Munnar – Kodaikanal

Kerala & Tamil Nadu States / South India

May – June 2018

After travelling in the southwest coasts of India I turned my direction to east and headed to the magnificent mountainous regions of Kerala and Tamil Nadu states. This essay will take you to my days in two different hill stations; Munnar and Kodaikanal. You can see their location on the map above.

Munnar is a town and hill station in Kerala state in southwest of India. The altitude of the region varies between 1.450m and 2.700m above sea level. After being by the ocean in the southwest coast, it was a great change to be in the mountains now. Mother India is magnificent in this sense. Landscapes change dramatically from one region to another.

Munnar’s top attraction is its surrounding countryside with huge areas of tea plantations. The hills here are south India’s largest tea-growing region. Munnar also has protected areas which are home to many endemic plant species.

You can make a deal with an auto rickshaw (three wheeled passanger cart) for a half or full day ride around the hills. You will be going up and down in the winding roads inbetween picturesque hills of tea plantations and seeing people working in the fields here and there.
Kerala is the home of Ayurveda that is a traditional Indian medicine based on plants. The region is blessed with an ideal tropical climate and landscape with forests and mountains where many herbs and medicinal plants grow on their own in abundance. You can visit the Spice Park near the town and take a tour around many types of ayurvedic plants and see them closely. It may be the best spot to buy some India tea and spices.

Map above shows the tea growing areas in south India.
There is a well designed Tea Museum near the town that gives you somes idea about the history of the plantations that dates back to the 1880s, first started by British people. It also displays the basic process of tea cultivation and production. Based on the type of manufacturing process, teas in general are classified into three types; black, green and white tea. I was so surprised when I learned that tea plant is in fact a tree. The tree you see above is a typical tea tree that hasn’t been pruned and left for its natural growth. But pruning is inevitable to keep the bushes at a manageable height for effective plucking.

Munnar town itself is typically Indian with the usual colourful markets. I like to give a break at the little stalls to drink Indian chai (tea with milk, sugar, ginger and some spices) There is something about south Indian people. I guess they are the most welcoming and warm hearted people in India. I adore their sincere smiles. Indian people like to take selfies with the foreigners and do not hesitate to ask you if it is ok to have a selfie together. This time I took this chance to have the memory of these beautiful people.

One day I took the public bus and went to the Top Station of Munnar that is around 40km away from the town. The roads first take you through the hills decorated with tea plantations and then you reach a spectacular forested area with some lakes. Almost everday is rainy in this season but today it didn’t rain even for once. I felt lucky as the clouds left the views open for me and I enjoyed the sun and magnificent sceneries.

There are 4 wild life conservation areas in the region. At some points you pass through elephant crossing zones. Once more I was lucky that I could be able to see these wild elephants walking through the hills.

The gorgeous view above is from the Top Station of Munnar that is at the altitude of 1700m. It is on the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu states and offers a clear panoramic view of the mountains and valleys. I got totally intoxicated by this pure beauty at first sight.

Breathing in these magnificent mountains, at the same time I was carrying a precious feeling in my heart that was special for this day. This day last year my dear cat, my beloved girl ‘Iizi’ passed away from this life. She was my companion for the last 12 years. We had lived all of these years side by side and be there for the other one at the times of pain, happiness, illness, grief, joy, excitement, whatever our lives brought to us. It was a manifestation of a great friendship in between two different species. She had been a great teacher in my life who showed me the meaning of unconditional love and compassion. She had a little body but a great pure loving heart.
My dear girl, I remember you everyday, how you look, talk, walk, your craziness, your maturity, how peacefully you sleep, the moments we rest in each other’s arms. I feel our love everyday. We can never be apart. I am with you, you are with me in each breath. I love you limitlessly. With a loving smile on my face I am giving a kiss to that little cute nose of you.

Then I left Munnar at an early morning with the intention to go to my next destination through the mountainous regions. This excitement of mine resulted with an 8 hour journey in which I changed 4 buses for the total distance of just 180km. While leaving Munnar behind, the clouds were covering the hills creating a tranquil scenery.

Taking the front seat was a good idea as the roads were so winding that could easily make you sick. We covered a magnificent area, first through the hills of tea plantations then through the valleys of dense forests.

Then we proceeded through the huge fields of palm trees and cardamom plantations. I enjoyed each moment in this journey that was full of tropical sceneries. Then the descend finished and I reached the lowlands. I passed through some villages and towns here.

The bus terminal of the little town Vethalakundu was like a circus. Hundreds of people were waiting for their bus where there was no proper schedule at all. Extremely loud Indian musics were seperately booming from each and every old bus from 60s or 70s. Urine smell was in the air. There were many food sellers and transvestites beggers. I observed that transvestites were respected here, most of the people were giving them money. It was so strange to see this man above, trying to collect money by performing a strange show. With a whip he was constantly hitting himself like crazy. Some parts of his body were bleeding. I was sorry for his 2 year daughter who had to witness this cruel oddity. All this was like a film set. In between this chaos I relaxed myself with the friendship of two Indian ladies sitting behind me.

Then with the last bus, I climbed up another mountain range. The winding road passed through beautiful valleys, some lakes and some giant waterfalls. Now I was in another state, Tamil Nadu for the first time. Soon I reached my destination, Kodaikanal.

Kodaikanal is a hill station at the altitude of 2130m in west parts of Tamil Nadu state. It is unfortunately a densely built-up town with many hotels mainly because of the domestic tourists that visit here frequently. But the lake in the center of the town offers a peaceful environment. The 5 km path around the lake is a beautiful walk. Water lilies look so charming.

I found a beautiful guesthouse at the end of the town, away from all that dense settlement. I was so lucky again to find a place that had an amazing scenery (above). Day and night I spent plenty of time sitting here watching the breathtaking valley in front of me. I also met so many beautiful people here, some of them Indians, some of them long term foreign travelers like me.
Kodaikanal is known for its rich flora. Big trees like cypress, eucalyptus and acacia are the dominant varieties. Competing with the fruit trees are the flowering ones, mainly rhododendron and magnolia.

A few kilometers away from Kodaikanal there is a small village named Vattakanal. Almost everyday I walked the peaceful path between these two spots that offers spectacular viewpoints opening to different directions of the mountains. To see the mountains lining one after another was so impressive.

There are some mighty rocks that lie above the valleys. One of them is the Dolphin’s Nose (above) that is a flat rock which has a magnificent view of many hills and valleys. It is reached by a 4.5km trail from Kodaikanal. There are also some cascading streams and high waterfalls in the area.

Kodaikanal has a monsoon influenced subtropical highland climate. The temperatures are cool throughout the year due to the high elevation of the town. The rain was frequently bringing fog with itself. One day with the people I met at the guesthouse, we went on a hike in another direction of the area. It was raining like cats and dogs and the mountain paths were filled with water that brought many leeches to our feet. We passed through magnificent eucalyptus forests and diversed jungles.
Another thing that is wellknown for this area is that psilocybin mushrooms grow here in abundance.

I am in deep gratitude for mother nature for opening her compassionate embrace to this solo traveller. I am thankful for the graceful rain that eased and purified my heart. Mountains and forests, how blissfully you hosted me. Thank you with deep respect and love.

The Author