Altius Nest, though a relatively new entrant, is a pearl among the various hotels dotting the landscape of Kodaikanal. I chose Altius as our honeymoon destination, going by the various positive reviews on Tripadvisor, and I’m really glad I did so.
Wanting to save some bucks, I was searching for a honeymoon destination that was safe for couples and families, providing comfort and great service, yet light on my pocket. Scouring the internet for deals, I happened to read some reviews on Altius Nest. It wasn’t available for booking universally at all sites yet. I managed to find a deal on Goibibo that amounted to Rs. 12462 for 5 nights at their Standard Room. Applying Goibibo’s “SEASON14” promo code, I got the price reduced to Rs 7362. I admit that I had more than a trifle of trepidation booking an unknown hotel without being able to verify the authenticity.
Going by recommendations on Tripadvisor, I phoned the hotel ahead of arrival (a couple of months in advance) and asked that a room on the first floor facing the woods behind, be reserved for me. The woods referenced turned out to be part of the property belonging to the CSI Church, and are a really pretty view. I contacted the manager, Mr Bala and he assured me that a room of my preference would be reserved for me.
I travelled from Thiruvananthapuram to Madurai, and stayed overnight at Madurai. Early morning after breakfast, I proceeded to Kodaikanal via an SETC ultradeluxe (semireclining) bus from Madurai Arapalayam bus terminus. I recommend an SETC bus if you’re travelling to Kodaikanal from Madurai, as it is hardly ever crowded (as it’s slightly more expensive than the regular Corporation bus). Our bus had just 5 passengers and the bus did not have any stops between Madurai and Kodaikanal. The journey was pleasurable. After an hour of travel though warm Madurai, the bus ascended the slopes leading to Kodaikanal, and the journey waxed with scenic sights and hordes of monkeys. The bus journey took around 4 hours, and our bus dropped us at the bus stop adjacent to Kodai Lake.
There are no autorickshaws in Kodaikanal. There were a couple of taxi cars lined up at the bus stop. After bargaining for a while, they told me that they could take us to Altius for Rs 150. I called up the hotel and they said Rs 100 was the reasonable charge for a car to the hotel. I argued that Rs 100 would be the maximum I’d pay and finally we got a Maruti Omni minivan to take us to the hotel.
The Hotel and Reception
The Hotel was lovely from outside. It resembled what I’d imagined about what a country side inn out of old Western classics would look like. The receptionist was very pleasant, and immediately recognized us, and after handing over the Goibibo receipt for the prepaid rent, we were taken to the cost room on the first floor. Drawing back the curtains, we were greeted by the lovely woods at the back with wild flowers in full bloom.
Being used to the tropical hot climate in Kerala in mid January, the weather seemed was extremely cold. However since we intended to enjoy the cold at Kodaikanal, we were not moved. The heater was working, and after a quick bath, we were invigorated. We went down to the restaurant for a quick cup of coffee.
There was hardly anyone else in the restaurant. Our waiter identified himself as Veerapani and told us that he and Veeramani would be looking after our stay for the next few days. Coffee was great, and so was lunch. The tap water was biting cold, however Veerapani offered warm water out of the drinking jug, to wash our hands. All through the stay, what stuck me deeply was the amount of courtesy that Veerapani and Veeramani provided to us. We never gave a tip for the food, and yet every day he would kindly provide us warm water to wash, and would be ready with tissues to dry our hands after washing. Every night after dinner, he would ask and replenish our drinking water.
The room was cosy, and spacious for a regular room. The flooring was wooden. The bedding was made up well, and a white blanket was drawn over the sheets, neatly folded. The bed was a king size bed, and there were switched at both sides for the lighting. There was no air conditioner as is the usual norm for hill station rooms. There was a row of three windows on the right side of the door which faced the woods at the back. The lobby and the corridor leading to the room was tidy and the rooms and lobby was built around an open rectangular space, and even before descending the stairs we could peer down into the lobby.
January 28-February 2 was off season in Kodaikanal and in answer to my query, I was told that there were only 2 other rooms out of the total number of 25 rooms that were occupied at the time.
The toilet was clean, with fresh hot water and a partition between the latrine and the bathing area.
As I mentioned earlier, service was the distinction of this hotel. I am not an avid traveller, yet I could gauge that the service quality of this mid range hotel was exceptional. I don’t believe 5 star hotels elsewhere would provide the service quality equalling Altius Nest. Veeramani and Veerapani acted as our hosts. In addition to providing exceptional service at the restaurant, Veerpani would call us every day before breakfast, lunch and dinner, and remind us that food was ready. He would ask us after dinner, regarding our preferred time of breakfast, and right on the dot, would phone us up and announce that food was ready. As honeymooners, we were bound to be late for breakfast, but he would remind us patiently.
On the eve of our checkout, there was an issue with the card processing system, and I was told that they couldnt process my card. Instead of being told to go to an ATM and withdraw cash, Veeramani took me to nearby ATMs (the first two were faulty) on his scooter to help me get cash.
The room I reiterate, was extremely chilly during this chilly off season. On the third day of our stay, I chatted up with Mr Bala. He had apparently worked at Kovalam beach in Thiruvananthapuram. On being told it was too cold for us, he generously offered a room heater free of cost. Once the heater started to function, the cold become pleasurable and Kodaikanal seemed less like Kashmir.
Sightseeing trips were planned by the hotel in arrangement with local tour operators. Veeramani would ask us what kind of sightseeing tour we liked, and the hotel arranged guided tours along with other couples. Every morning, a mini bus containing half a dozen other tourists, would pick us up from our hotel, and take us on guided tours to various places. A typical trip lasted from 11 am to 2 pm, and the guide would take us to various scenic places, describe them and even take photographs for us. We especially liked Pandiyan of Rajah’s travels who conducted guided tours with a personal touch and affection.
Breakfast was complimentary, and we could choose savoury hot dosas, masala and ghee dosas, onion oothappams, pongal, and toasted bread and jam. Other than the scrambled eggs, everything was deliciously tasty. Thinking of our breakfast would arouse the taste buds! I forgot the names of our chefs, but apparently there were two of them preparing delectable dishes.
Lunch and Dinner by comparison to dinner were less exciting. We didn’t like the Chicken biriyani they dished out. However noodles and fried rice were good, and so was the Chicken chilli. After the second day we stuck to fried rice with Chilli chieken and Stuffed parathas for dinner. Anyway there was nothing to complain regarding the food. Everything was scrumptious.