yesterday we went on a day trip to Munnar. It was beautiful and will definitely and surely be one of the most unforgettable highlights of our whole trip! Munnar is a small town- famous for its vast tea plantations established by the British in the 19th century-about 125 km inland from Fort Cochin and lies at approx. 1500 metres above sea level, so it was quite a climb to reach it…! We rented a taxi again to take us there (one of the lovely old-style white ones which you sometimes see on old pictures of India, but which are still just as common today) and left here at Cochin at half past six in the morning. After we had left the plains and started the slow ascent towards Munnar, we instantly noticed the change of air which was much cooler and fresher. The road wound up through forests of massive trees, and we frequently stopped to see so many exciting and wonderful things: a family of cute monkeys and their babies, many waterfalls, and most impressive of all was the so called spice garden: this was a large area which had been especially designated by the landowner to show the amazing diversity of plants, fruits and spices that grow here. He took us on a tour of the garden, explained every plant to us including their culinary and medicinal uses and properties and gave us a “sample” of each to taste or take with us. It was incredible: there were cardamom trees, coffee shrubs, a tasty fruit called bell apple, vanilla plants, pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, papayas, passion fruits, bananas, pineapples, lemongrass, cocoa, Indian gooseberries, curry shrubs, beetle leaf, holy basil, passion flowers, hibiscus, orchids, teak and mahagoni trees, a sandalwood tree, orange and lemon trees, little strawberries, cloves, cashew trees, pomegranates, dahlias, roses, several aryuvedic plants, a shrub which apparently blossomes strikingly blue only once every twelve years. It is amazing that all these plants should be assembled together in such a relatively small area, a real garden of Eden in its diversity. One could see the surrounding mountains, it was still with just the unfamiliar sounds of tropical birds, the air was cooler and wonderfully fresh. Then on our next stop we went for a walk along and into the first tea plantations on our way which lay a little higher that the spice garden. There was a distinctive, slightly bitter smell and the landscape was just beautiful. These vast areas with nothing but tea, growing on sofly undulating hillsides, larger mountains in the background, white clouds in a blue sky, fresh and sometimes slightly breezy air. And it was- apart from the occasional buses and motorbikes-quite still. As it was a Sunday, there were no women working in the fields plucking the tea (which was a bit of a disappointment to Marco as far as photographs are concerned) but which made the atmosphere very quiet and calm with all these empty hills with only tea. We stayed quite a while enjoying and taking in the sight and I pinched a tea leaf as a souvenir..! After a while we went on, now into the little town of Munnar which is really nothing special, only crowded, dirty and full of noisy traffic (as per usual) but which has a lovely little tea museum which is set a bit on the outskirts from where there was again a lovely view onto the surrounding hillsides with the plantations. Inside the museum there was some of the original machinery used to process the tea, the first telephones used and established here by the British, a room furnished in the colonial style of that time (even with a bunch of fresh roses from the adjoining rose garden on the table, unmistakably British…! :), there was a row of photographs showing the steps of tea processing and a collection of old photographs of the original tea factory. Then we could witness the processing of the tea in all its many stages in a small working tea factory on the site, from the green leaf up to the actual crumbly or powdery tea as we find it in our supermarkets. Now, with every “cuppa” or “paned”, I will always be thinking of Munnar-how lovely! After lunch, we stopped at another lovely garden, this time just flowers, but also so very beautiful. There was every flower in bloom at the same time: roses, azaleas, dahlias (what a lovely sight in February..!), petunias, poppies, gerbera, water lilies and many,many more! We went a bit further up along the winding road to a lovely spot with a nice view over a lake among the mountains. There we declined the offer of elephant and/or motorboat ride from the “tourist stalls” all around us, but just had some chai tea (delicious and freshly prepared for us) with some cake and after that, started our return journey back to Cochin, which, after all, takes about four hours one way. It was a lovely trip though, winding back down through this wonderful landscape around us, and we often stopped for Marco to take photographs. There were many tall, blue-flowering orchid trees along the way on the edge of the plantations which I found incredibly beautiful, especially against this wonderful backdrop! Sometimes, when there was only an old jeep to be seen winding its way along the road through the plantations, this looked just like it would surely have done during colonial times.
At around seven we arrived back in Fort Cochin, tired and (annoyingly) slightly sunburnt, but really happy and pleased that we had taken this wonderful trip to Munnar. And now I am even very grateful for my episode of being sick last week, because otherwise we would have left and missed this!
Now we are getting ready for our train trip which starts tomorrow, and believe it or not and in spite of all these incredible impressions, we are really looking forward to getting out of this heat, coming back home and seeing everybody again soon.
Lots of love for now, Anne