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.
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.