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Published: April 24th 2008
From Cochin we have travelled up into the mountains to a town called Kumily approximately 3,200 feet above sea level. The air is cooler here and we almost felt cold last night for a minute or two! It is a spectacular location with steep wooded hillsides and dense green vegetation everywhere you look. The last 110 kilometres of our journey were an unrelenting climb around hairpin after hairpin past many rubber plantations (the rubber tree is not native here but grows well in the tropical climate and was introduced by the British). As we got higher they eventually gave way to tea plantations. On our arrival in Kumily we immediately signed up for a tea and spice plantation visit.
To my surprise and delight we visited the Connemara tea plantation named by it's British owner more than two hundred years ago. Maybe he thought wistfully of those misty cool days in Clifden when it got too hot here! We met some of the tea pickers in the hills - all women of course and later visited the factory (where all the men work) where I suspect the method of producing the tea has probably not changed very much in those
two hundred years. The tea is produced for the domestic market and I suspect (although we have not yet tasted it) is not of the same quality as Assam and Darjeeling from the far north and the greater altitude of the Himalayan foothills. We purchased a half kilo pack in its nice green bag and hope to sample it soon.
The spice plantation turned out to be the remarkable garden of Mr. Abraham recently featured in Monty Don's "Around the world in 80 gardens" a very popular BBC television programme (we are told). It is a home garden with all the imaginable spices growing there and a wide variety of indigenous and non-indigenous plants. We were shown around by a charming young woman who lead us through the 2 acre garden and effortlessly named every plant in view. As a complete dunce when it comes to flowers and plants I nodded wisely every time she gave us the common name as well as the latin name in a lot of cases.
The other claim to fame for this part of India is the local wildlife park. We took the boat ride in the hope of seeing elephants but
although this is supposedly the dry season, recent rains have kept water levels high and the animals do not need to come to the lake shore so often. We took a trek in the forest in the afternoon with a ranger who was very interesting. His family were evicted from the valley when it was flooded by the British when they created a dam to improve water supplies to neighbouring Tamil Nadu. We managed to spot some bison, monkeys, innumerable birds, butterflies and other insects but alas no elephants. We did see some tiger tracks which to my eye looked quite fresh. The ranger thought so too but although he has worked for ten years here he has never seen a tiger. Mind you the park is 770 square kilometres. After our trek we stooped for a cool drink and an ice cream. The sign said beware of the monkeys and it was soon clear why. They come and try and snatch your drink or food and are quite unafraid of humans. When one tried to snatch my bottle of water I snatched it away. The cheeky monkey suddenly turned nasty, bared its teeth and hissed at me. We beat
a retreat from the first unfriendly thing we have found in India. P.
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