend you pack in swimming trunks rather than rely on improvised, towelled clasp-arounds as there are only naturally cool freshwater springs here, where each splash is refreshing like a divine, ambrosial nectar that instantly quenches your soul, and calms the mind and body into a Victorian state of heightened sensibilities and refined mannerisms.
The latter half is, of course, entirely upto your own discretion, and imaginative persuasions.
Make no mistake, however, as there’s a section of the coffee estate that’s ever-busy in harvesting, sorting, roasting and packing of coffee, especially in the late months of the year, starting around October.
On a walk around the estate, you’d be startled to stumble upon bushes lit up like Christmas trees with bright red cherries of ripe coffee beans, glistening in the playful daylight, like prized rubies and plump garnets up for the picking.
The villa is by no means meant to function as a dormitory, lodge or hotel. Instead, the hosts intend to rent out the villa as a whole, as far as possible, which works best for small groups, extended families or honeymooning lovebirds.
They do accept all-women and all-men groups too, and you might find the odd wordsmith in the crowd who’s wont to be gushing articulations of nothingness, states of non-existence and unreality.
Stick to the coffee
All said, with your hair blowing in a cool gust of wind from off the Western Ghats, and over the meadows and grasslands that sprawl from right under your feet all the way up to the horizon — the words fall like dried leaves in a gust (with due apologies to every writer you have ever read).
But the thing is, if you really pay close attention, the priceless thing at a place like this is to catch that deeply unshakeable sense of quiet, very nearly at the core of your integral being.
And thus, with every other intellectually driven sound and verbalisation that you’ve ever known kept firmly in check, you tend to revel in a momentous way, in an overpowering sense of joyful aplomb, and a highly elating feeling of what some people identify as a sense of sang-froid.
Then again, you could take a quiet moment here to verbalise a soft thank you to the villa owners for their fine stock of books at hand.
Come sundown, beside sparks of firewood being stoked into a bonfire, the sounds sway into darker territory, and you are offered the choice of switching to clinking ice cubes in crystal cut glasses. Left to us, though, we’d stick to the coffee, at any hour of the day.
INR 17,000 for the full villa per day. Ask for seasonal offers. The writer was at Nandanvan Coffee Estate by invitation from SaffronStays.
— Jaideep Sen