Munnar: The hilly paradise of South India
January 1, 1970
by Ivanka Agarwal
For a country that boasts of the magnificent Himalayan ranges in the Northern region, one does not often look at the peninsular South India when in need of satiating that mountain craving. Bound by the Arabian Sea in the west, the Indian Ocean in the south and the Bay of Bengal in the east, the lower parts of the country are known for its gorgeous beaches and coconutty vacations. But for a person whose day starts and ends with the thoughts of being surrounded by the hills, Munnar was a revelation.
A picturesque drive through the winding narrow lanes of Kerala, it takes about four hours to reach Munnar from Kochi, which is the nearest airport. An early morning meal of Idli, Dosa or Uthappam, along with a cup of filter coffee, or fresh pineapple juice, a typical South Indian breakfast can be had anywhere on the way, and is the perfect start to this roadtrip. With a full stomach, one is now set to enjoy the beauty the place has to offer.
The way to the falls
We hired a cab from Kochi, and on the suggestion of our driver, took a 70-km detour to visit the breathtaking Athirapally Falls. Located in the middle of a jungle, the falls are at a downhill walk of around 20 minutes. Even though every bit grand in January, we were told that the falls were their beautiful best in the monsoon season from May to November, when the sound of the water thrashing on the rocks below is almost deafening.
What to do there
The walk to and back from the falls can be a bit tiring, but an ample supply of sweet coconut water in the area ensures that you leave the place all refreshed. A few minutes into the drive from ‘The Niagara of India’, as these fall are often called, to Munnar, you come across hoards of vendors offering freshly cut pineapples and mangoes, that form the perfect snack to munch on as you look out the window to gaze and wonder at your existence on this mesmerizing planet.
After taking a couple more tea breaks we were finally on the outskirts of Munnar. And no, you don’t need a milestone to tell you that, the vast expanses of dotted tea plantations for as far as your eyes can see are an indication enough. Every bend and turn on the road would present you with a sight even more beautiful than the last one. And the need to stop at every curve for that perfect picture will probably take a lot of your time, but believe me, it is worth it.
Owing to its location in the Western Ghats, a brooding mist starts settling in as evening approaches, and it is advisable to not drive once it begins to get dark.
By the time we reached our resort in the late evening, a pleasant dinner was the only thing we had any energy left for. We did however work on the plans for the next day, you can get in touch with the hotel staff or ask the locals for help.
Sita Devi Lake
How to reach
For the trekking enthusiasts, Munnar has a lot of options that can be considered. We are mere beginners, so we opted for a soft trek to Sita Devi Lake. The lake is at a distance of around three kilometres from the base, a little tricky for novices in the beginning, it takes you through fields of lemongrass, as the welcoming fragrance in the middle of nowhere literally takes you by surprise.
Half way into the trek, there is a little stop with a small waterfall and a few boulders, where you can rest and catch your breath. From this point forward the walk is comparatively easy. The lake itself is an unmissable beauty, crystal clear waters surrounded by tall trees, it is an ideal spot to do nothing and relax in the lap of nature with only the sound of chirping birds and an occasional cricket to accompany you. It is advisable to take a guide along.
The myth behind the name
The legend has it that Goddess Sita of Ramayana bathed in the Devikulam lake, which was later named after her.
For people who do not enjoy trekking as much, an early morning walk through the misty hills is highly recommended and will be an equally beautiful alternative. A good shower and a hearty breakfast is exactly what you will need after this.
The Tea Factory
We spent the rest of the day visiting the tea factories around, established by the British during their colonisation of India, these along with a tour of the museum, take you through the intricate process of manufacturing tea, right from the growth of the plant to the packaged carton on our kitchen shelves. We couldn’t resist ourselves from having a cup or two of freshly made lemon tea, and I can bet you won’t be able to either.
The factories also offer an option of taking jeep safaris that drive you deep into the plantations and offer a more scenic and idyllic view of the tea farms.
Through tea estates
We decided to skip the tour though, and went exploring the plantations ourselves. It is advisable to not venture out alone on foot, because there are a lot of wild elephants in the area. We had a local accompanying us, and were still prohibited to go beyond a certain point.
The drive throughout was the greenest I have ever seen. There is also a rock cave that might excite you, though we were more interested in a little tea shop just opposite the cave entrance, which served the most delicious cinnamon coffee that we couldn’t seem to have enough of.
We had to head back to Kochi the next morning, and we knew fully well that we will regret planning such a short trip to this piece of paradise.
We did come back with packets of tea, spices and chocolates, all of which Munnar is famous for, and loads of pictures. However another week in this tiny hillstation is still on the bucket list, although even that will not be enough.