Kerala – Munnar (Tea Lovers Paradise!)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Sweet Big Sis Carla!!! 

We stood in the street for a few minutes and caught a rickshaw to the bus station.

We then jumped on a 9:30 a.m. bus to Munnar. It was an open air bus and the journey would take around five hours.

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The bus was sweet. There was a blue interior. A long string stretched along the roof from the back of the bus to the front to ring a bell near the drivers head to tell him to stop.

There were three white people on the bus – one of whom was obviously out of place because her window was the only one drawn shut. The ticket collector was pleased she didn’t notice he shorted her 415 rupees.

It’s 82 rupees, or $1.32 for the five hour bus ride that took us 150 km to the 1500 meter altitude destination of Munnar. The bus felt like the first bobsled ride on Cool Runnings. I know I’ve referenced that film at least once before, so I suggest if you haven’t seen it you need to do so quickly.

I’ll expand: If you have ever riden on the wooden roller coaster (Giant Dipper) at Belmont Park in San Diego- you know exactly what it feels like.

The ticket collector sits behind the rear door of the bus. He has the door attached to a strong rope which he uses to slam and latch the door closed after each stop as the bus that never actually came to a complete stop accelerates away.

It’s simple. I like these buses so much more than the ones in Africa. In Africa none of the passengers allowed you to open your windows – here you don’t have a choice. Plus if these buses crash, our options for escaping through the two dozen generously sized windows looks pretty good.

For a moment I was tempted to let my feet dangle out the window, but my heart paused as a similar sized bus skims our tires and I had a flashback to feeling guilty that our rickshaw yesterday hugged the right “lane” so intensely he smashed a signaling scooter drivers hand. Ouch.

The first two hours were through heavy traffic and narrow streets. During the third hour more greenery appeared out the windows. We saw tall mountains looming ahead and for a moment I got excited to get out of concrete town and deep into the lush green jungle.

Like I said – that feeling lasted only a second before being replaced with “holy shit – we are going to die.” I can’t tell if the driver is drunk or playing daredevil and wants to blow a tire on his route this morning. The road that doesn’t deserve to be called a road teetered on a sharp cliff edge. The driver was bombing around corners – the only chance at survival is that he gave approaching drivers is a few long honks on the horn.

At that point I’m wondered if I could just walk the return route rather than do this again in two days. I looked to James, thinking he would see my eyebrows raised to the ceiling and give me a reassuring comment.

“We are going to die,” he said seriously. Oh god.

An hour later we were dropped in the middle of an intersection in Munnar and told it was the last stop. A rickshaw took us 1.5km back down the hill to Green View Holiday Inn.

Apparently the friendy gentleman at reception had warned James via email that we would be staying in the cottages, which could only be reached by local bus. They were 10km away and back down the hill. Um, no thank you.

The idea of staying in a cottage in the middle of nowhere and only being accessible by a handful of local buses down death road did not sound like fun. Since his ‘normal people’ rooms in this location were all booked, we walked next door.

For 700 rupees we got ourselves a room with no toilet paper or sheets, but with enough extra useless furniture we felt like we were in an antique store. Whatever – a room is just a room sometimes. We left our bags packed and bolted out of the room to go for a walk and explore the city of Munnar.

The city is a bit chaotic. It’s noisy, really noisy, with traffic, people and construction.

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It’s actually insane and we couldn’t really deal with it for more than an hour. We ended up walking down some little dirt road in search of a path that would weave us through the tea fields. A nice man stopped on his bicycle and pointed us in the correct direction. We wandered through the tea fields and commented on how this was exactly what we had imagined this place would be.

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It was quiet.

All we could see was rows of deep forest green tea bushes topped with bright peridot budding leaves. We mazed our way through the hills for several hours before deciding to head down to the main town before dark. We found Rapsy Restaurant. Thanks to a Lonely Planet shout out in the past four editions, the place is completely filled with (only) tourists. I’m sure the prices reflect that, but James could eat an entire meal for 150 rupees ($3). My stomach is unfortunately not made of steel so I stuck with the predictable chikki and cashews route.

Not that you care, but look at how INSANELY cheap food is here (and this is “expensive”)! (60 rupees is roughly $1)

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We hung out until way past when the sun set, but we took out our headlamps from our bags and started the walk home.

We made it back to SMM Cottages and shopped around for trekking for the following day.

We arranged a trekking tour for the next day through Green View and decided we would pop back over and stay there the next two nights since the place we were at felt like a deserted prison.

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Holy Day

Monday was holy day- meaning holy crap the entire city of Munnar is out to play.

We decided to go on an eight hour trekking tour. We met up at Green View and dropped our bags under the stairs and jumped in the back of a jeep. The jeep sped in the dark along the windy roads up to the mountains we would hike.

We watched the sun rise over the mountains and we started our hike from 1900 meters. We took a leisurely two hour hike up the mountain to 2400 meters.

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We stopped at the top of the mountain and had breakfast and tea while enjoying the beautiful view stretching from the Arabian Sea to the mountain town of Munnar.

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Below us the blue fog sat atop rolling hills of tea. It was picturesque and the fact I nearly deserve a British passport due to my love affair with tea, made me appreciate the whole experience that much more.

The fog lifted and I wished it hadn’t as it hinted at mans not so beautiful influence on earth. For claiming that the developers of Munnar intentionally preserved 1/3 of the land for “God’s own country” I simply cannot understand. Why they throw the garbage from their rickshaw onto the street, the waste from their business into the river feeding these hills, and defecate on every exposed square inch, I just can’t understand.

We slowly crept back down the mountain and by noon we were stepping over barbed wire fences into the tea fields.

We spent a few hours in the baking hot sun wandering through the tea fields. We didn’t learn much, but I was just happy just to be there.

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We eventually made our way out of the fields and into the Lockhart Tea Factory.

We were told the day prior that it would be closed due to Holy Day, but to our ecstatic surprise, it was open.

The factory is pretty strict on their photography policy, but luckily we were with three other people taking the tour and James has the routine down well so he knew not to worry if I would disappear for chunks of time and resurface several rooms later.

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The tea comes off the fields in canvas sacks. It first goes through a massive sorter. Then it goes up an Irish-made elevator into the drying racks. Large metal screens sit across troughs and men sift through to allow the air to pass through the leaves starting the drying process.

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By about 3 p.m. we were back at Green View. We were pretty wiped and dirty, but decided to walk up to town rather than crash and burn. We went up to town and walked through the market and past all of the street stalls. We went back to Rapsy Restaurant since James didn’t get sick the day before and he got chicken curry, rice, chapati.

I was fed up with spending three times more than him at each mealtime just to buy nuts and I’m convinced my aflatoxin consumption is beyond intake levels that even Monsanto would find safe, so I got some potato curry. James had some of mine and then decided to get his own.

We wandered around a bit more and made our way to our hotel. There’s a sweet rooftop hangout with a hammock that looks out onto high tea fields. We did some research and planning for the next few days and enjoyed the endless cups of tea for about 20 rupees each.

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

We headed up to the rooftop around 9 a.m. and ordered coffee for 15 rupees ($0.24). We spent too much time lounging around and I was beyond antsy to head to the tea museum and then hunt through the fields for workers I could take photos of.

We shot some pictures in the market in town and then went back to Rapsy.

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James got some pea curry and the usual chapati and rice and I got apottam- a rice flour crepe usually eaten at breakfast.

After eating we went to the tea museum. We still can’t figure out why everyone says it’s 250 rupees. It’s 75, which is a bit more than $1. They played a 30 minute movie which laid down the whole history of Munnar. I loved it. So much that I chose to watch it twice while James had issues in the bathroom.

The tea museum is cool thanks to the video, but I loved the Lockhart Tea Factory much more.

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We didn’t care to see much more of what the tea museum had to offer so we carried on.

We wandered through the same dirt path we did the day prior but went a different route. About 15 minutes something really orange, quiet, incredibly fast and huge ran in front of me and was out of sight so quickly that James couldn’t figure out why I did a quick spin on my toes and looked spooked. So, we went a different way and walked around for an hour before we were ready to go back into crazy town. We watched the madness from a street-side staircase until the crazy man that wouldn’t stop staring at me drove us so mad that we left.

We headed back and since we still had a few hours of daylight, decided to see if we could explore the tea hills behind our row of hotels. We found a path that lead into the tea hills. It was beautiful. We got to a lookout spot and I wished I had found this days ago. All of the women were finishing with work and were walking down to their homes through the paths. It was quiet and peaceful and finally I felt invisible and it was exactly what I wanted.

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Some group of Indian tourists from Calcutta were obnoxious and jumping on the tea bushes. Then the 40 something year old mustache man brought his camera within a few inches of my face and after releasing the shutter asked to take a picture with me.

Holy crap- NOOOOOO. Why do you think it’s okay to take pictures of me and with me, yet you demand I pay you to snap a photo of you in a market?

This is the #1 most annoying thing about India. It is absolutely perverted to constantly ask women half your age to take photos of them and with them. If you were a female or even a male half of MY age I would be all for a cultural exchange of pixelized memories, but you are a sick sad lonely man and thanks to the Japanese for creating such an affordable device, you now believe you possess every right to turn your blatantly obvious stares into a permanent memory. If you were an Indian, chinese, phillipino, or even an ALIEN visiting in the US I wouldn’t think it was appropriate to shove a camera in your face. STOP.

Anyway, on our walk home we found a massive football (soccer) game going on. People were climbing up on buildings, cement walls, hills, and cars trying to find a good viewing spot of the game. While everyone else watched the game, I ran around completely amused by people on top of cars.

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After the game we went back to Green View and chilled on the rooftop before heading back out for dinner.

We called it an early night so that we could get up before 5 a.m. the following day to catch a bus to Alleppey.

One thought on “Kerala – Munnar (Tea Lovers Paradise!)

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