Munnar - Land of Tea and Misty Mountains
The small town of Munnar sits at the confluence of three rivers that flow down from the highest mountains of the Western Ghats. The houses and shops of Munnar cling to the edges of the hills along the river banks and all around the surrounding hills are the emerald green of tea trees, the ultimate pygmy forest!
After our harrowing bus trip, we were more than pleased to arrive and step out into the cool, clean air, so different from the steamy coastal city atmosphere of Kochi. The guest house we had picked (JJ Cottage) was a short walk away. We were welcomed by the host family and shown a nice room with a comfortable bed and en suite bath. After checking in, and a stop for lunch at a nearby cafe, we walked along one of the rivers and into the town centre.
The town bazaar provided our afternoon education and entertainment! This was the place where everyone gathered, to select the veggies for the evening meal and stop to gossip with friends. We wandered through the narrow lanes and into the market building, past shops and stalls selling everything imaginable, including some fruits and vegetables we could not identify!
We climbed up steep stairs to visit the Christian Church and enjoy views of the Hindu Temple across the valley as well as the rest of the town.
That night, we enjoyed the dark sky, cool mountain air and silence.
The next morning, after breakfast, we met the tut-tut driver we had talked with the day before about a tour of the area. He offered a program for the whole day which involved some fairly long rides (and more income for him), but after a long day on the bus the day before, we decided on a shorter route of selected places.
We set out, 'tut-tuting' along up out of the valley and into the hills to view the tea gardens up close. The trees have been pruned following a regular schedule through their lives and each tree's flat top yields choice leaves that are picked by hand, to become the tea the world enjoys each morning. The picking is done mostly by women. Men do the pruning.
Continuing uphill, we made a stop at a 'bee tree'. Apparently, this particular tree has been selected by bees as the perfect tree and its branches groaned under the weight of the massive hives. As we looked up in amazement, a light rain of honey drops pelted us sweetly. We now understood what the roadside stands were selling in the small jars.
Further up into the hills, we arrived at the Mattupeti Dam, one of the many hydropower dams that provide clean energy. The scenic reservoir is a favorite with boaters and folks out for a drive.
Back in town, we visited the Tea Museum, a small scale tea factory. Our driver had a friend who worked there, so we had a special tour of the equipment that turned the bright green leaves into the golden brown flakes. Unfortunately no photos were allowed. As we sipped our sample cup of tea, we realized that, for us, tea was a beverage that we had considered ordinary and taken for granted all our lives. After our visit, we understood the process from tea tree to tea pot and realize tea isn't so 'ordinary' after all! Having learned that Munnar's economy is based on Tea and Tourism, we bought a packet of local tea to bring home.
The next morning, we tut-tuted into town to the bus stop. As we waited for the bus, sipping tea, we had no notion of what was to come!
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