Mary surrounded by tea.
A long and winding bus journey, the local bus for us no air conditioned Tourist bus, figuring out the bus system is easy you just ask 3 people and hope they all agree on which bus we should climb on, most of the ticket collectors on the buses seem to speak a bit of English and all are friendly.
Although the bus stations look hectic and disorganized once you understand the routine catching buses is easy and very cheap and a great way to meet local people R70 ($1.85) 5.5 hrs. We climbed slowly up hill and the city noise soon vanished and tree filled valleys and birdsong took there place, I was glad to be going uphill as our bus was on the inside of the road corner, leaving the downhill hill bus teetering on the outside edge as we pass on hair pin bends. As we climbed higher the drop off on the road side gradually gets steeper and I am already worrying about having to get on the downhill bus. 5hrs later we started to see the 1st tea plantations, rolling hills covered in a lush green carpet of tea. Munnar has some of the highest tea fields in the world. Jumping of the bus we are greeted by the eager tuk-tuk drivers (3 wheeled taxi with covered roof), a dizzying array of hotel options and local tours is pushed our way. We opt for the hotel that was recommended by a fellow traveler back in Kochi on the ferry, JJ cottage, but it is full next door is Greenview, every room has a view of the tea fields and although small the rooms are clean and staff friendly (R550 per night for double). We were starved after our long bus ride and supper was at a more upmarket place than normal , surprisingly cheap and very yummy, all nice and spicy, so far most curries are mostly served in small metal bowels and a meal often has several hot spicy offering’s, rice is extra and if your feeling brave or lucky chicken or other meat will add 50% to the price.
The following day we are woken by the local rooster and a chorus of birds and goats sounds. The valley is partially filled with morning mist, we jumped up early and tried to work out how to get close to the tea fields as most were out of the town, tuk-tuk drivers are costly here so we opted to catch a local bus back downhill 6km’s.
4R instead of 400R on tuk-tuk. We were finally in the tea fields, early morning light filing the valley, purple trees hanging over the single lane road lush green tea as far as we could see, children all waving at us as they head for school far from the craziness of the city’s. We walked back to town passing tea workers and a small troupe of monkeys, we sat still for a bit and one or two were inquisitive enough to come close, there small elf like ears and wrinkled skin made them look more like hobbits than monkeys. Later we did a deal on a scooter (500R, no paper work just drive it away, gas is about $1.10 a liter) for late afternoon and all next day.We scouted out some locations before sunset and headed back for supper at Rapys in the market, had a nice kerala "meal", served on a palm leaf with rice, 3 curries and tapioca like sweet desert (R45).
Watched some black and white old Indian movie on TV for a bit, most channels are in Indian or local language Mamallalum, there are something like 400 different languages / dialects in India!
1st light is about 5.30am, managed to get up and scooter the 8kms to our chosen spot without incident, the tea fields were hidden in a thin veil of mist, as the sun rose the mist swirled around the small round hills and we were treated to the sounds of Hari Krishna music coming from far up the valley.
A few photos later we scootered on down the road and came across a tea stand with a dozen or so locals and children waiting for the bus, yummy sweet milk tea (R5), we were closely questioned by all about where we came from and if we are married and how many children we had. after several photos of a mother and her children we drove away and could see the tea lady scooping more water for tea from the stream. We headed back through town and up towards "top Station" some 32kms away and another 2,000ft up, on route at a tree full of bee hives hanging form the branches we meet Ram from Delhi he is on a kind of pilgrimage to see temples and visit relatives, he invited us for supper and to see a local folk dance. People in India are quick to ask if we are married etc and also just as fast the topic turns to the importance of living life in a spiritual way full of family and personal growth. Top Station had a great view and although hazy we could see for miles and Mary ate some fruit from a local elder, I declined (if its not cooked or peeled I will not eat it).The meal and the dance later were a both awesome and Ram has invited to his home in Delhi to meet his family.
On our last day in Munnar we hiked up through the tea hills far away from the roads, it was like a maze of pathways think Hampton Court maze London the size sooke. we stayed up by choice until after sunset coming back in the dark, thankfully we had our trusty headlamps (thanks Rory), on the way we found spiders, bugs and in a small stream crabs, yup fresh water crabs at high altitude! to small to eat.