The air was crisp and cool, a patchwork of green, short, neat tea bushes sprawled over the beautiful mountain scape while mist mingled over the hills in the distance.
Taking a trip to the hill station and tea plantations of Munnar, Kerala was one of the best experiences we had in India. We saw and did so many things with zero hassle! We went on a 2 day trip organised with a tour agency in Kochi which was a bargain at 2,750 rupees each (less than £30). All the sightseeing, food, overnight homestay and a private AC car and a helpful driver called Anvar. Everything was arranged so all we needed to do was just relax and enjoy the stunning views.Kevin with our driver Anvar
On the drive to Munnar we passed through villages and lush, tropical scenery. We stopped to watch elephants being bathed in the river and then rode one through the jungle.
We stopped at a spice farm where a personal guide had been arranged for us, a lovely lady who showed us all the plants, trees and flowers and explained to us myriad of health, healing and aruyvedic properties.
Once we reached the tea plantations of Munnar the vistas were truly stunning. The tea bushes perched on the hillsides, all trimmed to the same height, interspersed by colourful red flowers, winding dirt lanes and surrounded by little white post fences that gave it a look of an English country garden.Beautiful Munnar views
All around us was a patchwork sea of a thousand shades of green. The views overlooking the tea bushes and onto the mountains in the distance were spectacular. There was a noticeable cooling breeze in the air and the pace of life seemed to slow down.
Munnar town was dusty and a little tatty so we were glad that our homestaywas located away from the town in a small, peaceful settlement of colourful buildings on a hill side that rose out from the tea bushes.Our homestay was up on this hillside and had stunning views
The road to it was a small, steep, bumpy track between the tea bushes, with difficulty the driver managed to get down most of it but we needed to walk the last little bit. As we walked we saw the local people, mostly children and older men and women going about their daily evening activities and preparing dinner outside their houses. Everyone we saw beamed a huge genuine smile, waved and said hello as we walked past.
Our homestay was more modern than I had expected. We had a first floor ensuite room with a balcony overlooking the mountains and best of all a comfy, soft bed that I had been so longing for since we had arrived in India. We watched an interesting sunset over the mountains from our balcony.
After sunset a typical Keralan vegetarian meal with rice, vegetable curries and pickles, sweet tea and bananas was served downstairs. Our host was a jovial, kind and slightly camp gentleman. We ate with 2 English boys who were also staying. The power went off about half way through dinner so the jolly, endearing host bought out some candles and we sat in candle light for an hour or two swapping stories about our experiences traveling in India.
The next morning, as sunrise started to peak over some of the mountains and shards of bright light began to fall over the hills, I watched as the village people queued up with a whole array of different types of containers to collect water from the one shared tap. Once they had collected the water I could see wisps of smoke from the houses as they lit fires to heat the water to wash and make chai.
We sat on the balcony taking in the spectacular view as the sun rose over the misty hills.A misty morning in the hills of Munnar
The early morning mist mingled with the shards of sunlight over the horizon blurring some hills from view and making the tops of other appear as if they were floating on the clouds.
As the sun light up different hills in turn we walked down the tracks between the tea bushes, loping round the hillsides and then doubling back through the jungle.
I enjoyed the fresh morning mountain air and beautiful scenery that seemed to change as the sun’s rays struck out and rose from behind another hill.
As we walked the sun rose and it seemed to highlight different parts of the hills and landscape bathing them in a golden dewy light.
We saw giggling older ladies walking on their way to work to pick the tea with their lunch in a plastic bags and their tea sacks balanced over their heads.
By the time we got back to the guest house the sun was bright and beaming and the jolly host welcomed us back with tea, bananas and omelettes for breakfast.
After breakfast we went to the tea museum where we learnt about the history of Munnar. The British had set up the tea plantations, and resulting hill station, with the help of native nomadic tribes who knew about the soil and climate. After several other owners, the tea plantations and factories are now owned by a cooperative of the descendants who helped to plant the first tea bushes.
The video in the museum made it all sound idyllic, socially and environmentally responsible and sustainable with social welfare schemes far ahead of anything I’d heard about before in India. They also seemed to have an impressive range of facilities for the workers’ families including healthcare and schools for the children and projects to help as they called it ‘differently abled’ children. We then saw around the tea factory before being treated to a lovely cup of sweet chai tea at the end.The tea plantations sounded like a idyllic place to live and work
The driver took us further up the mountains, twisting through the roads along with the 1940s style jeeps that contained whole extended Indian families in the back. The scenery got even more beautiful and as the trees parted we stopped for many photo opportunities. The views down the hillsides were stunning, as we glimpsed little tracks snaking their way through the tea plantations.Tiny tracks snaking through the tea bushes below
There came across a tree with huge bees nests hanging below the branches and boys on the side of the road collecting the honeycomb and pouring sticky honey into plastic bottles to sell. Wherever there is an opportunity to make money!
We also visited the dam and echo point. The dam created quite a nice reservoir lake behind it with views of the mountains and trees. Echo point at first glance was just a maze of blue tarpaulin shacks selling useless tat. Once we navigated our way through these and came to a river bank were literally hundreds of Indian tourists jostling for space, taking photos and shouting out towards the river and the forest to hear their echo which bounced back at them amongst the hubub of all the others.
There were also 2 beautiful horses there for pony rides. I cooed over a gorgeous coloured one who was so cute as his ears curled in so much that they touched in the middle.
We must have been as entertaining as the echo point as we soon grew tired of the staring, constant requests for photos, clandestine filming of us and the rubbish strewn about the beauty spot and decided it was time to go.
The scenery was just as fascinating as we drove back in comfort to Cochin which took about 4 or 5 hours.
On the way we pulled up by a little dingy building on the roadside that had the curvy Keralan script on the side and ‘Toddy’ in English painted on underneath.
Alcohol was quite hard to obtain in Kerala and we were interested in trying the famous Keralan alcoholic drink called Toddy which is made of fermented palm trees or coconuts.
Inside we were poured a large bucket of cloudly juice and given two glasses. It wasn’t as strong as I had expected and didn’t taste too bad. It reminded me off a sour barley water kind of taste. I had a few gulps but didn’t finish mine. Kevin had quite a bit more and then felt sick later on.
Back in Fort Cochin that evening, we reflected on our wonderful experiences in Kerala as we contemplated our new adventures. Next day we were flying up to Delhi. Let the crazy hecticness of North India begin.