Munnar

Munnar: Hill Trails and Tea Plantations

‘Just listen to the rippling water, the sound of the wind, chirping of birds, enjoy the beauty that surrounds you… listen intensely, live totally and experience the bliss.’

This quote was written on the welcome board as we checked into our resort in Munnar. It very aptly describes what Munnar, a verdant hill station in Kerala, is all about.

After visiting Kochi, we decided next to explore Munnar, which was the summer getaway of the British during the colonial era. ‘Munnar’ which in Malayalam means ‘three rivers’ is situated at the confluence of three mountain streams Muthirapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala. Located 5,200 feet above sea level Kerala’s favourite hill station Munnar with its mesmerising landscapes and quietude amongst virgin forests is a tropical paradise.

We set off from Kochi after breakfast and halted some forty kilometres from Kochi to view the cascading Cheeyappara Waterfalls that had milky water gushing over seven steps. Numerous tourists had gathered to click a selfie with the waterfalls. A little further were the Valara waterfalls which were enveloped by dense forests. The drive was scenic as we passed by rubber, beetle nut and pineapple plantations.

Cheeyarappa Waterfall, Munnar @Rafiq Somani
Cheeyarappa Waterfall, Munnar @Rafiq Somani

Since it was close to lunchtime, we decided to stop for lunch at a restaurant recommended by our driver Jobin. We were served a traditional Onam Sadhya meal on a banana leaf. On the periphery of the banana leaf were two cups in which we were served payasam and curd. In three vatis was ladled some tangy rasam, sambar and kadhi.

In the centre of the banana leaf was a heap full of boiled rice with four different vegetable and fruit preparations around. Raw banana vegetable, pineapple in yoghurt, avial which had a medley of vegetables in coconut, and pumpkin vegetable. As if that weren’t enough papad, pickle, fried chillis, papad, and banana chips were served as adjuncts and finally a banana. This traditional gastronomical meal with a plethora of flavours, colours and textures was indeed a sensory delight.

Traditional Kerala Meal on Banana Leaf
Traditional Kerala Meal @Rafiq Somani

We were now nearing our resort which was nestled among tall trees in a dense forest. After checking into our cottage, we decided to explore the property. We were in the lap of nature surrounded by decade-old trees which had been mute witnesses of earth’s goings-on. The sound of buzzing insects reverberated through the forests interspersed with bird calls. Inspiring quotes on nature were printed on signages reminding us to forget our cares and just immerse ourselves in mother nature, and experience bliss and joy in every breathe. A pair of swings hanging from a tree awakened the child in me, and soon the kids and I took turns to swing as the gentle wind caressed us.

Next on was a ‘Tea Tasting’ session organised by the resort. The tea expert had jars of nine varieties of tea neatly placed, which he picked one after another to explain their nuances of taste and flavour. The most expensive was the white tea at Rs13000/kg, where only the apical bud of the tea plant is used! It has the highest antioxidant content with innumerable health benefits but is mild in taste. We could pick and choose the type of tea we wanted to savour, and he would brew it for us.

Tea Tasting Session, Munnar
Tea Tasting Session, Munnar @Rafiq Somani

After the tea tasting session, it was time for us to now go on a tea plantation trail that was organised by the resort. My children could instantly make the connection with Rohit Shetty’s Bollywood movie Chennai Express starring Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone. It has a song picturised around the tea plantations of Munnar. The tea plantations were spread over plateaus and rolling hills in all directions, as far as the eye could see. The sun was ready to set, and the hills in the distance were covered with mist making it a visual treat.

Tea Plantations, Munnar @Rafiq Somani
Tea Plantations, Munnar @Rafiq Somani

The next day was earmarked to visit the Eravikulam National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is a haven and sanctuary for the Nilgiri Tahr an endangered mountain goat species. The national park is home to the Anamudi Peak, which is the highest peak in the Western Ghats. After purchasing entry tickets, we hopped onto a bus which drove us to the interiors of the park which are open to the public. A hill trail meandered through the forests, and we were pleasantly surprised to see not one or two but several mountain goats grazing and freely moving around the park. What was amusing was that visitors were trying hard to get selfies with these goats. 

Eravikulam National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Munnar @Rafiq Somani
Eravikulam National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Munnar @Rafiq Somani
Nilgiri Tahr an endangered mountain goat species, Munnar @Rafiq Somani

The national park witnesses the blooming of the Neelkurinjis once in 12 years when the hills are enveloped in blue giving the mountains the name ‘Nilgiri’ or ‘Blue Mountains’. The last time this phenomenon occurred was in 2018, but because of the incessant rains and floods in Kerala, not many tourists visited Munnar. There are several trekking and camping options available in the park as well.

Munnar @Rafiq Somani
Munnar @Rafiq Somani

Post lunch we decided to explore some of the scenic points of Munnar. First on was what the locals describe as Honeybee Tree- a tree that has several honeycombs dangling from it. Next in line were Mattupetty Dam and river- a picnic spot with boating facilities. But since monsoon had still not set in Munnar, the water levels were low, and the boating facilities were shut. A little further was the Echo point from where one could scream and hear one’s voice resound. A stream snaked through sloping planes with dense forests on the periphery.

Mattupetty river, Munnar @Rafiq Somani
Mattupetty river, Munnar @Rafiq Somani
Echo Point, Munnar @Rafiq Somani
Echo Point, Munnar @Rafiq Somani

Further to the Echo point is the Kundala dam and lake which has boating facilities. But because of the late arrival of monsoons, we were not sure if we would be able to do boating and decided not to proceed further. Ahead of the Kundala Dam is the Top Station the highest point in Munnar on the Kerala and Tamil Nadu Border.

On our way back, we visited the KDHP Tea factory at Madupatty. Being a Monday the Tea Museum was closed, so we decided just to visit the factory and purchase green tea. On our earlier visit to Munnar, we had purchased green tea from here and have been hooked to it ever since. We then proceeded to the Munnar market and picked essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus, spices, aromatic soaps, hair oil and other knick-knacks.

Kerala is known for Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of medicine, with massages being an integral part of therapy. So, if you want some rest and rejuvenation then do try the massages here. My personal favourite is the Shirodhara where oil slowly drips from a pot on your forehead and destresses one completely.

Kathakali Classical Dance Performance, Kerala @Rafiq Somani
Kathakali Classical Dance Performance, Kerala @Rafiq Somani

The Punarjani Traditional Village has a performing theatre in Munnar where you can watch a Kathakali classical dance performance. Right from the overstated makeup, to colourful costumes, to the dance recital with the accompaniment of drums, cymbals and songs it is a treat to watch this unique form of storytelling through dance. The other must-watch item is Kalarippayattu, a highly-skilled martial art technique, which is assumed to be the ‘Mother of all martial arts.’ Later martial art forms like Kungfu and Karate are believed to be an offshoot of Kalarippayattu.

Kalarippayattu, Munnar @Rafiq Somani
Kalarippayattu, Munnar @Rafiq Somani

If you ever wondered why Kerala was called ‘God’s Own Country’ then head to Munnar for an answer. The creator has leisurely painted a canvas of vast spreads of tea plantations, gushing waterfalls, misty rolling hills with exotic flora, fauna and christened it Munnar. All you must do is surrender your soul to the beauty and bounties of nature.

Munnar @Rafiq Somani
Munnar @Rafiq Somani
GETTING THERE-
Nearest Airport: Kochi is the nearest airport with connectivity to international destinations as well as major cities of India. Hire a cab that can take you from Kochi to Munnar and back. Kerala Destinations Pvt Ltd helped us with our travel arrangements.
Distances: Kochi-Munnar 127 km, 3 ½ hours.
Where to Stay: We stayed at The Tall Trees Resorts. You can do a net search for an array of staying options depending on comfort and budget. 
Travel Trip: The entry ticket to the Eravikulam National Park cost us Rs. 125 per head. If you have the time, do visit Thekkady, another hill station, which is located 91 km away.  

This travelogue was first published in Corporate Tycoons Magazine, Jan 2020.

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