It was around 12 noon when we reached Sinna Dorai Bungalow, perched steeply on a hillock in the verdant tea plantation of Kadamane, an enticing getaway in Sakleshpur Taluk. Sprawling over 1,000 acres, what makes Kadamane unique is that it is the only tea estate in the coffee county of Sakleshpur in Hassan district.
Kadamane literally translates to home (mane) in the forest (kaadu). The impeccably restored vintage colonial era bungalows and cottages served as the erstwhile residence of the British managers of the Kadamane tea estate. Here one can savour the unique pleasure of gracious living in the lap of nature.
Hills carpeted with well manicured tea plantations in Kadamane.
Escorting us around the property, Radhika Cariappa, the soft-spoken property manager, shared with us interesting information. The Middleton family was the first recorded owner of Kadamane estate. They attempted to grow cardamom, pepper and later coffee, which met with little success. Then the property was sold to the Earl of Warwick. Subsequently it was sold to Tea Estates Ltd in 1927. The Murugappa group bought Kadamane in 1968.
The erstwhile residence of the Assistant Manager (affectionately called Sinna Dorai), is currently managed by Parry Agro, which started the concept of Sinna Dorai bungalows in 2012. True to its name, at Sinna Dorai one can have an exclusive experience of a homestay in a tea manager’s bungalow with all its attendant hospitality.
Sinnadorai Bungalow in Kadamane tea estate.
With its large airy bedrooms, antique furniture, bay windows and high ceilings, a colonial elegance permeates the plantation bungalow, which was constructed by the British in the 1930s. The refurbished interiors flaunt artefacts from a bygone era such as the wall-mounted animal heads, the decorations on the fireplace mantelpieces, the retro lanterns, an old telephone, an antique counting machine and an award certificate for the estate issued in 1937 by the Mysore Maharaja.
The bungalow also has a reading room with a fireplace and some indoor games. I also chanced upon a grotesque bear trap in the corridor. One can have fireside chats or snuggle up with a book here in the evenings. The porch opens up to a well-maintained lawn and a fantastic view of the estate with a white picket fence surrounding the cottage completing the look.
Sprawling verandah to lounge in with a cup of tea in Sinnadorai Bungalow.
Sauntering around, we enjoyed the history and nostalgia associated with the estate. The place is steeped in lore and I was fascinated by the stories, especially of the bear-girl of Sakleshpur. A veritable Mowgli, presumed to be taken by a man-eating leopard, she was in reality reared in her infancy by a bear. We also came across a book by JL Benson, one of the colonial era managers, who penned down notes on his experiences that take you on a nostalgic trip to the early days of the tea estate’s operations.
Things to do
A ramble around the bungalow yields its own pleasures. After a bed tea, I stepped out into the garden for some fresh air. There are activities galore to keep one occupied – cycling, badminton, tennis, and of course long walks in the estate. A gazebo in the garden offers the best place for a game of cards. If you have time, practise your serve on the most scenic tennis court that’s surrounded by tea gardens.
Misty morning in Kadamane tea estate.
Views everywhere are spectacular. In the tea gardens, we watched women plucking the ‘two leaves and a bud’. We also observed tea pickers at the weighing stations, accounting for their day’s pickings. A visit to the tea factory proved informative. We talked to the local people and learnt about the fascinating bush-to-cup story, that is, the whole processes of how a tea leaf makes it to a tea cup – from bush to factory and then to the cup.
Two leaves and a bud.
The next morning, we set off on a four-wheel drive to vantage viewpoints in the hills in the estate. The drive up the steep rugged terrain was gruelling. En route we crossed the biggest tea bush in Kadamane tea estate. We stopped at ‘5 acres’ viewpoint, a high vantage point to take in the view of the undulating hills, the wilderness of the towering Western Ghats and the magnificent valleys.
Biggest tea bush in Kadamane.
Further ahead, a descending pathway with towering trees entwined with creepers led us to the icy cold water of a stream that formed limpid pools and milky white cascades here and there. Then we reached the most idyllic place in Kadamane forest. We sat on a wooden bridge and watched dragonflies flitting about while we enjoyed an amazing packed lunch. There was nothing around to disturb the quietude in this arboreal paradise except the sounds of flowing water juxtaposed with the chirpings of birds.
A picturesque picnic spot in Kadamane forest.
Back at the bungalow, I lounged in the sprawling verandah with a cup of tea and absorbed the scenic views of rolling green slopes. In between sips of hot chai and nibbles of pakoda, I was disturbed by the recurring images of the vast bald patches amidst the swathes of lush green tea gardens. But I was quite relieved when I learnt that pipelines were being laid to transport water to quench the thirst of people in drought-prone districts like Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Ramanagara, Tumkuru, and Bengaluru Rural.