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.