Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Scarlet Flame, IORA, Kaziranga

While passing Kazirange, taken from the backseat
This was purely an accidental delight. We were on our way from Sibsagar to Guwahati and we happened to pass through Kaziranga during that time of the day when your tummy squeals and groans for want of food. We were in search for a proper place to lunch amidst the dozens of “resorts” that had sprung up in Kaziranga over the recent years. Then my dad said, “Should we go to IORA?” and I answered with a resounding “Yes!!!!” while my mother tried to decipher what exactly was this place whose name made her daughter spring up mid-air from the backseat of the car.

I had heard of IORA in the recent months. You know, friends on Facebook being quick to discover this place, and the promotional activities surrounding it and the latest wedding destination being IORA, Kaziranga instead of the faraway palaces of Udaipur or the sun-kissed beaches of Goa. Apparently, people love taking a swig and being the master of his own jungle at Kaziranga and IORA provides a safe retreat… no elephant or wild buffalo would stomp you while you do your victory dance in this newest resort in Kaziranga.
The tea-estate near Iora

We followed the road signs leading to the resort; the resort was the last property at the end of a narrow, yet well-built road and as we entered the sprawling property, to our right was a tea estate on a hilly terrain that looked quite lovely. 

Once we entered, my mom spotted a couple of “phoreners” and I could almost see that that was the precise moment when she nodded her approval for choosing this place. She believes that whenever you see foreigners, you know there’s something of value: they apparently can sniff anything of value far quicker than the elehua oxomia (and yes, that includes Bangladeshis coming to Assam because Assam is, indeed, valuable and far richer that you and I reckon).

Anyway, entrance to the resort was nothing very grand; it was open and airy though and I quite liked the informality. Stiff ambience and people are not exactly among my favourites. And when asked the direction to the restaurant to the staff in Assamese (quite intentionally), the staff greeted me and replied in perfect Assamese (I like this place already!). Usually in my numerous, bad experiences in Assamese restaurants, I’m constantly annoyed with staff who reply in a different language in an effort to alienate what’s their own, sometimes they will even give a condescending look that says “Madam, my eatery is too hi-fi for Assamese to be spoken here” (KFC, Guwahati, mind it!)

Pillars from reclaimed wood. Good job.
Once inside the in-house continental restaurant named The Scarlet Flame, we were politely escorted to a table. The staff who waited on us was patient and answered our queries politely. We were told this was the continental restaurant and there was also an Indian restaurant if we would like to try. My dad decided he would like to try continental for a change (What?! At mid-fifties, that’s quite a change from his usual fare!), so continental it was. I was allotted the responsibility to order. The menu was quite impressive, the continental fare in particular. I ordered quite a suspiciously named dish called “Chicken Supreme Prince Davis” for my father. Maybe Prince Davis liked chicken crumbles, baked veggies with buttered rice. My mom went for a simple red-sauce chicken pasta and for myself, I ordered the Chicken Caf’real (just because I liked the way it sounds).

While we waited for the food to arrive, I quickly scanned the facts on Kaziranga and Assam printed on the placemats and also noticed that the huge pillars of the restaurant were made from reclaimed wood. The décor was simple, spacious; not overpowering. There were French windows on one side of the restaurant that overlooked the garden and my mom, being a green thumb, persuaded that the time till the arrival of our food should be utilized in walking around the garden and inspecting the blooms. Dad was too tired to be persuaded so I went along with her. 

Doors leading to the garden
The garden was quite lovely and well-kept. Flowers in fanciful bunches were in bloom. The orange of marigolds bunched together, the lovely bougainvillea pinks together, the red poppies together. I feel that any flower specie when kept in huge numbers start looking more beautiful than hap-hazardly arranged flowerbeds. There were small straw huts shrouded with white flowers that almost gave a private feel. I assume the huge lawn in the middle of the garden is used to host parties; I saw a straw hut that doubled as a bar, a few empty liquor bottles placed there. 

Private and Confidential
On the periphery of the lawn were the rooms, some clustered together, others being private cottages complete with a chimney. We walked further to the end of the garden which gave way to the view of the swimming pool below. The Jacuzzi was gushing water and in the swimming pool, a kid played with his father. Sigh… I would have loved to take a dip in the pool in this 2pm heat that was beating down on us.

On returning to our seats at the restaurant, the dishes were brought in. Dad’s “Prince Davis” landed first. He (if food had a gender) looked handsome, to say the least. A perfect sphere of buttered rice, baked and slightly spiced veggies on the side, the chicken crumbles were more like chicken patty with a crunch (delicious!) and toasts had a melting layer of cheese. It looked so good!

Mom’s dish was understated. A globe of red pasta; but it was one of the best pastas I had. We didn’t expect such a simple and known dish to be so impeccably prepared and differently delicious.

My Chicken Caf’real was the last to arrive. Don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t order a dish because of its fancy name. My dish was chicken chunks enveloped with dollops of minced greens and pita bread. I love pita bread and the bread here was freshly made and really nice. However, I never liked chicken with greens, so though this dish might appeal to others, it didn’t do much for me.

Even though we didn’t order starters and jumped straight to the main course, let me tell you it was a good decision because the quantity here is ginormous. We had to skip desserts and just to confirm if we could still walk after such a heavy meal, we did an idle round of the garden once more before we headed out of the resort.

Last thoughts?

The resort is lovely; I would also say in the same breath that the resort is for people who would like to stay in luxurious concrete houses amidst the jungle. Iora can be a property in any part of the world, it didn’t have anything Assamese except perhaps a few bamboo and cane artifacts and furniture. I guess for Assamese tourists, this is quite a hit; it being a place that doesn't have the traditional Assamese style décor. Also, I reckon it is a perfect place for tourists who can’t live without pools and scented candles. It is modern and well-kept and beautiful and looking at the cars in the parking lot, it is doing extremely well. However personally, I like the concept of a bit of Assamese air thrown in whilst in Kaziranga. But who am I to say? I’m a gaonlia girl who speaks Assamese in KFC and gets glared at.

The restaurant, of course, undoubtedly, has a fabulous chef. But I’m still skeptical. Most restaurants start with a bang and deteriorate right after that; similar to most buildings in Assam that starts with a blinding whitewash and starts to gather moss after the first monsoon rains. I can hardly begin to comprehend the amount of determination required to maintain such good standards in the middle of a wildlife sanctuary (kudos!), yet I hope that this place retains its chef and its whitewash the next time I visit it.

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