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Published: February 24th 2016
Touchdown at Cochin International Airport at noon on our maiden trip to God’s Own Country.
Embarked on a long drive to gorgeous hill station, Munnar in Idukki district of Kerala. The winding highway was opening new green vistas at every turn. The car commenced its scenic ascent in the misty environment. The temperature started dropping rapidly and the chill in the weather was the first sign of our arrival at the picturesque elevation. The view of pristine valleys in the spice scented cool air made the journey most enjoyable.
There were many Beer & Wine Parlors en route, with colourful boards beckoning tourists. However, to our misfortune, when we seriously decided to go for chilled beer, all of them vanished and miles and miles of search did not yield any success. Beer or no beer, filling stomach with solids & carbohydrates was the need of the hour. The driver suggested that we take a break at Farmyard Hotel at Adimali. It is a large restaurant, few Kms before we actually reach Munnar town. The exterior and ambience was inviting. I decided to opt for a Kerala Meal .. the first one in this part of
the country. The food was good and offered variety… but not warm enough to be palatable. The hot meal would have been really appetizing. The first disappointment was non-availability of chilled beer and the next one was chilled food. Since it was past 2 o’clock, there was hardly any option but to consume whatever arrived on the table. The service was quite quick and the pricing seemed reasonable.
As we continued our drive to Munnar, a number of spice gardens and adjoining shops selling spices .... mostly deserted started appearing on the landscape. There were many of them, manned by a single person. In an hour’s time or so, we reached Munnar and passed through the town. The aroma of exotic spices continued to become stronger at every turn. On the outskirts there were few tea estates, but we did not have any intention of stopping there. A small siesta was the greatest need of the hour.
As recommended by many travel experts, the hotel accommodation was booked at Chinnankanal. This small sleepy village, which is located around 25 Kms from Munnar. As we crossed the township, the narrow road was swallowed by the
tea-estates on the both sides. Using the GPS, I reached Double Tree Villa Resort. It was off Suryanelly Road and little ahead of Club Mahindra Resort. We were surprised that GPS worked though out the drive in the hilly region.
We were warmly greeted by the Manager – cum – Receptionist …the Jack of All Trades. He ushered us to the room… which had 3-large independent bedrooms and a large hall. Honestly, we did not need such large room. It was on the ground floor, almost in the basement and offered us hardly any outside view. Having left the home at 06:30 in the morning, we were extremely tired. The need for an immediate siesta was overpowering and therefore quickly checked-in without any grumbling.
The evening was spent going for a long walk. We had various version about availability of alcohol in the state of Kerala and as a preventive measure, we had carried our own alcohol. The ambient temperature had dropped significantly by the dusk. The manager had arranged for a table outside our room. Since the area was out of public reach, we could enjoy the single malt in the natural environment
breathing unpolluted fresh air. It was a great memorable evening. The food was ordered from the hotel kitchen .. Chicken Fried and Chicken Curry with rice and chapatis. No fish was available because the same is required to be ordered in the morning. Chinnankanal being a very small village, one will hardly find a tourists hanging around. It’s a perfect place for a retreat from a busy metropolitan city. The local residents scarcely visible and were non-interfering.
Next day, we were woken up at the dawn by the melodious chirping of birds. The breakfast .. consisting of Dosas and Vadas accompanied by sambhar and chutney and steaming hot tea .. was complimentary. It was hot and tasty …. And in a large quantity. Served with the smile by the caretaker.
Soon after the breakfast, we embarked upon the exploration trip. The roads were very narrow and vehicles approaching from the other side were driven by rash drivers .. so I thought. The first halt was Mattupetty Dam, surrounded by lush green trees. It is one of the most popular landmark for tourists as well as for wild elephants … so we were told by
our driver – cum- guide. There were a many tracks en route, which driver informed are being used by wild elephants and asked us to exercise caution.
The panoramic view of the picturesque green valley, huge range of mountains and misty weather made the journey a truly memorable experience. There was a temptation, every few meters, to stop for capturing the vista in the camera. But .. the narrow roads lacking any parking space forced us to be practical and to move on.
What was unusual for us was all roads were decorated with flags with various hues and colours having different logos of local political parties. There was hardly any stretch of the road, where we did not find flags and banters. The predominant colour was red everywhere. Locals travelling by SUVs in spotless white attire carrying party flag were breaking the monotony of the green colour of mother earth. The constantly looming danger was unpredictable strike by political party, which is a distinctive feature of Kerala. We believe, everything comes to a standstill and tourists get stranded, wherever they are. …. Dreaded nightmare.
Lunch was preceded by Kingfisher Premium
@ Rs. 200/- , though MRP was Rs. 85/-. The so called 3-star hotel at Munnar, having a dingy beer parlor was making extra quick buck from the tourists. Though proclaimed Family Beer Parlor, one will hardly find any ladies in it or a family visiting it. Lunch at Hotel Gurubhavan, on the outskirts of Munnar was quite good. The fried fish was quite fresh and tastefully cooked having the local flavor. The accompaniments were rice and other side dishes like rasam, sambhar, chutney and papads. The restaurants were generally very clean and well maintained.
With the advancing age, we rationally did not opt to go for any wildlife treak but decided to visit Kundala Dam, which was about 45 minutes drive. The semi-circular dam was a perfect place for little relaxation post-lunch. Spent few hours by the lakeside clicking photographs for the records and as the evening was heralding, we commenced our journey towards the hotel. There were few Viewpoints .. from where we could take a few photographs of the misty hills, the valleys, the streams, the waterfalls, the unending expanse of tea plantations. Most waterfalls en route had gone dry in this part of
the year… but the signboard existed and few tourists stopped there to take photographs.
We returned to the retreat quite early, very unusual for a tourist from a metropolitan city. Relaxed evening in the pleasant weather, whisky-without-ice was refreshing and rejuvenating. The starters for consumption with the drink were neither good nor palatable. Like the previous night, the meal consisted chicken in the local flavor and bowlful of kerala rice. Room windows were required to be kept shut to keep the mosquitoes away. Having travelled through the width & the breadth of the country, this was probably the first destination, where the hotel room neither had a fan not an air-conditioner … and the need wasn’t felt either.
The new day was kept for a long cherished visit to Tea Estates. After leisurely breakfast drove towards Lockhart Tea Garden of Harrison Malyalam Limited. At an elevation of above 5000 feet from the mean sea-level, the tea estate consisted of hills and mountains covered with lush green tea plantation, amazingly large expanse. A walk through the garden was an experience of a lifetime. The landscape with various hues of green in the misty environment will
be etched in the memory for a long time. The honeymooners, with henna-decorated hands, dominated the scene throughout. The middle-aged tourists were very rare to find. Youngsters were busy raising their selfie-sticks and clicking the moments of their lifetime … or rather the beginning of their togetherness and wedded life. This was a common sight at the every picturesque location in and around Munnar. Moving closer to each other, to accommodate themselves in the camera frame, was the best way to beat the chill in the air.
Later, we visited the Lockhart Tea Processing Unit. The entry fee was Rs. 200/- per person .. which at the end of the trip we found to be little to pricy. The guide, employed by the Company .... who probably works in other capacity in the same factory, explained various processes in turning the tea-leaves into tea powder. This was the first time Iwe were educated about various types of tea such as Orthodox Tea and CTC Tea. The further sub-classification of White Tea, Green Tea, and the regular tea, which we have been consuming with milk and sugar. The aroma in the factory was simply refreshing. The century old
antique machines for initial processing were perfectly wedded to the modern imported machinery for separation of tea and worked in perfect harmony. The roasting section was the best to be in because it emitted the strongest tea fragrance … quite a heavenly feeling to the utmost satisfaction of the olafactory senses.
Later we were ushered to so called … Company Tea Store, where different types of tea and spices were on sale. Picking up few for personal consumption as well as for giveaway souvenirs made me lighter by Rs. 2000/-. I kept the small box of containing 10 grams of White Tea costing Rs. 130/- for myself. Rs. 13, 000/- per kg of tea and produced only for export market was a fact very difficult to digest. It is two weeks since I have returned back, yet looking out for an occasion to open this small box. … similar to finding a reason to open 18-Year old whisky bottle, which was received as a gift few years ago.
The tour was to end at the Tea Museum, The ‘so called’ guide pointed towards an adjoining shed and asked us to explore it on our own. His job was over. There was a surprise in the store. The Tea Museum contained old articles but all unrelated to tea. Typewriter, Facit Calculator, VCR, VCP, Telephone instrument, … all articles I was made to use in the beginning of my career 40 years ago. It was not in a rarest dream I thought then, that these items will be placed in a Tea Museum one day. At the end of the room, there were small bowls containing transparent liquid having different hues. The liquid was cold and the aroma had vanished. From the labels, I could comprehend that these are various types of tea brews. I dared to taste the brew from the first bowl. It left a strange taste on the tongue. I gave up and called quits. Yes.. Rs. 200 as an entrance fee seemed very high, but you do not come here every day. So be it.
Beer, lunch and drive back to hotel. The session has to start early today and retire at the earliest. Tomorrow morning ETD 06:00 hrs for a long drive to Alappuzha…. I have to leave this place …. Though unfortunately. I wish never to leave.
Munnar, meaning three rivers, situated on the Kannan Devan Hills, at the confluence of the Mudhirapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundaly rivers in Idduki District of Kerala. The exotic flora found in the forests and grasslands of Munnar is the Neelakurinji. This flower bathes the hills in blue once in every twelve years.
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