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Munnar – Southern Spice or Honeymooner’s Paradise: South India IV

We woke up early on the morning of December 26th, 2015 because of the excitement. We were going to the most sought-after Keralite Destination – Munnar. Munnar is a popular hill station and attracts tourists from far and wide. The hill station covers a significant area of the Western Ghats located at an altitude of 5000 to 8000 feet above sea level. The destination is situated at the confluence of a three-mountain stream - Mudrapuzha, Nallathani & Kundala.

We started at our rest house in Pollachi after a heavy breakfast and were driving away from this beautiful town by about 8 AM. The road taking us away from Pollachi had an amazing set-up for a few kilometers. The trees on both sides of the road were maintained in such a way that they came together at the top. This created an arch-like gate structure of trees which continued for at least a couple of kilometers. This illusion created by greenery was indeed a pleasure to the eyes. The entire route seemed to be bestowed with the best of nature. Our journey continued and so did our attempt to capture each glimpse of nature. After about an hour and a half’s drive, we stopped at our first point – The Monkey Falls. These are beautiful falls with three streams culminating towards the end to give an illusion of jumping water. The effect is almost magical in visuals. We went right into the water and stood there with whirls of chilled water for some time. You can go and take a bath too if you wish. After having a good share of fun in the fall, we decided to move ahead with the journey towards our next destination.

A Video on our journey from Pollachi to Munnar

Soon, we found ourselves entering into dense forests and the path ahead was a relatively narrow road curving between the green cover. We were passing through the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, which is a part of the Project Tiger and is there protected to preserve the natural habitat for the jungle cat. As, we continued on the path and crossed the borders to Kerala, the name of the forest changes to Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. The protected area is located on the foothills of Annamalai Hills and covers over 90 square kilometers of area. There are options to trek into the forest and guided tours take you through the wilderness of flora and fauna. Contrary to various other wildlife reserves, there is no formal safari provision here. Occasional spotting of tigers are more in stories now and dwindling tiger population is a reality to be seen when you visit these reserves. We saw a Tusker crossing road and we decided to give the first right of way to the “resident”, in the interest of capturing the giant animal through the lens. When we stopped at a forest checkpoint, a monkey decided that the best way to travel across the forest is on a car-top and occupied its place on our car. We asked the driver to be careful and move slow, and we traveled together for a couple of kilometers when the free creature decided it was time to take farewells from new friends. A few kilometers ahead, the driver stopped the car to show us a wild gaur (oxen) roaming in its own land. Through the way, we spotted a number of interesting birds on the treetops.

Our next stop was the fruit orchards where we stopped to admire the systematic and commercial plantation of exotic fruits over vast areas. It was developed and managed to allow tourist visits. They charged nominal visiting charges and visitors are allowed to stroll through a narrow pathway. One can take a round of the designated region of the plantation and fruits hanging from trees on both sides of the path provide a lovely view. We saw a number of fruits from oranges to Kerala bananas to other unheard fruits during the half hour we stayed there. They had also built out a wooden watchtower which became a point of interest for all tourists. No one could have missed climbing onto the structure to have a wide-angle view of the entire area along with a few nice clicks.

The path through thick forests
Beautiful waterfall on the way
As the journey ensued, we passed through Marayoor Sandalwood Forests and noticed heavy security provisions with numerous checkpoints. Both, entry into and exit out of the forests required careful scrutiny of the vehicle by the forest guards. The locals informed us that these forests are key targets of smugglers to illegally source sandalwood. Remember the famed dacoit Veerappan, the curved mustache guy who made fortunes by smuggling this wood. Our next stop was a beautiful waterfall. This not so popular spot on the tourist map had a unique charm of raw untouched beauty. There was a pond into which the water from the fall stalled before proceeding on its further journey downhill. This pond provides a wonderful opportunity to play and bath in the water. There is also a small hiking opportunity to climb the rocks beside the falls to ascend to some height of the falling water. The view of the falls from the top of this hike is simply breathtaking.

Then we stopped at The Anamudi peak for a view of the entire valley from a bird's eye position. Located at about 2600 meters above sea level, it is the highest peak in the Western Ghats and the viewpoint developed at the peak provides a great place to sit and admire the beauty of nature. As we approached Munna, the scenery took a completely unique form. The slopes of the hill were covered with tea plantations and the same extended to as far and wide as the human eye could capture. The bed of tea plantation created an illusion of green carpet spread across the hills and provided a very attractive view. No amount of words or pictures can ever capture the true essence of divinity that one finds gushing through the body. It almost seemed like a heaven descending on Earth. We stopped at one of the tea plantations for some pictures. Our last stop on this leg of the journey was Lakkham Falls, just short of an hour journey from Munnar. With a height of over 50 feet, this wide and scenic waterfall is situated in a dense forest. The waterfall is formed by Eravikulam Stream, which is originated in the Eravikulam National Park. This stream is a tributary of Pambar River, which ultimately merges into River Cauvery.

Tea plantations - lush green natural carpet
We reached Munnar by 4 in the evening and were checked into our room at the KTDC’s Tea County resort. We had a room located towards the high end of the resort. The room was well set-up and nicely equipped with all that one could expect in a premium resort. The service was courteous and prompt. Considering that it was a government owned and run facility, we were really impressed by the management. It was here that we were united with the entire family – Mom Dad and bro came in from Chennai to join us for a couple of days on our visit. After a long family reunion – over late lunch and stories from vacation until then – we freshened up and readied to explore the city. We walked out of the resort and strolled through the busy roads towards the city center. We spent sometimes crisscrossing the local markets and finally gave in to the taste buds when we saw a small shop showcasing bakery products. The shop was run by a lady who served us delicious home cooked marble cake. The lady was really sweet and was eclectic to know that we enjoyed the cake cooked by her. Later in the evening, we went to the hotel to admire the beautiful setup of the place. This was followed by dinner at the hotel where the spread though decent, lacked the quality to satiate our tastes. One could attribute this to their attempts at South Indian styled - North Indian dishes. After a long post-dinner walk, we retired to our rooms and went to sleep after a hot cup of tea.

Next day we had an early start to the day and went across for a customary walk through the hotel to absorb the beautiful view that the height and location of the hotel provided. It was indeed great to stroll across the cemented paths amidst the horticultural efforts. The view of clouds passing across the mighty hills and the beautiful sun rising behind them was marvelous. We headed to the breakfast post the walk and were pleasantly surprised at the spread. It was a very different experience compared to the one we had at dinner. We then proceeded to our next day of site seeing and, this time, had planned to cover things in the Mattupetty direction. We had decided to visit the tourist sites in an order opposite to what tourists generally took. We headed straight to the Top Station, the farthest tourist spot on the route, as our first site. Top station is the topmost peak of Munnar with the height of 1700 m. This peak forms a border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Trekking to this magnificent point offers you the view of the Western Ghats hill ranges and Theni district of Tamil Nadu. We spent a good one hour at the place trying to absorb as much of nature as we could. The hike had made us hungry and light snacks available from hawkers seemed lavish at the moment. We also bought some souvenirs from the local shops. The tea, especially, was available at such deep discounts that we could not help pick a few bags for people back home.

A Family Video From Site-Seeing in Munnar

As we moved towards Munnar, our next stop was a short halt at the Kandala Lake and Dam. A lot of water reservoirs for Dam are designated as lakes and developed as tourist spots. This was one of them. After a short stop, we proceeded to Echo Point, our next spot. We climbed down to the water reservoir to reach the specific spot where you can feel an echo of your voice. While the phenomenon may not be as evident as one would find at other echo points in India, the greenery where this point is nestled in, is definitely worth a visit to the spot. Next, we stopped at the Mattupetty Dam and Lake and climbed down to the lake to enjoy the view. The cold wind with tiny water droplets did feel refreshing. We enjoyed speed boat ride in the chilling waters of the lake. An assurance of a couple of hundreds in the tip was enough to persuade the boat driver to double the ride duration and to showcase special maneuvers. At the end of the ride, we were content that the more than an hour-long wait was worth the time.

We then moved to the Elephant Arrival Point, which took about another 20-minute drive which ended us in an enclosed zone by a hillock. We opted for an elephant ride here and got our chance in about 20 minutes. A Kerala Tusker came to pick us up and took us to the top of the hillock. The ride was indeed thrilling with the elephant climbing uphill at a relatively good pace while slowing down on the return path. Apparently, it is easier for elephants to climb up than climbing down. At the end of the ride, we were allowed to feed fruits to the elephant. There was a person selling fruit baskets and delivering them to the elephant back itself. We also saw the rose garden on our way back to the hotel. We were back to our hotel by about 5 in the evening. Mom-dad had taken a detour when we stopped at Mattupetty and had gone to see the Tea Museum. We missed it by minutes, but then the reviews from them did not make it feel as if we missed something important.

Long view of Mattupetty Dam's reservoir
Next we had planned to be at the famous local martial arts show – KALARIPPAYATTU. This is a traditional art form of Kerala and has long been considered a pretty sophisticated form of the art. The practitioners of the art have to undergo rigorous training for years before they are allowed to practice the moves. The show highlights the level of courage, the fitness of mind and body and devotion to the art. This art is performed in a “Kuzhikkalari” (earthen carving) by the artists and brings together a number of breathtaking moments. The viewers are treated to an imposing display of swirling swords, flying artists and sparking moves along with the rituals of offering deities their due respect. The hour-long show was a great thrill to watch. We ended the day with the dinner at the hotel – this time we opted for an a la carte custom made food which was much better than their buffet.

Next morning we had a relatively relaxed start and went for a long family walk around the contours of the resort. After enjoying the beauty of nature, we got ready for the next leg of site seeing. This time, it was in Thekkady direction which was any way our next destination. We packed our bags and checked out of the resort after a heavy breakfast. Our first stop of the day was Lock Heart Gap View. The location situated about 15 kilometers from Munnar satiates the inner desires of human – fresh mountain air with a panoramic view of the lush green Bason Valley in the background is heavenly. The place is an ideal scenic spot for any traveler on the route. Our next and final stop of Munnar was the Power House waterfalls with water gushing out from the craters creating a wonderful spot to stop by. Though railings prevent tourists from going too near to the falling water, the chilling water carrying its journey beyond the railings is enough to pleasure a tourist. After spending another half an hour at the spot, we parted ways with Mom-Dad and Amit, who proceeded to Cochin before returning to Chennai. We went ahead on our route to Thekkady to continue to trip.

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