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The Mystical Adventures of Tess and Jack

Tea & queues long and far in hilly Munnar

INDIA | Sunday, 1 January 2012 | Views [659]

Our bus trip from Kochin was nothing out of the ordinary; brake screeching, speeding and overtaking around blind corners are all part of the Indian adventure package. The only noteworthy difference was a particularly horn-happy driver (he was on it about 75% of the time, which made for a nice relaxing trip).

Our first impression of the Keralan hill station of Munnar was not a good one. The streets were packed with honking traffic and strewn with rubbish, communist slogans were plastered everywhere and two out of the three Lonely Planet recommended restaurants were mysteriously absent or closed for renovation. The real purpose of a trip to Munnar seems to be a relaxing stay in one of the hotels in the hills to enjoy the lush tea plantation surroundings. However on arrival we were too tired, dirty and irritable to negotiate and thought it would be sensible to stay a night in town instead…

In our infinite wisdom we booked into Hotel Safa – a scrappy little building ‘with market views’ (i.e. in the middle of a dirty fruit market) that cost us the equivalent of $8/night. Our first sight of the room inspired thoughts of our rat hotel in Vietnam, which were not helped by the fact that Safa doubled as a shop specialising in massive home made rat traps. The polyester sheet on the bed was covered in granules of dirt and looked like the perfect habitat for bedbugs. However it was too late to bail and we decided to prepare ourselves for the night ahead with a few cool Kingfishers. This proved to be quite a mission. Walking to our restaurant, we spotted a slightly upmarket Indian hotel with a tiny cell-like box tacked to its side reading ‘bar’. From our previous experience of Indian bars this did not seem out of place, so we entered the grounds, trooped past the main entrance and made our way up a rickety metal staircase into the box. We quickly turned on our heels when we discovered we had intruded on the sleeping quarters of six Indians. Apparently we had taken the location of the sign a little too literally; luckily the hotel staff didn’t laugh too hard and we still got our Kingfishers (in the hotel restaurant, logically).

After a miraculously vermin-free night, we visited the tourist information centre and in true budget style managed to scope out the single available hotel room under $30 which ticked all our boxes: quiet, hot water, and beer (it’s the simple things!)After a day of R & R we were feeling lazy and luxurious and decided to splurge and hire a taxi driver to show us some of the sights around Munnar. We were thereby introduced to the concept of ‘Indian tourism’ and how vastly it differs from our idea of a good time. Because it was the Christmas/New Year period and Munnar is significantly cooler than the rest of the state, it was packed with Indian tourists. The ‘sights’ we were treated to included

  • The ‘flower garden’: a greenhouse chock-full of imported plants. The highlights were the numerous signs stating ‘please do not pluck the flowers'.
  • The ‘giant jungle honey bees’: various wild bees’ nests in the forest outside of town. Our guide informed us that they are “very poisonous” and “five bites, dead.” We noticed that these appeared to be the same species as at our hotel room in Ooty and understood why we were roused inside when they came out to play.
  • The ‘Tata Tea Museum’: tea-processing machinery, some nightmare-worthy trophy heads, a free cup of tea, and a 1910 Petron wheel for a turbine (Jack told me to put that in case any engineering friends read this).
  • Eravikulam National Park: we arrived here excited to soak up some nature and spot an endangered mountain goat or two. Instead we were met with a FIVE HUNDRED METRE long queue of Indian tourists waiting for park tickets, who seemed pleased to see us (“Helllloooo Madam + wolf whistles) but to whom the feeling was not reciprocated. We decided to be good sports and hunkered down for the wait until a girl in front of us (i.e. second last in the line) told us that they had been waiting for half an hour already and that they expected to be in line for “exactly three hours more.” We bailed.
  • The crowning glory of the day was ‘Dream Lands Spice Gardens,’ somewhat misleadingly named unless your dreams involve dying herbs in cracked plant pots, an unenthused guide muttering botanical names on a forced tour, and a cat shitting in the garden. This cost us 300 rupees and we both agreed we would gladly have spent double this amount to have been spared the experience.

Our original plan had been to spend three nights in the hills, but our room had been pre-booked so we were kicked out after two, but not before a pleasant morning walk through the sweeping tea plantations around our hotel (which was free and about two squillion times funner than our tour, but less fun to write here about).

Lots of love, tea and queues (and photos of said tea and queues soon),

T & J xoxo  

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