During a winter weekend we decided to search for the cooler parts of the tropical south India- while my colleagues at Canada will pooh-pooh the temperature in winter here, we’ll still consider it cold enough!
We started off in search of the hills in Munnar through winding roads and waterfalls ever so often making an appearance it almost feels like you’re taking a peek into an unspoilt wonderland. For those feeling like they just need the water to shower on them, there are plenty more just by the side of the road too.
The drive takes us through the Annamalai tiger reserve with the Amaravathi river, the longest tributary of the Kaveri river, providing an occasional view through the foliage. Our first waterfall of the trip was a distant view of the Thoovanam waterfall, which even in the winter, was quite impressive through the lush green cover of the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary.
While we had stopped there mostly to have a bit of tea from the stall right at the entrance, the next waterfall, was much more accessible Karimutty falls which as we learnt later, supposedly passes over medicinal herbs and is believed to cure ailments. The location of the waterfall is also amidst what’s known to be Kerala’s only natural sandalwood forest so we have plenty of stores selling sandalwood products ahead.
Our next unplanned stop at Marayur was towards a board that called out the “Rajiv Gandhi Nature park” which is a relatively small park but under the canopy of a single large banyan tree with monkeys to keep us entertained with their antics. While smaller than a the big banyan tree in Bangalore, it’s still a pleasant pitstop to stretch your legs and take a break during the drive.
We had actually reached Marayur, searching for the dolmens( table shaped stone structures which functioned as tombs) with rock paintings dating back to the Iron age but weren’t able to get directions from the locals while the ticket seller at the park simply said it wasn’t accessible (it was unclear whether that day or no longer accessible to the public). Maybe one of you will have better luck and let us know.
A little ahead and the ubiquitous tea gardens of Munnar began to make an appearance with tender shoots of green covering the hillsides with more views of waterfalls flowing into the Pambar river.
We actually got to the Lakkam falls just a few minutes before the staff’s time of closing (5pm) , still being graciously allowed in as long as we came back in 10 minutes! Wading into the clear water and with the pebbles and rocks polished smooth by the stream over it made for quite a lovely spot to let the water droplets occasionally shower over us.
We hope to return someday to the guided trekking they arrange by the side of the Eravikulam stream by the waterfall.
While it was getting darker now, we followed maps and wandered into a tea garden on Gundumalai road (where thankfully some workers were kind enough to stop us and inform us we were lost since it only got to a dead-end through the tea gardens). A few more gaffes due to the not-so-uncommon name of our Airbnb and some atrocious roads and we finally got there grateful for a warm bed and a whimsical space with antique cars and scooters displayed at the entrance! Mercifully a local hotel delivered food as long as we paid the autorickshaw fare – we gobbled it all and fell into a relieved sleep after some talk with the chatty care taker.
Early next morning, we were gently lulled out of our sleep by the chirping of birds and realised our stay was also amidst a tea garden. Our morning stroll around the neighbourhood let us see that the atrocious roads from the previous night, were now just meandering paths perfect for a walk on foot! We had our dose of interaction with the locals too – with a tiny grocery stall owner insisting we get a pic of me in front of his stall covered with brilliant orange creeper vines and Anand’s camera as always garnering the interest for the local kids.
A view of the Attukad waterfall in the distance and we drove to “The blossom international park ” for a healthy dose of Flowers. While manicured and curated, the place is admittedly beautiful with blooms in a riot of shapes and colors. After a stroll there we picked up some seeds for the green thumbs in the family and made our way to the Mattupetty dam.
Despite the volume of tourists, Mattupetty dam makes for a lovely view of the calm water while munching on some fresh pineapples with salt and chilly powder. A short walk away to the Echo point, and one can get to another view of the lake.
A little away is the Kundala lake that shows up in an opening right through the grove of eucalyptus trees with their fragrance wafting through the air.
On our way back through the tea gardens we stopped for a minute at the Honey Bee Tree– popular being the lone tree housing numerous bee hives in beautiful shades of brown , though there are none on any other trees nearby. It is easy to miss this one unless you’re looking for it so you’ll only have the odd informed tourist stopping for a bit to stop and stare.
More than 10 years ago, we had visited Munnar as part of a college trip and Anand could actually recognize the place we had stayed at. We remembered vaguely there was a hill in front of it , where our gang of friends had taken a walk and even visited a church atop it. There was also a waterbody by its side, with a ridiculously perfect reflection of the gorgeous trees around it. The hotel itself had developed to become a fancy restaurant but unfortunately the beautiful hills in front of it had been razed to make way for more shops and hotels. I’ve always been conflicted about the prettiness of the tea gardens since they’ve only been possible with significant amounts of deforestation. We were getting late for our next stop but we had to take a moment to have some refreshments at the hotel just for nostalgia’s sake.
The Kathakali performance was a humorous depiction of a demoness attempting to woo a king. The spot-on expressions, colorful costumes, accompanying vocals and instruments were all a complete joy to experience as we laughed along and marveled at the energy and work that went into it.
The Kalaripayattu demonstration was a riveting performance of a martial art that’s rooted in tradition and still manages to stay relevant and have us at the edge of our seats. From the prayers before starting to the displays of strength and expertise to the jumping through hoops of fire every moment had us cheering on the hard work that had gone into it all.
An exciting finish to a calm day we could not wait to see what the next day would bring- this time in the town of Kodaikanal.