Munnar is one unique place to visit in this world. The popular Hill station in South India is one of the tea hubs in this world.
There is a good chance that, where ever you are in this world, you have had a hot tea, whose leaves where grown and hand collected between these green hills in the high mountain ranges of the Indian sub continent.
We traveled from Kodaikanal to Munnar in May by car, driving down the mountain roads, crossing the valleys with empty new highways and discovering beautiful views and age old mountain passages.
It was as if we were alone in this vast country. We would rarely come across a village and everything was serene.
We realized that we were in Kerala, Munnar when we started to see endless green patterned hills. It was so surreal and we were just speechless starring at the beauty surrounding us.
You can drive through these parts for 2 hours and you will still just see tea gardens all the time! It’s massive and you have to imagine these South Indian Nilgiri Tea Gardens are smaller then the ones in Assam and Darjeeling up in North India.
At that point we were glad that we had decided to come by car to these parts. Munnar was the pinnacle of our journey at that point and for a good reason!
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We entered the city of Munnar, which is not all too big, situated around 1500 m above sea level, and started to look out for a hotel or place to stay for the days.
After having negotiated with a few locals we chose to take a small 2 bedroom house on rent with a gorgeous view over the valleys and mountains, situated some 15 minutes away from Munnar.
We paid about 2500 INR per day (about 35€) for the accommodation without breakfast or any food included, which was a reasonable price for the 5 of us.
The accommodation was a bit away from everything else so it was quite around and we could enjoy nature all the more. However, we were glad to have a car because in these mountain parts you need transportation to get around. The next decent restaurant was about 10-15 Minutes away.
We drove around most days too, it was just so relaxing to cruise about. We literally inhaled the green tea gardens and the temperature was always somewhere around 23 Celsius.
Most visitors in these parts are from Kochi, which is about 1 1/2 hours away from the mountains. People come with their families to escape for a few days from the summer heat down in the coastline cities.
So, that is how we met and got to talk a bit with a family from Chennai. They had come for a vacation to Munnar with their 2 young sons.
I must have been shining in the light with my pale skin because they kept on directing the chat towards me which was kind rude of course, however they seemed nice people and i just don’t know how to handle these situations anyway.
But then they asked me from where I was and I said Austria, of course. At this point I was branded by some strangers as a kangaroo loving person because they had never heard of a place called Austria and even if they did, they would have, must probably, thought I was an Australian.
Unfortunately this has not been the first time this has happened to me. For some reason, Indians do not know Austria and if you tell them Europe they just get all the more confused because why would Australia be in Europe??
Yet, I am not the only one. I know of other Austrians, that I have met on my travels in India, such as in Nako, that they were thought to be Australians or even Germans (unbelievable!!!). Also I do remember another incident with a group of travelers from the US in Goa. They thought Austria was part of Germany. Yikes!
We could count the foreigner we saw in these parts. You can’t compare it to Goa.
I think that’s because Munnar is very difficult to access without a car. The next train station and airport is in Kochi, about 100 km away, and you would need to take a Rickshaw or taxi to Munnar. The roads are not forgiving! I often wondered if there was a bus stand somewhere around, but then I was glad that I didn’t need to take the bus in these heights.
A few backpackers were roaming with Rickshaws around and they seemed quite limited. Therefore, I absolutely suggest you to hire a car to visit Munnar and the Nilgiri Hills. Check out my useful road trip tips for India and the roadtrip we took from Goa – Mysore – Ooty – Kodaikanal – Munnar to get into the groove.
The hill station is frequently engulfed by thick fog. It starts in the afternoon and the fog travels from somewhere down, passes and goes even beyond the mountains.
People usually drive slowly around because of that thick fog and you can hear them using the horn frequently to take those sharp road turns safely.
We didn’t know but we were surprised by a discovery beyond the mountains further down.
I like to take random roads, in the hope of finding an exciting place. It’s a travel habit and my whole purpose of traveling.
So one day, we took that road past the Tata tea packaging facility, which is a bit of a muddy path, leading you forever downwards. From far you can see new secret resorts being build in those parts and massive waterfalls.
The area is full of tea gardens and forests too. We finally reached the bottom of the valley after driving 20 minutes downwards. Turns out we could have gone further, it’s a never ending drive.
There are less tourists in these parts making it a gem in the off beat travel business. We met 2 drivers working as guides, taking selected tourists around. I think they charge quite a bunch to take people around.
Tip: You might consider taking a guide driver to get around if you don’t have a car, it will be absolutely worth your money!
At a serene waterfall spot we had tea. That was the purest tea I ever had. If air was liquid it would be this tea! The tea is not just tea, it’s energizing and helps you to see everything clearly.
When you can enjoy the tea in the area where it grows and is being picked, you have experienced something unique.
The fact that we had accidentally found this perfect little tea stall next to a water fall was one of those unforgettable travel moments.
The lady from the stall had a cute little house with a open signboard hanging on the railing and families, who had stopped there, where taking some time off enjoying the quite nature around and the flow of the waterfall coming together in a pond.
It was kind of zen with the fresh tea gardens decorating the surrounding. That’s a place for inspiration.
When you get away from the tourist bubble, you get to see the real day to day world around you. At least a bit of it. We noticed a few larger houses, sometimes a few next to each other near the tea gardens.
We would see a group of women washing clothes outside those buildings, kids playing and men roaming about with their lungis and each building was partitioned with rooms for each family.
Outside those “compounds” we noticed a red flag, a communist flag. Turns out these flags can be seen everywhere and the tea pluckers are all part of the tea union. The dominating political party in most villages near and around Munnar is communism.
We didn’t know that and where a bit surprised. After the trip we had been to France where we also met a great uncle and told him about our trip to South India, when he suddenly mentioned that they are communists there. So, apparently that’s a known fact in the world.
Generally, speaking to locals seemed at times awkward. Well, I am used to that because I come from a place in the alps where people are awkward towards visitors as well. That’s the mountain air…
People speak Malayalam and Tamil. As a visitor you can use English but don’t speak Hindi, nobody will understand you.
Locals don’t stare at one in these parts, which is a serious plus point! In north India people will always stare at you if you have a brighter skin color. However I noticed that locals were at times acting strange when seeing Indian nationals together with foreigners. They partially didn’t know how to react or talk to one. You could see the confusion in their face because they are set on a how to react to either a group of Indians or a group of foreigners.
Otherwise traveling in these parts and communicating with the people was easy and not stressful! We enjoyed our time in Munnar.
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What places to visit in Munnar? What can you do in Munnar?
- Enjoying nature is a main reason for most people to be in Munnar, so you can go and check out a few waterfalls such as attukal or lakkam waterfalls
- There is a lake near Munnar too. You could take a walk around the lake or we saw a speedboat riding option too for those action seeking people.
- The tea gardens them-self can not be visited. You can’t just walk through a tea garden. It wouldn’t make sense anyway there is not much to see between the tea plants. The tea garden snakes on the tea shrubs will await you, they are as green as the tea leafs.
- You can go for a walk around the Munnar market. There is a flower garden on the outskirts of Munnar too. You could go take walks around the tea gardens as well, however nobody does that. There are no designated walking paths. You can’t trek as you would do in Himachal Pradesh, north India, since the hills are covered with tea trees.
- You can visit the Munnar Kannan Devan Tea Museum factory. (I will post a separate article about the making of tea and the museum)
- The South Indian performing Arts are big in Kerala. They have special Kalaripayattu martial arts shows, which is India’s Kungfu, as well as Kathakali, which is a classical Indian dance drama. It’s a unique traditional experience! I wished we had gone to one of these and that’s something I regret that I didn’t push my non artsy family members to.
- You could go and visit the national park. We didn’t do that because we saw a massive queue at the gates of the national park which came with a few impatient crying kids. Waiting time was over an hour and we prefer offbeat places. The national park is suited and might be interesting for families. The Nilgiri Tahr is a nearly extinct Ibex native to these areas. So, if you want to see this gracious animal, you should visit the Eravikulam national park.
- We were told about tiger night time safaris. We were excited to do this too but we were with the family and we were a bit tired and wanted to chill a bit more in those 2 days in Munnar. I would do that in the future, a night safari is a unique experience too! You can find out more information about the night safari at chinnar wildlife sanctuary.
- There is a valley of flowers near Munnar. This particular blue flower known as Neelakurinji, blooms only every 12 years. The plants turn the whole valley into a beautiful unique sight. Not that I have experienced it but I want to! 😀
- Apparently one can do rock climbing and paragliding in these areas. When we were there we went to a a zip-lining fun park, which was quite cool. That makes sense for a group of friends and youngsters.
- We traveled to Marayur too, which is 50 km further away form Munnar to the Tamil Nadu state border. Marayur is known for 2 amazing things. the first thing, the Muniyara Dolmens from the neolithic age and the sandalwood forests.
You can visit the dolmen and enjoy the pure silent view. Keep the area clean and green, don’t vandalize the rocks!
The rare sandalwood forests are unique to India and the world. Sandalwood oil for the international perfume industry is extracted from the precious sandalwood tree. The government is protecting those trees heavily with high fences around the forests. Each tree has a number tag and your car will be searched at a checkpoint when leaving the Marayur area.
Pure Sandalwood oil is very rare and it’s being treated like gold. Whatever you find in the markets in this world and in India are fakes. Because of the high demand for the wood and “liquid gold” sandalwood oil, people sell regular wood which is treated with a special red pigment technique and sprinkled with a few drops of sandal wood oil as a the real deal.
The government has a shop in Marayur. They are the only ones to sell legally sandalwood articles. I bought pure sandalwood oil. If you are into pure oils, then you should get eucalyptus oil too!
What to eat in Munnar?
There are a few food joints or so called “hotels” (a hotel is a food joint in India) where you get around local delicacies When you are in Kerala you need to experience local dishes but you get continental food too or food from north India.
I am not an expert in Kerala cuisine, my friend Aparna mydiveresekitchen.com hails form near Munnar and you should check out her food.
We enjoyed mostly dosas and appam for breakfast, which are kind of like thin pancakes. But then I discovered the kerala parota which is a flaky flat bread. The food in these regions was rather sweet, even the bread was sweet. We didn’t get around much spicy food and I am not so into sweet food.
Our journey was about the tea and not the food, therefore I will continue and share a further post about the making of tea in the near future.
In the meanwhile you can check out the Munnar tourism board website, which will help you in your travel organization.
Are you planning to visit Munnar?