Munnar – heading for the hills, tea country

Our driver arrived to take us to Munnar, but then advised that we would need to change vehicles and drivers along the way, as there was a problem. So, we set off, and then met the new driver and vehicle. The vehicle was not what we had paid for, and there was no seat belt in the backseats, and not enough room for our luggage, so I complained to the company who advised they would change the vehicle the next day.

Meantime our new driver was a 21 year old lad who thought he was Lewis Hamilton. His driving was very fast and crazy (even by Indian standards) and I was sitting in the back without a seatbelt. He was negotiating winding country roads, overtaking on blind corners, narrowly avoiding oncoming buses and trucks, all with one hand, while using the other to hold his mobile chatting and checking messages. In the end we had to tell him to stop on the side of the road to talk on the phone. He also had some idea that he needed to take us to various tourist stops along the way, as was upset when we didn’t want to go to the tea factory or the jeep safari, trying desperately to convince us to go (presumably to get his commission).

He did manage to convince us to get an Ayurvedic massage, so off we went to the centre, where we were greeted by a ‘doctor’ who explained all of the treatments. We had a two hour session with massage and Shirodhara as well as PodiKizhi (I think). The Wise One found it all very relaxing, but I wasn’t so sure. After about one and a half hours of having oil drizzled on my forehead, and my whole body bathed in oil and pummelled with hot bundles of ‘medicine’ I had enough, but my request to stop was greeted with horror from the poor young girl, who was frightened she had done something wrong and that I would complain, so I reluctantly agreed to allow it to continue. Perhaps I’m just too uptight, but after about 90 minutes I was ready to finish.

The hotel was in a tea plantation and had a lovely outlook, one direction over the tea estate, the other direction into the forest. I also spotted some interesting birds in the forest.

On our next day in Munnar our young driver had some sightseeing planned for us…we went to see a flower garden, which was quite spectacular with loads of beautiful flowers in bloom, so of course we took a few photos!

This lady wanted her picture taken with me, lord knows why.

Then it was off to see a dam, and another dam, and a lookout all of which were a bit humdrum. Each place had lots of stalls selling food and drink and toys, tea and chocolates and even pony rides etc, and there were always lots of domestic tourists there taking photos of themselves.  By the end of this process I felt like I was in the tourist sausage machine.

We asked to be taken to Munnar town to walk around and see shops etc, but our driver was adamant that it was too dangerous, and just kept driving. He was however, keen to take some photos of us in a tea plantation.

Lunch was at Ali Baba’s 41 dishes, where we had some nice grilled fish and accompaniments. Whilst at lunch the skies opened and we had what to us seemed like a torrential shower. So, on the way back to our hotel the roads were awash with flash floods and streams running across the road, this however did not deter Lewis Hamilton who clearly saw it as a challenge to drive as fast as he could on the wet and dangerous roads, not reducing speed to match the conditions and becoming impatient with anyone who did. Fortunately, our white-knuckle ride home was without incident. We had some stern words with him the next morning to slow down and drive carefully.

Whilst in Munnar and the surrounding hilly countryside there was evidence of many previous landslides which had destroyed parts of the roads and in some areas huge chunks off the sides of the mountains had given way, this was all a result of last year’s monsoon floods in Kerala. Worryingly there is quite a bit of development going on with some large hotels maybe 6 – 10 stories high or more being built on the sides of the mountains, with large areas of forest cleared and excavated creating additional erosion risk. Whilst Munnar was quite beautiful with forests, waterfalls and tea plantations, increased tourism seems to be adding to the degradation of the delicate environment here. It’s a concern as a tourist that you are contributing to this, although of course, tourism brings big dollars to the local communities, so there’s always a friction between the environment and bringing jobs and money into the area.

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