In this travelogue, we take you to Munnar-- a hill station hidden till 1790s from rest of India. Munnar was developed during the British rule primarily for growing tea. It has the right climate-- cool and moist which suits tea plants. Located 130 kms east of Kochi, it is a 4-hour drive through busy roads in Kerala.
Asirvathams (Rajan and Trixie from Bangalore) and Bhargavas (Harsh and Neeta from Secunderabad) drove to Munnar in a hired Maruti Ertiga in March 2014. This picture story written by Trixie, is a personal account of the journey.
High noon sun was pretty hot while we waited outside the airport for Rajan and Trixie to arrive from Bangalore. We spotted a sugarcane juice kiosk. The owner had migrated from Bihar.
Our drives up and down the hills were enlivened by photo stops for picturesque waterfalls and magnificent bridges.
Padani (juice tapped from the palmyra palm tree) served in palm leaf cups and nongu - 3 fleshy fruits in thin white jackets, scooped from the purple-colored whole fruit of the palmyra palm (a first for Neeta).
At Valara waterfall viewpoint, we had the delicious fresh pineapple sliced and served in paper cups with salt and masala.
We also saw two motor cyclists who had driven all the way up.
At Munnar, we soaked in the atmosphere of the High Range Club, redolent of the British times - wooden interiors and bay windows; charming Ladies' room with mirrors, curtains and diwans; cute Kids Room with giraffes and lions painted on the walls; a piano that Neeta and I could play on; a welcoming dining room and very comfortable, spacious rooms overlooking the gardens with gorgeous flowers. See the pictures below.
Trixie's story continues. Harsh and Rajan played their game of golf in a course all to themselves. Please carry your IGU card to avail a discounted green fee of Rs 50/- against the normal Rs 500/-
It had just rained when we visited the spice garden. Rain drops were still perched like pearls on rice leaves. Picture below tells its own story.
We saw two Kerala cultural performances in rustic theatres. The first was a Kathakali dance. Before the actual performance, one of the dancers completed his elaborate makeup on stage.
Thereafter, another dancer demonstrated the different mudras (hand gestures) and facial expressions while a narrator explained their meanings.
This was followed by an actual Kathakali dance performance where a demon pretends to be a beautiful lady but shows her true form when repeatedly repulsed by a king. The demon lady's loud shrieks from the back of the hall (when she changes into her demon form) got the heads of the audience turning.
The king and the demon clash in a bitter fight where the demon is demolished.
A note for fellow travellers: For both these performances, please book your tickets in advance during the holiday season.
We then went to an arena where we saw a performance of Kalaripayattu, said to be "the mother of all martial arts". Among the world's oldest fighting systems, Kalaripayattu is in existence from at least the 12th century AD. The name literally means a space/school (kalari) of exercises/fighting (payattu). Some of its stances and techniques can be seen in judo and kung fu.
Before beginning the performance, the performers first worship the deities - Ganapathi, and the snake god; the gurus, the Puttara or altar with diyas to the gods who support the power and concentration of the students; the weapons; the soil on which the performers practice; and the competitors. To enter a kalari, one should step in with the right leg, touch the ground with the right hand and then touch the forehead (and chest). In this way, respect is paid to the soil on which practice takes place, and students express their dedication to the space and the training itself.
We watched young boys exhibiting their flexibility, agility and concentration using weapons - swords, daggers, axes and sticks; athletic leaps and kicks; wrestling, self-defence and other martial art techniques. Some also swung two rods with flaming ends, in an intricate series of spell-binding movements. Another art was " flying like a bird" through one, then two, then three rings of fire - performed successfully as we held our collective breath.
Kalaripayattu training is completed by a unique healing system closely related to ayurveda. It includes, among other things, massages that heal and make the body flexible, and teachings about marmas – vital points of the human body.
Tatas then offered shares to the employees who created a new entity, the Kanan Devan Cooperative Limited (KDCL) which has been successfully kept going ever since, growing and processing tea. The Vision statement displayed in the Tea Museum says it all.
Before our tour of the Tea Factory, we were given a thorough briefing by an extremely knowledgeable and articulate young man about the qualities, types and grades of tea, the process by which it is made in the factory, its medicinal benefits and how it should be made for serving at home - never boiled with milk and sugar (as is usually done in India). Green tea should not be drunk on an empty stomach. Is tea a plant, a shrub or a tree? Much to our surprise, we were told it's a tree - which is trimmed periodically and then cut to the almost the roots once in a few years. There are tea trees that are 250 years old in Munnar and 400 years old in China!
During our tour of the factory, we saw how fresh tea leaves are processed in machines - tea is cut, torn and cured or 'crush-tear-curl' (CTC), and graded into different qualities depending on the quality of leaf and the length of leaf (long-leaf tea is lightest, with best flavour, tea dust is strongest). Tea leaves from the top of the plant stems are hand-picked and sorted to be made into white, green and black teas. Tea leaves from lower down the plant stems are of lower quality and stronger and are picked with shears - the leaves fall into the baskets of the pickers.
After our visit to the tea factory we picked up a few packs of tea at the company outlet.
Followed by Neeta and Harsh.
Munnar also has few other tourist spots like the Mattupatty Dam and Echo Point. Pictures during our drives.
We relished Gujarati thali during lunch at Puroihit Restaurant which had also been recommended to us by Tuhin Choudhary. Food at The High Range Club was delicious.
We met some school children from a local high school. When asked about their ambition in life, three of them wanted to become footballers. Yes, football continues to be a popular sport in Kerala.
At a windy view point, we saw these woolen caps-cum-mufflers being sold. Talk of 'Promotion' and 'Place'-- the 4 Ps of marketing!
We had a lovely relaxing time in the green hills of Munnar, amid the tea and spice gardens, the flowers and the waterfalls.
"Harsh you were lucky to see the mist in the early morning - we weren't able to get up", quipped Trixie. To experience the magic of a misty morning in Munnar, see the next story.
Hope you enjoyed this travelogue to Munnar in Kerala, India.
Your comments/experiences/pictures of previous visits are welcome.
Bye till the next part on Misty Mornings and Bird Life of Munnar.
- Harsh the Gumakkad with inputs from Trixie/ 30th May 2014
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