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What was Paradise?
Society Interiors, April 2005

At Orange County, getting close to nature does not exclude any of the creature comforts that we have grown accustomed to. This resort in Coorg is posh in its rusticity. Having chosen the unlikely theme of a Tudor village settlement for his resort, George T. Ramapuram, Director - Operations and Projects and also the CEO, found that he had scored a winner at least with his Indian clientele. How many of us would expect the lush wilderness of Coorg to suddenly yield a quaint village in the 16th century English architectural style? His research yielded a number of colonial bungalows in this land of the Kodavas. Perhaps it was a reflection of the British taste that was visible in the estate bungalow architecture of the area. On later discovering the Kodava ainmanes or ancestral homes that showed a more local flavour with traces of borrowed influences from the Kerala style of building, he adopted it for the next phase of expansion - the Vaidyashala and the pool villas. Built with bamboo mat roofs and terracotta floors, these pool villas are more down to earth without in any way being less stylish.

The 48 Tudor cottages present a picture of a serene settlement, of gently smoking chimneys that exist in an eco-friendly world without fences. The names, derived from the plants growing near the cottage groups, are equally picturesque - Coffee Cluster, Mango Cluster, Palm Cluster... A granite-cobbled pathway leads to the brilliantly whitewashed lodges with dark wood rafters and layered roof of hay packing. A picturesque substitute to the old-world charm that seems to have been motivated by the textured exterior of the original English style. But replicating the inspiration had its difficulties. The complicated procedure of raising mud structures gave way to a more convenient brick and mortar building that later took on the appearance of a Tudor cottage. A cemented roof is necessary for the basic waterproofing of the house. The hay layers packed on top of it and the dark varnished wood rafters are more aesthetic than functional. Divided into various levels of luxury and comfort, some of the cottages are blessed with a picture - perfect brick-lined fireplace.

Hunter's Lodge, the bar, is a cosy nook with the warmth of rough textured furniture, dark wood beams lining the walls and inviting large leather chairs to sink in nursing your preferred poison. The heavy d├ęcor of the room has added character thanks to the generous line up of animal skulls and horns recovered from the surrounding Dubare forest.

The latest addition to the Orange County landscape is a series of tents to bring you closer than ever into the arms of Mother Nature - a concept hitherto unknown to South India. (They are probably the only air-conditioned tents in the Country).

While the tents do bring one really close to the hardy terrain, the tariff rates are by no means down to earth. Ramapuram points out that the renovation and maintenance of the tents is more cumbersome than the peripheral simplicity would convey. A metal skeleton for the tent fabric, the base of construction cement that provides conduits for electricity, phone lines and plumbing, the wooden flooring that covers the base, etc., are some of the behind-the-scene elements that build up to the luxurious provisions in each tent.

The tents overlook a seamless pool that seems to merge into the lake water behind it. Only the lake is an ordinary green compared to the inky blueness of the pool that gives the impression of a blue lagoon of sorts in the heart of the wilds. The dancing flames of a campfire by the pool reflect in the shivering blue waters along with a tree that reaches out to the sky with its raking branches. The pool concept is repeated in the Pool villas as well.

The Pool villas display a classic Iyengar architecture with the porous vetakal lining the area surrounding it. The furniture and the whole look in the villas have been geared to replicate the rustic opulence of the Kodava architecture. The high beds, fluted pillars, wooden benches, cornices, chairs with turned legs and cane weavings, charming study table, chest of drawers and ornamental mirrors become a part of the old-world ambience. They are complemented perfectly by the heavy wooden doors and brass artifacts sprinkled tastefully across the room. Each of these villas opens into its own private backyard that has an expansive pool, a covered patio and a wire-mesh creeper-covered wall that overlooks a part of the forest.

The idea has been to merge with the surroundings and to blend with nature. To keep the functionality aesthetically appealing. Therefore the manicured effect of the landscape around looks cared for rather than an artificial surfeit of dressy imported flowers that don't belong.

Inter-locking terracotta paves lead up to Vaidyashala, the Ayurvedic therapy area, which stands out with its inner courtyard, fluted pillars, red terracotta floor and tiled roof. In the middle of the sunlit courtyard, a Krishna tulsi plant stretches out with the knowledge that it completes the picture. Lining the courtyard on three sides are the raised platform with wooden backrests that would have once provided a meeting ground, giving an aesthetic fence to the patio here.

The cosy Tudor cottages came up almost seven years ago and the more ethnic touch of the Vaidyashala and the Pool villas followed four years later, while Tents are the most recent addition.

Orange County plans to have a restaurant to complement each of the different styles of architecture. That would be in addition to the existing Granary, with its wooden beams and terracotta floor distinctive of the estate bungalows, for the Tudor cottages, and Peppercorn, the tent restaurant, that has a canvas roof and fishing nets for walls providing a wonderful view of the greenery outside while keeping the insects off. Once the traditional Kodava village of the 18th century is resurrected in Orange County, a restaurant serving you authentic Kodava dishes will also be a part of the set-up.

But natural surroundings are not the most striking part of this resort. What is amazing is that the three seemingly different themes co-exist in complete harmony. The ethnic Indian villas have been separated from the Tudor village with a high vetakal wall and the tent settlement is demarcated with a wooden spike wall. Ironically the clear-cut delineations make it easier to see the individual settlements as the part of a whole. Orange County provides a wonderfully varied array of tastes and fragrances, much like their juicy fruit baskets.

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