Munnar is a hill station. Established probably during the Brits’ time it was the place to go out of the cities to escape the heat. It is surrounded by tea plantations and tea factories but none of the factories organize visits.
The hotel I stayed in Old Munnar, drab as it was, proved to be OK but I woke up for no reason too early. I went for a weird buffet breakfast at the same top hotel, SilverTips, where I had the dinner and the internet access and made my morning calls. I love this Vonage app that let you call any phone in the US for free over hi-fi.
Around 8:00 am I met Kumar who went o wash and change. The drivers in India sleep in the car. I feel bad but I cannot change a country. I will just tip him….
We left to Muttupetty, a destination around Munnar where there are interesting sites.
Shortly after getting out of the New Munnar I found my elusive women that I looked all over Sri Lanka and either because of schedule or the rain were never to be found. The tea pickers were in full swing, picturesque like in a postcard and caring on their back, not the shaped basket of the Sri Lanka’s colleagues but just a sack where they deposited the leaves. I was on top of the hill overlooking a tea plantation peppered with these women and I was shooting and taking pictures. At one point one started to make some signs like writing something, and first I thought that she wanted for me to send her the photo. But after a while I figured out that they were looking for writing pens and pencils. I have still a full bag and I started to give it to them, all coming and picking up leaves right near me to get the pens. It went for a while because all of them figure out that is a freebee to get so I was able to get rid of lots of pens and pencils and take great footage and images.
I continued with Kumar to Mattupetty dam, a very, bevy beautiful place especially in the morning light and further to various points around the lake, Echo Point and the Shooting Point, a place where probably Bollywood got involved in calling the name. Latter we got to another lake, another dam and finally to a top station point (30R) where the mist was so thick that reminded me of Emeishan and the Chinese women running around to rent military coats to save the tourists of freezing, I told this episode to a collection of Poles and Canadians on the way back that were hope\ing that the mist will simply vanish. From there we returned to Munnar and admired again the abstract shapes of the rows of tea plants in the plantations. You cannot but stop and take pictures because the beauty of them is spectacular. I did appreciated it in Sri Lanka also but here the weather was better with occasional sun and the green was overwhelming. Shapes after shapes, with canals for passages that bring you to another interesting shape. I took lots of footage of just the shapes, similar in a way with the rice paddies in Vietnam. The beauty of the road made me to try to shoot it so for the first time I Installed the Gopro and shot most of the way, taking advantage also of the phone charger Kumar had that helped me keep the camera alive.
The traffic is very slow and Kumar did not rush so we arrived back in Munnar around 1:00 pm with a definite plan to leave at 2:00 pm. Around Munnar there are lots of National Parks that require time for hiking but it was no way that I can make it so I settled for the city, scruffy as is called in Lonely Planet. It has a Hindu temple, a new mosque and a Carmel Catholic Church. I walked around and stopped at a home made chocolate shop that was selling large barks of chocolate like in any chocolate place in New York and I could not resist to get some because I thought that it goes well with my rice and curry…..
A thing that you see all over Kerala, and Munnar is no exception, are the flags with hammer and sickle that adorn the public spaces, the posters of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, and much newer lots of posters with Che Guevara, Fidel and Chavez. They were also in Munnar and I stopped to take photos of them all, an archaic trait that still kicks. All this comes from the elected government that is communist and was running in the state’s election successfully since 1957. They raised the literacy level in the state, Kerala being now the best educated state with 91% literacy but the investments are lagging so unemployment is high for all these educated people. Kerala is a beautiful state. It is the place where Indians come in vacation. Lagging in development a strong accent is put on tourism, no matter that you could not tell this based on the road conditions. Also somebody who traveled in India’s North can easily say that it is cleaner, a thing that I heard also about the South in general. Of course for anybody who came first to India in Kerala this may not be apparent. On the Kolam-Allepy ferry I tried to make this point to the Polish girls and to some German students from Munich and they thought that I am out of my mind. They saw only the rubbish but this is different and less visible than the junk in the North that makes you feel sometimes that you almost swim in it. Also, without pulling the curtains from the kitchen even the food look cleaner and the food poisoning thought , real as they are, may fade a little away. Because the hotels cater mainly to tourists, Indian and foreign, with relatively bigger pockets than the regular locals, many restaurants serve in porcelain, and some are very fancy looking ones. If you eat on a local eatery you are given a stainless steel circular tray shiny and clean where you will put together everything you want to eat. Is similar with the North trays but it does have separations. How it is cleaned latter remains still a mystery that I don’t want to debacle.
The drive out of Munnar was again through tea plantains, even more beautiful than the ones we saw before. However my elusive women proved as such and plantations were empty. The clouds that engulfed us at Top Station were more serious and rain showers started to come, On the way, in the showers, I found some other women picking tea leaves but they were ready to leave. The pass on top of the mountains that separates Kerala of Tamil Nadu is the facto “border” and it is manned by guys who are pulling some ropes for a barrier to lift. As I understood this is a steady income and a great job because every merchandise truck that passes gives them a tip of several hundred rupees. Unofficially….The border guy, fluent in English, was adamant for me not to take a picture, no matter that the border is irrelevant being in the same country.
The drive to Madurai was long, about 5 hours. And most of the time is spent on descending the mountains from Munnar to Techi, about 3 hours for about 60 km, on a sliver of a road about the size of a regular lane potholed or asphalt-less. After that the road is good and relatively large all the way to Madurai.
When we reached Madurai, the traffic became insanely slow and we we crawling through the city at snail pace till finally we go in front of a group of hotels and I booked a room in Golden Park, a decent place but where they told me that hot water is only after 5:00 am. I am writing this blog on the 7th floor of the Hotel Madurai Residency that has a roof garden where I had my dinner. After dinner I wanted to walk on the streets but in Madurai I found the India that I know. Lots and lots of children and adults living and sleeping on the street, some on newspapers or posters and others just on the sidewalk, eating from newspapers and begging, all in the middle of a mayhem of traffic. Being too tired for this I gave up and escaped to the comfort of my hotel to publish this blog. For a week, in Kerala, I forgot about this India that I knew so well..