19: Munnar Hill Station

by - January 29, 2014

Tea pickers outside Munnar
Entering the Western Ghats - the mountains
Our driver arrived to collect us from Motty’s wonderful homestay at 6.30am and we set out on our four hour journey inland to the hill station of Munnar.  The hill stations are a series of towns located at a high enough altitude to be significantly cooler than their equivalents on the plains and were therefore often used by the British to escape the heat.  They are also excellent places to grow tea and other plants and crops, so as the scenery became more mountainous it also became far greener.  By the time we arrived on the outskirts of Munnar we were surrounded by beautiful tea plantations and stopped off at a local garden where they grew and sold spices.  I think it was the first time that I was ever able to see the actual plants of some of the spices, fruits and herbs that we are so used to in the supermarkets back at home – I am sure that many people think that pineapples grow on trees, where they are actually very odd looking ground-based fruit.  Other interesting plants ranged from vanilla to papyrus.  We also stuck our head in a garden that was nearby, though this was slightly less impressive – just imagine all the stuff that you would have to see in greenhouses in the UK, but growing outside.

A baby pineapple

Madupetty Dam
Next on our whistle-stop tour of Munnar was the Madupetty Dam, a large hydroelectric dam with a reservoir behind that is a popular spot for locals to come for boating and pony rides.  By this stage the landscape was totally unlike anywhere else we had been in India – more like the Lake District than the dry and dusty plains that we had become accustomed to, outside Kerala at least.  We spent some time at the lake wandering around, visiting the so-called ‘Echo Point’ from where loud noises will reverberate all around the hills as echoes.  After grabbing a bite to eat we made our way to the Munnar tea museum – little did I know when I signed up to year abroad that I would be visiting not one but TWO tea museums, having already been inside the one in Hong Kong.  What more could an Englishman want… Where the Hong Kong museum mainly focussed on the properties of different tea and the ceremonies associated with drinking it, the Munnar tea museum was more geared towards the manufacturing of tea and was very interesting.  I found out a few real gems of knowledge – for example, tea plants (or trees as they actually are) can live and be farmed for hundreds of years and the plants at Munnar, which were planted by the British, have not been replanted (in China they still use plants that are over four hundred years old).  

Kathakali performance
Our last stop for the day was to be one of the more unique aspects of our trip - a ‘Kathakali’ performance.  These dramas, originating in Kerala, contain dancing and music but no speaking - the script is entirely delivered through movements and facial expressions.  We were to see an hour-long show, which was split into a thirty minute demonstration and then a thirty minute performace.  We were walked through some of the common expressions used in the dramas and what they mean, which proved to be very useful when the actual performance began.  Luckily, the guy running the group gave us uninitiated members of the audience a walkthrough of the storyline before it started - making it far easier to grasp what was supposed to be going on.  The show was very impressive - it is interesting to see how absorbed you can get by the movements of an actor’s extremely malleable face…  Given more time in India I would have liked to have seen a broader (and higher budget) version, but the little drama group that we visited in Munnar was an excellent introduction to a dramatic style that I had never previously come across.  It was getting dark as we left the theatre and unfortunately, due to its isolated position, that tends to signify the end of sightseeing in Munnar and we therefore made our way to our hotel, an isolated complex of cabins, for the night where we had our dinner.

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