From Fort Kochi, we headed for the Highlands & Munnar. We’d learnt from our previous visit to Sri Lanka, not to try to take public transport when heading into the country or off the main road system, so we treated ourselves to a private driver for a few days (something we’d wished we’d done in Sri Lanka & cheaper if you work out all the minibus charges individually).
Mr Gireesh picked us up from our homestay at 10am & off we headed for Munnar on the mountainous roads (which have been severely damaged by the floods last year & are currently being repaired everywhere). We made two stops; one for a tea break & the other at a spice gardens (& shop 😉) and arrived late afternoon.
Cocoa growing at the Spice Gardens
A type of ginger used in Ayurvedic Medicine
The waterfalls are mostly dry this time of year.
Munnar is a typical, bustling Indian town. Unfortunately we arrived on Republic Day, so it was manic. We settled into our homestay & then headed out to look around & grab a cup of tea.
The history of Munnar is really interesting & the current plantation owners (TATA) have done a lot for their workers providing free schools, accomodation, healthcare & training schemes for children with disabilities.
Workers now own 64% of the company. The following video (cut into sections) gives you the history & infrastructure of Munnar today:
As yet, the town has been unspoilt by tourism & is a traditional market town (most of the tourists stay in hillside resorts out of the centre).
Surrounding the town are 100’s of acres of tea plantations (known as tea gardens) planted by the TATA organisation.
Out & About
The scenery is breathtaking & if you are not looking at acres of tea gardens or mountains, you have beautiful lakes created by several dams.
Wildlife is abundant: wild elephants, deer, birds & apparently tigers. Although we left midmorning (& there were plenty of noisy tourists about) so we didn’t see any elephants at the many road crossings which are evident by the signs & broken hedges.
Things to know about Munnar (& in general)
- You don’t have to sign up to expensive trekking to see the beautiful tea gardens. Your hotel or homestay host can tell you where to walk.
- If you’re staying in a resort hotel, you’ll probably have a bar. If staying in homestays like us, alcohol is difficult to find. There is a government liqour store (a tiny corregated metal hut) with bars at the windows & a very long queue. We found a bar at a serviced apartment building. Again all the windows were barred, the cashier sits in a cage and be aware no local women drink in bars. It would have been better to sit in the restaurant area.
- Temperatures are lovely during the day, but fall drastically at night. We saw local sarong wearing men in puffa jackets & balaclavas.
- Cafes often don’t have toilets, but will always have hand washing facilities 😉
- There are three religious buildings in close proximity in the town: a mosque, a Hindu temple & a Catholic church: You will hear all of them, often.
- If staying in a homestay (like us), if you have breakfast, be prepared to be stuffed full with an endless supply & variety of food. Indian hosts like to feed their guests (as we’d also experienced in Sri Lanka).