The Anamudi hill of the High Range range. This is the highest point south of the Himalayas on the Indian sub-continent. I’m not sure, but I think I’ve identified it correctly. Part of this trip.
Both times I’ve been to Munnar, I was taken aback by it’s temperature. I mean, who would think that somewhere in Kerala, of all places, gets cold. But it does. And bitterly so. Or at-least bitterly enough for the season. The first time I went, it was middle of December. Granted we should’ve been forewarned by the season. But refer to the first sentence. The second time around, it was a last minute change of plan – go to Munnar instead of Kanyakumari – that did us in. While on this drive, The Missus decided that since going to Kanyakumari would entail a long drive back home, we should go some place closer. Various options were considered and discarded before we settled on Munnar. We booked ourselves into the Kannimalai Estate bungalow. The prices are a little on the higher side, but since we were on our annual vacation and more importantly, keeping the Missus happy was of prime importance, I didn’t quibble.
The drive from Madurai to Munnar is super fun and if you’re not careful about your driving, you’re likely to end up being part of very scenic scenery. Travelling when the monsoon is active means that a lot of the drive up the hills is very misty. Coupled with the propensity of Kerala bus drivers to think that they’re on the special stages of a WRC rally, you’re likely to encounter some hairy moments on them hair-pin bends. To put it mildly. The Kannimalai bungalow is little past Munnar town and the last 400 meters is basically a dirt road. For those who need details, the route is Madurai > Usilampatti > Andipatti > Theni > Bodinayakannur > Devikulam > Munnar. The one thing we noticed is that here, the Kerala Police/Forest officials were very thorough in checking your vehicle papers.
Now, I still don’t know what it is that you do in Munnar. We did see some honeymoon-types, so there is a thought. For the others, the fact that unlike Ooty or Coonoor, things are not exactly placed closed to each other means taking long drives through the country-side. It helps that it is very pretty country-side. Especially in the wet-season, when there are lots of small to largish streams cascading over the hills. Landslides would be a possibility though, so that is something you need to keep in mind if you’re planning your travel during this time. Plus, you need to like the rains, I mean sheet-of-water, misty and cold rain. When sometimes all you can do is curl up with a book. If you don’t like this, then it is probably not the time for you to visit. Or you could be one of the honeymoon types…
What we did was take a ride up to Top Station. In the rains, the last bit is a mess and you can’t go all the way down to the view point. Apparently that portion is part of Tamil Nadu, and access is now closed. A better option is to travel a little past Top Station, to one of the smallest National Parks you can see, the Pampadum Shola National Park. It is about 11 sq. km. total. There are a couple of forest huts that you can trek up to. There are two sorts, there is a short walk that you can drive to and a proper 3 to 4 hour trek. Since we didn’t want to provide leeches with any more blood than what the Gormint sucks out of us, we decided to drive. The walk itself was very interesting, we saw a family of Nilgiri Langurs. Theylook like LTM, without the white mane. Sort of. Then we saw what we thought was a fox at that time, but then later realised was a dhole. I didn’t know that they could be found at these altitudes or cold. For those interested, you need appropriate permissions from the DFO in Munnar. We found a very helpful, if a little un-informed guide, Sudhakaran (094427 84015). He claims to arrange for these permissions if informed in advance. Be advised that having a guide is mandatory.
In fact, this is not the only trek in Munnar. There is the famous Munnar to Kodai trek. It will go past Pampadum Shola National Park, but according to Sudhakaran, getting permission from the TN forest department can be a pain sometimes. However, for those who want to trek in the High Ranges, head over to Eravikulam, for a day long trek. The starting point is a little away from the Park’s tourist zone. For all the other tourists, there is always the Mattupetty dam and the boat rides there. Or Pallivasal. Or Top Station. Or the Tea Museum. Just make sure you don’t catch a cold in Kerala.
When in Munnar next, consider a day trip to Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. This is in the rain-shadow region of Kerala’s Western Ghats. I think this is still the High Ranges of the Western Ghats. At the foothills is the Indira Gandhi National Park. This is where the hills would merge into the Anamalai Hills closer to Valparai. I’m always confused on the Southern-most ranges; where the Eastern and Western Ghats merge and multiple ranges abound. Both of these sanctuaries are on the Munnar – Udumalpet road. If you’re driving back to Coimbatore or Bengaluru, considering stopping by at the Amaravathi Nagar Dam. A pleasant experience overall.
Whoever invented them was a genius. Excuses that is, if I was not making myself clear. I would put it right up there with mankind’s invention of the wheel and remote control. And like both these inventions it’ll can get you places and help you laze. Amazing! And having used excuses to do both, I can vouch for it’s effectiveness. For e.g. just the other day we used a wedding as an excuse to traipse to Kerala and behave like perfect tourists with our hired car and our multiple cameras. Not to mention the absolute gastronomic bliss those 48 hours allowed. And allowing me to use words like gastronomic and bliss. OK, maybe bliss is not the word you want to use when you want to show-off your vocabulary.
Most people don’t associate the word gastronomic to Mallu food. At least most people that I know. That is probably because most of them are philistines who eat only veggies. Wait, there is enough variation for the herbivores as well. Could it be that these plant and herb eaters do not like me sitting in front of them, going through roast duck and pork masala with all the felicity of our newsreaders covering the latest crisis to hit our cricket team/IPL/economics/movies/society-at-large? Or could it that watching me eat makes them wistfully think what a nice beef fry with parotta would taste like. I think it is the latter.
A couple of weeks ago saw us going to Thrissur. Ostensibly to attend a friend’s wedding, but the email that went out prior to that didn’t indicate that. It was a detailed itinerary starting from 4 AM, when the first group reached to about 9 PM the next day when we left. Pushed somewhere in there was a line item, “Attend Wedding”. It is always good when we get our priorities right. So some went to Guruvayoor, which I declined, and then we went to Athirapally and Vazhachal falls, which I joined. The original plan was to head out early, which was actually early, considering that the entire gang was in God’s Own Country by 6. Hold on, it was not. Because by the time we managed to wade through our first gastronomic foray, it was past 10. For the record, it was a mash up of appam, stew, dosa, omelettes, more appams, more stew and one plate vada. Not exactly something to write home about, but hey, it was just the beginning. Plus a lot of us hadn’t slept properly. So there. One more excuse.
This one is going to be light on the travel piece. Initially we thought we’ll get a lot of time. But when we got to the falls we, like proper slackers, decided that it merited a long laze. It helped that there is a brief walk down to the base of the Athirapally falls which everyone used as an excuse to dwaddle. As you can see, I’m going pretty strong on the excuse leitmotif. Then when we got back after a good 2 hours, we went over to Vazhachal falls. Yes, one more name that non-mallus will trip over. Between the two, this one is definitely a better deal. There are fewer people for a start and for misanthropes like me that’s always a good thing. Plus there are small pools of water a short walk from the entrance where you can sit and enjoy. As always in Kerala, there will be bus-loads of school children who’ll come in waves, say hi to you and generally have a brief blast before they’re all herded back to the bus and the next destination. The pools do have a peculiar pong though not enough to deter anyone from getting into the water. There are the mandatory entrance charges (15 INR I think) and camera charges (10 INR). The good thing is that it can be bought at either falls and is valid for both. For the adventourous, the road from here leads straight to Valparai, around 84 bone rattling KMs. In fact there are morning and evening buses from here to Valparai and Pollachi. However, you’ll have to enrich the forest guards that man the checkposts before you go.
Due to our leisurely dawdle at the falls, lunch was delayed so much that it became tea. Excellent fish moily, OK pomfret fry, excellent fish masala accompanied it. Best tea I ever had. Dinner was going to be cancelled. But of course it was not. The next day in deference to the herbivores, one of whom had a hankering for puttu-kadla, we asked around and were recommended Hotel Bharat. Now unfortunately, I don’t remember the bill we paid. But I can tell you that it didn’t pinch the pockets of the 6 adults that piled into it. I was re-acquainted with the Ela Ada. Not to mention lip smacking dosa, puttu kadla, and honest to goodness real coconut’s chutney. Strongly recommend going here when you’re in Thrissur next. We’d completely forgotten that we need to save space for the wedding feast. In the end, it didn’t matter though. We waded through pork masala, duck roast, more fish moilee, and some sort of chicken before the day drew to a close.
I know I need to put in a bad simile there to draw a chuckle. But I’ll spare you that for now. And for that I have no excuse.