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Munnar Travel Guide

Munnar Tea Gardens, Tea Plantation in Munnar, Greenary of Kerala

Munnar is directly accessible only by road - a scenic four hour drive from Cochin (about 130 kilometers/81.25 miles away) or 4.5 hours drive from Kottayam (148 kilometers/92.5 miles away) as well as from Kumily and Madurai, either directly or with a change at Tehni. State-run and private bus services pull into the stand in the bazaar at the north end of town on arrival in Munnar, near the river confluence and Tata headquarters. For most hotels you should ask to be dropped off at Old Munnar, 2 kilometers south of the centre, near the ineffectual DTPC tourist office (Monday to Saturday 1000 to 1700 hours; Tel. 0486/530679).

The nearest railheads to Munnar are Kottayam, Kochi (Cochin), Madurai and Trivandrum. Kerala has an extensive network of trains covering more than 200 stations within the state. Long-distance express and super-fast trains connect important destinations within the state and to places outside Kerala such as Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata.

The nearest airports are Cochin (Kochi), Madurai 142 kilometers (89 miles), Trivandrum 302 kilometers (189 miles), Coimbatore 156 kilometers (98 miles) and Kozhikode 287 kilometers (179 miles). Kerala has three airports – Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode. Thiruvananthapuram is the international airport providing flight services to major destinations in the country and outside. The Karipur Airport at Kozhikode offers both domestic and international flight services. Cochin International Airport at Nedumbassery is linked by regular flights to important destinations in India and also to Gulf countries.

Tea Museum and processing unit
On a sightseeing excursion in Munnar, a trip to the Tea Museum run by Tata Tea is highly recommended. The museum has been built in the Nallathanni estate of Tata Tea. Its collection of memorabilia and artifacts takes you back in time when the tea industry had just begun to make its presence felt in Munnar in 1880s. Browse the museum for its array of curios, photographs and machineries, each depicting important events that contributed to a flourishing tea industry.

Drive through the bright green tea gardens of Munnar to Mattupetty, some 13 kilometers (8 miles) away at an elevation of 1700 meters (5667 feet) from the sea level. Once at Mattupetty, behold views of sprawling tea estates with little wisps of cloud floating over it, a smudgy blue sky and verdant grasslands. Outside of scenic beauty, travelers have another reason to visit Mattupetty. The place is home to the Indo-Swiss Livestock Project working towards the improvement of the cattle breed functions. Interestingly, over a 100 variety of high yielding cattle are reared here. You can see as many as three of eleven cattle sheds at the farm. It is worth noting that there is a definite visit time and entrance fee to this highly-specialized dairy farm.

Echo Point
About 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Munnar and on the way to Top Station, Echo Point is a brilliantly scenic lake embankment, and true to its name echoes everything you shout out. Nature walks are a very popular thing here owing to the lovely green slopes, the grasslands often shrouded in mist, and a fresh mountain breeze to keep you company. Echo Point is a popular adventure tourism destination, with adventure seekers choosing to trek their way though the fragrant wilderness of spice and coffee plantations.

Anayirangal is a popular picnic destination with a reservoir and dam, about 22 kilometers (14 miles) from Munnar. It is a place of exquisite beauty complete with tea gardens and evergreen forests surrounded by stark hills. Capture in your lens the lush green carpet of tea plants from different perspectives. Take in a panoramic view of the serene waters of the reservoir ensconced amidst dense Tata Tea estates, and the low hanging clouds. You might even spot a herd of elephants by the water’s edge. Make sure you maintain safe distance and not disturb the animals in their natural habitat. Photographic opportunities galore and around every bend you are rewarded with a breathtaking view. This place is ideally visited along with Munnar.

Top Station
Affording an awe-inspiring view of the Western Ghats, Top Station at an altitude of 2200 meters (6800 feet) is a desolate outpost on the spur of a promontory. This vantage point is in fact a part of the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu, about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the interstate border, opening up phenomenal views of the mountains and the plains of Tamil Nadu. A 40 kilometer (25 miles) drive up north of Munnar brings you to this wonderful place that got its name courtesy the Middle Station and the Lower Station that were once linked to it by a ropeway. Explore the abandoned aerial ropeway site that linked the foothills with the tea gardens. Lauded as an engineering marvel, a steam rail is believed to have been bought up this track in the early 20th century, which remained unused for technical reasons.

About 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Munnar on the way to Rajamala, Nyayamakad is a land of breathtaking waterfalls and an endless stretch of verdant greenery. Behold the spectacle of water tumbling onto fern-fringed pool from a hill at a height of 1600 meters (5333 feet). Enjoy a peaceful mountain walk, stop along the way to take photographs and simply soak up the scenery.

Eravikulam National Park
An erstwhile hunting preserve of the British planters, Eravikulam is now a national park home to the rare Nilgiri Tahr (Hemitragus hylocrius). Spread across 97 sq. kilometers of high rolling grasslands with the 2695-meter-high (8842 feet) Anaimudi Peak in the southern region of the park, Eravikulam is ideal for a trek and wildlife viewing. Other than Tahrs, the park is also home to elephants, leopards, sambars, langurs, tigers, Malabar civets, barking deer and pythons.

For more waterfalls and scenic beauty, drive about 9 kilometers (6 miles) from Munnar to Attukal. A lush area between Munnar and Pallivasal, Attukal opens up a spectacular panorama of waterfalls and rolling hills. Begin early in the day so that you can take a long trek through the evergreen forest and enjoy the fresh mountain air. The views worth cherishing are the roaring Attukal Falls that assumes a cascading and roaring beauty immediately after the monsoons (monsoons are from June to August).

You will know you have arrived in Pothanmedu when the air begins to carry with it a rich aroma of spices. Perched atop a high ridge, Pothanmedu is a scenic locale that comes in sight while traveling on NH 49, some 3 kilometers (2 miles) before Munnar. This vantage point affords a spectacular panorama of coffee, tea and cardamom plantations hemmed in by a pale shadow of the misty hills. It is a great thrill to watch approaching vehicles, no more than tiny dots, circle the winding route from this height!

Kundala Dam and tea plantation
Kundala is a beautiful green town, about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from Munnar, along the way to Top Station. Golf lovers in particular visit Kundala because of its sprawling nine-hole golf course owned by Tata Tea Ltd. A place of exquisite beauty, other things to look out for in Kundala are the artificial lake and dam, not to mention mountain slopes thick with evergreen tea plantations. The shimmering blue lake is the most photographed part of Kundala.

A brief drive of 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Munnar, Chithirapuram is a sleepy countryside laced with tea gardens, imparting an old-world charm. A stroll in this small town takes you past old playgrounds, courts, tired little cottages, spice nurseries, and sprawling mansions from the British era, along a narrow winding road. Chithirapuram is also home of the Pallivasal Hydel Power Project, besides being famous for its beautifully manicured tea plantations.

Power House Waterfalls
The roar of this waterfall cascading down a steep rock about 2000 meters (6667 feet) above sea level can be heard from a distance! The thundering Power House Waterfalls is about 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Munnar, on the way to Thekkady. The verdant Western mountain ranges add to its scenic beauty, making it an ideal stopover on the way to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.

Lock Heart Gap
A popular adventure tourism destination, Lock Heart Gap is a 13-kilometer (8 miles) drive from Munnar and offers some wonderfully scenic trails. It is a part of Mattupetty known for its sprawling tea estates. Set out on a trek into the jungle, look-out for its rare flora and fauna, and simply enjoy the cool mountain breeze. Lock Heart Gap is perpetually shrouded in mist - its hills barely a pale silhouette.

Christ Church
A popular landmark in the hill resort of Munnar, Christ Church is a well weathered stone structure with charming interiors. This Protestant church was built by the Scottish tea estate managers and workers in 1910, and has 14 original rows of rosewood pews and an ornate chandelier. Though the façade has worn out with time, the interiors still have the original stained-glass windows, besides many brass plaques in the memory of the tea planters.

Rajamala Wildlife Sanctuary
Rajamala is a lovely green paradise high up in the hills, home to the rare mountain goat ‘Nilgiri Tahr’. A part of the Eravikulam National Park, Rajamala is a 15-kilometer (9 miles) drive from Munnar. Anaimudi, the highest peak in South India at a height of 2695 meters (8983 feet) lies in the Eravikulam National Park. Interestingly, half the world population of the rare Nilgiri Tahr is concentrated in this region.

A brilliantly scenic 40 kilometer (25 miles) drive from Munnar on Udumalapet Road brings you to the rain-shadow village of Marayoor, on the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats. The natural beauty of this tired countryside relieves every weary traveler and becalms their minds. Stroll through this sleepy village, breathe in the fresh mountain air and bask in the quietude. Watch little wisps of cloud sail down the valley, the distant dark hills, rivers and brooks cut their way through sometimes gra ssy and sometimes rocky patches.

Devikulam, a hill station with sprawling tea gardens is about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Munnar, at an altitude of 1800 meters (6000 feet) above the sea level. A landscape of mineral water springs, a serene lake, tea estates, gum trees in red and blue, undulating valleys, jungle streams and stark hills, Devikulam exudes a fanciful, romantic ambience. This lovely hill station is best explored on foot while making photo stops along the way.

Munnar is situated near the Anaimudi Peak, the highest peak in the Western Ghats at an altitude of 2,695 meters (8,842 feet) from the sea level. Munnar’s sprawling tea gardens with tall trees jutting out of sharp cliffs, and a plethora of wildflowers in a riot of colors, make it look like a painter’s canvas. Drive around and explore the points of sightsee. Watch little wisps of clouds drift past you and shroud the tea estate that was conspicuous only a while ago. All along you will be serenaded by the sound of gurgling brooks or waterfalls seeping through narrow rocks. Pause on the way, maybe to buy farm fresh carrots from a hawker or small souvenir shops selling wooden artifacts and a range of authentic spices. Photographic opportunities abound here.

Munnar’s history goes back to the period of British rule in India. The hill station was developed to cultivate tea plants by British planters. It all began in the 1870s when J.D Munro, a European, realized on a hunting safari the agriculture potential of the land. He then leased about 580 sq. kilometers of the land in 1877 from the Maharaja of Poonjar who owned the area. At that time the tract was stark wild, greatly unexplored and covered with thick forest full of wild animals. The efforts of Munro in conjunction with that of the H.G Turner of the Madras Civil Service led to the foundation of the North Travancore Land Planting and Agricultural Society, whose members developed their estates in various parts of the high ranges.

The first cultivation was taken up in 1877 by A.W Turner near Devikulam Lake. An array of crops such as coffee, cinchona, sisal and cardamom were tried out on this ground before settling for tea – a crop best suited to the region. The first tea plantation was started by A.H Sharp on a 50 acre clearing in a dense jungle at Parvathi, now a part of Sevenmullay estate. The concession area that was bought from the local maharaja went into the hands of Muir and Co. in 1893-95, which later became James Finlay & Co. In a few years, the Kannan Devan Hills Produce Company was formed to manage the estate of Finlay & Co. Many years later, much after India attained independence, the Tata Group – an Indian business conglomerate – collaborated with the Finlay’s to form the Tata-Finlay group. However, in April 2005, the tea estates owned by the Tatas were transferred to a new company called Kannan Devan Hills Produce Co. Pvt. Ltd. Today the same group looks after 16 estates spread across 8600 hectares.

For a long time in the 1900s, tea produced in Munnar was transported to Top Station by a 24-inch railway line and further shipped from there by ropeway to Bottom Station. And the tea leaves would subsequently be sent to Bodinayakanur for shipping across the world. Though, the ropeway linking Top Station with Bottom Station between 1900 and 1969 is no longer functional. For much of the time, the locals of Munnar were engaged as laborers on the plantations. Though the trend continues, over the past few years tourism-related occupations have also found a way into Munnar’s economy. Adimali or Adivaaram is the closest relatively big neighboring city to Munnar on the Kerala side of NH 49.

Today Munnar is home to two prominent educational institutes; the Government Arts & Science College and College of Engineering Munnar. The hill station also has its share of hospitals; this includes Tata General Hospital, Matha Hospital and Arun Hospital, outside of clinics such as John’s Clinic in Kunchithanny.

Getting Around
Exploring around Munnar generally involves cycling, taking a bus, walking, hiring an auto-rickshaw, cycle-rickshaw, taxi or using hotel vehicle service if applicable. The DTPC provides cycle rental facility in Munnar. There are frequent buses run by the State Transport Corporation. Hired bicycles are a very popular way to explore this green hill station. If you require any information on transportation, accommodation and day sightseeing trips, including getting to places like Eravikulam, take help from Joseph Iype who runs a free tourist information service (tel. 0486-530349) from a small office in the main bazaar.

Tourist Traps in the City
Munnar is non-commercial and beautiful, you needn’t be wary of any unwanted elements while holidaying here. But, while choosing a hotel in Munnar, it is preferable to be town centric or may be in its vicinity. Once you book a hotel which is off Munnar town, there are chances of you getting stranded if you do not have your own vehicle. It takes 45 minutes to 1 hour to get to Munnar town from some of the hotels on the outskirts, and a hotel vehicle might charge you a bomb. It is better to have your own hired vehicle for exploring around Munnar. Some hotels are located at the Top Station road and it would get dark by the time you reach it after navigating your way through thick fog.

Local Custom
While traveling around in Munnar, you are free to dress the way you feel comfortable. But, you would always need a light sweater or a jacket on you. The temperature drops greatly after sundown and you would need to wrap yourself in a layer of woolen at least. Besides, people of this picturesque hill station are very simple and friendly. You can always seek their help if stuck anywhere, though you might have a hard time in deciphering their regional tongue. But, it is great to know them over a cup of coffee.

Munnar is the place in India to shop for exotic tea, coffee, spices such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and pepper, and delicious homemade chocolates. Around Echo Point, there are many kiosks selling intricate hand carvings and artifacts made of teak, sesame and rosewood. They make a perfect souvenir for friends back home. Make your pick from an assortment of tea samples at the Tea Museum souvenir shop. Marayoor, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Munnar is a quaint village that has small shops selling traditional, hand-woven ‘pattu’ sarees. These pattu sarees come in vibrant colors, and are popularly worn by local women on special occasions. Some popular souvenir shops include Munnar Fancy, Leo Gift House, D.M Samuel & Sons, DMS Jewelry, Marakkar Shopping Centre, Rahim Book Stall, DTPC Stall – a great place for spices, and Sunny Traders – a tea shop.

BSNL and Reliance have wide coverage in Munnar. However data cards can go for a toss owing to the heights and altitudes. BSNL has better connectivity than Reliance.


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