What makes Munnar that extra special to be called the Rich mans paradise or Ooty ? Is it because of clean, landscaped and unpolluted tea gardens, confluence of three rivers or the much hyped tourism. The credit for discovering the Munnar hilly ranges embedded in the western ghats goes to a British adventurer Mr John Daniel Manro and local tribal chief Kannan Thevar. Both of them discovered that the western ghats surrounding Munnar was ideally suited for plantation crops like cardamom, coffee, tea and zinchona. In honour of the tribal chief the plantations were branded as Kannan Devan Tea company and the terrain Kannan devan hills.
The plantation were bought by Tata finlay company which was later converted in to Kannan devan hill producers company. The company has the sole right from 1983 onwards. Some of the tea estates are also owned by Harrison Malayalam Ltd. Kannan Devan completely took charge of infrastructure development in Munnar by laying roads, shopping complexes, bridges etc. Migrant labours were deployed from neighbouring state to man the tea gardens and involve in cultivation of crop.
ERAVIKULAM NATIONAL PARK ( RAJMALAI )
This National Park is one of the beautiful scenic drive past Mattupatty Swiss cattle project area, which has been disbanded 8 years ago due Mad Cow disease. The landscape is filled with streams, tea gardens and other plantations. The national park entrance is ticketed with well organized network of buses which takes 25 minutes drive into the ghat road leading to Anamudi hillock which is supposed to highest mountain with a peak height stretching upto 8841 feet.
The bus takes us towards the midpoint, from where one has to trek almost 2 kms to reach the end point. The mountain goats roam freely the terrain. They are known as Niligiri Thar which is known to climb the rocky surface with ease. These goats are declared endangered species in the world, which is supposed to number 2000 and out of which 50% is located in these hillocks. We were able to spot one such goat sitting like a prince viewing the mountain ranges without any worry to hurry back home.
Walking across the mountain range is so well devised in terms of road, that one does not feel the ascent at all. If one enjoys the trekking he will be gasping for more, unfortunately the road beyond the same is prohibited due to entry into forest range. There are lot of goods vehicle plying between the ranges transporting tea leaves harvested, log of woods slaughtered, and with laborers. We were enjoying the trek looking at our co-passengers just trudging for sake of completing the trip. The photo shoot ops are in plenty, but one can obtain most of the time dull pictures due to cloud cover. There may be just a fraction of seconds when the weather clears with bright sunlight, it is intermittent bouts of cloud cover all the time.
During rainy season water falls may be witnessed all around. One water falls is majestic which we get to witness while traveling towards the Rajmalai hillock. The water is pristine state, one can enjoy the drink without any fear of pollution. I just managed to gulp one or two glass equivalent water from the pipe installed for the purpose of drinking. It tasted sweetest and better than mineral water we were consuming all the while. They say best things in life are free, it was understatement for the purest form of water. I hope it acts as a curative for all my health problems.
Once in 12 years the entire range is carpeted with Neelakurinji, which is a rare breed of flowers, which possess medicinal properties too. Rajamalai is the most important destination which should not be missed in Munnar. With special permission from the warden one can trek upto 3 or 4 km inside the park.
There is a small museum with ticket, displaying the various types of birds flocking and animals roaming the hillock. Due to extreme climatic conditions with lashing windy conditions, heavy rainfall and freezing cold very few birds are seen around. Some of the species are Malabar whistling thrush, Indian Kestrel, Black Bulbul, Winged Kite, Emerald Dove, Nilgiri Pilpit & Wooden pigeon. The wild animals roaming inside the forest terrain are wild cats such as tigers and leopards. Asiatic elephants roam around the hilly ranges particularly near the lake bed around echo point and its surroundings. Wild dogs, boars, sambar, deer etc thrive in these forest range. A rare wild leopard with grey coated skin too has been spotted by the park authorities. However in view of the safety zone with wide vision it is safe for us to roam around, with a rare danger of being poached upon by the wild animals. There are guards stationed all round the walking stretch of the National park. If one gets to spot the Niligiri thar goats roaming across the road, one should be lucky. Just check out the heading of this blog, which displays the majestic picture of the lone Niligiri Thar posing as it were for the camera. Langur and Malabar squirrel too dot the trees in the hilly ranges.
One gets the feel that one is breathing the purest form of oxygen without any pollution at these heights on the Western ghats. If only we had more time we would have returned next day morning to enjoy some more trekking but alas we had to reluctantly walk back to the boarding point of the Park bus. We had to cover enroute all the other major points.
BLOSSOMS INTERNATIONAL PARK :
This park is located near the tunnel face of the Pallivasal Hydro Electric Park, which is an nice location which is often avoided by tour operators. This park contains rare varieties of plants and flowers, trees, facility for boating and cycling for kids, along with roller skating etc. The enterance fee of Rs 10 is levied for visitors along with separate ticket for boating, skating and badminton.
POTHAMEDU VIEW : This place is inhabited mainly by estate workers. One can view the Idukki arch dam if the weather conditions are clear. The dam is located almost 60 kms away.
Tea Museum : This museum represents the history of tea plantation in kerala. This museum is established by Tata Tea company who is a major player in the industry. The photographs of old machineries and insight into development of Munnar into a hill station. There is a sundial at the enterance of Munnar. Time can be calculated with help of the sundial fixed on a block of granite. A burial urn is displayed and on show is the ancient rail engine which used to run between Munnar and top station. An enterance fee of Rs 50 is levied to witness the museum.
INDO SWISS PROJECT : There is restricted timing to visit this spot. There are various seasonal flowers such as dahlias, seenias, which are appealing. The farm and its premises are open to the public between 9 to 11 am and 2 to 3.30 pm on purchase of ticket. Earlier a diary farm used to be in vogue, but discontinued due to mad cow disease.
ECHO POINT : The scenic spot with a lake and thick vegetation is pleasant treat to the eyes. Sunset would a rare and beautiful sight if the weather is clear, we just had glimpses of the same, but weather can turn around very fast due to moving clouds. One can hear the echo of a screaming person very clearly, which can be heard on the video shot by me. There is a dam nearby to echo point which is not well maintained. Despite appeal to the tourist, people tend to throw thrash into the lake bed which is saddest part of the entire trip.
GUNDALA ARCH DAM : This dam is supposed to be Asia’s largest arch dam, which is located 7 km away from Echo Point. The dam is located amidst the jungle with a serene atmosphere. The KSEB has arranged for boating facilities around the dam, which may bring some scare to people who have been affected by Thekkady tragedy recently.
Golf Course : One golf course is under-construction near the international airport, and this seems to be second one which is 8 km away from Gundala Dam. The british used to play golf on this ground during their vacationeering. The golf club still exists signifying the british legacy.
Top Station : This is the highest point on the kerala-TN border. This is located 10 km away from Gundala Dam. One can see the distant hill ranges and misty peaks from this place. In earlier times Kannan devan tea was transported using a ropeway to Munnar. The old ropeway is now used as factory godown by the company. There is a connecting route from this place to Kodaikkanal which is through dense forest, and 61 kms away. The road is quite treacherous and hazardous with steep curves, and this point is being covered by special 4 wheeled jeeps for adventure lovers. The trip can cost upto Rs 1000/- for a couple for a distance of approx 35 kms.
Naimakkad Waterfalls : This fall is located near the Rajamala junction. After the rainy season the fall is very active amidst the dense forest. During sunny days a thin stream is visible, sometimes Rainbow too is observed.
MARAYOOR This place is located on the outskirts of the Munnar boundary. It is almost 42 kms drive from Munnar leading to Udumalpet and which in turn takes one to Parambikulam National park passing through TN. This place is blessed with natural sandal wood forest. The sandal wood quality is of the highest grade in terms of aroma. There is a children park which is under the forest department. A sandalwood processing centre too is available here, where one can witness the various process.
MUNIYARA : Besides the Marayoor high school a number of caves can be seen among the rocky terrain. These caves are made of huge rocky planks or slabs. The antecedents of the cave is mired in mystery. Ancient tribals seem to have occupied the place. Some believe sages used to meditate and therefore it is considered holy caves. In Kovilkadvu on the banks of Pambar there is temple in a cave. This temple has been carved out of single monolithic rock. There are some inscriptions embedded on the rock which is quite ancient. It gives an idea that the cave may be originally belonging to the Jaina heritage.
DTPC The district tourism promotion council office is located on the entry point to Munnar. One can book sight seeing package @ Rs 250 per day, which is a conducted tour. Further guidance regarding accomodation could be had from this office. Dont go by district road maps unless it is detailed map of the district which will reveal the terrain. If one is planning for Perambikulam than it is first of all a long distance, and secondly if it is a taxi one needs to have a permit. We made the mistake of going by the road map, it is helpful in case one is travelling with their own vehicle. The other places which are worth visiting in Munnar are Chinnar Wildlife sanctuary, Amravathi ( TN ) Devikulam Lake ( 3 Km ) Gap Road view point, Kolukkumalai where only Jeep safari is possible, Valara Water falls enroute.
Ideally one should book their accomodation in advance and proceed to Munnar early morning, the sight seeing trips are conducted from 9 am by KTDC otherwise too when one is spending by hiring a cab it is better to start early and not halt in between except for tea and water falls break. Please check out on the route taken, one can be taken for a royal ride with longer routes in case of hired taxi totalling to 70 km, which we were victim of. The shortest route is through Tripunitara and Aluva is longer route from Kochi. Tourism in kerala needs to monitored for its transperancy, there is unionised Taxi fares, Hotel tariffs and Guide charges, so one will be lucky to get a good bargain. Whether you know someone or the other it will not make a difference, but maybe a top govt official can help out in getting cheaper accomodation in PWD guest houses. One has to be prepared to shell out a premium if one is travelling to Munnar, Idduki or Thekaddy.