Tea plants - pretty exotic views!
Munnar is very beautiful. It is set at an altitude of 6000 ft. It used to be the summer resort for British during colonial days. Prashant and I reached there around 11 AM. From a near by phone booth I called up the contact no that Sam gave us. The person at the other end said somebody will come and pick us up. He did come in 5 minutes and took us in his Maruti WagonR to the travel agency booth. We were assured an overnight stay at a discounted price because we were friends in that earlier mentioned human network (Me --> PR --> Sam --> Sam's Friend --> The lodge/travel agency owner). Pretty awesome deal! Saved a few hundred bucks. Our driver was a friendly guy (I can't remember his name. Lemme call him Venkat. He was born and raised in Munnar). A few small talks led us to signing him as our tour guide and driver for that day. In the end it all worked out well for both parties.
We went to the lodge room (it was a almost 100 yards away from the travel agency booth) in his car and decided to meet up after an hour to have us enough time to get ready and eat lunch.
The room was small but neat. Two beds, Bath room, TV, and enough storage space to keep 3-4 bags. We ordered tea at the front desk. A boy came and delivered the tray. I think he was the son of the property owner. I took a cold shower and felt much energized. They have warm water too in case you don't like a cold shower. We got ready in 20 minutes to go out. There was a vegetarian restaurant with in a few feet walking distance. We both ordered Thali (the meal with roti, rice, and some dishes served in a flat plate).
We met Venkat around 1 PM and he was ready with his loaded WagonR. We gave him the freedom to take us to places that one shouldn't miss in Munnar. There are natural lakes, a human made dam with pretty views of Western Ghats in the back ground and some historical tea plantation sites (Kanan Devan Hills producing black tea leaves for Tata Tea Ltd claimed to be the largest integrated tea company in the world).
The tree with full of bee hives is another attraction (don't mess with the bees though). Echo point is another scenic place and the name came from the natural echo phenomenon here. You could buy crafts, natural honey, dried fruits, and flowers from people selling by the road side or in mini shops at the popular sites. I picked up dried Cherry fruits that were neatly packed. Since we didn't have a lot of time with us and it was getting darker as the clock was winding down we wanted to see the most famous spot Eravikumam National Park - home to the Nilgiri Tahr. It covers an area of 97 sq kms of rolling grasslands and high level sholas (evergreen forests). The park is breathtakingly beautiful and is easily comparable to the best mountain ranges found anywhere in the world. This park protects a lot of rare animals, birds and exotic species of flora and fauna including the Neelakurinji blooms. The blooming of Neelakurinji flowers happens only once in 12 years. As per the schedule the blooming will be in 2006. But we got a rare opportunity to see a single bloom which blossomed way ahead in 2005 Oct. The park is divided into 3 regions - the core area, the buffer area and the tourism area. Visitors are allowed only to the tourism area which is in the Rajamala region. The Nilgiri Tahr can be observed at close quarters here. We saw a few of them. Trekking facilities are available here. Tourists are allowed to go on foot up to Anamudi. The Anamudi peak (2695 Mts) is located in the Southern region of the park. This is also a place for adventure tourism.
A tea plant worker returning after collecting the leaves
By the time we returned it was dark. Venkat dropped us at the lodge and left. We took rest for 30 minutes watching TV. We went out to have a cup of local flavored Munnar Tea at a tiny shop inside the market place. We also ordered some hot chilly bhajji's to go with it. There are a gift/merchandise shops if you want to buy mementos for your trip. Also there is a departmental store set up by Munnar Supply Association - a nostalgic landmark built more than 100 years ago. I bought some packets of fresh tea for home. You could also buy coffee, spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and pepper. We decided to eat idlee and dosa for dinner at Sharavan Bhavan restaurant. It is typical South Indian style restaurant and they serve food in banana leaves. The place was crowded but the food was fantastic!!!
We went back to the lodge with the purchased items. Prashant bought an elephant sculpture and a mini Nilavilakku. I bought an elephant sculpture with the decorations. We packed our bags and went to bed hoping to sleep for 6 hours before catching the early morning bus returning to Cochin.