Unbound at Munnar
When you visit a land known as "God's Own Country", be sure that God will find his/her own way to bring together the elevation of the Himalayas, lush green sights of the North East's Tea Gardens and the serenity of the lakes of Kashmir all in one spot.
That spot is Munnar - one of the most popular hill stations in South India, part of the Idukki district in the state of Kerala.
With an elevation of close to 6000 feet, Munnar forms a part of the southern reaches of India's bio-diversity kaleidoscope known as the Western Ghats.
Known both as the "Kashmir" and "Assam" of the South interchangeably, Munnar is also one of the most popular honeymoon destinations in India.
A tropical hill forest inhabited by the Muthuvan tribe, Munnar (or Moonar - Three rivers) came to prominence to the world in 1870 when John Daniel Munro, the British resident of Travancore, visited the land. Though the reason for his visit was to resolve a border dispute between the Tranvancor Kingdom and Madras, he grew in love with the lush topography of the untouched land.
His fascination grew further to the point that Munro approached local landlords of Munnar - The Poonjar Royal Family, to lease out the Kannan Devan hills to him, with an intent to begin plantations of various crops and spices including coffee, cardamom, sisal, and among other things, tea.
The commercials behind this exchange were worth a glace, especially in today's time. Back in 1877 when the lease agreement was signed, the Poonjar Royal Family agreed to let out 1,36,000 acres of Kannan Devan land to Munro for, at the time, a mammoth monthly rent of Rs. 250 and a security deposit of Rs. 5,000.
Subsequently, in 1879, Munro formed the North Travancore Land Planting and Agricultural Society. Which began the cultivation of a number of crops as envisaged initially by Munro. However, all of these plantations were later replaced by Tea soon after in 1880 by a European planter, A.H.Sharp who began with 50 acres of tea plantation in the land of Parvathy, now Seven Mallay Estate. By 1897, the Kannan Devan Hill Produce Company was formed and merged all independent tea estates in the area under one single management.
The Floods of 1924
In 1924, owning to unexpectedly heavy monsoons, landslides and flooding changed the socio-economic and topographic landscape of Munnar. Other than the loss of human life itself, there was significant damage done to the tea estates around Munnar and a lot of human and financial resources went into restoring them.
The Entry of Tata
Seeing large scale business possibilities, the Tata Group entered the region in1964 and began a collaboration with Finlay which led to the Tata-Finlay Group formation. Later in 1983, Tata Tea Limited was incorporated and In 2005, the Kannan Devan Hills Produce Company Pvt. Ltd. was formed with the ownership of Tata Tea's plantations transferred to the new entity.
Places of Interest & Things to do
Eravikulam National Park
Located 10 km north of Munnar is the Eravikulam National Park, home to the remarkable Nilgiri Tahr. Placed in the heart of the Devikulam Taluk of Idukki district, another key attraction of the park are the rather rare Neelakurinji flowers known to bloom once every 10-12 years.
Eravikulam also plays host to Anamundi, South India's highest peak, Anamudi at an elevation of 2695 meters. Spread over approximately 100 square kilometres and open throughout the year, the park hosts not just the family-friendly tourist activities but is also popular among trekkers.
Located 11 km east of Munnar and commonly known among people as host to Munnar's famous 'Top Station', Matupeety Dam transports visitors to a world not so commonly seen around India. With mountains on all sides surrounding an abundant lake-cum-reservoir, fed generously throughout the year by 5 rivers, the dam provides for a rich ecosystem with numerous species of flora and fauna flourishing in the area. The dam, built in 1940s, is also key power generation source in the area and hosts a number of tourist-friendly activities all around.
Blossom International Park
If the green drenched vistas of Munnar aren't enough for your eyes, then a visit to the Blossom Park located, 3 km south of the city centre probably will.
Spread across 16 acres of lush, well-maintained gardens, the park is a popular picnic spot for families and a museum of sorts for horticulture enthusiasts.
Tea Plantations are to Munnar what lakes are to Nainital - both synonymous and inseparable. As we have already spoken about the rich history of how tea plantations flourished. we wouldn't go back into that, but from a tourist itinerary perspective, a key place to mark down on your must-visit list is the Tea Museum by the Kannan Devan Hills Plantations, located barely 1.3 km west of the city centre. The Museum takes visitors around an actual tea factory showing the different stages through which tea leaves get converted into the special cuppa that we all adore.
While a bountiful stream of freshwater falling off multiple bends on a mountain defines Attukad, it isn't the only attraction for tourists visiting the waterfall. Located about 9 km south of Munnar in the Idduki district, Attukad has a number of trails around that attract serious as well as the not-so-serious, selfie seeking trekkers.
The stunning visuals of the waterfall across the rolling hills and the green drenched lands that surround it, make Attukad a must-visit site for tourists visiting Munnar.
Located 4.5 km south of Munnar's City Centre, the Pothamedu View Point provides for a spot to holistically enjoy the visual majestic spectacle that is Munnar. With coffee, tea and cardamom plantations spread across the Pothamedu, the journey to the point is a special tour in itself.
Other than the lushness of the lands and the beauty of the Muthirapuzha river, on a clear day (which we may warn is not the most common occurrence in Munnar), the Idukki Arch Dam can also be seen from Pothamedu.
Munnar Food Trails
While the backwaters and spices (cardamom in particular) are what springs to mind most vividly when one thinks of Kerala, the variety of food on offer can often take precedence over the state's other attractions. Kerala (as of today - July 29, 2019) remains one of the few states where the beef ban hasn't been put in place, thus allowing locals and tourists to enjoy a wonderful variety of meat and vegetarian dishes, without government interference. When visiting Munnar, do try the local street food if you really want to explore the true local flavours.
Whether you are an action junkie or someone with finer interests in local arts, Munar has you sorted. The Punarjani Traditional Village centre in the heart of Munnar hosts daily shows of Kalaripayattu - the local martial art form, as well as Kathakali - Kerala famed dance forms known to accentuate facial expressions through the artist's painted faces. If one wants to go deeper into the cultural trail, a saree weaving workshop at any of the local weaving shops can be explored to learn the art of weaving one of Kerala's largest textile exports - the Kasavu Sarees.
Accessibility & How To Get There
Recommended Mode of Transport:
Bus / Cab / Self-Drive. Distance from Kochi – 128 km
What Munnar lacks in terms of Airports or Railway stations, the quality of the roads and the state-run busses more than makeup for it. With state-operated buses running every hour from Munnar, along with a plethora of cab operators available at and near the Kochi airport, travel to Munnar is basic but comfortable, to say the least!
While there are also a number of self-drive car rental services available from Kochi, a local cab turns out to be the best option, especially given the drivers' knowledge of the local language and tourist attractions.
- Nearest Railway Station - Aluva – 110 km
- Nearest Airport - Kochi – 107 km
Best Time to Visit
The best part about Munnar as a leisure destination is the fact that the weather conditions are suitable for travel anytime during the year.
While the monsoons hold a special charm in terms of turning the entire landscape into a pallet of green and blue, the winters, from December to January, are the traditional peak-season time in Munnar with temperatures dipping to sub 10 degrees.
Summers: March to June
With temperatures ranging between 23 °C - 33 °C., summers, though are regarded as Munnar's off-season also offer a quieter charm at the hill station. Regarded as the best time to visit Munnar for the discerning traveller, looking to explore the city without the clamour of other tourists, or the scorching heat of mainland India.
Monsoons: July to September
While a number of people avoid visiting the town during the Monsoons given the fear of rains spilling water (literally) over their touristy plans, we strongly recommend a visit to Munnar during this time. The beauty of the lush green plantations and forests truly comes alive around this time with rain wiping the trees and lands crispy clean. The temperatures also remain largely comfortable between 20°C - 30°C. Key mention - Don't forget to carry skid-proof footwear along with raincoats and umbrellas.
Winters: December to February
While October and November are the more moderate winter months, the cold temperatures properly set in during December in Munnar and announce the opening of the peak tourist season for travellers While the temperatures in Munnar can range anywhere from 0°C - 15 °C, a good walk along the winding roads or a trek across any of the trails mentioned in the experience section above can help warm the body up.
Where to Stay
Unbound at Palm Tree leaf
Unbound Views - Unbound Comfort
Palm Tree Leaf or PTL as commonly called is a boutique 9-room hotel overlooking the lush green forests of the Chokramundi hills and Munnar's famed Kannan Devan Plantations.
Theme - Hotel
Perched along the Nilgiri's at an elevation of 1,550 meters, Munnar is located in the Idukki district of North East Kerala, 130 kms from the its closest Tier-1 city - Kochi.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Recommended Mode of Transport: Cabs and State Buses
- Distance from Kochi – 130 km
- Nearest Railway Station – Aluva – 110 km
- Nearest Airport - Kochi – 108 km