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Published: December 14th 2011
Fresh off the Bush
The smell was pretty awesome, though much more like grass clippings than the finished product...
We just realised today we've been on the road a month (okay, we could have said that two days ago, but it would have been leap year Febuary month and everyone knows they don't count). So that means we're basically two thirds of the way through our trip. In some ways we're glad, it takes a lot of mental effort to live like a hermit crab with all your belongings having to be packed up and moved every few days. So the concept of being able to collapse in a heap at home in our own space is starting to seem a little more attractive at times!
Yesterday, feeling rather tired and a little meh, we decided to have a rest day. We also decided we wouldn't go to the wildlife sanctuary at Chinnar after all - primarily because we are really enjoying being in Munnar, but also because accommodation options in Chinnar were looking increasingly grim, plus its decidedly lower elevation means a decided increase in temperature and humidity! So we lolled (obviously we're in this for the lolls *sigh*) about in our room, spending the day catching up on emails, watching a bit of TV and of course
The finished product!
Displayed by our resident hand-model!
updating ye olde blogge.
We earmarked the afternoon for a walk into the hills around the property with owner Anil to see more of the tea and spice plantations the area is renowned for. So at the agreed time, we geared up and got ready to head out, packed our bags (well mainly Aisha's bag) with all the necessities for a walk and headed downstairs. Then disaster struck. Tess walked ahead while Aisha locked up the room, that done he rounded the corner in time to see Tess hit the deck off the last step, clutching at her ankle. All and sundry came running within seconds - Aisha, the maid, Anil and his wife and even their kids (of course the last thing Tess wanted was to be the centre of attention at this point) but the ensuing first aid circus got the ankle iced and elevated and moved Tess inside. It was interesting to note the different approaches to treating the injury - we immediately asked for ice, following the western RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), whereas their approach, if we had let them, was to apply Tiger Balm to heat the area then see an Ayurvedic doctor
Disgruntled man and rickshaw repair
After trying for ages to get a photo of a rickshaw being repaired, Aisha got this one... Disgruntled guy in foreground was just a bonus.
to apply a herbal poultice, also to heat the area and draw out the swelling. A self diagnosis by the patient (all too experienced at this kind of thing after a childhood of constant sprained ankles and an adulthood with the occasional ankle 'glitch'😉 declared it a pretty decent sprain and so of course the walk was called off - Aisha less keen to go off walking while Tess was languishing in pain, despite Tess' blessing. Within the next half hour it started pouring with rain however, so the cancelled walk may not have been for the worst after all, Tess declaring it was all on purpose to save Aisha and Anil from getting wet, you're welcome. The evening was subsequently a bit subdued as Tess was in a fair bit of pain despite being dosed up with ibuprofen and ice packs.
So with the morning dawning with a light haze and cloud cover and a very pleasant lack of humidity, we got off to a late start and decided eventually to head into town and go to the Srishti Wellfare Centre for the Differently Abled, run by the Tata company (good corporate social responsibilty here) as well as
The fires of hatred weren't available so Aisha had to make do with stoking the boiler of mild angst...
the Tea Museum. Our trusty auto driver of the day before was summoned and he took us off up the hill towards town again where we dropped in via Surya Soma (definitely one of the happening restaurants in Munnar, with a constant soundtrack of early 2000s style trance) for lunch. After perusing the menu we ordered veg thali, which is the ubiquitous lunch combo of variuos small helpings of curries, pickles, etc with rice and poorotta. After eating we headed out the other side of town to our destination at Srishti. The drive there took us up through some bone shatteringly bumpy roads (all the roads around here are tarmac but some are pretty badly decayed, to the point where the rickshaws delicately pick their way around tyre swallowing holes) and through a beautiful valley surrounded by gentle rolling hills all covered in tea and stands of Eucalyptus. The Srishti Centre is a fantastic community development initiative that gives young people with physical and intellectual disabilities meaningful employment, social interaction, friendship, self esteem and a great creative outlet. Specialising in producing naturally dyed textiles and fabric, as well as making specialty paper, it provides a
Very grey sort of day today...
real avenue of care and employment for the people there. In fact, the tea company is pretty impressive - as well as the Srishti Centre, they actually provide housing, education, healthcare and more to EVERY single worker and their families. Pretty amazing, considering what most corporations try to get away with with their workers. Having a lok in the shop we were blown away by the quality of the work (Suzie, you would have LOVED this place). After our preliminary look, we went to see how it all happens in the workshop. A friendly woman showed us around, explaining the different techniques used - block printing, batik, tie dye and shibori amongst others - with natural dyes ranging from eucalyptus and turmeric to lac and indigo. After returning to the shop we managed, with difficulty, to not buy the entire place out (beautiful products AND a worthy cause?! What did you expect??!) and eventually extracted ourselves to head back down the road to the Tea Museum.
The crowds at the Tea Museum stood in sharp contrast to the lack of people at the Srishti Centre (where we had been the only visitors). After battling our way through and paying
Our Impromptu Guides
And fellow Eucalyptus burners!
the admission fee (cameras required their own admission fee too lol), we joined a queue to get into the musem (or so we thought), but the queue turned out to continue right the way into the museum as people queued to get from one packed room to another. The hold up seemed to revolve around some display or another so with our deviant anti-authority sides firmly in charge we disobeyed the painted arrows (oooh my) and went through in reverse. We'd got through two rooms containing an eclectic mix of old tea memorabilia, photographs of the formation of the estates, police and also freemasons (those goat riding secret handshaking sons of bitches are only two steps removed from ANYTHING it seems) and perplexingly also a lot of mounted animal heads. After getting through the glassy eyed stares of half a zoo's worth of dead and probably now endangered wildlife, a guy raced in shouting about...something...being about to start, motioning for the two of us to follow, follow. So we hurried through and were chivvied up a flight of stairs towards...something...before, whaddaya know, disaster struck again. Pushed to the limits of physical endurance (or something - more like already struggling to
That looks safe!
It does look like the animal IS firmly in charge of the attendant though...
walk with a decidedly bung ankle), Tess slipped on ANOTHER stair, straining the same ankle even more. With Tess gritting her teeth and looking a bit pale, we made it the rest of the way up where we were promptly crammed in like sardines amongst several room length trays/benches full of fresh tea cuttings while an extremely rapid fire, heavily Malayalam accented lecture was delivered about the tea making process. The smell of the fresh tea leaves was fantastic, a green, astringent, fresh, chlorphyll kind of smell. Drama ensued towards the end of this when a little girl a bench over from us collapsed and fainted due to the stuffy environment, while a large number of people who obviously knew nothing about first aid shouted useless and contradictory advice. As we started to wonder whether we should help (can first aid trump the language barrier?) a couple of doctors in the audience took charge and we made our way through everyone rubbernecking to leave the room. On our way out we saw some more of the tea manufacturing process, though the process on display was not that of our preferred tea. This seemed to revolve around the CTC (crush, tear
A few splashes of red...
See! It's not ALL green. There are poinsettias everywhere! Tess didn't know they grew anywhere other than 30cm high in a pot with a ribbon round it at Christmas time...
and curl) process which results in tea granules or tea dust rather than the whole leaf tea we usually drink. We never imagined that India, (one of the) land(s) of tea would actually favour decimating the tea leaves to dust (Anyone? No? Dust.) before they would drink it. In fact, tea in India has been a bit surprising and not entirely as we had imagined. It's generally brewed for so long and the milk is so boiled that it takes on a very thick consistency and a taste that is almost...off. Or...not quite right. Aisha has just thrown the term 'musty leather' into the ring.
We then stocked up on some tea from the factory (fortuntely managing to find some whole leaf tea, although we seemed to be the only ones interested in it). Sidebar, your honour - we both strongly feel that Tree of Life and T2 have a lot to answer for. The mark up on their products is literally in the realm of 1000%, so they have to be absolutely raking it in. Anyway. We thought we'd just go via the loos before we left the museum when another India Interlude ensued (which we're just starting
So many conveyor belts...
to roll with. A staff member spotted Tess waiting in line for the toilet (as on every occasion of this trip, there is NEVER a line for the men's, but ALWAYS a line of varying lengths for the ladies) and gesturing mysteriously, took us to what we initially thoguht to be a prison dungeon but turned out to be a western toilet inside the building, presumably because the outside one was a squat toilet. Although Tess appreciated the thought, the western alternative really was the perfect backdrop to several horror movies and all of your worst nightmares. Meanwhile, Aisha was dragged off for a quick tour of the boiler room (this was the VIP treatment, as no one else was allowed in). The boiler was a huge old fashioned one with a massive retaining wall of chopped firewood to feed it. The guy stoking it asked Aisha where he was from and after hearing the answer, proceeded to say with a huge grin pointing at the wood, "Eucalyptus!", whereupon a short conversation and some great photos emerged of the men stoking the boiler, Aisha stoking the boiler etc (not a euphemism). By that time Tess had emerged with newly acquired
Come on in... there's everything from tea to freemasons!
post-traumatic stress disorder and was summoned to have a crack at stoking the boiler as well - which she did, somewhat bemusedly - it must be a guy thing. After that the guys dragged us off for a complimentary cup of cardamom tea, very tasty and sweet. So much of the time, Kerala surprises us with how lovely the people are and how with a willingness to (Jill) go with the flow, you see some pretty cool stuff. With that done, Aisha grabbed a photo of them and we jumped into our auto and headed back to the ranch for a well deserved collapse in a heap...did we mention we've both got colds at the moment as well?
We've been reflecting on our time in Munnar so far, as we've only got one more full day to go before we descend once more to Kochi for a night and our date with train destiny. All the places in India we've been so far have been great to visit, but wouldn't really necessarily bear a return visit or that much more time spent there, some not even that... but Munnnar and surrounds have stuck out as not only somewhere nice
Just another snapshot as we drove through Munnar...
to visit but also somewhere that could be, if not easy, then a really worthwhile experience to come and live. The people are great, the air deliciously not
humid and the surroundings so stunningly beautiful as to defy belief.
So once more, we sign out for another day.
Peace and Love.
Tess & Aisha
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