Situated at the top of a mountain in Tamil Nadu is a 160-year-old bungalow offering the perfect retreat.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
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High on a plateau lies Tamara Kodai, a 160-year-old Jesuit monastery turned-luxury resort. It’s located in Kodaikanal, a hilly, crisp-aired and pristine region in the southernmost Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The heritage resort is situated on the site of Bayne’s Bungalow, presumably Kodaikanal’s fifth oldest house built around 1847, a century before India’s independence. Back then, the area was predominantly occupied by tribal natives. Bayne’s Bungalow evolved into a monastery, whose ecclesiastical founders are evoked in contemporary art depicting three cowled figures gracing the resort’s preened front gardens.

Sensitive restoration of the historic structure meant retaining the high ceilings, and restraint in the interior styling. The result is an understated look, where effusive finery cedes to a liberating sense of space. This is complemented by retrochic earth-coloured leather sofas enclosing stone firepits.

Under the vivid red-tiled slanted roofs lies an elaborate geometry of dark wood beams resting on vintage metallic wroughtiron poles. The stained glass artwork above the doorway adds a splash of colour to the dark, earthy tones.
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My Reading Room


The resort’s suites are located within a two-tiered lot on the property, with each tier comprising four lake-view suites. To access them, visitors take a path along a flight of dark wood stairs tessellated with vibrant Spanish tiles.

Views of the breathtaking scenery at almost 7,000 ft can be enjoyed from all areas within each suite, so guests do not have to brave the low temperatures outside in order to enjoy the scenery.

It may be nippy outside but the golden-yellow walls evoke the feel of warm rays beaming down. A lotus-like pool lies monumentally on a raised platform surrounded by lofty walls and is connected to the award-winning Tamara spa next door.

One of its restaurants, Bistro 1845, can be found in another building with a lily pond. A library with leather-bound books on the all-day-dining restaurant’s higher level preserves monastic ambience, while an impressive chandelier comes gushing down from tall wrought iron beams – onto amazing buffet layouts.

To enjoy the serene surroundings, take breakfast outdoors on a quaint patio overlooking nature’s glories.

Dinners are served at La Providence, another restaurant on the premises, which features restored stone walls and antique doors. Here, a brigade of 15 chefs creates the restaurant’s lavish cuisine encompassing tongue tickling South Indian, rich North Indian, Continental and surprisingly good Pan-Asian, complemented by cocktails from the award-winning barman, Prince.

Pampered with the best that man and nature provide, it’s little wonder why many are flocking to this getaway, making it a top destination for well-heeled holidaymakers.

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"Under the vivid red-tiled slanted roofs lies an elaborate geometry of dark wood beams resting on vintage metallic wrought-iron poles."

History & Nature

“Kodaikanal” can mean three things depending on the pronunciation: start or end of a forest, a creeper forest, or a summer forest. Looming with waterfall-streaked forested hills and lakeencrusted meadows, it became the summer retreat of colonials. However, uniquely, it is India’s only hill station colonised by not the British but American missionaries who fled uphill to escape cholera and malaria epidemics.

There’s chromatic floral diversity galore, but Kodai’s hills gain distinction from the sky-blue neela kurinji flowers that bloom once in 12 years and lie like a soft blue cloud upon the inclines.

Reserve forests of eucalyptus, pine, cypress and acacia abound and in them flourish multifarious birds, squirrels and snake species. The Indian gaur, the largest extant bovine, resemble humongous rocks stationed on wavering plains. Leopards lurk and tigers that dispersed when they were hunted are returning.
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The understated design of the courtyard, lobby and bedrooms pays homage to the resort’s monastic history.

Views of the garden, the alfresco dining area and interior of the restaurant dining hall at Tamara Kodai.

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1. Rainbow Trek 

The Tamara’s savvy, suave Unique Guest Experience Manager, Syed Mehaboob, crafts inspired treks, the resort’s unique selling point. Traverse a creeper forest resonant with birdsong to a spectacular viewpoint; then descend to a cave for refreshments and views of a waterfall.

2. Coolie Ghat Trek

This is an arduous forest trek on the British-created courier dispatch path. Ravi, officially resort guide, but really walking forest-pharmacy and culinary expert, can dispense cures for all ailments, orchestrate all-berry forest breakfasts and make of strange forest growths condiments for biryanis!

3. Beri Jam Forest

It’s a lake-studded reserve forest and repository of birds, with sensational views.

4. Lake Kookal Bicycle Tour

Kodaikanal is known for a manmade lake the town grew around but Syed Mehaboob unveils lesser-known natural splendours.

5. Chocolate & Cheese

Handmade chocolate is Kodaikanal’s speciality. Discover world-class European cheeses too. The Tamara organises tasting of “Carousel” cheeses that expats make at the organic Skamba Farm.

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