One of Bombay’s scorching and sultry days made us desperately seek an escapade to the mountains. I recall reading a while ago about a National Geographic traveller rating Kerala as the seventh among the fifty places to visit in a lifetime. That’s when it dawned on me that we must flee to God’s own country Kerala. To our ecstasy the decision was made on Kerala’s premium hill station- Munnar.
Until some Scottish planters discovered, Munnar was once a sleepy little hamlet. Set at an altitude of 6000 ft, Munnar was a favored summer resort of the erstwhile British rulers in the colonial days. Munnar derived its name from the Tamil and Malayalam words munu (three) and aaru (river) attributable to the town’s strategic location at the confluence of the Muthirappuzha, Nallathanni, and Kundaly rivers. Till date its lush green foliage covered in cool mist, revitalizing ambiance and its bracing air makes it an ideal vacationer’s destination in south India. The two closest airports to Munnar are Kochi and Coimbatore. Munnar is just 135 km from the seashore of Kochi. The drive through the mountainous roads heading to Munnar from Kochi is a great way to flee out of the high-speed lane of urban life into a serene expanse devoid of noise & pollution. The Coimbatore-Munnar route of 150 km is incredibly scenic and even if a bit longer is usually believed to be worth the extra time spent. We hired a car with a driver Ganesh from Coimbatore airport. As soon as we entered Kerala, we stopped by to relish an authentic Kerala delicacy the Puttu and Vegetable. On the way we passed through thick forests and got to see some monkeys and wild elephants. Thirty km before Munnar the city itself we started spotting the tea plantations on both sides of the road. By evening we were at our resort on a mountain top with a 180 degrees of excellent view. After sunset from our room we could see few solitary lights from the houses scattered on the opposite hill and some faint outlines of electricity poles and cell phone towers creating a magic in the ambiance.
At day break, the clear blue sky beckoned me to step out of our room and inhale the energizing mountain air. Instantly my heart was overflowing with a profound sense of gratitude and wonder at the magnificence of nature and God’s creation. Munnar is essentially a tea town and most tea plantations have now been taken over by the Tatas. All around our eyes could see miles and miles of endless tea plantations that covered all the hillsides like bright green quilts as all the tea shrubs were trimmed to same height and planted in straight rows. Even from a distance we could sight the women picking the leaves. It was an extraordinary view of an enormous manicured garden! After breakfast, Ganesh drove us up towards Top station, the highest point in Munnar. En route Top station we paused at various spots to capture some images of the magnificent tiers of hills, the majority covered by tea gardens and the rest by woodlands, numerous tiny streams & water falls flowing amid the tea estates. On reaching the Top Station, first we got to see a couple of thatched roof shops selling fruits and munchies and behind them was a mud road . A few steps up we could see valley on either side with wild flowers, shrubs and tall trees. We strolled ahead drawn by the whiff of teas from a small tea shop selling hot cups of tea. I still cannot forget the aroma of the hot cardamom tea and as I was sipping my tea, in a few moments I was enveloped by the clouds elevating me to a dreamy state. Moments later the jingles of the bells around the necks of a flock of sheep crossing us stirred me out. After the masala chai it was time for a speedboat ride. It was thrilling but it was so cold in the lake that my nose instantly froze! Speaking of boating, there are quite a few places to go boating in Munnar. Choices are from peddle boats, speed boats to Kashmiri-Shikaras. For those who have not been to Kashmir, its a great opportunity to get a ride on the beautiful ‘Kashmiri-Shikaras’ for the most romantic experiences. Before dusk we reached the Echo point, a small lake set amidst rolling hills. Any loud call made from a spot on the lake’s bank is returned manifold by the echo from the surrounding hills. Munnar being a small town is easily covered by foot but its easier to hop in to an auto-rickshaw should one get bit tired of walking. For out of town jaunts a rented bike or taxi is the best option. Moreover many tour operators arrange excursions to outskirts as well.
Next morning we set out a bit early and drove towards Eravikulam or the Rajamalai National Park. Munnar’s highest peak Anamudi – which towers over 2695 Mts in a majestic pride is here and is an ideal spot for campers who like to do some trekking. But only a expert can drive here as the roads are very narrow; Quite often we had to stop and direct other vehicles approaching from opposite direction. Though I was holding my breath whilst Ganesh was maneuvering through those constricted edges but he managed it pretty well. From my window all I could see was soft cottony clouds as if we were gliding in the clouds up to the sky due to low visibility. Wow! What an adventurous drive! We were told that the slopes of these hills have an abundance of extraordinary flora and fauna like the Atlas moth (the largest of its class in the world), the Nilgiri Langur, the lion-tailed macaque, leopards, tigers, etc. A guide told us that inside the national park an endangered species of mountain goats the Nilgiri Tahr can be observed at close quarters .We were debating if climbing up the high peak just to see some goats was worth all the effort. However, the walk along the park was very romantic and the view was out of this world! The prime exotic flora in the woods and grasslands here is the Neelakurinji, a blue flower which blooms only every twelve years. The last time it bloomed was in December 2006 and the next will be in 2018. So, want to plan 10 years ahead for a trip to Munnar? I just loved this place for I could walk in the Clouds, trek to my hearts content while the clouds slowly descend upon us. The park is breathtakingly beautiful and is easily comparable to the best mountain ranges found anywhere in the world.
Our next destination was Mattupetty dam, a dam at a height of 1700 Mts and Mattupetty farm famed for its dedicated dairy farm, the Indo-swiss live stock project. Over 100 varietes of high yielding cattle are reared here. Visitors are allowed into three of the eleven cattle sheds at the farm. For those lucky ones who have a week or more days there are many more attractions in and around Munnar. To name a few:
Kundala lake, where the lush hills around encase the water like a bowl and the view of the reflection of the mountains in the crystal clear water is mesmerizing.
Pothamedu – 6 km from Munnar, offers an excellent view of the tea, coffee and cardamom plantations in Munnar. The rolling hills, the lush mountain and the breathtaking scenery here is ideal for trekking and long mountain walks.
Devikulam -7 km from Munnar, an idyllic hill station is covered with velvet lawns, exotic flora and fauna and the cool mountain air is a rare experience. The Sita Devi Lake with its mineral waters and picturesque surroundings is a good picnic spot. The lake is also ideal for trout fishing.
Pallivasal -8 km from Munnar, is the venue of the first Hydro Electric Project in Kerala and a place of immence scenic beauty.
Located 10 km from Munnar, Nyayamakad is a land of breathtaking waterfalls. The waters cascade down a hill from a height of about 1600 meters. The enchanting surroundings makes an excellent picnic spot and trekking point.Ten km from Munnar, with its sleepy little cottages, bungalows, old playgrounds and courts, Chithirapuram still exudes an old world charm. Home of the Pallivasal Hydel Power Project, this hill town is also famous for its picturesque tea plantations. Lock Heart Gap, 13 km from Munnar, is an ideal place for adventure tourism and trekking. The fresh mountain air, the mist-clad hills and panoramic view make it worthy of a visit. Thommankuthu waterfalls is the seven step waterfall and is a much loved picnic spot . At each step there is a cascade and a pool beneath .
Ramakalmedu has rolling green hills and its fresh mountain air makes it an enchanting retreat. The hilltop also offers a panoramic view of the picturesque villages of Bodi and Kambam on the Eastern slope of the Western ghats. This is an ideal place for trekkers and mountain climbers.
A hill station transcending excellence – Munnar is bordered by numerous rolling hills draped in the calming green of vast tea estates, mountain streams, valleys offering a wide array for tourists. It is an excellent base for trekking in the hills covered by lush rainforests; for picnicking alongside a crystal-clear mountain stream; for wildlife watching; or for simply getting the kinks out of a tired system!
As we left very early from Munnar, heavy fog had descended on the hills bringing down the visibility to barely 2 meters. Ganesh didn’t seem troubled by this at all and pretty much carried on driving in normal speed and soon we drove past a bend and the mist just vanished. Driving downhill was a pleasant experience as well with roads slicing through the canopy provided by trees and shrubs on either side. To catch our return flight we arrived at Coimbatore at 5 PM to bump into the indistinguishable rush of civilization(paradox intended) on the roads as we see in amchi Mumbai.
Munnar too is called the ‘Switzerland of India’. It is undeniably the most awesome place I have ever set my eyes on. Unending expanse of tea plantations – pristine valleys and mountains- exotic species of flora and fauna in its wild sanctuaries and forests – aroma of spice scented cool air – Yes! Munnar has all these and more. It’s the place you would love to visit – it’s the place you would wish never to leave. So folks, if you are planning out for a refreshing retreat then Munnar is all set to embrace you with its charm.
MUNNAR – Fact File
Altitude- 1600 Mts to 1800 Mts.
Temperature- Min. 0 c – Max. 25 c
Clothing- Warm Clothes and Rain Gear
Tourist Season – August to March.
Stay- Wide variety to choose from budget hotels to exclusive resorts.
Buy-The best things to buy are Tea, coffee and spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and pepper. Food & Drink- Besides a few exclusive restaurants housed in classy resorts the other popular vegetarian joints are: Saravana Bhavan right at the heart of town is the most inexpensive places to eat. This place serves delicious south Indian dishes on a Banana leaf. Mahavir Jain Restaurant serves authentic North-Indian and Gujarati meals.