Since quite a few days, I’ve been noticing that, Chennai weather is changing. Not sure whether it is an effect of global warming. But,since past few days, the climate is quite pleasant and this was enough to make my mood for my
My luck generally favours during these kinds of suddenly planned trips, as Maitry, my better-half, is always kind of ‘on her toes’, when it comes to traveling. So, mentally we were all set; the only question was….where?
I always have a psychological inclination towards hills, but reaching out to the great Himalayas is quite an effort from this part of the country, both in terms of time…as well as money. So, it looked like a better idea to try any
nearby hill station, during any weekend.
Munnar had always been in my list as a kind of less crowded hill station. It did not take much time to get my thoughts frozen for booking the tickets. It was a Friday evening (Aug 8, 2008), when we started from Chennai Central Station,
heading towards Madurai.
We reached Madura iat around 6 in the morning. This was the first time I was in Madurai. In India, this place is quite famous since historic ages and renowned for its temples of great architectural beauty.Honestly, I was quite impressed
to find the town to be such neat and clean,despite its thousands of pilgrims. In short, I liked the town, its morning, its people, its traffic…everything. But, as we both were quite eager to reach Munnar as soon, so we decided not to spend time there. We simply
hired a cab and “Munnar….here we come!!”
Munnar can be reached from Madurai, via a plus/minus 4 hours smooth drive, and trust me, the road is quite bounce free and scenic too. In first two hours, you get to enjoy the beauty of green rural Tamil Nadu, with lots of coconut
trees and huts around. We really enjoyed the drive and some soothing old romantic numbers added more flavors to it. We were so engrossed, that it took both of us some time to realize that, we’ve started climbing uphill. We took a small break on Tamil Nadu-Kerala
border, had a nice hot coffee, put our warm clothes on, and pushed the accelerator again to reach the ‘Mystic Heaven’.
In countries like India, it’s like, wherever you go,some history follows. It holds true for Munnar as well. The actual owner of this little peace of green beauty was the Royal Family of Poonjar. During British rule in India, the
brits identified this place as one of the summer getaways of Southern India. But, it seems, the natural beauty of this place was not the only point of attraction for the Queen’s company, they had some bigger/better plans for this piece of hilly land.
The entire land (+/- 580 Sq. KM) was later leased from the Poonjar King for 99 years by a European, Mr. J.D Munro. Identifying the immense agricultural potential of the place, Munro formed a co-operative named “North Travancore
Land Planting and Agricultural Society”. It was 1964, when TATA-Finlay group was established and till date, despite its virgin beauty,Munnar is equally famous for its acres of tea plantation, mostly setup by the TATA group.
Along with lush green tea gardens, Munnar is also blessed with three beautiful river streams called Mudrapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala.The name ‘Munnar’ is actually a Tamil word. In Tamil, ‘Mune’ (pronounced as‘m-oo-n-e’) means
three, and ‘ar’ means river. So, on the lap of lush green hills, where three beautiful hilly rivers joins their hands, no wonder th eplace would be called…Mune-ar….Munnar. This simple, beautiful yet logical naming convention of rural people often amazes my
thinking. In 21stcentury, I believe the most affected part of human nature is simplicity. My personal feelings say that we should learn a lesson from these rural and tribal people.
Once reached, my first job was to find a place to stay and this time I decided to go a little offbeat, I took a ‘home stay’. This was the first time I was trying a home stay, and I liked the concept. It’s like somebody would hand
you over his own house, along with all the necessities like grocery, kitchen equipments, a good cook, a caretaker, a driver…almost everything. But the best part is, it does not make a big hole in your pocket,unlike other so-called star hotels. The only caution
is, one should carefully check the home stay and its facilities before checking in.
August is a month, when it rains in most of the southern parts of India.Munnar was no exception. This trip was important to me because it was basically a trip to test my new SLR and associated lenses. But continuous rain disappointed
me to some extent, despite the sight-snatching beauty of the place. Anaimudi is the highest peak in this circuit (around 1800 Mts), but we could not reach out because the peak got covered with thick, dense cloud and accompanying rain. We could hardly see each
other from half-a-meter distance. Though I love to, but still I could not afford to get drenched in that rain as I had to save my camera. Hence, the first day was mostly a leisurely pass time with some coffee, in the back yard garden of our home stay, sitting
beside the river, watching variety of birds, listening to the untold whispers of the after-shower silence, romancing the freshly drenched nature.
Any tourist place generally has a list of sight-seeing spots,which one can avail mostly from the local cab drivers/travel agents. Same happened to us as well. So the second day was quite an active day. Though it was cloudy all the
time, but those clouds did not disturb us much on that day.We hired a cab and took a tour of in and around Munnar. Echo Point, Highestpoint, Eraviculum National Park are some of those places. Beside these, one should also visit the tea gardens, tea museum,
tea factory, numerous waterfalls, damns, boating etc. I take quite an interest in mixing and interactingwith local people and exploring the place, the market, the culture and so on.Munnar main market is decent, big and clean enough. Like other tourist spots,here
also the prices are quite high and people are expected to bargain properly to get their best deal.
The food at our home stay was quite ecstatic. Especially the semi-thick chicken soup was our favorite. It was more palatable due to the climate with heavy rain and unending heavy breeze. In the evening, while sitting in the backyard
with a coffee, I saw a kid trying hard to concentrate in her studies. I could make out that, she was not doing it quite willingly;rather, it was her mom, who was more concerned. They were quite a sweet couple,all the way from US. The man was French and the
lady was an American. This lady actually reminded me of my sister. She also shares a similar nature like this.She will also insist her six year old kid to study during holidays. These two ladies, though they belong to two different corners of the globe, still
the characteristics of motherhood shares many common flavors like this….and many others. Perhaps, this is called the beauty of human nature.
The next day, was the day to return back and I was trying out options to make the most out of it, before we finally leave. Munnar can be reached from many different routes. Most popular are from Thekkady (Kerala), Madurai and Coimbatore.As
I’ve already seen the Madurai route, I booked my return through Coimbatore.Both are equally far from Munnar (+/- 145 KM). But there is an advantage in returning via Coimbatore, that is, one can stopover at various beautiful water falls on the way and more
importantly, try out a very interesting jungle trek in Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, which comes on the way back to Coimbatore.As expected, I did not miss any of these chances.
There are many known/unknown wildlife sanctuaries in India. Most of them have got some conventional tours to attract the tourists. These include elephant safari, jeep safari etc. Some of them even run battery operated bus for tourists.
If somebody is interested to spot more of wildlife, jeep/bus safari should not be a preferred option. At least my experience does not recommend that, as these jeeps/buses drive through a defined route everyday and over a period of time, most of the animals
start avoiding places nearby to those routes. An elephant safari can prove to be more effective here. Anyways,in chinnar, we opted for trekking. This was almost 8 KM of trek, deep inside the jungle. The nature was breathtakingly beautiful. We could see the
range of hills from distance and cloud floating over there. I am not a kind of person who visits jungle just to spot tigers. Even if I don’t see any single animal, I believe the nature itself is equally enjoyable.
There were some formalities for entering the forest with a trekking permission and the trekking needs to be done under the supervision of a forest guide. Once the formalities are finished, one can hire a binocular from the forest
dept. We had a local guide, Manikanandan (Mani), who works for the forest dept. and belongs to the local tribe. This guy was quite energetic,decent person with a welcome smile on face.
We started making our way through the jungle, clearing the weeds, breaking the dead branches of unknown trees. Mani was surprisingly extra cautious in terms of his senses. Be it a new sound, smell or color… he was extremely quick
to sense it. I could feel that this jungle is in the bloodstream of him, and so it is, for the local tribal people. Mani kept on trying his best to spot some animals. His, as well as our luck favored when we could spot some sambars, peacocks, langurs etc.
There were lots of cactus in this jungle. I was as usual trying to focus a bee sitting on a cactus flower. Finding me interested on the flower, Mani asked me whether we were interested to taste a cactus fruit too.This was the first
time I could try a cactus fruit. It is difficult for people like me, to spot the fruit in a cactus. The fruit contains a cover full of thorns and looks like its many other branches. Hence, the process of extracting the fruit was even more interesting than
the fruit itself. But, trust me, I liked it so much that I had almost three.
Finally we reached near the Chinnar River.The cold stream, flowing through the jungle, splitting it into two halves. Like all other hilly stream, it also has its own chorus, the sweet and silent roar,the roar which keeps the jungle
awake. Simple adjectives would not be enough to describe the beauty of this river. Tired, exhausted we finally sat beside the river, the cool breeze, the melodious chirping of unknown birds and the cold ever flowing stream of water was soothing enough for
The trek was over and evening was approaching, we started back towards Coimbatore.The hills, the trees, the nature, the silence…everything was moving away soon. I packed my dinner from Coimbatore station. The train was quite on
time. I was hurriedly finishing my dinner.
After a long exciting day, it was time to sleep. The pillow on the berth was calling me like anything. But, I could feel that Munnar is not going to leave me so soon. The train started moving. From the window, I could see the station,
vendors, lights…all started moving backwards. I closed my eyes…I saw those falls, the hilly streams, the mist, the cloud, the tea garden,the innocent face of that tribal guide…all were gathering one by one….to appear in my dream….the train is gaining speed…lights
are off…and me, all alone…waiting eagerly for that mist covered dream, to take control of my sleep.