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Published: December 13th 2011
A disturbingly picturesque alpine village surrounded by vegetable patches...
So yesterday we had the longest rickshaw ride of our time in India so far and also found out at least one thing that Lonely Planet did NOT lie about. For this and more, stay tuned through this inane babble!
We woke up feeling pretty well rested after the first night sans air conditioning we've had in India - nothing like gaining some 1600 metres in altitude to drop the temperature and humidity. Its so amazingly nice to NOT have sweat running off you like a slightly stinky salt waterfall the minute you move a muscle, so its going to be hard to leave when the time comes to move on to Chinnar. After a pretty relaxing breakfast staring off the balcony at the view which includes some Eucalypt trees and a spectacular series of hills and valleys covered in dense forest, we organised a rickshaw through Anil and got ourselves prepared for the 35km trip up to Top Station, which is basically one of the high points on the mountain range between Kerala and the next state, Tamil Nadu. To get there we discovered that Lonely Planet certinly didn't lie about the 'bone juddering efficiency' of the rickshaws making
Best Macro moment so far for Aisha, the butterfly stayed still JUST long enough for the photo...
the ascent! That said, autos are by far our favourite way to travel and thanks to our obliging rickshaw driver being happy to pull over whenever, we got snap happy and tons of cool photos (the photos posted represent about 1% of those taken btw). We went up winding our way up between the tea plantations and all of a sudden realised we were about to overtake an ELEPHANT plodding up the side of the road with its handler, carrying some grass. It was amazing to be so close to him (or her - but we're going with him) - his eyes were just beautiful; his movements deliberate and graceful; and the pink patches on his trunk and ears, adorable. Having never been this close to an elephant and certainly not in some kind of zoo environment, Tess was rather overcome and awestruck. Bones juddered, we reached Munnar town proper which was bustling and manic despite its small size. This being India though, small definitely doesn't mean quiet.
The town is mostly perched on the banks of a small river at the bottom of a ten metre gorge. It's so strange to see eucalyptus trees, such a familiar thing,
Bring your Ghat!
The mountains are awe inspiring...
spread out growing amongst all of the strangeness and colour that is India. That said, these eucalypts are a damn sight greener than the ones we're used to at home (this is apparently what happens if they get enough water). Onwards and upwards we went, the little rickshaw chugging along at about 15-30kmph (but hey its better than walking). We passed up and over ridges and winding our way along we saw little villages spread out amongst a patchwork quilt of vegetable patches and vegetation with skeins of mist floating through the hills behind them. Upwards and upwards again to the first of our dams. We stopped at the suggestion of our driver and jumped out to take photos while he took the auto across the dam top and waited patiently for us on the other side. While we were engaged in snapping away, we ended up taking photos with a bunch of young Indian guys who all wanted their picture taken with us. Of course Aisha retaliated by getting a picture of them in return. We made our way out of the traffic jam at the other end of the bridge, and breathed in a LOT while a huge
Overtaking an Elephant
So majestic and sad to see with its tail docked and in chains...
coach went past 2 inches from our feet (but at about 2kmph with people hanging out the windows to check clearance and our driver and several others yelling direction at them). Once we'd cleared the motorised scrum we started driving up again, more tea plantations stretching down on either side of the road - the plantations don't waste an inch of ground and the slopes are insanely steep. We're starting to think you'd need crampons or be half mountain goat to be able to work the fields up here without going ass over down several hundred metres.
As we continued out climb the clouds soon reached down to meet us, mist pouring down through the gaps in the hills to swallow us up and make us regret not bringing any warm tops along with us (we're just not used to needing them since hitting India!). Up and through the clouds we went, with the eucalypts being replaced with hardier fir and pine trees. The mist closed in tight and visibility dropped to next to nothing until we turned off onto a rough track composed primarily of pot holes and mud, littered along the side with a ramshackle tarpaulined collection
Tea plantations again
You may be sick of them by the time you're finished reading the post...
of stalls and tea houses. We bounced along for another few minutes at a crawling pace till we reached a gate of rough cut poles and barbed wire that told us we'd be walking from here. After dismounting and leaving our patient driver again, we proceeded on foot up into the mist past a boy leading a pony and were swallowed up by the fog which dampened everything and cut visibility to ten metres or less. Wrapping up in the shawl and shemagh we happened to have left in our bags, we headed off into the mist in search of the Tamil Nadu observation post. A short walk along the path past old women wrapped in shawls sitting by the path selling fruit got us to the end of the line, so to speak. At this point we decided to call it a day, given the furthest we were going to be able to see was two metres into the mist anyway. Although unable to see very far, the atmosphere at Top Station was beautiful and eerie - the fog dampened noise and hid the few people around you, making you feel quite alone, standing on the edge of a
From the road up to Top station.
white and silent world.
As we sped down the hill towards Munnar (an altogether quicker trip than coming up with gravity on our side) we stopped at the second, higher altitude dams for more photographs. Aisha also spotted a stand where a guy with 3 air rifles was selling 3 shots at the wall of balloons tied onto plywood for 10 rupees. Unable to refuse a bargain or any opportunity to hold or shoot a gun of any description, Aisha rolled up rolled up and managed to land the first two shots dead on (surprising and impressing Tess and our driver, but nowhere near as much as it surprised him) but of course choked on the third shot. Fun had, we set off back across the dam and down towards warmer climes. By this point it was mid afternoon, so we stopped in Munnar for lunch, emerging just in time to see a procession led by a very decorated elephant go past. In a classic dine and dash, Tess stuck Aisha with the bill (maybe about $4 Australian) and raced outside to attempt to photograph the procession.
Our driver had also vanished, so we were standing around wondering
Truly impressive with the mountains stretching off into the distance...
what to do (given we hadn't paid him yet) when he reappeared after being 'moved on' by the police to make way for the parade. Back in our rickshaw we headed back out of town towards our homestay. As we drove we decided that we might as well pay the driver and walk the remaining distance back in order to enjoy the scenery and get some photographs unblurred by speed. So we left the driver saying 'You sure? Is four kilometres back?' and after persuading him that we didn't mind the walk, we set off down the road. The walk was beautiful in the late afternoon sun, with the tea plantations laid out on either side and grevillea robusta trees planted amongst the tea to provide some shade, shelter and organic compost, good biodynamics there. We were also having a chuckle at the number of young Indian couples who would stop their taxis and nip into the tea plantations to have their photographs taken amongst the waist high rows of tea hedge. Clearly a very popular thing over here but damned if we could work out why. The fences that mark the edge of the tea fields are often overgrown
After they'd finished getting their photos taken with us, we got this one. The pose is awesome...
with vines sprouting beautiful red, orange, pink and white flowers, adding a bit of colour to the ever-present green. Arriving back at our room almost an hour and a half later somewhat more footsore, we ate another delicious dinner cooked by our hosts and collapsed into bed some few hours later, feeling like we richly deserved it. And who are you to say otherwise!?
Tess & Aisha
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