Day 4-5 (ish)
We headed off to Munnar, into ‘hill country’, where the air was noticeably cooler and a lot less humid than Kochi. Munnar was developed by British tea companies in the early 20th century and many of the buildings retain a familiar ‘British’ look. We made our way to our hill station hotel, stopping off here and there to take in the sights, all of which resulted in a seven hour road trip . As was now the norm, the roads were precarious, the driving erratic and the possibility of us ending up in an overturned vehicle, highly probable. We pulled over to take a look at a waterfall and some amusing monkeys.
Ha, ha, ha! Very funny. Not these monkeys…
We meandered around Eravikulum National Park, established in 1970 as a means of protecting endangered species of wild goat and Nilgiri Tahr. There was a possibility we might glimpse a wild elephant or two, a sambar or some macaques. We didn’t. We did however take in a very pleasant view and spotted a couple of Nilgiri Tahrs. In fact, there were Tahrs everywhere and it was difficult not to spot them.
Through towns and villages we sped, caution to the wind, overtaking, undertaking and barrelling out of the way the locals who went about their daily business.
We came across many local markets selling all manner of everyday items; glorious fruit and vegetables, the best we’d ever seen either here or where you are.
And the local growers hawked their wares wherever they could, making a pittance on which to support their ever growing families.
The landscape was lush and green and for mile after mile, on every earthy surface right up to the sheer face of a the mountains, tea was being grown. The green patchwork of tea plants knitted together the valleys, hills, mountains and plateaus. As far as the eye could see and for all our time travelling, it was one tea plantation after another, as one might expect from one of the world’s largest tea producers.
Use your imagination and splice these two shots together to try and gauge the sort of panoramic view of the tea plantation:
The tea factory in the centre of the left photo and on the left in the right photo is the same one, so if you overlapped the pictures, you’ll get some idea of the vista.
Tea leaves rolling on for ever and ever and ever. Workers, mainly women, labour day in and day out on a fifteen day cycle for each tea bush, harvesting the tips of the new growth to make tea leaves. The very best is exported abroad, your Tetley, Liptons and PG Tips, the rest is for the local market and made into chai – the hot, milky, very sweet drink so revered by all Indians here.
Makes you appreciate the morning cuppa, doesn’t it?
On route we stopped at a restaurant to partake of the local fare. No surprises when we found curry on the menu. Very tasty and colourful but it was starting to become a little same(ish). We persevered nonetheless and had the lunchtime special served on a banana leaf with not a knife or fork to be seen. Saves washing up apparently – nice idea to put before the Mem-Sahib this evening you guys.
After an exhausting journey, we made for our hill top retreat, the highest point in Kerala it is possible to stay – allegedly. The view was outstanding and for the ornithologist amongst us, there were several treats to be seen, including the Nilgiri flycatcher. If you’re not familiar with such, allow me to explain. It’s a bird!
We sipped wine and watched the mist roll in. Wine! I hear you cry. Where did that come from? Well, in these parts, as most places the world over, alcohol is a big problem. Too many people spending money they can ill-afford on booze that renders them unconscious or extremely violent towards their partners. No good will ever come of it I tell you. In order to procure a bottle of France’s finest, you have to negotiate a cage type of sheep run whereupon you order at a little window and collect said order from another little window. There appeared to be an enforced restriction to prevent fat people from buying alcohol. Myself, I am a lean, mean well-oiled machine, slender and darned good looking to boot but even I had trouble squeezing through to make my purchase.
And for information purposes only, costing about six of your English pounds, it was some of the finest Syrah grape we have sampled this side of Aix en Provence. Highly quaffable, with slight tannins and a plummy, earthy, rolling barrel down the hillside under-taste; we wondered why we had not bought more of the stuff. That’ll be the drinking problem mentioned earlier I suppose? There was more sight seeing to do, a barbecue to eat from, a disco to attend (oh, yes) and some hiking in the mountains to accomplish before we departed Kerala for Tamil Nadu country.
Keep the faith, we’re nearly half way through.