Susmita and Shreedev's Woodway Estate, tucked in Chikmagalur in the heart of the Western Ghats, is a paradise for any nature lover. The freshly brewed coffee from the plantations is among the main attractions.
For anyone who steps into the serene Woodway Heritage Estate — a Chikmagalur homestay property run by Susmitha and Shreedev in Karnataka — an enriching experience awaits.
The bungalow, first built in 1904, has witnessed quite the evolution. Right from the city being an isolated spot on the map to now being a hub of tourism and adventure, Woodway has seen history unfold right in front of its eyes.
And Susmitha and Shreedev couldn’t be prouder.
“Our intention with Woodway was always to put Chikmagalur on the map,” says Shreedev, a fifth-generation coffee planter, whose father was the third owner of the estate.
Recounting the journey of starting the homestay to The Better India, the couple shares in rich details the backstory of this house, its heritage, and the wonderful memories it leaves its patrons with.
How the estate came to be
Situated right in the lap of the glorious Western Ghats, Shreedev shares that the main draw at Woodway is the heritage and history associated with it. Built in the classic Gothic architectural style, one feels the magic right upon entering through its doors.
“A British gentleman owned the property,” explains Shreedev. “While he had initially constructed a bungalow on the highest point of the land, and planned on living in it, the lack of water forced him to move lower down on the land and build a smaller house. Today, that bungalow is Woodway Estate, where the gentleman would entertain guests, host officers, among others.”
The story goes that after India’s independence from British Rule in 1947, the estate was sold to an Indian from whom Shreedev’s father later purchased it in 1975.
Turning heritage into a home
Shreedev was working in Bengaluru in 2000 when he met Susmitha, an MBA graduate. The two fell in love, got married, and moved back to Chikmagalur, in a home 7 km from the Woodway estate.
The ravages of time were evident on Woodway. It had been locked for a year-and-a-half and the unpredictable climate of the state had taken its toll on the home. “It was starting to crumble. The Mangalore tiles and mud walls were starting to chip away. When we saw it after all these years, we could tell it had seen much damage,” shares Susmitha.
A tough call awaited the couple. Should they restore the home, furnish it or leave it as is? But the sentimental value of the home compelled them to choose the first option.
“And we’re so glad we did it,” she says.
A simple idea taking roots
While the couple decided to restore the place, they hadn’t thought of converting it into a homestay. The inspiration came after Susmitha read an article in 2000 about the emergence of ‘homestay culture’ in Coorg.
“Then why not Chikmagalur?” she thought. The city boasted of forests, waterfalls, and beautiful grasslands, all against the backdrop of the luscious Western Ghats. The couple wanted the city to be known on the world-map.
Recounting their very first experience of hosting people, they say it was New Year’s Eve in 2002 that proved to be the turning point of their story. Intent on helping their friends find a getaway where they could ring in the new year in style, Susmitha and Shreedev offered them their very own recently-revamped home.
The three days that the couple’s friends spent at Woodway were the loveliest, to say the least. This was encouraging news for the couple who had long since ruminated on the idea of welcoming guests into the home.
Today, Woodway Heritage Bungalow is almost always booked to capacity and those who leave its premises do so with a promise to return.
The birth of a heritage getaway
Numerous homestays — both legal and illegal — dot the landscape of the Western Ghats today, but the couple was intent on making theirs in accordance with rules and legal sanctions. They spent the next three years in talks with the tourism board of the state. They also visited tourism fairs across India to learn firsthand how to set up a homestay and everything else it entailed.
“We wanted to do it the right way,” says Shreedev. “Whenever we spoke to people about what we were trying to do, we never marketed Woodway. We marketed Chikmagalur.”
And it paid off. He wanted city folks to experience the magic of nature and the healing powers of solitude.
What it takes to run the estate
Rubbishing the usual assumption that coffee planters lead luxurious lives, Shreedev says that it is not that simple or rosy.
“Yes, our quality of life is very good but there is a lot that goes into it. Farming on plantations is hard. Managing 250 acres of land is tough. And that is the side that few see,” he says.
But every night after a tedious and laborious day at the plantations, Shreedev returns home with freshly-harvested coffee beans — that the guests wait eagerly for — and a deep sense of satisfaction. The plantations are where he belongs, he says.
Surrounded by the plantations, Woodway, with its six fully-furnished rooms replete with modern amenities that complement the old-world charm, also houses a kitchen garden. The couple started working on their passion project in 2000, fixing the roof, electrical lines and painting, while preserving the original look and feel of the home. Shreedev gives the credit of overseeing the restoration to Susmitha.
“Most of the furniture is from the original house,” she notes. “We use brass vessels that were used for cooking back in the day. Everything is designed around taking the guests back a 100 years, yet feeling luxurious in the same moment.”
For anyone who thinks this is the main draw at Woodway, it gets better. The food is a completely different magic in itself. Susmitha says that the secret lies in their kitchen garden, from where they source around 70 percent of their total produce.
“Mother Nature provides us with colocasia, mushrooms, aubergines, jackfruits, horse gram, turmeric leaves, pomelo, red rice, pepper and more,” she says.
A traditional meal at Woodway includes akki roti (a flatbread made with rice flour, spices and herbs), kai kadubu (coconut rice dumplings), urali kattu (a Karnataka speciality made with horse gram in spicy coconut gravy) and sevige kaihaalu (a sweet coconut milk side dish).
Adding that as he sees so many people now starting homestays, Shreedev says it is crucial to first understand nature before doing so. “You need to take in what the hills are telling you before you dive into this venture,” he says.
On this remarkable journey commercially since 2005, the couple reiterates that for them Woodway Estate has never been a structure, but rather a “living thing” that has grown with them through the years.
“Would we have done it any other way?” Shreedev thinks aloud to himself for a moment. “Definitely not,” he says with a smile.
Edited by Padmashree Pande