My aunt, who visited Kerala a few years ago, gave me one recommendation: I must, simply must, head up to the tea plantations Munnar. While I’ve saved many of the delights of Kerala for my friends’ visit in April, I couldn’t resist a quick visit up to the hill station before heading north. Approaching Munnar from Kochi was certainly one of those ‘wow’ moments that travellers love: the mist had gathered in over the tea plantations, and as the bus rattled merrily along the windy roads, I was already snapping shots out of the window in awe.
Munnar, nestled in the cool uplands of the Western Ghats on the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu, was established by the British as a tea settlement. After independence, the British gradually exited and the tea plantations were eventually bought by Tata, who in recent years have mostly sold their shares to a workers’ co-operative, the Kanan Devan Hills Plantation (KDHP). The tea from the area is famed and has won many prestigious ‘Golden Leaf’ awards; whilst I’m more of a coffee drinker, the tea I tasted here was certainly delicate and flavourful.
Munnar itself is bustling and largely unremarkable, and whilst I did choose to stay in the town to save money and to have easy access to destinations, travellers looking to splurge a little can pay for beautiful homestays and hotels with mountain views. I’m coming back to Munnar in April with friends, and will be easily convinced into shelling out a little next time.
Some things I’d recommend in Munnar are:
Taking a Day Hike
I arrived in Munnar late at night, but luckily managed to book myself on a hike the next day with Greenview Mountain Trekking. You can read more about the trek here, but I would certainly recommend taking a trip up into the hills. It’s difficult to trek yourself in Munnar, simply because the tea plantations are privately owned, but the full day treks are very reasonable – I paid 1250Rs for an eight hour trek than included breakfast, lunch and transportation.
Nimi’s Lip Smacking Dishes of Kerala Cooking Class
If you love Kerala food, you must check out Nimi’s Lip Smacking Dishes of Kerala, which I’ve written about in more detail here. I’d been very keen to take a cooking class and learn some Keralan cuisine, and Nimi’s class lived up to all my expectations. I will be stocking up on garcinia root when I’m back in Munnar in April, and will be trying the recipes in her book (provided for free with the class).
Exploring up to Top Station
There are a number of routes that rickshaws ply around the hills of Munnar. I paired up with a Portuguese pair I’d met on the hike to hire a rickshaw up to Top Station. Whilst Top Station was foggy, meaning that we didn’t see much of a view at all, there were a number of destinations along the way that were worth the stops. My favourite was the Rose Garden, which had a number of beautiful flowers; you can also see the Matupetty Dam and shout greetings to the Western Ghats at Echo Point.
Other routes that rickshaws take include to the waterfalls and sandalwood plantations; I didn’t get time to take these, but am sure there are great sights here too.
We paid 1000Rs for a roughly six-hour trip, which worked out at just over £3 each.
I’d missed watching kalaripayattu in Kochi, but some of my fellow hikers highly recommended taking an hour to catch a demonstration at Punarjani Traditional Village. It was a fantastic show, involving sword-fighting, axe-fighting, incredible displays of strength and a finale involving fire (and one performer staying resolutely stoic when he set fire to his shorts). Well worth the 200 rupee entrance fee!
Eating at Saravana Bhavan
Whilst some travellers I met raved about Rapsy Restaurant, my undoubted favourite was Saravana Bhavan, a local vegetarian restaurant that is famed for its masala dosas. Whilst I ate alone here and so could not manage one of the person-sized dosas they serve to groups, the dosa I did get was absolutely delicious. Sadly I have no picture due to the loss of my iPhone in the Hampi hills, but I’m definitely returning there in April!