Having weighed up various and complex alternatives, we decided that a four hour taxi ride was our preferred method of reaching Munnar (sometimes it’s the best option in India). As our ride climbed up from the lowland countryside into the Western Ghats the scenery and the easing off of the ambient temperature made us feel confident that we would enjoy our five day stay.
When we arrived in the busy town the light was fading, but Kapil came down and guided us towards the Reinberg Homestay, sitting above the bustle of the centre, which serves as a hub for tourism in the area. Our room was simple and comfortable, and there were beautiful views of the valley from just outside the door, which we appreciated as we walked down to get breakfast the following morning.
The Onion Masala Paper Ghee (pictured) at the Sarvana Bhavan restaurant was delicious along with all other options, and we never managed to spend more than Rs200 for a very filling breakfast for two.
On our return Kapil organised a tuk-tuk driver for us. Murugan took us round the place. Here we are in the tea terraces.
Here is a honey bee tree, with multiple hives hanging from the branches.
We arranged to meet at 5.30am the following day, so that Murugan could guide us up Chokra Mudi, the second highest mountain in southern India.
That evening, we drank the beers that Kapil had bought for us from the government shop (after two weeks of abstinence we weren’t to be denied), and happily were still able to get up in time. Murugan drove us to the start of the climb through mist and occasional rain showers. We started the hike in darkness, but were soon rewarded.
And as we continued climbing up towards the moon,
the day broke.
We found some beautiful mountain flowers along the way,
but the highlight was seeing a small family group of wild Mountain Goats (Nilgiri ibex) grazing on the mountainside. Murugan told us that we were very lucky to see these, as they are rare and symbolic of Tami Nadu State which boarders Kerala close by. The male was a sturdy chap, weighing in at around 200lbs (90kgs), yet ascending the steep rocky faces with no effort.
With a little more puffing and panting, we reached the top, where we enjoyed more stunning views, and a well earned rest.
I got a visit from this small creature (a moth I think), which was appreciating my bright blue T-shirt.
The views were just as stunning on the way down.
On the way back, we stopped off at Cartama’s roadside cafe in Lakatu for tea and a snack in a shack.
The next day we decided to explore the area around Munnar on foot. Just over the hill behind the Hindu Temple, we found some pristine tea terraces. We were getting thirsty, and asked if there was a shop. A young man with ‘Jesus Christ’ written on his football shirt told us that there wasn’t a shop, but he gave us a bottle of water from his house – kind.
On our way back there was a demonstration in the town relating to the strike that was taking place on that day. Shortly after we came into the square, a group of women entered shouting slogans, and marching up to the male protesters. We never got to bottom of it, but the ladies made sure that their voices were heard.
Earlier in the day we had been invited for a cup of tea with a new friend. Janet had asked us if we had any British coins for her nephew who wanted them for a school project. A charming lady with a strong Cristian faith, she had survived a near death experience after a gas explosion caused her severe burns. She was proud of her sister, who was a nun and had worked closely with Mother Theresa; and her husband was a tuk-tuk driver and guide. We stayed and talked for an hour or so; she was a beautiful lady with a beautiful spirit.
Next day Murugan took us to Muniyara a place where a pre-historic civilization had left stone structures believed to be burial chambers. Definitive information about their age and purpose is hard to come by, and they are situated on open land, which we accessed through a school yard. There were beautiful views of the wide valley from where the dolmens stand, so it was not hard to imagine those stone age people being inspired. We left with the school kids eating their packed lunches among the ancient buildings.
On the way back we drove through the sandlewood forests, which were fenced off because of the high value of the trees. We saw peppercorns,
a site where jaggery was being extracted from the cane,
and finally a waterfall, where the water flowing from the mountains was genuinely cold.
The bus ride from Munnar was a grind, but typified the choice that you face as a traveller – difficult and cheap, or easy and expensive. A taxi would have made the trip in four hours and cost £50; the bus was only £5 for both of us, and was jam packed for most of 10 hours (we had been told it would be 5) of the journey. Our bottoms went through various stages of numbness, as we refused to relinquish our seats, until the conductor told us we had reached our destination. It was dark, but within half an hour we had checked into our homestay, and been shown to a nearby eatery, where we could enjoy beer and seafood with the sound of the ocean in the background. We have no cause for complaint – our journey had a happy ending.