Lord Parshuram threw the axe
And the sea gave way to a strip of land
and thus formed the green Kaleidoscopic – God’s own country Kerala. Geographically Kerala is separated from rest of India by the massive Western Ghats and enjoys an extensive coastal line formed by the Arabian Sea. The rugged, steep, wild and forested Western Ghats sheltered Kerala from mainland invaders and the long coastal line provided it maritime contact with the outside world. This land of noble and generous “King Mahabali” is generous in its offering for the tourists too. It has palmed fringed beaches, tranquil hill stations, emerald green backwaters, expressive dance arts, rejuvenating Ayurvedic treatments, moist evergreen forests and abundant varieties of Flora and Fauna.
In Kerala, the colors we noticed in abundance were Green, Green, Green and occasional Blue. It is a keralite tradition not to build houses taller than the surrounding trees and hence wherever one lives the abundant greenery always surrounds him and even the pristine blue sky is visible only in glimpses.
Though we planned our Kerala trip & booked train tickets well in advance, we didn’t finalize the detailed nitty-gritty. We were in dilemma regarding Munnar. Should we go to Munnar and make our trip hectic or should we stay and visit Kochin? We were anyway going to Kochin, and Munnar was around 4-5 hours bus journey from Kochin, so we decided to give it a skip.
My friend Ram Narayanan is from Kochin. I told him about my dilemma and the subsequent decision. He changed the whole plan. His strong suggestion was that I MUST visit Munnar and like most people feel about their native places he said that there is not much to be seen in Kochin & it’s a distant competitor to Munnar in terms of the beauty and charm Munnar had in offering. So the decision was taken for us.
From Kochin Railway station bus stand was very near. We got into the private bus that was going to Munnar. There were no glass on the windows and the first feeling was oh no! It seemed to be a “Khatara bus” (bus in very bad condition). I feel nauseating on serpentine hilly roads, seeing the condition of that bus I felt that I had to undergo nightmare till the time we reach Munnar. In contrast to my initial feeling, the road journey to Munnar was very scenic and having no windows was the best part, as it enabled us to enjoy beautiful landscape unhindered. Very soon we moved from the sultry and humid weather of Kochin to fresh, crispy and pleasantly cold weather of Munnar.
Munnar was the only place in our Kerala trip where we were not able to book the accommodation and felt the wrath of going to this popular destination in the peak season without any booking. After initial hassles finally we got a room in one hotel for one night and the next day we got accommodation in nearby hotel for another night.
23 rd Dec 2004 Munnar
The word Munnar is made of two words “Munnu” and “aar”. Munnu in Tamil & Malyalam (both the languages) means three and aar means river/stream. Munnar is situated on confluence of three mountain streams “Muthirappazha, “Nallathanni” and Kundala. During British rule, Scots developed it for tea plantation. Today Munnar is the commercial center of some of the highest tea growing estates. Initial settlers to this place were Tamil laborers who were brought here for cultivation of Tea and coffee and this is one of the reasons that Tamil is also widely spoken in Munnar.
We hired the auto rickshaw to drive us through the ups and downs of the quaint surroundings of Munnar. That day our morning half was lost in travel to Munnar and in the search of a decent accommodation. Only afternoon was left. We decided to explore tourist’s attractions towards the Cochin direction. The auto took us through the rustic pathways of sloppy mountains. As we moved just one km or less out of Munnar, we were awestruck by the beautifully and carefully manicured hills that rolled down from the sky up to our legs. It had rained only a day or two before and that left the tealeaves devoid of any dirt and dust and the lush green slopes of mountains were looking like a beautiful painting done in watercolor with pristine blue sky in the background.
Kerala is blessed with two monsoons in a year – the southwest monsoon that last from June to August and Northeast Monsoon that last from October to November. These two monsoons together cast a spell over the greenery of Kerala. Good rainfall over the year ensures numerous waterfalls in Munnar and around. We saw very less tourists around these waterfalls. The deafening sound of these garrulous cascades and the beauty around them soaked us in
Though we were thoroughly enjoying the auto rickshaw ride through the green, serene and peaceful hills, soon we started to feel the itch in our leg to walk among those green Labyrinths. From morning we were in the vehicle, first in the bus and then in the auto and exploring a town only on vehicle gives a feeling of incompleteness. We told the driver to take us to a dense tea plantation without any visible patch of land where we could walk in the tea estate.
He dropped us at this beautiful place & told us that he would be waiting at the top at the Sunset point. As we started to walk, Gulzaar’s beautiful lines of Aandhi Movies song came to my lips
कहाँ से चले, कहाँ के लिए, यह खबर नही थी मगर, कोई भी सिरा जहाँ जा मिला, वन्हि तुम मिलोगे मगर …
A poor English translation can be
“From where I started, where to go,
Was never clear to me,
But I was sure, wherever my path will lead me,
I will find you there.”
Walking on those rustic pathways was like walking in a dreamland. We passed the smiling women laborers returning home after day’s hard work. As we walked up we saw the Sun playing hide and seek among the leaves of the tall trees around. At the top we ordered for the tea and while sipping the tea enjoyed the reddish ball going down in the hill crested horizon.
The final destination of the day was the Blossom Park. This park had many varieties of exotic flowers and that was our first trip with a digital camera, so it was a very good opportunity for us to capture those beautiful flowers.
(I wish that I could write name of these beautiful flowers. It’s my dream to read in detail and know about so many varieties of flowers around us. It is among many activities, planned for post-retirement. )
24th Dec 2004 – Next day after breakfast we again hired an auto. The plan was to move in Mattupetty direction in the morning and to the Coimbatore direction in the afternoon. In Munnar it’s impossible to escape from the calls of the mountain that lures you with its magically green-carpeted slopes of tea plantation. The verdant green was dotted with red and blue and violet colors of the women who were plucking the tealeaves.
We were told that for the finest quality of tea brands plucking starts with just the very smallest blossom, two tealeaves and a bud of the tea flower. In growing season every plant grow a new bud after seven to ten days. For tea connoisseurs’ tea is like wine – it varies with elevation, location, aspect and climate.
The cool, mild breeze was playing a melody. We stopped to admire the splendid beauty around us. For miles and miles it was tea plantation everywhere. There were silver oak tree between the tea plantations to reduce the speed of water flowing down.
I think the only thing we missed at that moment were the flowers among the lush green landscape.
From there we arrived at Mattupetty dam. Mattupetty Dam/lake is a picnic spot.
Apart from boating, this place is also popular because of dairy farm – Indo-Swiss live stock project – around it. When we visited that place the farm was closed for tourists for indefinite period because of outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
It was here that we tried the passion fruit for the first time. Passion fruit is a native of South Brazil through Paraguay to North Argentina. The reason for it being named so is that the Spanish Missionaries in South America found part of this plant’s flower showing many religious symbols. In this flower they found ways to illustrate Christ’s crucifixion. The fruit was very sweet and was having lots of seeds in it. It was not love in first taste, may be trying it several time would change my opinion about it.
In this era of globalization, it’s not surprising that I tasted this S. American fruit in S.India and photographed its flower in the mountains of Cinque Terre, Italy
Then we moved to Echo point – Until then I thought that the echo points are all farce as most of the time you hear almost inaudible echo and you keep wondering was that really the echo of your sound or something else. That place was not even covered with the hills, so I was skeptical. At that point pleasantly Rachit and I could hear echoes of our voice – Great fun. I enjoy shouting at the top of my Lungs and feel that it’s a great de-stressing exercise. I remember that at the time of Annual functions in my college, when I returned to hostel after continuously hooting for around 3-4 hrs, I felt very relaxed, no thought wandering in the mind and no desire to speak for some time. It was interesting to see Naseeruddin Shah preaching the same to Sanjana Kapoor in Movie “Hero Heeralal” – “Whenever you are under stress, hold this tree and shout at the top of your lungs and it will drain out the stress.”
So after de-stressing, we moved ahead and saw the Elephant helping human to its best. There were big logs of wood that Elephant had to put on the truck. I was wondering that would it be able to lift those heavy logs and put it into the truck. Then I saw how it worked. The elephant was pushing those logs with its forehead and as soon as it rolled up a little those around put stones to stop it from rolling down.
The last destination of our pre-lunch itinerary was the Top Station, the highest point on Munnar-Kodaikanal road, and a tiny hamlet at the boundary of Kerla and Tamilnadu. Top station was connected to middle station (Kundalai) and the lower station (Munnar) through ropeways and railways during the colonial regime. At that time the best quality of Tea was grown there and was later on brought down through ropeways and railways. The ropeways and railways are not working now and the stations for that purpose are converted into stores.
The slope of mountains around Top Station had the abundant and proficient growth of rare NeelaKurunji Plant (Strobilanthus shrub). This plant blossoms only once in 12 years. Last time it blossomed in year 2006 and the next flowering is expected in year 2018. In its year of blossoming, these flowers picturesquely carpet the entire hillsides with its mauve blossoms. The honey collected at that time is considered to be the sweetest.
Here we saw people selling an egg shaped fruit – Tree Tomato. After palpating the fruit, I squeezed it in my mouth. It tasted similar to Tomatoes. This Fruit is also a native to S. America and on trees its held in cluster like Cherries.
The mountain slope around Top station was covered with dense vegetation. It was very misty at that time. Otherwise one can enjoy views of far-flung Western Ghats from there.
Post-Lunch we moved towards the Coimbatore direction. Our driver stopped at a point where a rope was tied to stop unauthorized entry into a private tea plantation. He removed that rope and we started to descend down. There was music around of the water gushing down in the vicinity. As we descended further we saw a fierce roaring cascade from a distance. I was a little scared, as we moved further we realized that we didn’t have to go that down. There was a smaller, safer and beautiful waterfall at that point itself. We crossed a little water puddle to reach a point from where we could touch the water flowing down.
Our final destination of the day was Eravikulam or Rajmala National park, home to the highest peak of south India, Anamudi – 8842 ft above sea level. Again after whole day of auto journey we found it a good place to walk. We walked in relaxed pace on well-laden path to the top. We had spectacular views of serpentine roads with hairpin bends in the valley. On the top we saw Nilgiri Tahr – an evolutionary link between antelope and goat.
These tame mountain goats were near to extinction because of their continuous hunting. Thanks to this national park their number is now continuously increasing and the danger of their extinction is over. Half of world’s population of this goat is found in this national park.
The mountain goat was scaling the steep slope and slippery rocks of the mountains. We moved down, clicking this extremely camera friendly animal, doing goat walk on the wild ramp of Rajmala national park & eating their favorite Shola vegetation.
The images of Munnar are still very vivid. Our memories of Munnar are pregnant with the vicinity of the rugged peaks, carefully and beautifully manicured tea estates, wild streams flowing with their feathery touch to the wild and plantation alike, and the cold air having coldness of purity & not harsh enough to penetrate. Combination of all these made our visit to Munnar a very rejuvenating experience.