Forest Magic in the Colonial Tea Estates of Valparai

Travel back in time at the 100-year-old Sinna Dorai Bungalow.  
Sinna Dorai Plantation Tamil Nadu
Sinna Dorai goes back over a century, and still has its original wooden flooring and working fireplaces. Photo: Supriya Sehgal

When you encounter G.A. Carver Marsh on the 32nd hairpin bend of the road that leads to Upper Parlai in the Anaimalai Hills, throw his statue a cheery wave in anticipation of the excellent holiday you’re about to have.

The wiry Brit was among those responsible for giving the Anaimalai Hills their greatest economic asset. But these hills were not always covered with tea plantations. It wasn’t until the late 19th century, after having experimented with growing cardamom and coffee, cinchona, and rubber that British planters realised tea was most suited to the altitude and cool weather. Apart from this propitious business opportunity, the nippy environs provided respite from the hot plains of Coimbatore. Carver Marsh was part of a group that cultivated the first 50-acre patch of tea here, creating a legacy that still thrives.

Soon, British-style stone cottages began to occupy vantage spots overlooking rolling green hillsides as planters and their families stamped their colonial footprint on the region. The homes had spacious living rooms with high ceilings, wooden floors, elegant furniture, scenic views from the glass-paned windows, and a platoon of household help to whip up sumptuous dishes. At Sinna Dorai, that’s just the experience visitors can replicate. In Tamil, sinna dorai means “assistant manager’s house”. The manager’s bungalow in every estate goes by the same name, so while asking for directions, be specific that you want the one in Upper Parlai (Parry Group).


The Anaimalais are known for their diverse flora and fauna, and are a popular destination for birding and wildlife enthusiasts. Follow the trails chalked out by the management for encounters with gaur, deer, and even the elusive lion-tailed macaque. A night drive with a guide from the bungalow is also a good way to spot animals; Chinna Murugan is the go-to person to ensure a rewarding trip. Visitors can also observe the workings of a tea factory and picnic at the Solaiyar or Neerar Dam, about 20 km away.


Sinna Dorai Bungalow is more than a century old but age has neither undermined its charm nor its spic-and-span interiors. Only marginally renovated to add new bathrooms, the main house still has the original wooden flooring intact, working fireplaces, a typewriter, and gramophone, as it did a century ago. The warm hospitality of Mrs. Nair and her team ensures that visitors feel pampered. The six rooms, all of which have charming yellow and red oxide flooring, are spread over the main house, the refurbished servant quarters, and Marsh’s old office. Blissfully bereft of a TV (except in the conference room), Sinna Dorai warrants at least a three-day stay to let the forest work its magic. I found myself spending most of my time in two spots: the bench at the edge of the garden and the long airy verandah.

I relished the three-course meals, an assortment of south Indian, continental, and Punjabi cuisine, and especially enjoyed delicious desserts like tender coconut soufflé and apple cake.

Appeared in the August 2013 issue as “Planter’s Punch”. Updated in March 2016.

The Guide

Sinna Dorai is in Valparai in the Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu. It is located in the Anaimalai Hills at an altitude of 3,500 feet. Coimbatore is the closest air and rail link (104 km/2 hr). From there, drive past Pollachi and on to the 42-hair pin bends that shrink the size of the massive Aliyar dam below, as you climb the 1,200-metre-high Parlai hill (; 09443699309; doubles ₹8,500 for full board)

  • Supriya Sehgal keeps her travel spirit alive by sipping hot tea with strangers, swapping anecdotes from locals and peeping down from hot-air balloons.

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