With the savings from working as tea planters for decades, Tamil Nadu natives Joe and Hermie Mathias decided to settle down in the foothills of the Nilgiris in the ‘80s.
Tired of working in the plantations for years, the couple relocated with the hope to start a business of their own. Because they had arrived in the Nilgiris, a hub of tourism, it made sense to start something in the hospitality sector.
And so, in 1986, the duo set up Jungle Hut, a sustainable homestay located in the heart of nature.
Vikram (48), Joe and Hermie’s son and present owner of the homestay says, “My parents bought this land in 1981. I’m not sure if their aim was to construct something sustainable, but they were trying to make maximum use of available resources at the time to save energy and cost.”
For the first few years, their guests included only friends and family. But as word spread, tourists from across South India started pouring in. Within a span of ten years, the couple expanded the number of rooms from just two to 14.
For the past 15 years, Vikram and his wife Anushri Mathia have been running the business.
“We have no background in the hospitality sector. I am a BA graduate and Vikram used to be an automobile engineer. We chose to quit our jobs and take up the homestay business as his parents were unable to manage everything. That was one of the best decisions we ever made. Slowly but steadily, we got a hang of how to run the homestay,” Anushri tells The Better India.
Jungle Hut is situated amid the picturesque Nilgiri Hills near the hamlet of Bokkapuram, Masinagudi.
The area constitutes the buffer zone of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, which is home to a wealth of wildlife including the Bengal tiger, leopard, Asian elephants, Indian gaur, sloth bear, hyena, wild boar, and many others. The surrounding areas are a haven for bird watchers, serving as a hotspot for several species including white-throated kingfisher, Indian scimitar babbler and varieties of woodpeckers.
Vikram says, “When we took over, we made the firm decision to continue and expand the homestay following the same principles as my parents.”
A tourist hotspot
Jungle Hut is ideal for many looking for getaways from cities around Karnataka. It’s located around 35 km from Ooty, 100 km from Mysore, and 250 km from Bengaluru.
Vikram and Anushri provide facilities for trekking, jungle safaris, and bird watching. Moreover, the campus has a swimming pool, as well as indoor and outdoor games for adults and children alike.
“We have classic, premium and deluxe tent rooms. None of them fit into the mould of a typical luxurious resort. We have a minimalist set up, delicious homemade food, and an atmosphere that blends well with the forest surroundings,” explains Vikram.
The homestay is also equipped with a rainwater harvesting system and solar panels on top of each room. The rooms are made of eco-friendly materials like brick and wood. Although the deluxe rooms are equipped with air conditioners, the owners say they need not be switched on even during the summers due to natural cooling.
“We offset more than 50 per cent of our normal consumption of electricity because of solar water heaters and heat pumps,” Anushri explains.
“As all our wells and water bodies are fed by surface water [streams and marsh lands] and all runoff from the roof goes straight into the pond, we have survived without a municipal water connection all these years. The grey water from bathrooms and kitchens is recycled to a large extent for our own farm and garden. We only use LED lighting and are working on investing capital into efficient and energy saving kitchen and laundry equipment,” she adds.
Vikram and Anushri say that besides being sustainable, the homestay also contributes to the livelihood and upliftment of the local tribal communities, especially those from the Irula tribe.
Around 25 permanent employees in the homestay hail from the group. They are also trained in how to work in the hospitality industry. The family has constructed homes for the staff and helps their children study, they say.
Francis M, who has been working in the maintenance department of the homestay for the past 32 years, says, “I joined based on the reference of a neighbour who was working as a cook here. Unlike now, there were no department differentiations then, and I did driving as well as serving. Today, I am a permanent maintenance staff of Jungle Hut.”
The 54-year-old says all employees in the resort are like a family. “My children’s education expenses were borne by the owners. When my wife was hospitalised with a serious illness, they supported my family both financially as well as emotionally. This is the story of every worker here. That might be the reason why all of us stay here for a long period.”
Anushri says, “Right from our earlier generation’s time, most employees have been local residents. This happened because it would have been hard to source workers from other regions. But now we consider the upliftment of the communities as our responsibility.”
The duo also owns two similar properties named Atmaveda Riverside Retreat in Srirangapatna and Annabelle’s Beach Apartments in Goa. The Masinagudi property alone welcomes more than 5,000 guests per season. “We are planning more property takeovers. We have decided to embrace the hospitality sector completely,” says Anushri.
Visit their website here.
Edited by Divya Sethu
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