Planning for the trip
Why Chikmaglur of all places, you ask? Was it the coffee? Was it the hills? Was it the greenery?
Well, yes to all, to some extent. But primarily, it was to ensure that I redeem myself as a good son-in-law. You see, the last time we went to this place called Galibore Fishing Camp, I forgot my mother-in-law had motion sickness and attacked the hilly curves with the gusto of Bangalore’s autowaalas. I wish I could say she fainted from happiness of what an excellent driver I was.
So this time, we wanted a place which was within 5 hours from Bangalore, involved a minimal hilly journey, and yet, brought on the oohs and aahs from my Delhi-heat suffering in-laws. After chucking out places which they had already seen (Galibore Fishing Camp and Kabini), and ignoring places which we had seen too often (Coorg), we settled on Chikmaglur. Also, the name sounds funny and somewhat non-veggy.
As for stay, there were lots of options in hotels and homestays. We wanted a relaxed, close-to-nature getaway and not a checklist trip with frequent Facebook updates. Also, someplace which didn’t interfere with our savings plan for our bucket-list trip in November (more on that later – I am shit scared of jinxes). But neither did we plan on experiencing the monastic way of living. So somewhere around Rs 5000 per room per night.
Also, we wanted to taste awesome food. And if we were planning to just sit and stare at nature for 3 days, she had better be in her best make-up. So that meant awesome views as well.
Given all this, homestays seemed the best option. So after a couple of hours of doing the first level search on Tripadvisor (going through reviews, completely ignoring the management photos and scrutinizing at the traveller photos like a dad examining his daughter’s first boyfriend), my far-better-half zeroed in on 2 options – Shivekaa Homestay and Gonakal Homestay.
I feel bad for Shivekaa. They were so close – the food seemed awesome, it was green all around, the budget was right. But what they didn’t have was grass. No – I wasn’t planning on smoking up on a family trip with my in-laws (what did you take me for?). I meant even, soft, mossy looking grass covering the mountains around them. Which Gonakal Homestays had, and boy did it look breathtaking:
This is the actual view from Gonakal Homestay, taken on my OnePlus 3T (for some hard-to-explain reason, I did not take my DSLR with me).
Gonakal also had similarly great reviews overall and also around food, so this view was the dealbreaker. We interacted with the owner’s son, Anudeep Gowda over phone and whatsapp, paid 25% as advance and our booking was done.
There are basically 3 route options which Google Maps will show you:
- Via Tumakur-Tiptur
- Via Yadiyur – Tiptur
- Via Hassan
I liked a number of Kamal Hassan’s movies, so chose the Hassan route. Though if you want the fastest and best road, then you should choose the Hassan route. Depends, you see.
I noticed Google Maps had a tendency to screw with you – though the route via Hassan was the fastest when I made the trip, it used to switch to the Yadiyur-Tiptur route each time I exited navigation and restarted it. So be careful.
The highway is divided for most of the route, except the last hour or so.Quite a number of restaurant options along the way – you can just stop at any place where there are 10 or more cars parked and just walk in. Here’s a short video showing the same:
But even on the 2 lane highway, there wasn’t a lot of traffic, so overtaking was fairly easy. Here’s a quick video of the road condition on the 2 lane highway:
When you reach Chikmaglur, you’ll most definitely come across a massive statue of a reclining goddess which is done really nicely, with a small park and a duck pond. One would think it’s a nature park but that’s actually Siri Cafe – hats off to them for thinking out of the box on how to attract customers! Here’s what it looks like:
There were also these plants which had these massive leafs. If you are a botanist (why??), then do let me know which species are these:
When you reach the marker on Google Maps for Gonakal Home Stay, turn sharp left right after the sign saying ‘Gonakal’. You’ll then need to travel for 2.5 kms approx on a kutcha road till you see a small gate on the left. Ignore that. Then there will be the main gate of the house – you can see the front of the house clearly from there. You’ll be tempted to honk or open the gate. Ignore the temptation. Enter the gate just after the main gate – that’s where the cars are parked.
Here’s a video I took of the kutcha road while returning so you can see for yourself the condition of the road:
Rooms & Property
Here’s a pic of the main house:
To get a good sense of what the property is like, see this 360 video where I explain the layout and how the views line up:
Here’s a similar version, this time in selfie mode with my smashing face, where I discover a bit embarrassingly that one cannot switch cameras while in selfie video mode:
Now I can go on describing our room for the next 500 words, like bestselling authors tend to do. But I am not a bestselling author. So I took a video showing the room:
Here are some photos of the room:
Overall it was nicely appointed with the only issue being a leaking water jet in the bathroom. It wasn’t big enough issue for us to bother complaining about it though. There is no intercom in the room so you need to walk to the house if you need anything. The house though is just about 20 meters away so it’s not that big a deal.
There are only 5 rooms outside the main house. Ours were the ones on the extreme right. This is the view from the front of our rooms:
(The 2 characters in the foreground are only there for enhancement and won’t appear in your pictures)
These are the views from the 2 standalone cottages to the immediate right of the main house. The one closer to the house has the better view amongst the two – you can see it here:
This is the view from the other one:
There is also a big cottage to the immediate right of the main house – I would say that will have the best view. It should be similar to the view from the front of the house:
I didn’t go to the big cottage and start taking photos as it was occupied by a murderous underworld gang of brutish thugs. And I might have accidentally photographed a crime taking place and then would have been perpetually hunted down by them. Or it was a group of bikers passionate about facial hair, with larger than average build, who worked in IT, and they would have happily posed for the camera. I couldn’t really tell the difference, and didn’t dare to find out (the facial hair was intimidating).
Things to do
A stay there is just full of activities you can do – eat good food, stare at the mossy mountains, play board games, stare at the mossy mountains, chat, stare at the mossy mountains some more, take walks in the front lawn while always staring at the mossy mountains, play with the pet dogs (4 labrador+dachshund mix and 1 non-scary, smallish doberman) when they are let out, and then finally, sleep (while dreaming about the mossy mountains).
You can also spend a good amount of time taking pics against the….you guessed it – the mossy mountains!
The main building is 300 years old and has some really antique woodwork. So if that catches your fancy as a photographer, then go for it.
Here’s how the interiors look like:
While photographing the mossy hills, you will need to eliminate all the red brick structures in the foreground and the bare courtyard.
If there was one thing which we can suggest as an improvement, it would be to prettify the courtyard – it distracts a bit from enjoying the rest of the awesome scenery.
You can also ask the owner, Mr. Gowda, to take you for a walk in his coffee plantation which is just a few meters away from the house.
At night, I would definitely recommend walking sufficiently away from the main house, maybe towards the plantation, and then switching off all lights. In the darkness, depending on season you can see a few, or lots of fireflies. We saw around 10 fireflies around us. In a previous trip to nearby Sakleshpur, we had done something similar and saw probably 50 fireflies around a tree – it was magical! Don’t go alone though – take someone slower than you. If something attacks you, you are the more difficult meal option. Always good to be prudent.
Apart from these adrenaline pumping activities, you can also embark on some truly adventurous ones, like indulging in thoughts of giving it all up and settling down somewhere similarly scenic (and then rejecting the idea, only to plan in detail for it):
We thought of visiting the touristy places nearby like a fall, some viewing points and a temple on the 2nd day, but none of us were too interested in doing all that activity on a weekend of leisure. At the same time, none of us were able to definitely say no – the thought that we had travelled all the way so might as well do some sightseeing, was hovering over us. My father-in-law solved that dilemma by developing a fever right after that discussion, so we were forced (happily) to stay at the homestay. But now we could blame it on the fever, which went away promptly the next morning.
Breakfast and lunch is vegetarian while dinner has non-vegetarian options. You also get veg and non-veg snacks in the evening (we got chilli bajji, chilli chicken south indian style and pepper chicken). Breakfast range felt a bit limited – just 2 items. Those 2 items were tasty and the chutneys were good. They changed the menu each day.
The non-veg starters and curries were all quite tasty. They definitely have a good cook.
If you want tea or coffee served to your room, you need to go to the house and ask whoever is there to send it. Again, a hotel like intercom facility would have been great, but this is a homestay, so you have to make these adjustments. Mr. Gowda is quite helpful though. We really liked the sweet dish for lunch and my father-in-law wanted to have it after dinner as well. So we asked Mr. Gowda, and he got the sweet from their personal store out for my father-in-law but also for me, as he had noticed I had lapped it up at lunch.
Summing it up
To answer that favourite, universal question for all customer reviews – Would we recommend this homestay to our friends and family?
It’s relatively easy to reach compared to a lot of other homestays, the views of the mossy hills are awesome, the food is pretty good, the quality of accommodation is good and the hosts are helpful. However, you will need to ignore the bare courtyard while hill-gazing, walk to the house if you need anything and be ok with a limited breakfast option. But overall, on balance, the pros far outweigh the cons. And you might end up outweighing your previous self given all the leisure and good food.
Hope you liked this review! Which homestay/hotel are you planning on? Do let me know in comments.