Despite the thick sheets of grey that enveloped the skies, and in turn shrouded the lake below, the Avalanche Reserve Forest, a concentrated patch of Shola forests, on the opposite bank, looked alluring in the dull morning light. We were making our way to the top of a hill, a 15-minute hike from our warm beds, when we had paused to catch our breaths; nifty Barn Swallows almost nutmegging us as they chased the insects we kicked up in the dirt. Far below, we could still see the lone Spotted Deer we had spooked, hopping further and further away. In a Shola patch to our right, a couple of Nilgiri Langurs leisurely fed on the branches of a fruiting tree. And, if you looked past it, a little more to the right, you could see the origins of our trail – the emerald gabled roofs of a farm stay, peeking out from behind a clump of trees.
Situated 20km away from Ooty town, near Emerald village, if you trace the thin road which runs along the dammed-waterbody of Emerald Lake, you can find your way to Destiny, a 68-acre farm resort on the fringes of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. But the road will only take you so far; you ditch your vehicle and assemble at the Destiny Farm parking lot, where you await special transport. You are ushered indoors by a cheery receptionist who serves you a steaming concoction of lemon and honey in water and introduces you to a long list of activities you can indulge in while at the farm. Soon as she is done briefing, an army truck roars into the parking lot. ‘Get ready for the ride of your lifetime’, she says smiling, directing us back to the parking area. The truck’s ground clearance is such that you need a ladder to climb on board. Five minutes into the journey, it becomes clear why they need modified army trucks to traverse these last 2km and why the receptionist was particular to point out the Spa facility at the farm stay.
By the time you make your way past the gates of Destiny, you are thoroughly shaken and woken from your long-drive-induced slumber. But nothing can prepare you for the view that greets you the moment you step off the truck. Far in the distance, a long ridge dominates the skyline, breaching the heavens, shrouded in an emerald blanket knit together with expansive grasslands and sporadic pockets of Shola forests. A vast valley lays nestled in its lap, stretching as far as the eye can see. And, pooled in the palm of its hands, is a pristine lake reflecting the vast open sky and the sloping hills that hold it.
As for the resort itself, seated at such a glorious vantage point, its undulating slopes drop into a valley that eventually trails off on the banks of Avalanche Lake. The lake snakes around the blue mountains of Ooty, joining up with its more famous sibling, Emerald Lake, at Surukipalayam. Bounded on one side completely by forests which extend into the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and the Silent Valley, Destiny is as close to wilderness as you will get.
A walk down to the lake will introduce you to the variety of avian species that can be found on the property: sparrows, drongos, munias, swallows, herons, egrets, bulbuls and more. Halfway downhill, by the time you make it to the stables, the patch of Shola forest by the lake announces itself, a cacophony of bird noises arising from within. Past the gorgeous Spa building, you feel the temperature drop as soon as you enter forest cover. And, before you know it, the canopy gives way for the wide expanse of the lake. Sit down, catch your breath, feel the cool breeze on your flushed face, meditate to the sound of the water against the lakeshore, and gawk at the flight of egrets and cormorants as they paint the clear skies.
Run by a husband-wife duo, Vijay Prabhu and Meeta Prabhu, Destiny Farm Stay is the lifelong dream of Vijay, who has always garnered a love for nature and animals. Vijay used to fish across the lake at a place called Lakkidi, back when trout fishing was allowed in the area, and that was how he stumbled across this beautiful piece of land. He bought it in 2001 and Destiny Farm Stay came into operation in 2007.
The property has 37 rooms, in four varying grades of comfort, all of which offer breathtaking views of Avalanche Lake or the rolling hills of the Nilgiris. All rooms, replete with wooden flooring and cosy throw rugs, convey four subtle themes – Planet Savers, Great Explorers, Wild West and Men of Nature. Each a salutation to pioneers like Rachel Carson, Marco Polo, Buffalo Bill and Charles Darwin – stalwarts who have courageously redefined life on planet Earth.
The farm is thoroughly self-sufficient and employs eco-friendly methods of cultivation. From vegetables and fruits to a variety of herbs and spices, the in-house kitchen is almost entirely dependent on the daily produce obtained from the farm. Another 90 acres in the nearby village is cultivated commercially, and the produce is sold at the Mettupalayam market in Ooty town. Destiny is also home to a host of farm animals: a stable full of horses, a dairy full of cows, sheep, geese, turkey, and much more.
Destiny was initially set up with the idea to cater specifically to the children of today, to provide them with the opportunity to experience life in the outdoors. A chance to live on a farm, interact with animals, learn to plough and plant crops, and indulge in adventure activities like valley crossing and rock climbing. Destiny continues to conduct programmes for educational institutions, but over the years the farm stay has come to offer so much more to a diaspora of visitors.
The arrant absence of network on the property forces you to unplug and embrace the bountiful nature around you – the hair-raising excitement of spotting Nilgiri Langurs and Dholes on the opposite bank, the giddy joy of riding your first horse, the gratifying exercise of tilling and planting a few carrots or potatoes; you even have the option to day-camp on the banks of the lake, for a real outdoor-living experience.
And, if you are someone who is just looking for a laid back vacation, Destiny is absolutely the place to be. What better way to relax than by curling up with a book on your private balcony overlooking the glorious lake and mountains of Avalanche or by indulging in a relaxing, hot jacuzzi at the Unwind Spa on the banks of the lake? Stroll down to the fishing pond, visit the theatre room and catch a nature film, spend time with your kids in the fight room playing board games and table tennis – Destiny Farm Stay has a lot going on, and it has something for everyone.
This slice of heaven in the Nilgiris is your chance to reclaim your true self and reconnect with your beloveds; where you throw it back to a time when we were more plugged into the world around us than the one in the palm of our hands.