“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” Mahatma Gandhi
As far as the eye can see, Munnar and its surrounding area are rolling hills of deep green tea plantations, rows and rows of immaculate tea plants in uniform lines that make for the most dramatic scenery. I have honestly never seen anything so spectacular, it looked like a painting rather than real life, the closest thing I’ve seen similar are the rice terraces in Bali.
Munnar is Southern India’s biggest tea growing region, practically everyone that lives there is involved in the tea industry or has connections to it. We arrived at our second hotel of the trip, The Fog Resort and Spa late afternoon and settled in just in time to watch a picturesque sunset over the mountainous tea plantations.
What we did…….
If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know two things about me, I am NOT a morning person and I’m not over keen on trekking! The sunrise trek up a mountain in Bali was probably the most challenging thing I have ever done, it may have been fulfilling to make it to the end, but it was nerve-racking nonetheless (read about that here). The other half was mumbling things again about sunrise treks on arrival in Munnar and I must admit I was a tad scared, arrangements were made for our driver Nisanth to collect us at 3:30am (!!!!) to pass us over to a stranger to take us on a sunrise jeep safari, it may have been another early trip but at least it wasn’t on foot this time!
Up, dressed and blurry eyed we left the hotel at the designated early hour, it was pitch black and freezing but we were in the right gear with lots of additional options in our bag. While I was happy not to be trekking on foot I learned quite quickly that jeep safaris are not for the faint hearted either or anyone with a bad back! An open-sided jeep covered with flapping black tarpaulin, roll bars and no seat belts pounded up the mountain at top speed over rocks and boulders, stopping in various places to reverse and continue while we bounced around like crazy people, a whole new meaning to a white knuckle ride! Other even crazier drivers overtook us on the narrow road, all adding to the drama.
Whilst we started out as a single vehicle we converged with other jeeps at the sunrise point just in time to see the sunrise, the view was spectacular across the mountains, tea plantations and into the surrounding misty valleys. Our post-sunrise destination was the Kolukkamalai Tea Estate, the highest organic tea estate in the world (8000ft above sea level) which can only be accessed by four-wheel drive vehicles.
Kolukkamalai produces flavoured teas using old-fashioned methods in its remote mountain location, the tea workers live and work up there all year round, a simple existence compounded by the inaccessibility of the location. We tasted the tea which was extremely fresh due to the high altitude followed by a tour of the factory built in the 1930’s that was more like a working museum than an ongoing concern. Centuries old traditional methods are still being used to produce high-quality tea that is then bounced down the mountain in lorries and sold mostly locally more than internationally. Different teas are produced in the wooden buildings and packets of the different flavours like Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP) and Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP) can be bought from the small shop.
While the trip back down was just as bone-shakingly bumpy it was at least daylight so we could witness the incredible scenery, we were flung about in the now open-sided jeep realising just how narrow the road actually was which we had previously ascended in the dark with a sheer drop on one side. The tea plantations are just so lush and naturally beautiful, random cows appeared throughout our descent between the rows of green, wandering free through the hills, the area had a real stillness and serenity.
Back in the safe hands of Nisanth we returned to the hotel for a much needed nap, he arranged to collect us mid-afternoon as he had plans to show us Munnar itself. Slightly refreshed we set off again to Munnar, as it was market day in town the streets were busy, we passed a small protest of tea workers carrying placards who were protesting about tea picking wages and later a colourful religious procession.
First stop was the Kanan Devan Hills Plantation Company (KDHP) Munnar Tea Museum on the Nullatanni Estate which depicts the history of tea picking as well as the development of the tea estates in the region with original photographs, machinery and talks. KDHP is the largest employee owned tea company in the world and It was interesting to learn about the evolution of the industry and how the British Colonial Raj played their part. We visited the tea tasting room and purchased some high-quality green tea to take home after taste testing it.
Next stop was Mattupetty Dam and reservoir, a manmade concrete gravity dam which provides a vital source of electricity in Munnar, it’s surrounded by a beautiful green forest and tea plantations beyond, a sanctuary for many wild animals and birds. The lake offers speed boat rides and pedalos for tourists to hire, while other visitors were picnicking around the lake’s shore. After various chats with Nisanth about the local wildlife and spotting some elephants or maybe even an elusive tiger (he said no chance) he pulled off the road by a sunlight glade where a small herd of wild elephants were grazing, an absolutely amazing experience to see these beautiful creatures in its natural habitat!
The final location of the day before we headed back to the hotel was Echo Point, a lake on the way to Top Station that gets its name from its natural echo, lots of visitors were there screaming and shouting to experience the phenomenon for themselves. A small market lined the area around the lake which was surrounded by mist covered hills and waterfalls, another Keralan visual treat to end a long day of sightseeing and mark the end of the Munnar stage of our trip.
Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved.