Luxuriant green tea plantations, the mist, the air, the waterfalls and the romance of it all makes me think that the producers of Yash Raj movies do not have to go all the way to the Swiss Alps in search of their new location – Munnar has it all. No wonder then that movies like the ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘Chennai Express’ have been filmed here.
The way leading into Munnar is full of spice gardens. We went into one and had numerous questions for our very informative and ready-to-chat guide. He showed us the Sandalwood tree and we wanted to know whether the stories of these trees attracting snakes were true. He told us that it was true, snakes liked to coil around the trunk of the sandalwood tree. We wanted to know why coconut is not cheaper in Kerala, considering that it is so widely grown. He told us that in Kerala, coconut is grown more for its oil than anything else and the oil bearing coconut is a little different from the other variety of coconut found in other regions. We saw cocoa and coffee being grown. We were given a taste of the rose apple, which tastes a little like the gooseberry and which my daughter insists is available in some of England’s supermarkets. We saw clove, mulberries, bananas and paddy being grown. We saw how oil is distilled from herbs like the lemon grass. We also had time to admire the view from a tree house built right over the mountains. In return for all our questions, the guide was curious to know exactly what relationship we shared with each other (we were a group of four ladies – the oldest being my mum, followed by my aunt, then me and the youngest, my daughter). Indian ladies of varying ages travelling on their own without the security of an escorted tour are probably still a rarity in India. We were happy to explain the intricacies of our family tree to him. Now that we were really talking, surreptitiously I slipped in the topic about Indian elections and asked him casually which party he was going to vote for. AAP was the answer – joy all around – so are we, we echoed (though there are still doubts in my mind regarding where exactly my primary loyalties lie – with the AAP or the grand old Congress). When we told the guide the name of our hotel, he ominously told us that the path leading to it was very narrow but to not get too worried.
How true his words were. The road leading to the hotel was un-gravelled and extremely narrow with the mountains on one side and deeply lush but treacherous ravines to the other. Our car crawled its way towards it. I did not want to think about what would happen if another vehicle happened to come from the other side. Meanwhile pretty tea-pluckers waved to us as we passed. Tea is grown at an incline of around 45 degrees. Unbalanced (!) at the best of times I was not sure that I could have coped with standing at that angle on the mountains! Our hotel was located in the middle of the jungle, at the top of the mountain – the very reason why I had chosen it in the first place. There was no one around us for miles around, which would make it an ideal honeymoon location. I was not on my honeymoon however and there were paths to be explored and new tastes to be discovered.
Each room had a generous balcony, almost a terrace that put you right in the midst of the mountains. It was like living in a bird’s nest. Bird song surrounded us from all sides and I marvelled at how many different kinds of sounds, different birds manage to produce. I was all the more astounded by the fact that there were several birds living in Munnar, the sounds of which I had never heard in my life before. Drinking tea in Munnar overlooking the tea plantations had long been a dream of my mum, who was travelling with me. She was finally getting to realise her dream.