Romancing with the clouds in Munnar, Kerala
A much needed vacation took us romancing in the mist clad hills of Munnar, which is South India’s largest tea-growing region and a picturesque hill station in the state of Kerala.
According to Hindu mythology, Kerala was created by Lord Parasurama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu by throwing his axe across the sea to create new land for his devotees to live peacefully. So, Kerala is God’s own creation, hence it is aptly called God’s own country!
After landing in the scorching heat and humidity of Kochi, we drove down 165 Kms to Munnar. The name Munnar (which means ’Three Rivers’ in Tamil) owes its origin to the confluence of three mountain streams – Mudrapuzha, Kundala and Nallathanni. Once referred to as the summer resort for the British government, it is also known as the Kashmir of South India.
Along the way we were greeted with spellbinding waterfalls, soothing lush green landscapes, small modest towns dotted with churches and temples and we could smell the heavenly fragrance of pine and eucalyptus trees.
“The true fruit of travel is perhaps the feeling of being nearly everywhere at home”- Frey Stark
Reaching the hill station after experiencing the scorching plains can come as a pleasant surprise. The enchantment of this place unfolds instantaneously.The rolling hillsides are carpet laden with emerald -green tea plantations that look sheared and sculpted like ornamental hedges. The mountain air is saturated with the fragrance of fresh spices and tea. This breath taking scenery makes for a picture perfect postcard setting.
The area comprises a range of hills varying in height from 4900 ft. to 8800 ft. making is among one the most beautiful and ideal destinations all year around.
We stayed at an exquisite resort which was perched atop one of the mist clad hills and nestled amidst acres and acres of tree plantations. This place was a good 20 Kms away from Munnar City.
Lodged in a spacious and lavish room, I feel blessed to have witnessed these magnificent glimpses of paradise every morning as I used to walk bare feet on the mist embraced grass with my cuppa of hot tea in hand.
In this region monsoon is at its peak during the months of June to October. So while we were in Munnar, there were mornings when we woke up to raindrops playing a rhythmic song on our windows and we could walk out of the door and cuddle the clouds. And then there were mornings, through far in between, when we woke up to golden rays of the sunshine painting this scenic landscape. We were often up above the clouds watching veils of mist clinging to the mountain tops and you feel engulfed in a sea of a thousand shades of green.
“We wander for distraction. But we travel for fulfilment” – Hilarire Belloc
In Munnar, it is difficult to choose where to go, scenic valleys, small hidden streams, huge splashing waterfalls, expansive tea plantations, winding walkways and a quiet atmosphere. At every turn, the scenery is so arresting that the montage can get a bit overwhelming.
I do feel guilty of not exploring the city of Munnar itself. However, as the sole purpose of this trip was relaxing and not stressing ourselves with any unnecessary travel,(read: we were just too lazy!) , we somehow managed to wander just a few kilometers from the resort and visited the beautiful Spice Garden and the Harrison Lockhart Tea Factory.
After paying minimal fees for visiting the factory, we were greeted with some hot and sweet golden tea. Our guide enthusiastically took us through the entire process. After this informative visit we left for a quick visit the Spice Garden. This is a family run place which has a restaurant which serves scrumptious home cooked Kerala cuisine.
My cuppa of heavenly filter kaafi!
The economy of Munnar is heavily dependent on the cultivation of tea. Coffee and over twelve varieties of spices including cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, nutmeg and cardamom are also grown here. The surrounding hill slopes are covered with orderly rows of tea bushes; the plantations stretch for miles only interrupted by pockets of rain forests teeming with lush vegetation.
Once known as the High Range of Travancore, today Munnar is the commercial center of some of the world’s highest tea-growing estates. The majority of the plantations are now operated by the Kannan Devan Hills Plantation Company (KDHP), a local cooperative which succeeded corporate giant Tata Tea in 2005.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” – Henry Miller
While nature lovers can spend their days walking amidst the lush tea plantations and hills, the adventure seekers can go trekking along the Anaimudi, the highest peak in South India or go paragliding. There are a number of activities and adventure sports that one can participate in, that can help unwind and satisfy the adventure spirit in you.
Such is Munnar’s diversity that I was told it was just right whether it is adventure or just plain relaxation. And so the best thing to do is to set your own pace in this natural paradise. For me, there was no better way to get a feel of the place and soak up to the atmosphere than, by going on long walks on the deserted roads or inside plantations, while the clouds slowly descended upon me. This allowed me to be a part of the romance that Munnar exuded.
When the sprawling hills drape themselves in a blue blanket of Neelakurinji blooms, Munnar becomes a paradise on earth. Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) flowers once in every twelve years and thousands of travelers visit Munnar during this time to watch the rolling hills and the seemingly endless valleys bathed in purplish blue. It is expected to bloom again in year 2018. Another four years before we see the beauty enfolds.
Though we were the classic lazy travellers, but for those who enthusiastic ones who like to explore a place wholeheartedly, here are the couple of places you might like to visit.
Echo Point: About 15 km from Munnar, it is actually a beautiful lake surrounded by hills where even the slightest sound is echoed many times, and so the name.
Top Station: About 35 km from Munnar. There’s probably a very good reason why it is called that, possibly going back to the times of the British, whose presence is felt through the colonial buildings and names they gave places. However, once you reach the place, the reason for ‘top’ in the title becomes eminently evident. Sweeping vistas of hills and valleys, hidden by clouds and mist, which dramatically lift and cosset everything, make for a fabulous view.
Devikulam Lake: A lovely body of water where Sita is believed to have a taken a dip.
Eravikulam National Park: Located in Idukki District, Eravikulam National Park is only 15kms from Munnar. A sprawling 97 sq km park, it lies along the high ranges of the western coast. The sheer beauty of the place and the rich fauna lures the travellers who come to see if they can spot the Nilgiri Tahr [Nilgiri Ibex], half of the world’s population which is found right here. The Rajamala is the natural habitat of this rare mountain goat. Besides these, if you are lucky, you can spot the leopard, tiger, elephant, malabar civet,barking deer, nilgai, sambar deer , langur and many others
WaterFalls: No matter how many days your vacation to Munnar is, you should set aside some time to visit the pristine waterfall that gushes down the hills. The famous Cheeyapara and Vallara Falls seem to flow down from the heaven above, racing against the rocks and mountains. Apart from these, the most famous and majestic is the Attukal Waterfall, a local favourite. If you happen to be in Munnar around monsoons, like us, the falls will be a sight to behold.
On the other hand, if it is just some time of uncluttered intimacy that you are looking for then just stay at any one of the many truly beautiful resorts and head out for long, un-premeditated walks and see where the path takes you. Munnar hidden delights can be both pleasantly surprising and rewarding.
“There is a kind of madness about going far away and then coming back all changed”- Kate Douglas Wiggin
Munnar made us realize the importance of slowing down and taking it all in. In the rat race of life, we all forget to appreciate the gift of family and friends that we have been blessed with. The intimacy of this place, makes you want to sit back and for once observe life around you. And I felt a deep connection with this place, its amazingly warm people and the mountains.
Still intoxicated by the magic of these mountains, we had to say a reluctant good bye and head towards Kochi, promising ourselves that we will come again, soon.
Anita Desai, an eminent Indian author, once wrote, “Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow”.