Munnar has been on my mind since our last visit to Kerala two years back. We travelled across South Kerala from Kochi and visited Kollam, Trivandrum, Kovalam beach, Poovar beach and Kanyakumari. That visit was during monsoons and we soaked in the beauty of God’s own country during rains.
This visit last week was scheduled during the long Puja holiday. Schools were closed due to Dusshehra and Durga Puja and parents of young children like us got their wits together to make the best of an extended weekend.We were anticipating the rush of other tourists but the charm of a family holiday at Munnar drew us to Kerala. Hotels and air tickets were booked, we decided to hire a car locally upon arrival and Kerala Sojourn was finalised. After a lovely day spent at The Gateway Hotel, Kochi the first day and a walk around Fort Kochi area, we headed for Munnar in an Innova hired locally.(and there began another story but that is for another time).
Our first taste of Munnar was at Cheeyappara waterfalls on the Kochi-Madurai Highway in Idukki district. A gush of forceful water flowing into a pool like liquidified snow through seven stone steps was a feast to our eyes. A quick stop to have fresh coconut water to quench our thirst and we resumed our journey.
Kannan Devan Hills Plantations Company
Munnar was love at the first sight! There are more than 30 tea estates in Munnar, most of them owned by the successor of Tata group, Kannan Devan Hill Plantations Company (KDHP). KDHP sells tea under the brand name Ripples and we filled our shopping bags with ginger tea, green tea, premium rose tea, iced tea, essential oils of Clove, Eucalyptus, with a brochure of benefits each essential oil.
Shopping: Tea, Handmade Chocolates, Wild Honey and Bamboo Rice
It has been said bamboo rice grows once in 40 years and destroys if not used. It also has medicinal properties. We also bought wild honey as I am forever in search of genuine honey during travels to the hills.
Another speciality of KDHP counter is handmade chocolates. These are also available at small kiosks all over Munnar.
Kashmir of South India
Munnar is also known as "Kashmir of South India" for its scenic beauty, mesmerising expansive landscapes, whiff of aromatic tea leaves,mist-filled Nilgiri mountains and step tea gardens.
After a lovely formal dinner at The Highrange club, where we were staying and a nightcap at our cottage amidst lush green surroundings in a quiet corner of Munnar, we set out to explore Munnar after breakfast the next morning.
VISIT TO THE KDHP FACTORY :
On our way to visit the waterfalls of Munnar, we were met with long- long queues of cars and like any hill station during a holiday rush, people may have spent hours in the traffic to see one tourist spot. Our enterprising driver made a U-turn and took us to see the process of tea making at KDHP factory instead. There is an entry ticket of Rs. 100 for adults and Rs. 40 for children for a 10 minute guided tour of the factory. Photography is prohibited.
THE TEA GARDENS OF MUNNAR :
By now, we had made peace with the fact that there would be a crowd at all tourist spots and Munnar is best enjoyed through a drive around the tea gardens, making short stops and exploring Munnar on foot at a leisurely pace that meets the slow pace of the city.
So, we walked around, cautiously handling “This is a Private Property and trespassers shall be prosecuted” boards outside the tea gardens, not intruding or damaging the tea shrubs in anyway, marveling at the idiocy of overzealous tourists who climbed up amidst tea shrubs to capture a silly selfies, the shouts of tea workers threatening the unruly tourists with a scolding from their supervisor or police if they do not climb down.
We walked around. Admired the mist-laden layered mountains with different hues of grey adorning the peak of each against the contrast of evenly patterned, green tea gardens.
WATCHING THE SUN SET THROUGH A TRAFFIC JAM :
The driver urged us to visit a place called Wonder Valley Adventure Park. We were again in a traffic block with rows of cars ahead and behind. So, what does a photographer do, when stuck in traffic amidst such scenic surroundings. I rolled down the window and captured the mountains changing colours and tea gardens changing hues of green colours like a chameleon envy with green.
No, we did not go inside Wonder Valley Adventure Park. We have Appu Ghar in our neighbourhood. Neither did we do offroading and jungle jeep safari, we have Jim Corbett, not very far from NCR. But we did soak in the energy of Munnar, tasted the bittersweet traffic jam experience, kids shrieked at the sight of green beetle, wood insect and praying mantis around our temporary abode. We came back with the echo of kids laughter while sliding down the swings and hiking up a hill one morning, discovering plants, leaves and honey bees.
Majestic Munnar. Despite all odds, we left you with fond memories.