Spectacular Kerala Hills
Read on to know why Kerala is called "God's own country"
They call it God's Own Country for a reason. Perhaps not just "a" reason but many. If there are breathtaking sunsets by the beaches of Kerala, then there are the enchanting backwaters too. And then there is yet another dimension to the awe-inspiring beauty of the state. The velvety green, unending and beautiful tea gardens of Munnar. And that was where I headed out for a blissful weekend. Set at an altitude of 6000 ft in Idukki district, Munnar can only be reached by road. You can take a taxi from Kochi, and get set for a winding ride.
On the way to Munnar, the view is great, and you will see cardamom and coffee plantations along the way. As you go round the zigzag bends, you will soon start seeing the unending expanse of tea plantations The sun plays a dance of light and shade and you see all shades of green. The weather is perfect, just a tickle of winter setting in.
TIP: Eat a light breakfast before you start. The route can be a bit bothersome if you are not used to a hilly area. Singing using works for me to distract myself, much to the annoyance of the driver!
Just before one reaches the hustle and bustle of the main city Munnar, there is a beautiful resort, and that was where I was going to spend my weekend. The resort is nestled within the undulating hills in the serene village of Chinnakanal. As I took a look around, I was impressed by the expanse of the resort. This was literally like living inside a tea garden, with breathtaking views of the valley.
TIP: Munnar is really all about the view and the outdoors. Choose a resort keeping that in mind.
I had heard about the Kairali massage that not only helps in relaxation but also has lots of therapeutic value. This is no ordinary spa experience. The ambiance was so calming, with the scent of oils in the air and gentle soft sounds of chants.
I decided to go for a special treatment called "Shirodhaar". Warm ayurvedic oil was poured on my forehead from a height and gently massaged into my hair. This went on for over an hour with gentle massaging of my hands, shoulders and feet. It was so relaxing, that I dozed off in the first 15 minutes.
After a shower and shampoo, it was delicious hot dinner waiting for me. It was ten when I called it a night, for an early morning, to catch the sunrise.
A Jeep - our ride for the day was waiting for me at the front porch with picnic basket. It was 5 am and I was super excited to be up before the sun! Tangam, our driver, flexed his muscles and pushed the accelerator full throttle. I grabbed to what I could, hanging on to dear life as the jeep sped on toward the sunrise point. Why the jeep?, I thought. And soon found out the valid reason. The route was an adventure, imagine I even saw a hare hopping about! 18 kilometers of road that was not a road at allwe were driving on rocks! There were turns where the jeep had to go in reverse, because it was impossible to take those turns. Adrenaline rush? Well yes! But not as much as the rush I got when I saw the sunrise.
When we finally reached the sunrise point, it was surreal. It was windy, and the sky was almost pink in anticipation of the sunrise. I held on to my jacket tightly, as my eyes got watery. This was magic, that happens every single day, and yet we miss out on it. The trees swayed in happiness. It was a celebration of a new day, new opportunities, and new chance to happiness.
TIP: This is a must do even if you are not a morning person. Carry a light shawl or jacket, it gets windy here.
Barely a kilometer ahead is the Kolukkumalai tea factory. We are at 7900ft above sea level and this is the highest tea plantations in the world. The hardworking women are out in the gardens plucking leaves already. Hand plucking is pass and especially designed clippers are proving effective. I made a few friends here, Marina who loves her coffee more than tea. But I'm a tea devotee, so you can imagine my thrill of standing right in the middle of a tea garden, sipping fresh organic tea, made from the leaves plucked from the very same garden.
The factory is a two storied building with wooden interiors, oozing old world charm. I met Siromani who works at this tea factory that was started in 1930's by the British. The tea has a special aroma here thanks to the height and weather conditions. That's not all, the tea leaves are processed in the traditional method, which is different from the more popular crush-tear-curl method. Siromani lets me become a tea factory worker, albeit just for a little while.
TIP: If you love tea as much as I do, do not forget to buy fresh packets from the factory outlet. I recommend a guided tour so you can understand the step by step process which is very interesting.
Tea done, my mind went to the packed breakfast that the resort had sent. But the picnic basket needed a setting. And we were headed to just the perfect place for that. Anayirangal dam, that literally means where the elephants come down to play, is a beautiful lake. The waters are clear and on a lucky day one can even spot herds of elephants right here. The water glistens like diamond, the breeze is gentle and your voice echoes between the hills. As I sat there munching on my sandwich I couldn't resist a broad smile on my lips.
The elephants didn't show up, so I decided to go to them instead. For a price of 350 rupees, you can get to ride an elephant into the jungle and back. It looked like quite a popular thing to do especially among families with children.
Munnar is endowed with not just panoramic landscape, but also with spices that gives the Kerala cuisine that punch of flavor. A stroll in the many spice gardens close to Munnar will give you a sense of how many of these spices are being used in so many different ways. I didn't want to leave the spice gardens without my own stock of spices that will last me at least a year. The nutmeg and tejpatta, and my favorite, star anise!
It had been a long day but I had all the enthusiasm left for one more thing. Kathakali- the mesmerizing dance form, involving mudras, foot movements and facial expressions. The oldest theater forms of the world, Kathakali originated in Kerala. Performed only by men, dressed in elaborate costumes and makeup this is an enthralling dance form and I was completely enchanted.
As the rhythm of the chenda and the maddalam build the tempo, I can feel emotion rise within me. This imagery will be embedded in my soul forever. And this is what travel does to you, it opens up all your senses. The sights, sounds, even the aroma of the brewing Munnar tea will be with me, enriching my existence long after I have left this land that the Gods like to call their own.