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50 shades of green in Munnar

August 12, 2015 14:26 IST

The way to enjoy Munnar in the monsoons is to make peace with the rains, says Geetanjali Krishna.


There was a time when I rather liked the rain. Skies overcast with the rain-bearing cumulus, cool breeze and the soft thrum of raindrops on my window would cheer me no end.

All this was before the monsoon and I arrived in Munnar around the same time.

Lucky me.

For the rain in Kerala isn't civilised; it comes down usually when you least expect it with such savage fury that nothing is left dry.

As someone who has endured the monsoon in Munnar, I can vouch for the fact that there's no beating the rain.

Use an umbrella, and you'll find it cunningly slant at such an impossible angle so that only your head stays dry -- that too if you're lucky.

Wear a raincoat and trickles of water will soon be running uncomfortably down places you'd least expect them to reach.

Locals usually wear layers of plastic sheets under cape-like raincoats, with rain hats, wellington boots and umbrellas.

I see a lady braving the rain dressed like this, and think she's finally won an epic battle against the elements -- but then a wicked gust of wind upturns the umbrella and blows away her hat.


Photograph: Motographer/Creative Commons

There is, however, an upside. The rains bring out every shade of green and then some in Munnar. Clouds hang low over its rolling hills and there are gurgling springs and waterfalls everywhere one looks.

Munnar is located at the confluence of three rivers -- Muthirapuzha, Nallathanni and Kundala -- and the monsoon makes them brim with renewed life. Being the classic one-horse town, Munnar is simply made for walking, its tea estates and spice plantations a delight for amblers.

However, when we look out of the windows the next morning, the heavens have truly opened up and stepping out is impossible.

We spend the day playing scrabble and quickly rush for a walk in the evening when the rain finally relents.

The tea garden next door beckons, but as soon as we are suitably far into the garden, I feel an ominous splash on my head. Within minutes, we're drenched to the skin and spend the evening drying our soggy sneakers.

The next morning dawns cloudy yet dry, but we've learnt our lesson. We drive up to the Tata Tea Museum instead of going for the hike we've been longing for.


Photograph: Jean-Pierre Dalbera/Wikimedia Commons

Here, I get a glimpse of Munnar's biodiversity as the shop sells locally-produced teas, spices, essential oils and vanilla. Apparently, the essential oils are distilled by the tribal people displaced by British tea planters at the turn of the century to the misty mountains abutting Munnar.

The natural vegetation of the region, including the famed kurinji flower that blooms every 12 years, has been almost completely decimated by the tea gardens.

They say that the Scottish settlers saw the rolling emerald hills of Munnar and were reminded of their home far away. So they set about uprooting endemic flora and planting their favourite trees and flowers from back home.

Even today, Munnar's tranquil hills with their signature rounded tops are indeed reminiscent of the Scottish highlands, and I wonder what resentful undercurrents lurk beneath.


Photograph: Jon Brew/Creative Commons

The clock is ticking and we still haven't walked around Munnar much. We've learnt to take the rain for granted now, so we decide to drive through a tea garden.

Each tea bush is primly round, spaced exactly a couple of yards away from its neighbours. Silver oaks stand like sentinels above, acting, no doubt, as windbreakers but trimmed so that the tea bushes get ample sunshine.

The driver is hell-bent on showing us Munnar's attractions, encouraging us to visit the "Echo Point". But we've been to too many Echo Points in too many mountain towns, where enthusiastic tourists holler across the valley to hear their voices multiply and magnify alarmingly.

"What about some paragliding?" he cajoles. With visions of dangling on a soggy parachute, we instead decide to drink a nice cuppa at a local cafe instead. 

Our vacations are usually packed with hikes and picnics, but Munnar's rains have forced us into a state of inactivity that is truly relaxing -- once we've made friends with the rain.


The next morning dawns cool and wet. Instead of wearing my walking shoes, I amble out to the verandah and sink into a capacious armchair. A cup of steaming tea magically appears by my side, wafting up aromas of fresh cardamom.

The church bells begin to peal as I espy a crow-like bird taking shelter in the eaves of the verandah. It shakes the rain off its feathers and emits a faintly human whistle.

I tiptoe back to the room to pull out my Salim Ali field guide, and find that my new friend is probably a Malabar Laughing Thrush.

The clouds rise up in a distance to enfold the rolling emerald hills of tea, and I lazily draw out my camera to take a picture.

The rains, and my wet shoes, have taught me a valuable lesson.

Sometimes, one can enjoy a place without exploring it from end to end, but instead just by being there.

After all my valiant attempts to go ambling in Munnar, I've finally found the perfect way to enjoy the fifty, maybe more, shades of green in Munnar -- from the comfort of my armchair.

Geetanjali Krishna