The Banyan Tree At Sethumadai

I’ll begin with The Banyan Tree’s ‘private waterfall’. Suddenly it’s there before you, hidden behind a splendid curtain of greenery. And you may well find yourself gushing like the waterfall too!

Indeed there’s much to gush about here at this hidden-in-the-hills homestay in Southern India that no one can find easily (deliberately so, says the laughing affable host, Prabhu). But my exasperation (why aren’t there any signs along the way, Prabhu?) dissolves instantly when he explains: it keeps those noisy, litter-strewing weekend-trippers away, but if you’re already booked in here as my guest, call me from the village Sethumadai, and one of my farm-hands will happily escort you here!

Makes sense. Because the Prabhu home is pristine clean, and simply cannot be sullied by anyone other than nature lovers who respect this eco-sensitive retreat. Almost everything you see around you has Prabhu’s ‘hand ’in it: he’s the architect, construction engineer, interior decorator, landscape artist, cook (yes! And more of this later) and even the clever environmentalist who made the little ‘perennial waterfall’ possible.

This 5–room homestay is set in 4500 acres of farmland, and bird-watchers find this a complete paradise. The jeep safaris into the Topslip mountains and forests will thrill any couple or family group, and after the bracing mountain air has perked up appetites, there’s the number one attraction to come home to:  local Tamil traditional food, served on plantain leaves with innovations that even other homestays around the area keep talking about.

My eco-sensitive checklist was easy to tick off: The Banyan Tree follows so many eco-responsible practices to protect the environment, but if I had to pick out one special draw, I would say they really promote the Tamil culture here; the delicious local food, fresh and healthy off their farmlands, all made possible with sensible farming practices.

Hotel The Banyan Tree Tamilnadu India South India Ecotourism

Stay & DineSee & DoBeing ResponsiblePersonal InsightsPack Your BagsFind Your WayAbout The OwnersGuest Reviews

The Banyan Tree At Sethumadai

I’ll begin with The Banyan Tree’s ‘private waterfall’. Suddenly it’s there before you, hidden behind a splendid curtain of greenery. And you may well find yourself gushing like the waterfall too!

Indeed there’s much to gush about here at this hidden-in-the-hills homestay in Southern India that no one can find easily (deliberately so, says the laughing affable host, Prabhu). But my exasperation (why aren’t there any signs along the way, Prabhu?) dissolves instantly when he explains: it keeps those noisy, litter-strewing weekend-trippers away, but if you’re already booked in here as my guest, call me from the village Sethumadai, and one of my farm-hands will happily escort you here!

Makes sense. Because the Prabhu home is pristine clean, and simply cannot be sullied by anyone other than nature lovers who respect this eco-sensitive retreat. Almost everything you see around you has Prabhu’s ‘hand ’in it: he’s the architect, construction engineer, interior decorator, landscape artist, cook (yes! And more of this later) and even the clever environmentalist who made the little ‘perennial waterfall’ possible.

This 5–room homestay is set in 4500 acres of farmland, and bird-watchers find this a complete paradise. The jeep safaris into the Topslip mountains and forests will thrill any couple or family group, and after the bracing mountain air has perked up appetites, there’s the number one attraction to come home to:  local Tamil traditional food, served on plantain leaves with innovations that even other homestays around the area keep talking about.

My eco-sensitive checklist was easy to tick off: The Banyan Tree follows so many eco-responsible practices to protect the environment, but if I had to pick out one special draw, I would say they really promote the Tamil culture here; the delicious local food, fresh and healthy off their farmlands, all made possible with sensible farming practices.

Stay & Dine

Stay

The Banyan Tree has plenty of comfortable inviting spaces for ‘just sitting’.  You’ll walk through semi-open porches, huge inner courtyards decorated with family heirlooms, libraries with heritage books, and verandas, before you reach your room, if staying in the main house. The 3 Heritage Rooms in the main house (where the family also lives) have twin beds, attached bathrooms, all gleaming to a sparkle.

But if it’s great views you’re after, head for the new Mountain View wing. Even the walk to it is exciting as you pass a long, bamboo walkway to reach rooms built on an elevation with commanding views of the rocky mountains and dense vegetation. Each of the 3 bedrooms here is cheerfully furnished, and has a little pantry for quick eats and drinks.


Dine

Even the seasoned Tamilian (such as me!) will be amazed at what innovations are possible in traditional Tamil food! With food being such a prime focus of your stay here, dining has a choice of 3 lovely locations: the grand family dining room in the main house, the semi-open dining area in the large central courtyard, or out in the open, under individual tiled canopies, in the garden. Plus a cosy open barbeque setting, with a woody atmosphere.

The cooking genius here is the host, Prabhu, who has taught his local chefs all the secrets from his grandmother’s repertoire. And the delightful surprise is, he’ll teach you too, in his sparkling kitchen.

I am still trying to decide which was more divine: his yellaneer sambar (a typical accompaniment with rice, but with an unusual ingredient: tender coconut pulp) or the spicy beetroot rasam (a superb re-invention of the mulligatawny soup). A typical meal, served in eco-friendly giant banana leaves, will bring you rare varieties of spinach, and innovative combinations of home-grown vegetables (organic, of course), in a largely vegetarian meal. With additional dishes to satisfy the non-vegetarian too, like the local chicken masala dish. Topped off with melt-in-the –mouth sweets like the yellu urundai, or rounded balls of sesame seeds mixed with jaggery.

Our well travelled host makes great Western fare too. But as the guest book indicates, traditional Tamilian food on a leaf is what everyone, particularly the Westerner, really wants! Food is made milder, less spicy, on request)

See & Do

Birdwatching: This place is one of South India’s birding hotspots and is normally part of any serious birding trip. A basket of packed sandwiches will keep you going all day.

What a waterfall: The highlight of your trip will be walking down to the estates ‘private waterfall’, where you can catch an invigorating natural shower. This will most likely draw you back here for an annual visit!’

Agro-farming trip: A jeep ride around the vast farmlands with the host will open your eyes to natural farming, and give you valuable insights on environment protection.

Wildlife safari tours at Topslip: Safaris into the Annamalai  Tiger Reserve,( even though tiger spotting is rare here) Parambikulam  Wildlife Sanctuary , and even trips to the stunning Valaparai and Sholayar hills close by, with picnic baskets for a day-out adventure, are possible.

Nature walks and mountain treks: Guides will take you around great mountain trails, visit a tribal settlement in the hills, or just a pleasant nature walk around the villages

Exer-cycle your way around: Mountain bikes available if you are the sporty outdoorsy kind

Catch your dinner: Reel in your own catch at a special spot upstream, and enjoy your dinner

Cooking classes by your host: Your host is generous with his secrets too! Join him in the kitchen and learn how to make those amazing dishes, take notes, and recreate it all back home

Visit a local ashram: Take a trip to Aliyar and meditate at the Swami Vedatri Maharishi Ashram, and discover true calm and inner peace.

At Banyan Tree: Discover the heritage and family history of your hosts, through pictures and preserved artefacts. Many spaces to chat, read, meditate or just dream.

Being Responsible

The Banyan Tree rewards the eco-sensitive traveller in many interesting ways, from the woods to the food!

Being environmentally responsible:

The design and decor is very typically of the place, by the place, for the place - and authentically Tamil Nadu, all the way. The wooden walkways, the bamboo roofs, the locally crafted tiles, and uniquely textured grainy wood finish of the furniture, etc., blend aesthetically into the forest ambience, and are made with locally available materials. Rain water harvesting, strategically located water bodies, and gray water channels make sensible use of a precious resource. The stunning private waterfall was made possible with a lot of hard work in training the water flow through the forest hills and maintaining the area to be litter free. Cement bags and plastics are recycled sensibly. Solar energy is used for the fencing and generators. And waste coconut shells are used to heat water for the geysers. All so many ways to save electricity.

The vast farmland uses natural farming techniques, like mulching and composting, pesticides made from cow’s urine. Organic vegetables and fruits from their own backyard supply all the needs of the kitchen, with supplements from the local market. Bicycling and group tours are encouraged to minimise fuel use.

Being socially & economically responsible:

The loyal staff here have served them through many generations, and are well looked after with the benefits of tourism. Locals have found profitable jobs as guides for treks, bird watching, etc. New skills have been imparted to them, like carpentry, structural engineering methods, and wood-crafting, in the process of building new wings for the homestay. There are no washing machines here - but guests clothes are given to professional ‘dhobis or washermen’, to ensure a steady source of income for them.

The place actively supports a local school The Forest Hill Academy. Holding a wedding party here generates a lot of additional employment for the locals, like flower decorators, servers at the feasts, and cleaners.

Being culturally responsible

Apart from actively promoting traditional Tamil cuisine, this place is well known for its innovations in food too. Artefacts handed down through generations are wonderfully explained to the guests, through interesting family anecdotes.  The hosts greet guests dressed in traditional costumes. And festivals, especially the harvest festival Pongal, are superbly celebrated.

The personally guided wildlife trips and bird watching excursions have encouraged lots of word-of-mouth publicity about Tamil Nadu, and brought in many foreign visitors on repeat visits.

Personal Insights

What's Hot!

  • Superb misty mountain setting, with jungles attached
  • Great views from porches, long wooden walkways
  • Setting ensures good weather almost every month of the year
  • Dancing peacocks, and several rare birds calls to wake up to
  • Sparkling clean home with centuries-old heirlooms to admire
  • Genial hosts who enhance every stay with their positive energy, great stories


What's Not!

  • Difficult to find location; (may leave you overshooting destination) unless host arranges transport
  • No TV’s: an obvious plus, but not for the chronically wired!

Pack Your Bags

Ideal For Whom

The avid birdwatcher (particularly from Europe) will find this to be paradise. In fact, the famous author of “Birds of the Indian Subcontinent”, Carol Inskipp did, and Prabhu will proudly show you the autographed book she gave him.

Couples on a ‘let’s-get-lost’ plan, families wanting a taste of the wild, but with home-made tastes to get back to, will find this ideal.

The place is great for a getaway wedding - so young romantics can start their plans!


When To Visit

This place is blessed with good weather most of the year—except in April-May when it is hotter. Monsoons are superb, even if they restrict being outdoors. The best time of all is September-February, when light woollens or jackets may be needed.


How Many Days 

2 to 3 nights to really enjoy this place and its natural attractions.


Things To Bring

Easy slip-on, slip-off footwear, as you cannot enter inside (the home) with shoes, as is the custom here; good walking shoes for treks, farm visits; binoculars and a good guide for bird watching; a compact umbrella for sudden showers, as this is a rain-rich area. Books!

Find Your Way

The Banyan Tree at Sethumadai is located in Tamil Nadu, South India, about 40 miles from Coimbatore, the principal city of this region. Coimbatore is 310 miles from Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu.

By Air: International travellers can fly in from Mumbai, Chennai, and Bangalore to Coimbatore Airport, an important industrial city. (Note: Coimbatore is also called ‘Kovai locally). This airport is well connected to international flights too, to Colombo, Sharjah, Dubai, Singapore. After that it is a road trip to Banyan Tree.

By Rail: Coimbatore Railway Junction is very well connected by a number of trains coming in from Bangalore, Chennai, and Kochi etc. Catch overnight trains to save on time, then set off in cars (pre-arranged by your hosts) to reach The Banyan Tree.

By Road: It takes approximately 90 minutes to reach The Banyan Tree by road from Coimbatore airport, or a 3-hour drive from the Kochi (Kerala) airport. The roads are excellent and tree-lined and make for a pleasant drive. Reaching the Banyan can be a bit tricky, so head off towards Pollachi (follow the road signs) and reach the small hamlet of Sethumadai. To make the correct turn to Kaliamman Koil street , only a phone call to your hosts will help, (and a farm hand will lead the way to the Banyan Tree) but in most cases, your host would have arranged for the transport right from the airport/station, so you won’t have to worry about directions.

About The Owners

I was shaking hands with a very well mannered dog in the cosy welcome-porch of The Banyan Tree, when his genial master, Prabhu, walked in—dressed in the traditional veshti, (a white garment worn by South Indian men). It is easy to see why guests have gone away feeling like ‘family’ here—and so keep returning.

Prabhu turned his share of his inheritance (flourishing farmlands divided between 4 brothers) into a  homestay, and being an incredible do-it-yourself man, is the architect, construction engineer, naturalist, carpenter, artist—and even the chief chef—who seems to have enough energy left to even chat endlessly into the night, regaling me with family stories! His supportive wife Jayanthi can be seen around the farm keeping a watchful eye on environmentally-friendly practices widely followed here. Prabhu has resisted making this place a huge touristy destination despite having the place for it, and even politely turns away celebrity film stars (who come to this area often on shoots) for fear of damaging the environment with careless gangs of revellers.

When I left, he wrote down two special recipes for me himself, in my notebook. I had terrific results with it—and now know why his guests come back for more!

Guest Reviews

"Spectacular setting. Delicious Tamil food. Sighting a panther during the jeep ride was a highlight to remember". Gerard William Chiddingford, UK, January 2009

"Arriving at Banyan Tree from Berne (Switzerland) after a long tiring journey is like entering paradise." Mario Thomas, December 2008

"Coming from the cold Austrian winter, this place was paradise! We enjoyed the Tamil food very well"  Ursula Retbauer, Austria, December 2008

"The food was great—and thanks for making it ‘mild’! I would love to come back"William Tucker, USA. December 2006

"This is a piece of heaven in India. Food is superb, and the waterfall so special". Tan and Wendy, Brooklyn, NY.

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