From Madurai, we drive about 4 hours to reach Munnar. Munnar is a hill station located at 1,600 meters in the Western Ghats range of mountains in Kerala. It once served as the summer resort for the British Government in South India. It is still a popular resort town nowadays with tea plantations, small towns, and numerous resorts. We stayed at the Panoramic Getaway Hotel here in Munnar for the next couple of nights. The hotel is relatively new but the design and decor is a bit dated and gaudy. Most of the guests seem to be local Indians, many on their honeymoons. As far as I know, there are no international or large hotel chains present here.
On our way to Munnar, we passed by several villages preparing for the Bull Fighting Festival.
The rolling green hills are a welcome change to the heat and noise of the cities.
Other than tea, farmers grow all sorts of vegetables here.
View of the tea plantations from the balcony of our hotel room.
Munnar is famous for its tea plantations, many of which were started by the British. The Kanan Devan brand of tea from Tata is grown and processed here. In 2007, Tata Tea transferred 17 of its tea estates in Munnar (covering about 14,000 hectares) to Kanan Devan Hills Plantation Company under the employee buyout model making it one of the largest employee shareholder companies in India. Tata also opened a tea Museum to showcase the growth of tea plantations in the Western Ghats where photographs and curios related to the origins of tea plantations are displayed. You can also join the tour to understand how tea is processed which is interesting but skip the tea tasting which is basically equivalent to tasting different everyday tea bag quality tea.
Tea tasting at the Tata Tea Museum.
Most of the tea plantations we drove by are owned by Tata or now the Kanan Devan Hills Plantation Company.
There are many other places of interest in the area, including the Eravikulam National Park, Mattupetty, Pallivascal, Top Station, etc. Eravikulam National Park is famous for the Neelakurinji which blooms once every 12 years and covers the hills in a carpet of blue. Unfortunately, the next bloom is not until 2018. It is also known for its endangered goat antelope, Nilgiri Tahr. The National Park is great for hiking and it also has the highest peak in South India, the Anamudi Peak, at 2,700 meters. Munnar is an area with many dams and waterfalls and Mattupetty is one such dam with a beautiful lake offering boat rides. Top station was a historic transhipment location where tea used to be transported down by ropeway to the railway station. It offers panoramic views of the area and is a great place to view the Neelakurinji flowers. Oftentimes, when the clouds roll in, it feels like you are standing above the clouds. On the way to Top Station, there is a small lake called Echo Point where every call made from the lake’s embankment is returned manyfold by the echo from the surrounding hills.
There is not very much going on in the evenings in Munnar. Most tourists, including ourselves, are taken to see the Kathakali Dance and Kalaripayattu martial arts performances. Kathakali is a form of classical Indian dance dating back to the 17th century. It is a dance as well as acting and has had a long tradition in Kerala. Kathakali literally means “Story-Play” and is known for its elaborate makeup, face masks and costumes. We arrived half an hour before the show to see how the makeup is done.
Makeup made of rice paste carefully applied to the dancers.
Kathakali Dances are based on Hindu epics of good battling evil. There are hundreds of Kathakali storylines.
The hero of this Kathakali story.
The villain of this Kathakali story.
Kathakali is mainly accompanied by different drums and a specially trained vocalist who will sing the verses.
After the Kathakali Dance performance, we moved to the next room to see the Kalaripayattu performance. Kalaripayattu is a martial art originating from Kerala and is also considered one of the oldest fighting systems in existence. After several fighting demonstrations, the performance became a bit of a circus performance with the fighters jumping through fire rings and doing contortionist moves.
After a relaxing couple days in Munnar, we continue for another 4 hours drive to Cochin to board our boat in the Kerala backwaters. Stay tuned!
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