- Water Colored Landscape of Munnar – God’s own art
- Tea and Other Exotics of Munnar
- Nilgiri Tahr on the wild ramp of Rajamalai National Park, Munnar
- Boat Safari in Periyar Lake @ Thekkady
- Nature-walk in Thekaddy
- A visit to the kingdom of spices in Kumily
- Backwater cruise from Kottayam to Alleppey
- Enticing Munroe Island
- Flavour of local ferry in Kollam
In my previous post of this series, we reached Munnar, had our first brush with its lush-green tea estates and explored the Cochin direction. Now let us move towards the Mattupetty direction.
It is impossible to escape the calls of the mountain in Munnar that lures you with their magically green-carpeted slopes. The appeal of verdant green, dotted with red and blue and violet colors of clothes of women plucking tea-leaves, is too enticing to overlook. We were passing through the aromatic tea estate. As far as our eyes could see, it was tea plantation everywhere. Cool, mild breeze was playing a melody. It was difficult to continue further without making a halt and granting ourselves an opportunity to soak in the enchanting beauty of the surroundings.
As we are in the midst of aromatic tea plantations, so let us start the trip with slow sip of tea and for a change this time let other sensory organs enjoy it, not the usual beneficiary our tongue. The finest quality of tea is produced by plucking the smallest blossom, two tea leaves and bud of the tea-plant. The smaller the size of the tea-leaf better is the quality of the final produce. Ever wondered why we only see women plucking the tea leaves! A gender bias! Yes, and the nature has a role to play. Actually, good plucking needs nimble hand that are skilled enough to pluck the leaves without crushing them and so its advantage fairer sex.
The optimal conditions for tea plantation are cool nights, dry weather, and bright sunny days. Such a favorable climate enables tea bushes to expedite the growth of new shoots. Tea shrubs are generally kept pruned to waist height to allow concentrated growth of young shoots, the first few leaves of which are harvested to produce tea. Tea leaves are picked twice a year, early spring and early summer. In the season every plant grow a new bud after approximately seven to ten days.
For tea connoisseurs, tea is like wine. Its taste varies with elevation, location and climate. The finest tea come from gardens of high elevation where cooler temperatures slows down the leaf growth, producing leaves with concentrated flavor and aroma. After all ‘slow-food’ always taste better than the ‘fast-food’.
The silver oak tree is among the tea plantations to provide for shade and windbreaks. Its leaves effectively filter light and provide enough shade during dry months. Also, its roots does not compete with tea plants for nutrients and moisture.
Earlier fruit-trees were grown as shade trees and also as intercrops. Around a few decades back most of them got infected by pests and all efforts to revive them failed. At this point the tea research institute came to farmers rescue and suggested them to grow these oak trees which are fast to grow with added commercial value of the timber.
Our next stop was Mattupetty Dam/lake which is a picnic spot. Apart from boating, this place is known for – Indo-Swiss livestock project. Unfortunately at that time the dairy farm was closed to tourists for indefinite period because of outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
Among all the usual setting of vendors selling cold drinks, chips, coconut water and likes, a few were vendors were selling an unfamiliar fruit. We learned from them that the fruit was Passion Fruit. Passion Fruit – a strange name! This fruit is a native of South Brazil through Paraguay to North Argentina. The Spanish Missionaries to South America were impressed by its beautiful flower and like all God-searching, religious minded people, found religious symbols in its flowers, like Christ’s crucifixion and hence the name Passion fruit.
It was sweet, in-fact very sweet with lots of seeds. It was definitely not a love in first taste, may be trying it several time might change my opinion.
In this era of globalization, it’s not surprising that I tasted this S. American fruit in South India, photographed its flower in the mountains of Cinque Terre, Italy and then saw the flower and the fruit on the same plant in Meghalaya.
Along the Matupatti lake lies Echo point. Until then, I found echo points unimpressive. Most of the time the echo is barely audible. The place did not even have hills in close vicinity, so I was skeptical. However it was first for the young kid. He was curious to understand what an echo means, so we both shouted loud. To our delight, we could hear clear echoes. It was fun and prompted us shouting louder and louder.
I enjoy shouting at the top of my lungs and feel that it’s a great de-stressing exercise. At the time of college festivals, after shouting and hooting for around three to four hours, when I used to reach my hostel, I felt reposed, no thought wandering in the mind and no desire to speak for some time. Probably it is similar to the state of nirvana when the mind is blank, devoid of any wandering thought.
It was interesting to see Naseeruddin Shah preaching to Sanjana Kapoor in Movie “Hero Heeralal”, “Whenever you are under stress, hold this tree and shout at the top of your lungs and it will drain out the stress.” I can testify it does. However, it does not come without side effects. Recently, after presenting a seminar in which I spoke continuously for around four hours, I lost my voice for a day and learnt hard way (or rather calm-way) that it may be due to my earlier de-stressing exercises.
While coming back towards our vehicle we saw an elephant with a mammoth task of putting several heavy logs of wood on a truck. I was wondering, would it be able to lift them. Then we saw how it worked. The elephant was pushing those logs with its forehead and as soon as it rolled up a little, people around put stones to stop it from rolling down. Indeed an elephantine task! I wish the elephants are not hurt in the process.
The last destination of our pre-lunch itinerary was Top-Station, the highest point on Munnar-Kodaikanal road, a tiny hamlet at the boundary of Kerala and Tamilnadu. Top-Station, a strange name for a view-point!
Well, it is not only a view-point. Just a century ago, during colonial regime, it was a real station buzzing with activities. It was famous for the best quality of tea grown here and was connected to Middle-Station (Kundalai) and the Lower-Station (Munnar) through ropeways and railways. The ropeways and railways are not working now and the respective stations are converted into stores.
Here, we noticed vendors selling another unfamiliar egg-shaped fruit, Tree-Tomato or Tamarillo. Top-Station is the only place in India, where I saw this unusual fruit. The decision to taste it was quick. After palpitating the fruit, I squeezed it in my mouth. It tasted same as tomato. This Fruit is also a native to South America and grows in cherry like clusters.
The mountain slope around Top station was covered with dense vegetation and had abundance of rare NeelaKurinji Plant, Strobilanthus shrub. This plant blossoms only once in 12 years. Last time it blossomed in year 2006 and the next flowering is expected in year 2018. In its year of blossoming, this flower picturesquely carpet entire hillsides with its mauve blossoms. The honey collected at that time is considered to be the sweetest. It was misty at that time and we missed the views of far-flung Western Ghats.
Post-Lunch we moved towards the Coimbatore direction. Our driver decided to show us some local charm and stopped at a place where a rope was tied to stop unauthorized entry into a private tea garden. He lifted the rope and we entered and started to descend slowly. There was sound of the water gushing down in close vicinity. As we descended further, we saw a fierce and roaring cascade at some distance. I was skeptical about going close to that wild cascade with my son. As we moved further we realized that we don’t have to go to that cascade. There was a smaller, safer and beautiful waterfall at that point itself. Water droplets created a rainbow and solitude enhanced the beauty of that moment and that place many times.