Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mesmerizing Munnar
With the summer at its peak in Hyderabad, sweltering at 43 degrees Celsius, a quickly-planned escape to the hills was the best thing to surprise myself.  I decided almost instinctively Munnar should be my destination, since this is one of the intriguing places I missed experiencing during my last visit to Kerala. I planned to go via Coimbatore and organized my trip with the help of a travel service in Kerala. I’m glad my choice made my journey as interesting as the destination!

Day 1: Call of the hills
The route Coimbatore-Pollachi-Udumalpet-Munnar takes almost five hours in a car. I enjoyed our journey through the coconut farms in Pollachi and the sight of several windmills towards Udumalpet promised a bright future with wind energy. We stopped for lunch at the Gowrikrishna restaurant at Pollachi. The signs of summer were all over Anaimalai forest that was completely dry, and seemed to wait for some showers desperately. As we crossed Chinnar forest, the landscape changed completely with whiff of fresh and cool breeze blowing from the hills. Since it was a Sunday, the climb through the meandering roads was filled with local picnickers stopping their vehicles wherever they found some place.

While it was nice to see the crowds enjoying in the lap of nature, it was not so pleasant so see them littering the roadsides with loads of plastics and non-biodegradable waste. I wish Kerala government had some strict rules about being clean and green! After a drive through Anaimalai and Chinnar forests, we entered Marayur, the sandalwood area that was properly protected with barbed fences.

The road from Marayur to Munnar is lined up with vendors selling mangoes, corn, carrots, beets and other stuff.  Then it was Munnar – the breathtakingly beautiful misty mountains carpeted with acres of tea plantations. The slopes and the undulating hills, dotted with small houses with the gentle and cool breeze made me wonder if it was all real! To experience the verdure of the tea plantations was like a dream come true for me! As our car made its way through the bends and curves, I was constantly looking out at the verdant hues of tea all around me. I simply love tea – in whatever color and form, and the aroma from the tea factories added to the tea-ness of the journey. We reached the hotel towards evening and took rest, enjoying the views from the balcony.

Day 2: On top of the world
I woke up to the pleasant chirping of a variety of birds. The stagnant stream, beside our hotel room,  surrounded by huge trees provided perfect setting for an avian symphony as it were. Soon, there were many birds and many sounds – all in harmony, singing in the glory of nature. As the sun got warmer, the mist on the window panes started melting... After our breakfast, we proceeded to some ‘sight-seeing’ – well, while you are in Munnar, every sight is amazing, every view is picture perfect with the cloud kissed hills. We visited the Madupetty dam, the Echo point and the Top Station. Other than the Top Station, there wasn’t much to see at the dam or the echo point. Again, the places were not maintained properly – littered badly and carelessly.

 The view from Top Station is absolutely stunning. To get to the view point you need to get down the uneven steps , through the sky tunnel to catch a glimpse of nature as it would feel at 6000 feet above the sea level. The panoramic view of the Munnar valley and the western ghats is simply mind blowing from this point. On the way I got to taste a new fruit called tree tomato.  We did not visit other tourist spots like Eravikulam Wildlife Sanctuary, the Elephant Park or the Lakkom waterfalls. These places were filled with tourists and it required lot of walking and waiting which was not suitable for my septuagenarian mother.

In the evening we went shopping for spices and chocolates – the ubiquitous stuff in Munnar. The weather was even more pleasant after some afternoon showers. We also got to taste some freshly made banana chips thanks to our driver Robinson, who doubled up as guide throughout our trip.

Day 3: Of the tea, for the tea and by the tea
The most memorable part of this day is the visit to the tea museum – something unique about Munnar. The Tata Tea Musuem (Kanan Devan Tea Plantations) is an educating and enriching experience. The museum is closed on Mondays.  There’s a small audio-visual presentation with a movie telling us about the history of Munnar which is almost synonymous with the history of tea in this part of the world. The film was educational and provided necessary information to appreciate the place even more. The film is followed by a live demo of the processing that shows different stages of treating the tea. You may simply love the ‘greenish’ smell all around you if you are an ardent lover of tea, like me:)
You also get to see some period furniture and gadgets displayed at the museum. The visit ends with a cup of tea served from the instant tea vending machines. I wish they had served better tea, what after that brief ‘lecture’ on the best ways to enjoy the tea, the machine way is definitely not the best! Perhaps this is a practical option considering the huge number of visitors they get every day. The museum tour ended with some real good tea shopping.

 We also visited the rose garden, which was more like a nursery with the best dahlias, gerberas, roses, daisies, arum lilies, periwinkles and lots of varieties of colourful blossoms. Here the people seemed more impatient in clicking their pictures with all kinds of cameras and phones, than waiting for some minutes to relax and appreciate the beauty of the flowers. Somehow camera crowding mars the experience of nature, which would have otherwise been spared of this rush of posing for pictures and posting them instantly.

An hour in the afternoon was spent wandering around the tea gardens, trying to soak in the abundance of the green wonder. I took pictures of the tea gardens and photographed myself trying to pluck a leaf, just to see how it feels! My bonding with tea was complete!

Day 4: Reluctant return 
There weren’t as many birds as the previous days, but I could hear at least seven different sounds from different directions. I recorded the sounds as a souvenir from these lovely birds in blue, black, brown, yellow and green. After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and started our journey back to Coimbatore. As we were moving away from the misty mountains and the tea carpets, a strange kind of feeling overpowered me. I knew I would miss Munnar in the most Frostian way – I really had miles to go...though not as many promises to keep!

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