A peek into pages from a travel diary to Munnar
Munnar, at 5500 ft, is the only hill station of south Kerala. It lies in the Western Ghats high ranges, near the confluence of three mountain streams, Muthirapuzha and Nallathanni. This place is a perfect escape from the daily grind thanks to its spectacular view of rolling hills adorned with tea plantations and rivulets that dance through green meadows.
It Is No Wonder That Time Magazine Named It One Of The Top Destinations In India.
Munnar is a result of the many British planters who cut large areas of forest from these hills in order to cultivate tea on the slopes. Here, tea reigns supreme and Munnar is the only one to grow tea on the highest elevation land at 7,200 feet above sea level. Tata Tea Ltd owns nearly eighty percent of these estates. Tata Finlay Ltd. published the book Facets of a Hundred Years of Planting. It states that the estates belonged to James Finley, a Scotsman who owned them for over 100 years. They were purchased by the Tatas in 1960 and renamed Tata Finlay Ltd. and Tata Tea Ltd.
The idyllic paradise is located only 130 kms from the bustling Cochin port city of Kochi and 142 kilometers from Kottayam junction, a major town in Kerala. The drive to Munnar can be enjoyed in any way you like.
Our journey began at Kottayam in the early morning. We stayed awake for several hours, taking in the beautiful natural beauty. You can see the beautiful scenery from the roads that wind through rolling hills, past coconut trees and lime green paddy fields to gentle flowing streams, waterfalls, and many plantations of pepper, cardamom, coffee or cocoa.
Munnar, a part of Idukki district, is best known for its spice garden in the Land of the 'Kera (Coconut) and is the most natural state in the entire state. Here you will find ample quantities of the legendary Malabar Pepper, the 'black Gold' and cardamom which brought foreign traders to this small land across the vast expanses of blue water in ancient times. This is why Kerala supplies the largest share of this product in the world.
We were reminded of the legend at the tourist lodges by the never-ending, all-encompassing greenery. "God made Kerala his own country and sent 3000 courtesans there to paint it with one color, Green." We were then introduced to the green symphony, which is soothing, calming and nourishing.
Peermade was our stop. The piece de résistance was Pulluvora's waterfall, which tumbled down in a frosty glory. The roadside dhaba was the perfect place to have lunch. An orange-coloured liquid with strong cumin and clove scent was offered in place of the water. Shiju, our driver-cum guide, explained that it was a good digestive aid and a health tonic. Biryani was spicy and tasted more like a cocktail than rice.
We continued on our way through the treacherous terrain of cliff-hanging hills for a few more kilometers. Slowly, we caught a glimpse from far of Munnar, a small town surrounded by smooth tea plantations and billiard tables. Munnar is a large, neatly designed garden of green velvet. There is no noise, cacophony or horns. It is a great choice for those who prefer solitude and peace.
This feeling of tranquility and peace will stay with you for the duration of your stay. Munnar, despite being one of the most famous hill stations in the world, is still a green oasis with mountains, streams and lakes.
It was an absolute pleasure to stay at the Tea County Hill resort for three days in Munnar. The resort was designed in the same style as the old plantation bungalow. It has multi-cuisine restaurants, a bar, health club and recreation center, and the Ayurvedic Massage that is synonymous with Kerala. Each room was tastefully decorated with four-star amenities and large picture windows that offer a breathtaking view of the valley below. A beautifully tended garden with soft pink roses, bright poinsettias, and crimson bougainvillea gave the gardens a beautiful touch of color. The Neelakurinji flower, which blooms only once every twelve years, splattered the hills of Kannan Devan with purple streaks. 2001 will be the next season of flowering.
After a hearty breakfast of deep-fried potatoes and oven-hot parathas, the morning dawned bright. We passed Rajamalai tea gardens, which are a popular spot for film crews down south. We wondered if the lush green gardens were gnarled or cut like bonsai. A planter confirmed our views later, saying that the plants could grow to as high as 7-8 meters and would not be suitable for good yields. To photograph two leaves and one bud, we stopped at a garden. We were amazed at how efficiently they managed to balance the large basket on their backs.
Near the Rajamalai range lies the Eravikulam National Park, home to the Nilgiri Tahr. The endangered mountain goat species is in danger of extinction. There are only about 2000 of them, most of which can be found here. It covers an area measuring 97 km2. It is divided into three zones: core, buffer, and Rajamalai. The Rajamalai area can be reached by car. Beyond that, one must trek through forested grassland. The core area is not open to visitors.
The green tea gardens gave way to the rocky terrain as our car began its climb up the plateau. The smooth slopes were flooded with streams that plowed down to the ground below. Anamudi, which means elephant head, is the highest peak in the Western Ghats at 2695m. It can be seen from a distance. Permission to enter is granted by Rajamalai Wildlife Warden.
It was a completely different experience to walk through a wildlife park. We walked along a metalled path that wound through the grassland. As we met people from all around the world, it was an enriching experience. Many were fascinated by Munnar's simple, relaxed lifestyle. A few didn't appreciate the glamor and glitz. Mario Dino, an Italian pediatrician, was so fascinated by Munnar that she wanted to go back for her next vacation.
After a while, we reached a vantage point where the valley appeared inviting in the soft, rising sun. Then suddenly, a thick cloud covered us completely and obstructed our vision. We were worried about our walk down as it began to drizzle. We were soon greeted by a bright sun from behind the curtain. We fell into blissful bliss, with a rainbow-colored sky to our company.
We were not used to seeing wild animals until then. Lady luck was kind and showed her kindness when we saw a group of wild elephants walking in the shola forest. We could see a family of five pachyderms with a baby snuggled in between. We were also visited by the Nilgiri Tahr, who was a famous pachyderm. He did so from a distance to try to guess our intentions. It was attractive because of its deep brown skin and melting eyes.
The quiet mountain suddenly became pulsing with activity as tourists raced to see the sights. Everyone was in a rush to get their cameras and binoculars, forgetting the basics of the jungle. The excitement was echoed around the Tahr, who misinterpreted it and concealed itself in the grassland, leaving its eager followers confused. We waited for quite some time, but luck didn't favor us again.
Mattupetty Dam was our next destination. It is nestled among lush tea gardens with stunning views. Idukki district promotion council organized speed and paddle boating in the still waters of the lake. Speedboats only passed by, and the water rippled and splashed. However, we preferred to relax in the shade of the trees and enjoy the peaceful bounty of nature. Nature's harmony with humans was demonstrated by the Swiss dairy company that is located nearby. It was a delight to see the well-nourished cows enjoying their daily walks in the lime green valley, set against an aquamarine background.
Another discovery was the CSI church, built by the Scottish on a rocky outcrop in 1910. Asahi and David John, both anglers, were fishing for trout in the flowing waters. They had stern concentration. The High Range Anglers Association in Munnar is where you can get permission to fish for this sport. While it may not be for everyone, David said that "Holidaying is to relax and unwind, but not a whirlpool of hopping around from one place or another." Munnar appealed to him because of its laid-back approach, where there are not many things to do.
The next day, we set out for Windermere Estate in order to see the cardamom and pepper plantations. We continued our scenic journey through dense Cardamom forests, punctuated here and there by vermillion rhododendrons. Finally, we arrived at the cottage hutment with the same name. This family business has been in the hands of a retired Army officer since its inception. The owner owns 70 acres where pepper and cardamom are grown. These products are exported to Europe.
The dried berry of Piper Nigrum is pepper. The vine can reach up to ten feet in height and is native to India, Asia, and Africa. The berries can be picked when they are still unripe, frozen or preserved in brine after nine months.
Cardamom is a ground seed of tropical fruit from the ginger family Elettaria Cardamom. It is very pungent and sweet in flavor. Cardamom is a strong scent that permeates the garden. Cardamom is loved for its unique smell. It is used by Scandinavians to flavor bread, and Arabs to flavor coffee. Biryani all over the world would not be complete without it.
We visited the Devikulam waterfall on our return trip from Windermere. The crystal lake formed by the mountain streams was called Sita Devi Lake. Local devotees still bathed in the cold water despite the November wind. This sacred water is also a source of healing power. This lake is perfect for trout fishing.
After dinner, we went on a nighttime walk in the moonlight. The silvery lighting created a lush, velvety landscape that was reminiscent of a Hollywood movie. Although we felt a strong desire to leave, there was still much to do.
How to Get
Munnar can be reached from Kochi (Cochin), which is the most convenient location. It's 130 kms from the nearest town and takes approximately 4 hours to get there. You can reach Cochin by Rail or Road from most major towns. There are also domestic and international flights that connect major cities.
Coimbatore, 156 Kms. Madurai, 142 kms away, also has rail and air links.
Munnar is connected to all the major cities in Kerala by road. Buses run at regular intervals. You can hire a car from Kochi.
Sundale Vacations (M G Road in Kochi) and Pioneer Travels (Phone 666148), are trustworthy tour operators that you can rent cars at a fair rate.
Where to Stay
The Tea County Hill Resort is owned by Kerala Tourism Development Corporation. Here are some other standard accommodations in Munnar.
Rs. 1,000 - Rs.3000
· Mahindra Resorts (Ph:549224)
· Windermere Estate (Ph:530512)
· Hirange Club (Ph:530724)
· Copper Castle (Ph:530633)
· Mist Valley (Ph.530708)
· Isaac's Residence (Ph.530501).
· Hill View (Ph. 530567)
· Royal Retreat (Ph: 530240).
· Marthoma Rest House (Ph: 530313)
· Elseem Garden (Ph: 530510)
· Edassery Eastend Hotel (Ph. 530452).
Tea County Hill Resort prices start at Rs.2,000 and up. For reservations contact:
Tea County Hill Resort
Kerala 685 612
If you don't have a car, ask your hotel to arrange a vehicle for you. For Rs.1,400 per day, and Rs.800 per half-day, you can rent a Jeep or a Car. Munnar offers bicycle rentals on a daily basis by the District Tourism Promotion Council.
November through March
For more information:
Tourist Information center
Kurze Tours around Munnar
Munnar is a 3-hour trek that takes you through tea-covered hills to reach the summit of Anamudi, which is 2,689 meters high, the Elephant's Head. Nyayamakad is the name of the estate from which the trek begins.
This spot is 32 kms from Munnar at the Tamilnadu border and offers spectacular views of the Western Ghats. This is also the most tea-growing area.
Chinnar WildLife sanctuary
Chinar, 60 kms from Munnar is home to elephants, leopard guard, sambars. It covers an area of 90.50 square kilometers. You can visit Marayoor sandalwood forest while on the drive.
Chandana Residency (Ph.04865-52222) and Marayoor tourist home can arrange overnight accommodation.