From Cochin, it’s a windy five hour drive to the magnificent hill station of Munnar. The long drive goes through multiple small towns and dense jungle, and by some spectacular waterfalls.
The views are worth the potential car sickness and the excitement of watching our skilled driver dodge the various obstacles – tons of pedestrians, cows sleeping in the road, rickshaws, school children darting across the street – was completely enthralling!
Situated in the heart of the Cardamom Hills, at an altitude of 5,500 feet, Munnar is surrounded by endless green rolling hills and 30 of the world’s highest tea estates. Planters live in bungalows left over from the Raj, and the surrounding forest is rich in wildlife.
Munnar is full of grand old churches and picturesque houses and offers plenty to do by way of walking in the hills and visiting working tea and cardamom factories.
Upon arrival into Munnar, our jaws dropped to the sight of the rolling green hills with beautifully manicured tea bushes that resembled puzzle pieces or a huge maze. The sight was like nothing I had ever seen before. We stopped at the Tea Museum and were shown a 30 minute video on the history of the surrounding plantations. Click here to read about the history of Munnar’s tea plantations and how they came to be.
The museum also had a small tea factory of sorts, to display the machines and how tea leaves are processed. It was very interesting. Did you know that green, black, and white tea all come from the same leaves? An excerpt from theteaspot.com: “The distinguishing factor that determines whether a tea plant will become white, green, oolong, or black tea is oxidation. Oxidation begins after the leaf has been plucked from the plant, and begins a process of being dried, withered, rolled, and heat treated. A black tea is fully oxidized, causing it to turn black, while a white tea is barely oxidized at all, thus retaining its soft, silvery down.”
We were once again spoiled with a wonderful suite for our two nights in Munnar, staying at the comfortable Mountain Club Resort. We made sure to take full advantage of our two-bedroom villa and its fireplace.
For our full day in Munnar we were lucky enough to have a local guide take us hiking among the tea plantations, then above them for breathtaking views of the Western Ghats. Hiking is our favorite pastime, so we were beyond pleased to get out and stretch our legs. To walk between the tea gardens was like a dream. I was entranced and couldn’t stop taking photos, as every direction was absolutely stunning. The hike was a steady incline, over a total of seven rolling hills, rewarding us with views of tea gardens as far as the eye could see. We met a couple from Ireland doing the same trail with their guide. After some chats and sharing snacks we carried on our merry way. Earlier that day our gracious driver led us to a family run Ayurvedic center to schedule massages for after our hike, so the rewards kept coming!
Ayurveda is something I knew very little about, before visiting India. It is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing methods, developed more than 3,000 years ago in India. It’s based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. All around Kerala you see signs advertising Ayurvedic massage. The massage techniques are intended to provide relaxation, circulation and elimination of toxins. Michal was keen to the basic philosophies and was looking forward to experiencing the ancient tradition in India.
We had requested a local Ayurveda center, opposed to the commercial and expensive options in luxury hotels and western spas. The family run center our driver took us to was small and had many local clients entering and exiting while we chose our services. The most common treatment is Shirodhara, which involves warm oil dripping on the forehead, or rather the third eye, said to give a number of benefits – awaken intuition and inner wisdom / relieve stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia through natural serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin release / help mental focus and concentration / reduces and relieves migraine headaches / rejuvenates the entire face and softens worry lines / nourishes and helps hair growth / increases spiritual awareness – just to name some. In fact, every ad for Ayurvedic massage shows a picture of this technique. So why did I choose a different method? Well, because Michal was getting it done, and that way we could discuss the differences. That ended up being a regret.
I chose the Pinda Sweda method, which involves crushed herbs and rice tied into a cloth, dipped in warm oil, then pummeled into your skin, usually focusing on the back. It is said to help sore muscles and back pain. Symptoms that our long plane and car rides had left me with. However, by the end of the treatment it felt as if a few layers of skin had been scrubbed off my back (not in a good way). The pummels were so hard I almost asked her to stop, but luckily it ended when I reached my threshold. I walked out of the room with a stunned look on my face, while Michal was blissfully melting in her seat. While I felt somewhat gypped, the full body massage that led up to the bashing was great. We were asked to completely strip down and were given a thin, completely transparent loin cloth that they helped tie on. It felt vulnerable, but wonderfully authentic.
That night Michal slept like a baby while I applied oils to my battered back. Cheers to trying new things! Enjoy some snaps from our time in Munnar: