Munnar: To Unwind and Relax

At an elevation of 5,026 feet above sea level, Munnar is a mountain town on the Western Ghats of India. Located in the southern state of Kerala, Munnar is a destination for those that wish to unwind within a small-town setting.

The primary attractions of Munnar are its forested mountains dotted with tea estates, hiking, a bird sanctuary and national park. If you love to trek, bring your trekking poles or hiking staff.

It’s a relaxing three-hour drive to Munnar from the nearest airport, Kochi. Temperatures will vary between Kochi, a port city, and Munnar, a mountain town. Check for these changes before you embark upon your trip. There are several places to stay in Munnar, both within the town and its outskirts. High-end accommodations costs between $200-$500 per night. I recommend that you confirm your lodging ahead of time. This will also allow you to book a car through the hotel or resort and have it waiting for you when you arrive at the airport.

Shades of Green

As you drive and climb higher up the Western Ghats mountain range, the air turns crisp and the vistas open up in front of you. The forests in the mountains of Munnar are locally known as Sholas ["forests," in Tamil]. Since Pantone and Web Safe Colors are an aspect of my work, I couldn’t help but think in terms of PMS and Hex numbers for the shades of green before my eyes. This soon changes when I inadvertently switch off from work mode, which is especially difficult for me during the first few days of a vacation.

Your Cup of Tea

Munnar is the largest tea-growing region of southern India. The other primary tea growing regions of India are Assam and Darjeeling in West Bengal. Tea from Munnar and Darjeeling have a slight floral flavor. Tea from Assam is darker when brewed and has a robust flavor. The difference could well be the strength of your cup of tea.

While driving by a tea estate in Munnar, I recommend getting out of your car to get up close to a tea shrub. Look for a leaf bud and two leaves that surround it. These young sprouts produce the best tea. Tea shrubs can grow 20-30 feet high and pruning keeps the shrubs at a manageable height of 3-4 feet.

Visiting a Tea Factory

A visit to a tea factory in Munnar presents a few options. I took my friends to one that provides an inside glimpse of the tea production process. There is an entrance fee and it includes a guided tour. Depending on the docent for your tour, it might be difficult to understand what is being said in English because of the Malayalam [native language of Kerala] intonation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. We received a detailed orientation of the entire tea production process inside the factory. Photography was not permitted. There is a shop on-site where you can buy tea from the estate.

Munnar Market

Stop by the Munnar Market. The paths are narrow and can get crowded depending on the time of the day. Keep your bearings so that you can retrace your steps.

When I travel, I always stop by a local market—be it in Palermo or Barcelona or Bangalore. These markets provide an insight into the local culture. The Munnar Market has a few shops that sell dried fish. While dried fish may not seem appetizing to many because of its smell or taste, unakka meen ["dried fish"] curry is certainly on my menu.

CSI Church

Built in 1910, the CSI Church was constructed in European Gothic style in granite with stained glass windows. At the cemetery behind the church, you will see marked graves of British tea planters that used to work in Munnar. During the Munnar Floods of 1924, many sought refuge at this church on top of a hill. An interesting feature of this church is that shoes and sandals are not allowed inside.

Eravikulam National Park

A 30-minute drive from the town of Munnar will take you to Eravikulam National Park. The park is known for Nilgiri tahr [Nilgiri ibex] and is home to the Lakkam Waterfalls. You have to buy tickets and take a bus to the main entrance of the park. The view is idyllic with great vistas and the Lakkam Waterfalls. Once you arrive at the main entrance, you have to walk the road to hike up the hill. Although 700-800 Nilgiri tahr inhabit the park, you will need to climb up high to see them graze. There are hiking trails in the park. South India's highest peak, Anamudi [8841 feet], is located within the park.

A Trek Through Cardamom Estates

Pepper, cardamom, and cloves are the primary spices of Kerala. Portuguese travelers stopped in Kerala on their way to China along the spice route in ancient times. When Vasco da Gama set foot on the shores of Kerala and was met by Tunisian traders who were already there, the ancient Greeks and Romans had already been trading spices in India. The French, Dutch, and British were next to set foot in Kerala.

While in Munnar, visit a government-approved store to purchase spices. I went on a trek inside a cardamom estate. Since the paths are not cleared, I grade them as uneven and rough-going. This makes it even more beautiful because you will be one of the few to make this trek.

Coffee Estates

The first coffee plantation in Munnar was established in 1897. Both Arabica and Robusta coffee are grown in Kerala. A filtered brew is locally known as kaapi. In the estates of Kerala, coffee plants are usually grown under under tall, shady trees.

Several years ago, I visited a friend and stayed in his ancestral coffee estate. One night we went on a wild boar hunt, my first hunt of any sort. No worries, we didn’t kill any animals. Instead, my calves were decorated with leaches feasting on my blood. One last note to self — While on a hunting trip on foot at night, don’t fall behind from your group to admire the stars.

Staying at an Estate

There are several hotels and resorts in Munnar. In addition, there are a few estates that host a limited number of visitors. These places get booked quickly during the tourist season, which is any season in India other than the monsoon season. The stay at these estates can be expensive in comparison to mid-range hotels, but you have the opportunity to meet the owners who have lived there for generations, you will have freshly prepared meals, and you get an insider’s view of Munnar from a local's perspective.

Down the Path

I couldn’t help but think of John Lennon’s “Grow Old Along With Me” as I saw my friends walk down the path to their bungalow, hand in hand.

My trip to Munnar with friends was to unwind and relax. For those visiting from outside of India, a visit to Munnar is also a great way to see and compare life at a major city and small mountain town.

As Munnar continues to grow, tourists will seek different forms of entertainment. On a different level, others will begin to ponder the environmental and social impacts of tourism. New construction is apparent on the mountains of Munnar, and, if unplanned, this development can have a negative impact on the ecosystem. I have seen such a thing in other mountain towns of India.

The time is ripe for Munnar to grow tourism consciously while finding ways to economically and socially sustain the local population.

2 Replies to “Munnar: To Unwind and Relax”

  1. Loved the picture of the tea estate. You see the endless green and part of a meandering road. I too think local markets are interesting places to see where the freshest of produce take centre stage and in colours that put an artist’s palette to shame. Footwear is not allowed in most churches in Kerala – be it a wedding or regular Mass!!!

    1. SP, I’m so glad you liked the Munnar story. It seems as though you have been there. I hope your stay was pleasant and enjoyable. Thanks for sharing about footwear and churches in Kerala. I was not aware of this custom, which is why it struck me when I saw the sign at the CSI Church in Munnar.

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