A new car, overly enthusiastic room-mates and a sick grandmother lead you to Munnar. At least it did me. The new car and enthu roomies are mine, the grandmother is one of my roomies’. My roomie expressed a desire to spend Christmas with his grandmother who had just recovered from a brief illnes, so off we went to Kerala. Turns out his place is close to Munnar. Relatively speaking.It’s about 90 kms from where we stayed, but having travelled 530 kms already, I wasn’t going to crib about an extra 90.
Munnar rises 5,000 ft above sea level and at about 600 km from Bangalore, the drive is not something to be attempted on a regular weekend. However, it is the perfect getaway for the longer weekends. Summer temperatures range between 15°C and 25°C. In winters the temperatures vary from 0°C to 10°C. The best time to go would be September to May. And since common sense dictates we go at the best time, we went in the middle of winter; December to be exact. Thus proving once more, that common sense is not so common. However, we took comfort in the fact, that we were not alone in our stupidity. We encountered crowds from half the states of India during our 2 day stay.
“Iridescent colours streaking a clear sky, low clouds, the twittering of birds, squat green tea bushes spanning acres of land, and meandering roads” is how a travel site describes it. Apart from the “iridescent colours” part the rest of it is spot on. Munnar offers a lot places to drive, take short walks and generally enjoy the peace and quiet.
Take the Hosur road and get on the NH7 – NH47 combination right up to Salem. Just before you enter Salem proper, there is some work going on on the Salem bypass. At this juncture there is an excellent dhaba – I don’t know the equivalent in Tamil – where you will can stuff your self on good South Indian breakfast. Three hungry guys having a go at the fare like refugees from a diet camp, and we ran up a bill of 45 bucks. [Update: Sadly, progress has consumed this restaurant; after the 4 laning of this highway]. After you cross Salem, take the turn to NH215 towards Coimbatore. Coimbatore you can bypass the town and get on an excellent road which will lead you into God’s Own Country (you know what they say about the people). You get to Munnar via Thrishur, and Palakkad. After Palakkad take the road to Permbavur. Munnar is 90 Kms from Permbavur on the Munnar-Alwaye road
Munnar is also known as the Darjeeling of the South so there are lots of tea gardens there. The road from Permbavur is excellent and fairly fast if somewhat narrow. It winds its way through some beautiful countryside, and is best taken early in the morning. The first 3 hours in Munnar were spent trying to get acco. We knocked on the doors of all the staying places, high-brow to low-brow, and found none. There are a lot of touts – as is common with all tourists places, and even they declined room for us. We finally settled for Spring Valley Dorm a little outside town. At 100 Rs. a bed we were not complaining. The place is surprisingly clean – including the toilets – the owner is quite helpful, and they have some sort of private areas for people travelling in mixed company. We did see a group which was thus. Having said that, the prop. was surprised that we weren’t tight as owls when we checked in, so be warned.
Places to stay are not a problem, there are plenty. The problem is getting one the exact same time that you want it. For those taking their own vehicles, there are Indian Oil and Bharat Petroleum outlets in the centre of town. Both take credit cards.
Munnar is not some place where you ‘do’ things. But if you are all up to it, you can do the tourist thing, which basically involves going to the Matupetty dam, the Echo point, and the Eravikulam National Park. About one-third of the world’s population of Nilgiri Thar (allegedly a mountain goat – but looks more like a small mule) is in Eravikulam. These goats are surprisingly tame, and will allow you to come quite near. The park is about 15 km from Munnar and the entrance is from Vaguvarai (auto fare is Rs 75 one way and Rs 150 for a round trip). Now the thing to wonder is whether this is worth it. As a nature lover I would’ve said yes. As a car-owner and someone who likes to keep breathing, I would’ve passed. Saying that the road is narrow is like saying Bangalore traffic is a little senseless. The road is about one car wide. One small car wide and has a healthy 1000 foot drop on one side and the mountain on the other. Oh did I mention the blind curves? Again, allegedly, elephants, gaurs, sambars, mountain goats and tigers can also be seen here. But I didn’t see it. You could drive to the base, where there is some sort of fall(a water fall, not the kind where you drop off), and climb the last 3 kms. Much safer. The park is open from 7 am to 6 pm. Anamudi, the highest peak in south India, is located in the southern region of the park. One can trek up to the foot of the peak. Permission for trekking can be obtained from the District Forest Officer in Munnar (Tel: 530 487). Another trekking area is Rajamala – the natural habitat of the Nilgiri Thar. But you’ll need to check with the District Forest Officer before you do so.
There is the Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary about 20 Km from Kothamangalam, which is on the way to Munnar. Boat rides are available form Boothathankettu to Thattekkad and the best time to visit is early in the A.M. That time, I believe, counts most folks out.
Top Station is known for the Neelkurinji plant that flowers only once in 12 years. It is at a distance of 37 km on the Munnar-Kodaikanal road at an altitude of 1,700 m. Top Station also has a panoramic view of the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. A round trip to this place by jeep would cost about Rs 400. While the drive itself is quite scenic, top station itself might not appeal to all. It used to be a station for the rope-way, whence all the tea used to be transported to TN in the earlier days. Nothing of that exists now.
However, the rest of Munnar is still yours to explore. And that’s not a bad way to spend a long weekend.