Variety

The Serai Bandipur Review

Elizabeth Mathew | | Updated on: Oct 24, 2012
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Situated at the southern edge of Karnataka, Bandipur National Park has drawn its fair share of visitors. Sharing its boundaries with three other national parks – Nagarhole, Mudumalai and Wayanad – which together form the Nilgiri Biosphere reserve, Bandipur makes the ‘must-see’ list for most nature lovers. This belt is considered an eco-sensitive region and is also a part of the Project Tiger scheme since it has a considerable tiger population. Bandipur’s biggest lure is its promise of wildlife sightings - the reserve is home to a variety of species including the endangered tigers, leopards and sloth bears and many of Bandipur’s visitors come solely for a glimpse of these creatures.

Luckily for wildlife enthusiasts, now a trip to the Bandipur National Park will no longer involve roughing it out in the wild. They can head to The Serai, Bandipur, for some rest and relaxation while still making the most of this wildlife reserve.

Going wild

Bandipur lies in the rain shadow region of the Western Ghats and hence the vegetation is rather dry and deciduous but this lack of forest cover makes for great visibility and increases your chances of spotting some wildlife. The yellowish-brown grass and scrub that covers the land is reminiscent of the African savannah and the occasional tree with its widespread branches seem like the perfect location to spot a wild cat lounging around.

While I managed to catch sight of just a few dhole, or wild dogs, and the occasional monkey and peacock, the staff was quick to assure me that if I stayed longer, I was sure to sight at least a leopard or two. Chital, or spotted deer, roam the area around The Serai freely, ignoring all the walls put up to mark the hotel’s 35 acres from the rest of the reserve. Since the reserve falls right in the middle of the elephant corridor, sightings of the great beast are quite common as well.

When I visited Bandipur, it was just before the monsoons started, so the weather is cool in the evenings but the afternoons got quite sunny.

Spoilt for choice

The Serai Bandipur is the third resort from Coffee Day Hotels and Resorts; the other two located in the neighbouring Kabini and Chikmagalur. ‘Welcome to the wilderness’, reads the brochure that welcomes you their Bandipur resort, although the plush décor and amenities can make you forget that you’re in the middle of a forest.

Spread over 17 acres, with the remaining 18 acres of jungle scrub left untouched, The Serai’s main philosophy is to provide a luxurious setting from where residents can enjoy the best that nature has to offer. The resort, I am told, has been designed to resemble the classic gaming lodges of Africa with touches of the Mediterranean that are seen in the clean, white walls. Décor for the Mountain View Courtyard rooms are tastefully done with a common theme of warm wooden panels, white walls and comfortable furniture. The large double bed, with an abundance of soft pillows, was great to sink into after a day of nature walks and exploring.

Each room has framed black and white photos of wild animals that were clicked in Bandipur, in keeping with the ‘wild’ theme that runs throughout. However, the animal print upholstery might be taking the theme a bit too far.

French windows open into a small sit-out area where guests can relax and enjoy the view of the Nilgiris rising in the distance, shrouded in a velvety blue mist. By night, however, the pitch black darkness outside isn’t very welcoming and unless insects are your preferred bedfellows, the staff recommends you keep the windows shut.

Spacious bathrooms with tasteful fittings are another feature of The Serai’s rooms. A glass panel in the ceiling of the shower areas is another little touch that makes a big difference – sunlight pouring in and a glimpse of blue sky makes for an interesting experience.

Guests can choose between the Courtyard rooms, the more private Loghuts and the uber-luxurious Residences. While the Courtyard rooms are spacious, each one is part of six in a row. So if you’re looking for more privacy, the loghuts, which come with four-poster beds and an additional sitting area, are a great option. The Residences are the most opulent of the lot, with extensive décor and a larger area. The best part of the Residence, however, is the private terrace that offers the most spectacular view of the mountains. The daybed atop is the perfect spot to relax and enjoy the view.

The restaurant, called the Sanctuary, and the bar, Moyar’s Edge, are at a higher level than the pool nearby, offering a great view of the surrounding mountains. The restaurant offers a buffet as well as a la carte options, with an extensive menu comprising Indian and Chinese food – enough to satisfy the fussiest of eaters. The menu also included a few local dishes as well, for those willing to experiment.

Things to do

The Serai’s chain of spas, Oma Spa, is present here as well and they have an extensive range of offerings. Whether you want a massage for your tired feet or a scrub to detox your body, their spa has a lot of options. Oma’s signature offerings, like the body scrub or the massage, all involve their trademark coffee infusions. The head massage, with a mix of olive and coconut oil infused with coffee extracts had a heady scent, that left me relaxed and happy.

The Serai’s main philosophy is to bring nature and the wilderness closer to the average urban city-dweller who spends more time in concrete jungles. There are a variety of options for guests looking for activities to indulge in. Even if, like me, you’re not really a morning person, I’d recommend the early morning nature walks just for a glimpse of some wildlife. The hotel’s intuitive naturalist will take you on a guided tour of the property outside the electric fence and if you’re lucky you’ll see a sloth bear looking for food or some wild dogs out on a hunt. Early mornings and late evenings are the best time to spot wild animals.

For the less adventurous, the hotel also organises trips to the nearby village, where tribals from the Bandipur jungle have been rehabilitated, to watch a song and dance routine performed by the locals that is sure to fascinate some foreign tourists. The hotel is also planning trips to nearby farms where the villagers work, to give guests a taste of rural life.

The hotel also organises screenings of wildlife documentaries on occasion and a well-stocked library with volumes on wildlife are a great option for those looking to delve into the subject. Additional activities like dirt biking are also on the cards and with the recent lifting of the ban, the hotel promises to start its safaris once again.

What makes the resort special is the variety of activities it has on offer in addition to all the things that make it a luxurious getaway. So if wildlife is your thing but you can’t do without the little luxuries of life, then The Serai at Bandipur might be your best bet at having the best of both worlds.

What: The Serai Bandipur

Where: Bandipur Forest Reserve, Karnataka

How much: Rs 15,000 onwards per night

>elizabeth.mathew@thehindu.co.in

Published on October 23, 2012
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